Thread: Odysseus bow
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Old 04-14-2012, 11:54 AM
constanze constanze is offline
Join Date: Aug 2006
Location: Munich, Germany
Posts: 5,189
Odysseus bow

In the Odyssee, after the adventures on sea, there's the final part when Odysseus comes home and finds that his wife is besieged by suitors. Athena did disguise him as old man, and after revealing himself to Penelope, they hatch a plan on how to defeat the suitors: they all try to string Odysseus bow (and shoot through the ears of a dozen axes lined up in a row) but nobody can. Until Odysseus, who's at least 20 years older than the rest (Illiad plus his travels so far) and disguised as old man, steps up and strings the bow (with the wonderfully poetic description that when he plucks the string, it twitters like a bird. Never heard a string make that sound, but it's beautiful image!)

Then he shoots the arrow through the axes (fulfilling the literal part of the test) and starts shooting the suitors and taking revenge.

Back when I read this, I already wondered why nobody else could draw this bow. I assumed it was part of making the hero of the story stronger than anybody else - and the first-rate heroes had gone to Troja with him, so the suitors left behind would have been second-class and softened up from easy living having feasts - but it still sounded overdone.

Then I read an article (on TV tropes?) that mentioned that some people claim that Odysseus bow was a Skythian bow - that is, recurve type - which would require knowledge on how to string it, because it works different from the normal long-bow.

1) Is this the current major scholar opinion, that Odysseus had a Skythian/ recurve bow? Or an outsider interpretation?

2) What does the text say to support or contradict it?

3) What other interpretations among main scholars are there? (E.g. it's just a story-telling device, not meant literally)?

4) Did Greeks of that period or of the Homer period when it was written down not know about Skythian bows? Wouldn't they have seen them during their battles with other people, or learned about them by trade?