G. E. Dimock, Jr.
"There is no way to stand firm on both feet and escape trouble."
In a way, the whole problem is the Odyssey is for Odysseus to establish his identity. "After all, who knows who his father is?" says Telemachus in the first book. "My son, if he really ever existed," says Laertes in the last. To establish his identity Odysseus must live up to his name.
This is not a new idea. A nameless ancient commentator has puzzled editors by glossing hēbēsas in line 410 of the nineteenth book with odyssamenos. Hēbēsas means "when he has grown up," a meaning with which odyssamenos has nothing to do; but as we shall see, the scholiast means that for Odysseus to grow up, to achieve his full stature, will be for him to "odysseus"—to live up to the meaning of his name, whatever that may be.
"To odysseus" (odyssasthai in Greek) is usually said to mean "be wroth against," "hate," and to be connected with Latin odisse. Historically speaking, this may be true. For the Odyssey's poetical purposes, however, the verb denotes a more general sort of hostility, which Homer is at pains to define. In the fifth book the nymph Ino explains it as "planting evils," without specifying what sort of hostility is in the mind of the planter. It is true that Poseidon, who happens to be the planter in this case, is angry; but Zeus, who also odysseuses Odysseus, is not. In the nineteenth book Odysseus' grandfather Autolycus indicates that it is not a question of anger; asked to name the baby, he replies,
"I have odysseused many in my time, up and down the wide world, men and women both; therefore let his name be Odysseus."
Now, all we know from the Odyssey about Autolycus' career is that he was the foremost liar and thief of his day. Most naturally, by "odysseusing many" he means____________________