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Dossier : Place aux objets ! Présentification et vie des artefacts en Grèce ancienne

Odysseus’ Bed: Between Object and Action

Le lit d’Ulysse : entre objet et action

Ruth Webb


Although the central quality of Odysseus’ rooted bed is clear, much about its nature as an object is left obscure in the telling. This article analyses Odysseus’ account of the making of his bed (Odyssey, 23.183-204) as an example of a detailed narrative of making (ekphrasis tropou) rather than as a description of an object. It argues that the passage derives its meaning from its presentation as a first-person narration and from the actions related. For Penelope, the internal audience, the speech makes present the younger Odysseus, as the older Odysseus reperforms his creative gestures, while the vocabulary used allows the external audience to see in Odysseus’ account a summary of his marriage and adventures.

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The world of Homer’s Odyssey is full of things1: things exchanged, things given, things lost, things serving as tokens of recognition and instruments of vengeance, Odysseus’ raft is put together only to disintegrate.2 Among this constant movement and flux one thing is immovable, the bed that Odysseus made, another object that reveals his skill as a craftsman, his practical mêtis. And yet this bed, paradoxically, only emerges at the very end of the epic, at the moment of Odysseus’ reunion with Penelope in Book 23. It is made visible in a speech by its maker that raises many question about the bed as object even as it reveals its defining characteristic: its rooted immobility.

Odysseus makes this speech at a crucial moment in his return. It is addressed to Penelope who is still reluctant to recognise the stranger as her husband, even after his slaughter of the suitors. In a display of her own cunning intelligence, Penelope asks her maid to bring the bed out of the chamber for the stran...

© Éditions de l’École des hautes études en sciences sociales, 2018

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