“Death would have him…”, the doomed Amphínomos

When I landed in San Diego I quite literally closed the final page of  Homer’s Odyssey ( Robert Fitzgerald edition); unlike our hero Odysseus I did not return to libertine suitors or “a wife dishonored” but rather my own dull life.

What I was left with was many vivid images.

Homer directs a set with meticulous detail, he minutely describes the marble halls of kings, golden vessels pouring forth liquid hospitality, horrifying monsters ready to pounce upon the weakness of man, fetching virgins willing to do the same and  the gallantry and failures of man himself.

Once such Everyman was Amphínomos, son of Nísos Aretíadês, comely , “gently bred” (340) and of all the ruffians wooing fair Penélopê he pleased her  “…for he meant no ill.” (302-303).  I was drawn to this character for in the telling of this tale Homer points out the excesses of  the suitors, the bold heroics of Odysseus and his son Telémakhos, the cunning of Kirke and the mad predictions of Cassandra; all characters extraordinary in their way.

Amphínomos isn’t particularly heroic he merely seems to possess basic deceny, a desire to try his hand at the hot widow Penélopê and indulge in the overflowing sweet wine and unending platters of roast meats served by boys with “…pretty faces” and “…pomade ever on their sleek heads…” (278). Can’t really blame the fellow.

In fact his only real act of heroics lies in his aversion to regicide, when the unruly mob of suitors plot to eliminate the young Telémakhos only Amphínomos objects, being unwilling to kill a “…prince of royal blood…” (303). Again and again it is just garden variety decency that makes Amphínomos so endearing, even to our lofty hero, Odysseus. Disguised as a beggar at his own court, Odysseus is greeted with cruelty by the band of loutish suitors; Amphínomos offers bread and cordiality to the unfortunate wretch. Odysseus repays this kindness with  words of advice “Get outta Dodge”. He warns the young man  that the king will indeed return and all are doomed for there will be “…no way out, unless by blood.” (341).

Something deep within the young knows this to be correct, he witnesses the debauchery around him and knows what the beggars says to be true. As he turns to leave he is frozen for “…his heart foreknew the wrath to come, but he could not take flight, being by Athena bound there. Death would have him broken by a spear thrown by Telémakhos. So he sat down there where he has sat before.” (340-341).

This is my interpretation of the doomed Amphínomos, the grey-eyed Athena and Unrelenting Death.

The Doomed Amphínomos
colored pencil on brown paper
24 by 18 inches

Well that is all it for now,after facing a fearsome goddess and Death himself, I must walk my dogs.

I had hoped to discuss my thoughts as to why this example of  Greek fatalism contrasted so sharply with the Good News of another figure to come. A theology where  redemption was indeed possible; where a fellow like Amphínomos inclined to change could have done just that. How in the Classical world god and man were bound by Fate ; the hapless must returned to the chair “…where he had sat before” and silently accept what must be. How a new theology could have understandably appealed to an ancient world weary of the irrational tyranny of  fickle gods and brutal destiny.

But thankfully I haven’t time to discuss such matters, I have rambunctious pups to attend to.

Until next time,

Take care,


Author: babylonbaroque

I am a painter and printmaker working towards creating a body of work that reflects my own developing aesthetic. New work ,first link. The second link is an on-line portfolio.

6 thoughts on ““Death would have him…”, the doomed Amphínomos”

  1. i love athena’s helmet and shield (the owl!), and your bones grow ever-more fearsome! but the hat on death and that brooch just tip the scales, making morbid feeling (thankfully) impossible for me 😀
    yes, the very idea of redemption moves a lot of weight in the argument, doesn’t it? also, the saints are to me so much more fascinating with their tales of special abilities suggesting future possibilities for us (!) than those arrogant, and, as you point out, fickle…violent….
    fantastic, as always!

    1. Dear Zoe,
      You really are the most marvelous of “studio mates”, your words really encourage me, thank you. Death’s costume is that of a warrior traveler I have seen on a jar at the very beautiful Getty Villa in Malibu. The all-seeing brooch is my not too original invention.
      Like you, i am interested in how we address the whims of the gods, be it St. Rita or Achilles.

  2. I love the fact that here we have art and philosophy in equal measure, which is as it should be. (Or as it should be in my universe, anyway!)

    Fatalism winds through the classical world, reminding us that things are not always going to work out well even for those who are decent and without stain. Which of course is the way things really are.

    Acceptance is an under-estimated quality. There seems to be a default to fight mode, which most admire. For instance, people talk about fighting cancer, and indeed are encouraged to do so by those around them. We admire people who put up a good fight, think them plucky and courageous. I guess what’s on my mind here is my friend David, who when diagnosed earlier this year with pancreatic cancer, accepted the inevitable with a calm philosophical grace that was wonderful to behold. Although entirely capable of waging war against wrong-doing when the spirit moved him, he nevertheless knew when to pick a fight, and when to stand down. He was a model of fatalism, and turned his attentions to the business of being with his loved ones, and enjoying what remained to be enjoyed.

    I like your Amphinomos. Like David he knew when to sit and wait. I think that’s the greater courage. Actually, the greatest.

    1. Dear Clive,
      If I have inadvertently created a tribute to your friend David I am very pleased.
      Acceptance is under-estimated because it is so damned difficult; I far too often take up arms when I should find my seat. Given your friends situation, I wonder how I would react.
      I admire your friends decision, knowing when to sit down; acceptance guided by a sense of priority, how best to spend this time.I for one would hate to spend precious traveling time back and forth for wretched, perhaps futile, treatments.
      May the old ,wise gods bless his soul.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: