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The Staunching of Odysseus' Blood: The Healing Power of Magic Author(s): Robert Renehan Source: The American Journal

of Philology, Vol. 113, No. 1 (Spring, 1992), pp. 1-4 Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/295121 . Accessed: 10/01/2014 09:27
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AMERICAN

JOURNAL OF PHILOLOGY
THE STAUNCHING OF ODYSSEUS' BLOOD: THE HEALING POWER OF MAGIC For Ronald K. Tompkins, M.D. &avtalog aUxov iQoS6g yaQ avNQ CoXXVc6v The episode in the nineteenth book of the Odyssey, wherein the old nurse Eurykleia recognizes her master Odysseus, who has returned incognito to his homeland after an absence of twenty years, is among the most familiar passages in the poem. The epic poet tells us that it was by a scar above the knee that she recognized Odysseus and goes on to recount how he got that scar. Once, as a young man, he went hunting with the sons of Autolykos (that is to say, with his maternal uncles) on Mount Parnassus. They came upon a great boar in a dense thicket and Odysseus killed it with his spear-but not before the boar had gored him badly with his tusk. The sons of Autolykos then tended to Odysseus' wound; here are the relevant verses, Od. 19.455-58:
TOV

&a' AiToX.KxoUv sE/v nai6eg (Xikol a&tiLtEvovOTO, 6' 'O6VoUioga&[UtovogavTLOeoLo W(TeLXlv 6oroav E7LoCaTLEvog, ?jaoL6f 6' al[Ra XEkaLVov E(XE0OVXlX.

W. B. Stanford in his note to Od. 19.457-58 observes: "EJtaoL&i xTX:'and they stayed the dark blood with an incantation'. Formed directly from E'-&ae?6co 'sing over', the noun refers to a blood-staunching spell chanted over the wound, a practice known in many parts of Europe. I have heard a circumstantial description of the process from a Russian cavalry officer who witnessed an immediate stoppage of blood from a sabre-wound in this way . . ." What we have here is a very

comThe Odysseyof Homer,editedwith generaland grammatical introductions, and indexesby W.B. Stanford,vol. 22(London1958)334. Stanfordcites a few mentary,
Journal of Philology 113 1-4 ? 1992 Press American (1992) by TheJohnsHopkinsUniversity

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ROBERT RENEHAN

clear example of the combination of "rational" medicine and "irrational" magic in the treatment of an injury. The sons of Autolykos stop the bleeding (1) by expertly (iEaLoxat ivwg) bandaging the wound and (2) by chanting an incantation. To such magico-medical practitioners it was not enough merely to bind the wound only, for the incantation was an integral and essential part of the treatment. Since most wounds, if properly bandaged, stop bleeding soon enough, it is easy enough, by a natural mental confusion, to attribute a curative efficacy to the incantation which regularly accompanied the bandaging on the principle of post hoc, ergo propter hoc. Such an outlook was, and still is in some cultures, widespread.2 Friedrich Pfister, in his article Epode in RE, Supplementband IV 6oav (1924), col. 325, actually interprets dTeL.YV eLoratr vcog .. . . bY not of a literal binding/bandaging, but of a magical binding by means of a spell. It is certainly true that the verb 6ow (more usually xaTaa6wo) can be so used, but to take it in this way here distorts the natural flow of the Greek of lines 456-58, which clearly describe two distinct, but related, acts, namely the skillful bandaging of the wound and the checking of the have separate bleeding by an incantation. Note that 6&loav and EoXE0ov objects (('dTekiiv, al[ax). For bandaging in Homer see II. 13.599-600: axUTin [sc. XEiQa] 6E SUV?6rqoevEio 4QE@e olog &aCm0p,/ oEV66v0n iv
a&a oL 0eQajrcov ?XE JOLiEVLtXkaov.

It is curious that the eminent medical historian Henry Sigerist accepts Pfister's interpretation. In his well-known History of Medicine he has written the following: "There is relatively little mention of magic in the Homeric epics although the ancient Greeks believed in magic
passages from Greek and Roman authors (chiefly after van Leeuwen) for the use of incantations in ancient medicine. None of his parallels, however, refers explicitly to the staunching of blood. 2For a good account of incantations throughout history see the collection of entries s.v. "Charms and Amulets" by B. Freire-Marreco and others in Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, ed. James Hastings with the assistance of John A. Selbie and other scholars, vol. 3 (New York 1928) 392-472. More recent, but much less detailed, is the account s.v. "Incantation" by Theodore M. Ludwig in The Encyclopaedia of Religion, Mircea Eliade, Editor in Chief, vol. 7 (New York and London 1987) 147-52. For a particularly clear example of the combination of medicine and incantatory magic in ancient Greece, see Plato, Theaet. 149C-D: xai R/]v xai 6t6booaai ye ati uaial (aelaxtax xca
EIrgibovaat 6vavt yctt yiQeLEv 1 TETag (6ivag xai caXkaxwEcQxTa&v I3poUkovtaLJOLEV XTX.

While this passage occurs in a literary work, not a historical document, there can be no doubt that it reflects actual contemporary practice. The same, of course, is true of the Odyssey passage.

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THE STAUNCHINGOF ODYSSEUS' BLOOD

and, like everyone else in antiquity, practiced some ... A truly magic in a is mentioned rite, however, passage of the Odyssey ... Odysseus' the sons of Autolycus, bound his wound and staunched companions,
the dark blood, EtaoLbI, with a spell. The stopping of a hemorrhage

throughthe reciting of an incantationmust be an old Indo-European rite, since it is foundfromGermanyto India."3 Sigeristhimselfadduced a fascinating example from India which has been preserved in the it begins: "The maidensthat go yonder,the veins, Atharvaveda (I.17.1); clothed in red garment,like sisters withouta brother,bereftof strength, he goes on to add at once, "At they shall standstill!"Here, significantly, the same time [emphasismine], as the manualpartof the ritual,a poultice of dust, sand, and mud was applied."4 The use of incantations,in conjunctionwith dressings and other "rational" medicalpractices, to staunchthe flow of blood survivesalso in the Old Irish tradition,thereby extendingthe evidence for this custom to the westernlimitsof the ancientworld.A particularly interesting Bo Cuailngeor "Catexampleoccurs in the famous Old Irish epic, Tdin tle raid of Cooley."Here is the relevantpassage, from the "Combatof
Ferdia and Cuchulainn" episode (Comrac Fir Diad ocus Con Culainn) in

the version of Cecile O'Rahilly:


... Physicians and doctors came to examine and watch them and to attend on them that night, for, because of the dreadfulnessof their wounds and gashes, of their cuts and many stabs, all they could do for them was to apply spells and incantationsand charmsto them to staunch and to keep the dressings in place . .5 the bleeding and haemorrhage
3A History of Medicine, vol. 2: Early Greek, Hindu, and Persian Medicine (Oxford

23. See p. 37, n. 34 of this same volumefor Sigerist'sacceptanceof Pfister'sinter1961) pretationof 6/Ioav in Od. 19.457as meaningthat they bound the woundnot with bandages, but with a magic spell. is "a collectionof 731hymns, pray4Sigerist(note 3 above) 159.The Atharvaveda ers, incantations,andcharmsin twentybooks. It is somewhatlaterthanthe Rigvedaand Forthe German evidencesee Gustav mayhavebeen composedaround1200B.C."(p. 151).
Ehrismann, Geschichte der deutschen Literatur bis zum Ausgang des Mittelalters, Erster Teil. Die Althochdeutsche Literatur (Munich 1954) 99-120, especially 107-9. (Sigerist

refers to this work on p. 37, n. 36.)


5 Tdin B6

Cuailnge from the Book of Leinster, ed. Cecile O'Rahilly (Dublin 1967,

224. This episodewas not an original TheStowe repr.1970) partof the Tdin.See O'Rahilly, Version B6 Cuailnge(Dublin1961, xxiv-xxix. As she states, this section of Tdin repr.1978) "mustoriginallyhave been an independent tale, laterinsertedin the Tain"(p. xxiv). The last phrase here, "andto keep the dressingsin place" is not quite certain,because the

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ROBERT RENEHAN

The original Irish version of the relevant section goes as follows: .. .acht iptha ocus ele ocus arthana do chur riu do thairmesc afola ocus a fuiligthe .. ., literally, ". . . but put spells (iptha) and incantations (ele) and charms (arthana) against them to stop the blood and bleeding. .. "6

It thus appears that this practice is attested from India to Ireland, which is to say from the eastern to the western periphery of the ancient Indo-European sphere.7 That the Irish example occurs in an epic narrative makes it an especially appropriate parallel for the Homeric passage from which we started. We have here one more illustration of the importance, for comparative purposes, of the Old Irish material.8
ROBERT RENEHAN
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, SANTA BARBARA

meaning of the original Irish (a ngae cr6) is disputed. See O'Rahilly, Book of Leinster, note to lines 3168-69 (pp. 324-25) and id., Stowe Version, Glossary s.v. gae (p. 236). Nevertheless, that the incantation, although required by the culture, was not used in isolation is clear from other passages. See the Leinster recension, lines 3123-25: "Then came folk of healing and curing to heal and cure them, and they put herbs and healing plants and a curing charm into their wounds and cuts, their gashes and many stabs" (tr. O'Rahilly). 6Lines 3167-68 of the Book of Leinster recension (note 5 above). See also O'Rahilly, The Stowe Version (note 5 above), lines 2933-94, act iptha ocus arthana do curfriu do toirmiosg a bfola ocus a bfuiligthi. This differs, apart from some minor orthographical points, only in having two rather than three nouns for 'incantation' or 'charm' (iptha, arthana). No one English noun corresponds exactly to these terms. Compare P. S. Dinneen, Focl6ir Gaeilge agus Bearla. An Irish-English Dictionary2 (Dublin 1927) s.v. oro. tha (=artha): "a collect, prayer or incantation, a curse, an amulet or charm... na fola, the blood-stopping charm . . . ioptha agus eile agus orthanna do chur leo do thoirmeasc na fola, to apply charms, amulets and spells to them in order to stop the blood .. ." While no reference is given, this last citation obviously derives from the Tdin. 7Naturally, I do not mean to imply that such incantatory practices are unique to Indo-European, for they are not. But the pattern of distribution among Indo-European speakers suggests, although it does not prove, that the practice was familiar to them before the diaspora. 8For a recent discussion of medical practices in early Ireland see the paper by Wendy Davies, "The Place of Healing in Early Irish Society," in Sages, Saints and Storytellers. Celtic Studies in Honour of Professor James Carney, ed. Donnchadh O'Corrain, Liam Breatnach, Kim McCone (Maynooth 1989) 43-55. Incantations are discussed on pp. 49-50 (with notes 35-39); the passage from the Tain adduced above is not mentioned.

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