~A guest post by Jacqui Donlon and the Oinops Study Group~
“Yea, and if some god shall wreck me in the wine-dark deep, even so
I will endure… For already have I suffered full much, and much
have I toiled in perils of waves and war.”
The Odyssey v (George Chapman translation)
Dear friends, we started out on our journey with this quote (see “The Wine-dark Sea“), and it is with this quote we end. It is fitting that we end this blog series near the time of the winter solstice.
The phrase oinopa ponton [wine-faced sea], which many translators incorrectly render as wine-dark sea, denotes the deepest, most dangerous part of the ocean—or a journey—whether it be sea or soul. It is a sacralizing crossing at its most dangerous point. If one were to journey over the deep ocean, reaching the midpoint would be the time of most danger. One would be farthest from the saving light on the shores, out in the deepest and darkest part of the ocean farthest from home. Only the strongest, smartest, most able, and most qualified will successfully complete the circuit.
Seasonally, wine-dark [oinops] is winter—when the stormy seas make the ocean even more dangerous. Hesiod advises that it is best to travel in the other seasons when the winds are calmer and it is easier to see [Works and Days 618–630]. Winter is also the time after the wine-harvest is done and the grapes have been pressed and the liquid turns dark. It is a time of fermentation, of ritual, and of ripening—changes of state; for wine-dark, wine-faced—oinops—is also a journey of initiation, a journey undertaken by both heroes in the Homeric epics.
Achilles and the Iliad
The turning point of the Iliad narrative happens at the battle of ships in Scroll 16. The Achaeans have been driven back to the narrow strip of beach by Hector and his army. The battle also significant as it is the time when Achilles starts to enter his own mid-point. He experiences the fullest depths of despair upon learning that during this battle, Patroklos is killed.
A dark cloud of grief [akhos] fell upon Achilles as he listened. He filled both hands with dust from off the ground, and poured it over his head, disfiguring his comely face,  and letting the refuse settle over his khiton so fair and new. He flung himself down all huge and hugely at full length, and tore his hair with his hands.
Iliad 18, Sourcebook
Similar to the myth of Glaukos, Achilles has been isolated; he sequestered himself in his tent “aloof from battle” until he learns of the death of Patroklos. At this moment, in his darkest grief, he is without his nearest and dearest, without his armor, and is estranged from his countrymen who are also at their lowest ebb—driven back to a thin strip of sand. Achilles, who has the fighting prowess of Athena [Iliad 8.105] and the strength and endurance of Hera’s oxen [Iliad 20.490–505], now calls himself a “bootless burden upon the earth”. And so he enters further into the turn—he will now go to battle:
Then said Achilles in his great grief, “I would die here and now, in that I could not save my comrade. He has fallen far from home,  and in his hour of need my hand was not there to help him. What is there for me? Return to my own land I shall not, and I have brought no saving neither to Patroklos nor to my other comrades of whom so many have been slain by mighty Hector; I stay here by my ships a bootless burden upon the earth,  I, who in fight have no peer among the Achaeans, though in council there are better than I. Therefore, perish strife both from among gods and men, and anger, wherein even a righteous man will harden his heart—which rises up in the spirit of a man like smoke,  and the taste thereof is sweeter than drops of honey. Even so has Agamemnon angered me. And yet—so be it, for it is over; I will force my spirit into subjection as I needs must; I will go; I will pursue Hector  who has slain him whom I loved so dearly, and will then abide my doom when it may please Zeus and the other gods to send it. Even Herakles, the best beloved of Zeus – even he could not escape the hand of death, but fate and Hera’s fierce anger laid him low,  as I too shall lie when I am dead if a like doom awaits me. Till then I will win fame [kleos], and will bid Trojan and Dardanian women wring tears from their tender cheeks with both their hands in the grievousness of their great sorrow; thus shall they know that he who has held aloof so long will hold aloof no longer.
Iliad 18, Sourcebook
Using the proper combination of force and restraint, Achilles comes out of the mid-turn at the funeral of Patroklos. Standing at funeral pyre, location of the soon-to-be tumulus, Achilles fully accepts his fate after sacrificing to the river god. Achilles will die at Troy, but his death results in victory, that of his ever-lasting kleos.
When they came to the place of which Achilles had told them they laid the body down and built up the wood.
 Radiant swift-footed Achilles then turned his thoughts to another matter. He went a space away from the pyre, and cut off the yellow lock which he had let grow for the river Sperkheios. He looked all sorrowfully out upon the wine-faced [oinops] sea [pontos], and said, “Sperkheios, in vain did my father Peleus vow to you  that when I returned home to my loved native land I should cut off this lock and offer you a holy hecatomb; fifty she-goats was I to sacrifice to you there at your springs, where is your grove and your altar fragrant with burnt-offerings. Thus did my father vow, but you have not fulfilled the thinking [noos] of his prayer;  now, therefore, that I shall see my home no more, I give this lock as a keepsake to the hero Patroklos.”
Iliad 23, modified Sourcebook.
Odysseus and the Odyssey
When I wrote my first blog about the mystery of the wine-faced sea, I wanted to start out with a quote, and I chose Odyssey, Scroll 5 220–224 (see top). Emotionally it reached out to me because in this passage, Odysseus weeps—not for his comrades, his wife, or son—he weeps for himself. After our word studies, I now see why this passage was so affecting. This is the midpoint for Odysseus. It is the nadir of his sorrows, but also precursor to his new state of being as cult hero.
Earlier in Scroll 5, Odysseus, the once powerful king of Ithaca and conqueror of Troy, finds himself alone with a steering oar as his sole possession, the only thing that keeps him from drowning in the wine-faced sea. He is rescued by the goddess Kalypsō, who brings him to her island.
 I have a man here. I found the poor creature sitting all alone astride of a keel, for Zeus had struck his ship with lightning and sunk it in the middle of the wine-faced [oinops] sea [pontos], so that all his crew were drowned, while he himself was driven by wind and waves on to my island.
Odyssey 5, modified Sourcebook
It is no coincidence that Kalypsō’s island is Ogygia, the location of which is described in the very first scroll of the Odyssey. Here we find the one place one can go that is furthest from the omphalos [navel] at Delphi (see “Oinops and Myth”):
Then owl-vision Athena said,  “Father, son of Kronos, King of kings, it served Aegisthus right, and so it would any one else who does as he did; but Aegisthus is neither here nor there; my heart is torn for prudent Odysseus, ill-fated man, who for a long time is  suffering far from his philoi on the sea-girt island, where is the navel of the sea. It is an island covered with forest and a goddess lives there, daughter of the magician Atlas, who looks after the bottom of the ocean, and carries the great columns that keep the sky and earth asunder.
Odyssey 1, modified Sourcebook
So Ogygia is the “navel of the sea,” and here I would like to quote Rien, one of our Hour 25 participants, who wonderfully points out the significance of its positioning in his Hour 25 forum post in “Return to the Wine-Dark Sea Part IV” :
In my thinking the navel of the world (omphalòs gês) is in Delphi but, moreover, in Scroll 1 of the Odyssey, Homeros describes the location of Ogygia as “where is the navel of the sea” (omphalòs thalάssēs). This juxtaposition describes, metaphorically, a pair of antipodal points: points where the compass directions meet.
On Ogygia this seems to be symbolized by the four-fold fountain [Scroll 5 70–73 A.T. Murray translation], flowing in four directions. If this reasoning holds ground, then Calypso’s Ogygia is located in the position which is farthest away from Delphi not only metaphorically, but also in terms of what I would like to call proto-geometry.
On Ogygia, Odysseus is at the furthest point in his journey home, but like Achilles emerging from his tent, Odysseus leaves the cave of Kalypsō and continues his journey around the midpoint/turning point knowing that more pain and hardship will come.
For ere this I have suffered much and toiled much amid the waves and in war; let this also be added unto that.  Odyssey 5, A.T. Murray translation
Nevertheless, I want to get home,  and can think of nothing else. If some god wrecks me when I am on the wine-faced [oinops] sea [pontos], I will bear it and make the best of it. I have had infinite trouble both by land and sea already, so let this go with the rest.”
Odyssey 5, modified Sourcebook
I have included two translations to show how even when translations differ, the Greek remains the same. In the Greek text for these two passages, the word for ‘wave’ (A.T. Murray translation from Perseus site) and ‘sea’ (from H24H Sourcebook) is κύμασι, from kūma. According to LSJ (Liddell-Scott-Jones Greek-English Lexicon), κῦμα [kūma], has a meaning of “anything swollen such as if pregnant: hence, wave, billow, of rivers as well as the sea”. A feminine noun with the same root, kūmas, has a meaning of ‘pregnant woman’. The verb κύω, [kῡō] with this same root, means ‘to conceive’. Τhis root seems to show a connection with swelling and potential—Odysseus is starting into his turning point. He is about to embark on a transformative journey home. He begins by welcoming suffering and infinite trouble—even if getting struck by lightning by an unnamed god in the middle of the pontos.
We know from Nagy, that events such as getting zapped by Zeus’ lightning bolt can signal the immortalization of a hero. So indeed, now with both heroes, we are seeing potential change—one that involves pain and a potential change of state.
Finally I want to return one last time to where it started for me, this quote from Odyssey 5, using the A. T. Murray translation, which is close to the Chapman translation I initially used—sort of coming full circle. However, this time I will put in the text my own annotations (which sometimes do not reflect the actual Greek), recording my impressions to show how this passage now seems to be a micro narrative of the Odyssey in just a few lines. It also shows that from the very beginning the oinops themes were all there, only we did not yet recognize them.
But even so I wish and long day by day [having to do with rotations, seasonality] to reach [journey, transition of one place to another] my home, and to see [awareness, emission of light] the day of my return [nostos, to be reborn as a cult hero]. And if again some god shall smite [danger, sacrifice] me on the wine-dark [oinops] sea [pontos], I will endure it, having in my breast a heart that endures affliction. For ere this I have suffered [pain] much and toiled much amid the waves and in war; let this also be added unto that.  So he spoke, and the sun set and darkness [reflection, light, absence of light] came on.
A.T. Murray 1919
At journey’s end, Achilles and Odysseus, in their new states of being achieve kleos, and kleos and nostos respectively.
Reaching Safe Harbor
This is also journey’s end for the Oinops Study Group. We started out searching for the meaning of “wine-dark” and we soon learned it really meant “wine-faced” or “having the look of wine”. We journeyed back—over 500 years before Homer—in time and meaning to the ancient script Linear B and the word wo-no-qo-so. Scholars believe the ancient Greek word ‘oinops‘ is attested in Linear B as ‘wo-no-qo-so’ and was associated with cattle rather than with the sea. It was here we learned that “exceptions” in a word search often are the most significant clues; Linear B was used in Minoan Crete as well as Mycenae.
We gathered up other associations along the way: light, danger, sacrifice and ritual, seasonality, and initiation. And with all these wondrous associations, we became full-benched ships and well-made plows. Now that we know about this word and how it fits into the poetry, this word has become part of us. The Study Group has now come full circle in that no matter what the translation, we prefer to use the Greek word form oinops because of all that it “carries” with it.
Journeys, whether it be by sea or by road, are best when accompanied by one’s philoi. Therefore, we are thankful to you, the Hour 25 Community, for all your support in our quest to find the meaning of oinops for which we came to find, the meaning of oinops is…οἶνοψ [oinops].
Please join us in the forum, “Return to the Wine-Dark Sea, Part IV” to celebrate!
For a visual retrospective, see “On the Nature of Journeys“.
 Sourcebook: The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours Sourcebook of Original Greek Texts Translated into English, Gregory Nagy, General Editor.
 Proto-geometry: a foundational theory of geometry involving the logic and the internal content of a concept. The theories revolve around the pragmatic foundations of geometry in human action, which in turn, underlie geometry in practice, handicraft (such as the Greek geometric pottery style) and technology. It explores geometrical concepts and ideas such as “straight” (line) or “flat” (surface).
 Nagy, The Best of the Achaeans, John Hopkins University Press, © 1979,1999, Ch10§41, p 203. Online at the Center for Hellenic Studies:
Magellanic Clouds, Milky Way and Zodiacal Light, by Fabrice Conques, Earth Science Picture of the Day, October 25, 2014, https://epod.usra.edu/blog/2014/10/magellanic-clouds-milky-way-and-zodiacal-light.html
Under Discussion: The Wine-dark Sea (pre-word study)
Return to the Wine-Dark Sea (first article in a ten-part series about the study of the word oinops)
Searching for Oinops
Connecting with Oinops
Seeing Oinops through a Different Lens
Oinops and the Wide Open Sea
Oinops and Oxen
Hesiodic Advice on Oinops
Oinops, Sacrifice and Ritual
Oinops and Myth