Tuesday, January 18, 2022


First Sleep in the Odyssey?

Zaria Gorvett, "The forgotten medieval habit of 'two sleeps'," BBC News (January 9, 2022):
And far from being a peculiarity of the Middle Ages, Ekirch began to suspect that the method had been the dominant way of sleeping for millennia — an ancient default that we inherited from our prehistoric ancestors. The first record Ekirch found was from the 8th Century BC, in the 12,109-line Greek epic The Odyssey, while the last hints of its existence dated to the early 20th Century, before it somehow slipped into oblivion.
A. Roger Ekirch, At Day's Close: Night in Times Past (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2006), p. 303:
However much it "colonized" the period of wakefulness between intervals of slumber, references to "first sleep" antedate Christianity’s early years of growth. Not only did such figures outside the Church as Pausanias and Plutarch invoke the term in their writings, so, too, did early classical writers, including Livy in his history of Rome, Virgil in the Aeneid, both composed in the first century B.C., and Homer in the Odyssey, written in either the late eighth or early seventh century B.C.
Id., p. 406, n. 15, gives a reference to "Allardyce Nicoll, ed., Chapman's Homer: The Iliad, The Odyssey and the Lesser Homerica (Princeton, N.J., 1967), II, 73," i.e.
In his first sleep, call up your hardiest cheer,
Vigour and violence, and hold him there,
In spite of all his strivings to be gone.
This is Chapman's rendering of Homer, Odyssey 4.414-416:
τὸν μὲν ἐπὴν δὴ πρῶτα κατευνηθέντα ἴδησθε,
καὶ τότ᾽ ἔπειθ᾽ ὑμῖν μελέτω κάρτος τε βίη τε,        415
αὖθι δ᾽ ἔχειν μεμαῶτα καὶ ἐσσύμενόν περ ἀλύξαι.
Here πρῶτα should be construed with ἴδησθε, not κατευνηθέντα. See Richard John Cunliffe, A Lexicon of the Homeric Dialect (1924; rpt. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1963), p. 350, col. 2, s.v. πρῶτος, sense (5) (e), citing this passage: "With a temporal conjunction, when first, as soon as." A.T. Murray's translation is accurate:
Now so soon as you see him laid to rest,
thereafter let your hearts be filled with strength and courage,
and do you hold him there despite his striving and struggling to escape.
The Wikipedia article on Biphasic and polyphasic sleep is typically obtuse:
A reference to first sleep in the Odyssey was translated as "first sleep" in the 17th century, but, if Ekirch's hypothesis is correct, was universally mistranslated in the 20th.
I suspect that Ekirch's other ancient references are also bogus, but I'm not going to waste time investigating them (please don't contact me if you do).


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