Veil and Citadel in Homer
In the Iliad and the Odyssey, one of the words for a woman’s veil, kredemnon, is the same word that, in the plural, refers to the walls of Troy. Kredemnon literally means “head-binder” and can apply to both the headgear of a woman and the citadel of a city. This paper will discuss Homer's connection between the linen veils of a woman and the stone “veils” of a city. The poet presents the kredemnon as an image of protective and transformative power. Such power surfaces in Odyssey 5, when the sea nymph Ino-Leukothea lends Odysseus her veil so he can survive the pounding storm. This veil, bound beneath his chest, empowers him to swim for two days and nights until he reaches the shore of the Phaeacians, from whom he will, at last, gain transport back to Ithaca. Penelope, whenever she appears before the abusive suitors, covers her face with her shining veils (lipara kredemna). Odysseus uses the very same words in reference to the walls of Troy. Having just returned to Ithaca, he begs Athena to inspire him with courage, “just as when we were loosing the shining kredemna of Troy” (Od. 13.388). Odysseus is faced with the task of reconstruction. Having loosed the kredemna of Troy, he must now tighten those of Ithaca. Odysseus must restore both his marriage and the metaphorical kredemna of his community at large, the bonds of their loyalty and trust. The kredemnon, as the veil of a married woman, obviously conveys the notion of chastity. Nevertheless, the poet of the Odyssey presents the veil primarily as an emblem of unity. It is a symbol of relationship based on mutual integrity, a fabric of human compassion as crucial to a city as its walls of stone.
Keywords: Vell, Kredemnon/Kredemna, Penelope, Odysseus, Ino-Leukothea
Dr. Lucinda Buck Alwa
Instructor, Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures