In the Odyssey, Odysseus is sometimes addressed as διογενής "Zeus-born". For example, 11.60:

διογενὲς Λαερτιάδη, πολυμήχαν' Ὀδυσσεῦ
O Zeus-born son of Laërtes, Odysseus of many tricks…

Clearly the meaning isn't that he's literally a son of Zeus, since his father is named in the same line. And L&S gives an alternative, that it simply means he's "ordained and upheld by Zeus".

But I'm curious where this secondary meaning came from. The word seems to be very transparently from the roots of Ζεύς + γόνος, from PIE *ǵenh₁- "give birth to".

Do we know how this "ordained" usage arose? Is this another meaning of γόνος that we see in other formations? Or is it a peculiarity of this particular word?

1 Answer 1


Well, γένος and γόνος can mean much more than "child of." They can also mean "descent," "stock," and "tribe." The "golden race" = χρύσεον γένος is not born of gold, but is made (ποίησαν) by the gods.

This doesn't really have anything to do with Odysseus per se. It's in fact used with Patroclus (1.337), Achilles (1.489), Ajax (4.489), and Agamemnon (9.106); there are others if you venture beyond the Iliad. None of whom is Zeus' child. Instead, they are all kings and especially they all belong to the race of heroes. It's an extended, metaphorical use of the word, and not one that should be taken literally.

Similarly, when Odysseus and others are called δῖος, they are not literally "heavenly" or necessarily divine.

  • Ah, interesting. So a better translation might be "heroic" or "of the heroic race"?
    – Draconis
    Apr 11, 2022 at 20:24
  • Aside from the tradition, is there any way to know which of Ζεύς and δῖος is actually the first member of the compound? Apr 11, 2022 at 20:26
  • @Vegawatcher I'm not sure. My initial inclination is to say no, but perhaps this is some rule I'm not aware of.
    – cmw
    Apr 11, 2022 at 20:38
  • 1
    N.B.: according to Homeric genealogy, Odysseus is not himself the son of a god, but he is the grandson of Autolykos (his mother's father, who named him, who gave him a significant boar's-tusk helmet, and who informs his character as a trickster and a thief). In Homer Autolykos in turn is the son of Hermes and (therefore) the grandson of Zeus, so Odysseus would not be the son but the great-great-grandson of Zeus, on his mother's side. Apr 12, 2022 at 11:07
  • 1
    @Vegawatcher True, this is the kind of case where metrical lengthening would be expected as otherwise the word wouldn't scan. BTW there's an odd usage δῖον γένος ἰοχέαιρα in Iliad 9.538, describing Artemis so presumably meaning "child of Zeus", which seems to suggest δῖος was sometimes taken as an adjective form of Ζεύς.
    – TKR
    Apr 12, 2022 at 20:14

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.