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Homer, Odyssey revisited > Books 9 and 10

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message 1: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments We now get to what some people would consider the heart of the Odyssey. Odysseus reveals himself, and then starts recounting the history of his ten years of wandering, trying to get home. In these books and the next two we hear most of the events for which the Odyssey is best known: the Land of the Lotus Eaters, the blinding of the Cyclops Polyphemus and the escape clinging onto the bellies of his sheep, the bag of winds, Circe’s turning Odysseus’s crewmen into pigs.

There are many ways to interpret these events, and I look forward to hearing how group members interpret them and if appropriate give them extended meaning as metaphors.

And all of this, of course, is first person narrative, and we are entitled to ask how truthful a narrator Odysseus is, how much of what he reports is accurately reported and how much, if any, he has embellished to make himself look better and more clever than the reality would indicate.


message 2: by David (new)

David | 2737 comments Odysseus establishes he has 12 ships at 9.155
Nine goats for each of the twelve ships
The Laestrygonians wiped out 11 of those ships (over 90%) leaving only Odysseus' ship which he docked outside the harbor. For the amount of damage dealt, I found the Laestrygonian event relatively short and terse compared to the other stories that took much less of a toll. I wonder why the biggest loss of life got the shortest time in the retelling?


message 3: by David (new)

David | 2737 comments Cphe wrote: "The land of the Lotus Eaters - what is it known as today?"

Herodotus, in the fifth century BC, was sure that the lotus-eaters still existed in his day, in coastal Libya:

A promontory jutting out into the sea from the country of the Gindanes is inhabited by the lotus-eaters, who live entirely on the fruit of the lotus-tree. The lotus fruit is about the size of the lentisk berry and in sweetness resembles the date. The lotus-eaters even succeed in obtaining from it a sort of wine.

Polybius identifies the land of the lotus-eaters as the island of Djerba (ancient Meninx), off the coast of Tunisia. Later this identification is supported by Strabo.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lotus-e...



message 4: by Lia (new)

Lia David wrote: "Odysseus establishes he has 12 ships at 9.155
Nine goats for each of the twelve ships
The Laestrygonians wiped out 11 of those ships (over 90%) leaving only Odysseus' ship which he docked outside..."


I certainly noticed how each and every death in the Iliad was a bloody, gory, cinematic tragedy on display; whereas death of Odysseus' men is just statistics.


message 5: by John (new)

John Seymour | 53 comments Surely I'm not the only one to notice that Odysseus' tale of woe begins with sex, drugs and rock and roll?


message 6: by Susan (new)

Susan | 528 comments If you need to sail home, surely Poseidon is the last god you want to anger.


message 7: by John (new)

John Seymour | 53 comments Susan wrote: "If you need to sail home, surely Poseidon is the last god you want to anger."

I thought of that when Odysseus was taunting Polyphemus. Having been clever enough to get Polyphemus to tell the other Cyclopes that he was being attacked by No One, shouldn't he have thought to leave well enough alone so that Polyphemus would tell Poseidon the same thing: "Father, you should make sure to punish No One for blinding me."


message 8: by Lia (new)

Lia John wrote: "Susan wrote: "If you need to sail home, surely Poseidon is the last god you want to anger."

I thought of that when Odysseus was taunting Polyphemus. Having been clever enough to get Polyphemus to ..."


Recall Polyphemus started out scorning the gods,

Unmoved he said, ‘Well, foreigner, you are
a fool, or from some very distant country.
You order me to fear the gods! My people
think nothing of that Zeus with his big scepter,
nor any god; our strength is more than theirs.
If I spare you or spare your friends, it will not
be out of fear of Zeus. I do the bidding
of my own heart.


If gods give men both good and evil “gifts,” if a blinded bard is compensated with transcendent knowledge that sighted men cannot access, then maybe blinding Polyphemus is a “gift?”


After the first taunt, Polyphemus tried to outwit Odysseus by “promising” him a gift. He was still trying to one-up Odysseus without gods’ helps. Only after the second taunt, and after Polyphemus recalls the prophecy out of name-recognition, did he turn to pray to daddy-Poseidon.

‘ But he prayed
holding his arms towards the starry sky,
‘Listen, Earth-Shaker, Blue-Haired Lord Poseidon:
acknowledge me your son, and be my father.
Grant that Odysseus, the city-sacker,
will never go back home. Or if it is
fated that he will see his family,
then let him get there late and with no honor,
in pain and lacking ships, and having caused
the death of all his men, and let him find
more trouble in his own house.’

Blue Poseidon
granted his son’s prayer.


That is to say, no second-taunt, no naming, no “conversion” of godless Polyphemus; no “guarantee” that he will surely, certainly get home — there will be pain, he will be late, he will have no honor, his men will die, he’ll find troubles in his own house, but he now knows absolutely and for sure that he can get home.

If anything, he’s not actually antagonising Poseidon, he’s SERVING him. This is more a game, a contest, a negotiation, rather than war with Poseidon.

Also, fun to think about who Odysseus’ audiences are — Phaeacians, basically nephews and nieces (or distant relatives) of Polyphemus. If the Cyclopes are godless and inhospitable; the Phaeacians seem to embrace the other extreme — hospitable, generous, and completely reliant on Poseidon. It’s probably profitable for Odysseus to tell them that he taught the Cyclopes a lesson, they have now learned that violence doesn't pay, they learned to respect the gods, and one of them is now “gifted” with blindness.


message 9: by Lia (new)

Lia The cat is out of the bag at this point — Hermes “taught” Odysseus to mistrust goddesses, and Odysseus applied that “knowledge” to Calypso and Ino (the one who tried to get Odysseus to take off his clothes … I suppose anyone would be suspicious with or without Hermes’ “wisdom.”)

Tell her to swear an oath by all the gods

that she will not plot further harm for you—
or while you have your clothes off, she may hurt you,
unmanning you.’



message 10: by Susan (new)

Susan | 528 comments John wrote: "Susan wrote: "If you need to sail home, surely Poseidon is the last god you want to anger."

I thought of that when Odysseus was taunting Polyphemus. Having been clever enough to get Polyphemus to ..."


Yes, and his men are telling him to leave the Cyclops alone, at least in part so he won’t be able to improve his aim at their ship. But Odysseus ignores them. “I would not heed them in my glorying spirit, but let my anger flare and yelled” (Fitzgerald version). Is this making sure he claims his cleverness for his future glory?


message 11: by David (new)

David | 2737 comments Everyman wrote: "how much, if any, he has embellished to make himself look better and more clever than the reality would indicate."

Reality? :)

It seems clear that Odysseus thinks rather highly of himself and his hero's heart.So much for the humble, "I'm number 2", when it comes to his archery skills.
[9.21] I am Odysseus, great Laertes’ son, Known for my cunning throughout the world, And my fame reaches even to heaven.

[9.490]    And when we were twice as far out to sea as before I called to the Cyclops again, with my men Hanging all over me and begging me not to:. . .They tried, but didn’t persuade my hero’s heart—

Lombardo Translation
This attitude, which seems to result in more pain for everyone, seems to put Odysseus squarely in Socrates' "silver" class of citizen.


message 12: by Lia (last edited May 02, 2018 10:36AM) (new)

Lia Remember back in Book 1, at assembly Athena says

His daughter it is who detains that luckless, sorrowful man, |55|

forever beguiling him with soft and wheedling words

to forget his island, Ithákē. Yet Odysseus, in his yearning

to perceive were it only the smoke rising up into the sky

from his homeland,
longs now for death. But your own heart

cares nothing for him, Olympian! Did not Odysseus |60|

by the Argives’ ships honor you with the sacrifices he made

in the broad land of Troy? Why, Zeus, do you hate him so?”

(Peter Green trans)



So this is what he’s yearning for. Nice “web” of yarns weaving it all together:
our own folly was what undid us.

“For nine days on end we sailed, both by day and by night,

and now on the tenth our homeland came into sight—

close enough indeed to see men tending their watch fires: |30|

then it was that sweet sleep came upon me in my exhaustion,


Knowing what the gods are like, I cringed. Be careful what you ask for there, my friend! A bad Djinn might grant you just the picture (or the perception) of smoke rising up from his homeland and nothing else!


message 13: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1725 comments Susan wrote: "John wrote: "Susan wrote: "If you need to sail home, surely Poseidon is the last god you want to anger."

I thought of that when Odysseus was taunting Polyphemus. Having been clever enough to get P..."


I think Odysseus shows his true colors in this book. He reveals more of himself than perhaps even he is aware. The book is riddled with irony.

Odysseus admits he and his men sacked the Cicones in Ismarus, killing men, dividing up spoils, and enslaving the women. When the Cicones defend themselves, Odysseus cries, “Poor us!”

He accuses the Cyclops of being “giants, louts, without a law to bless them” (Fitzgerald). This is ironic coming from an individual who has just admitted to plundering and thieving and killing.

It is ironic that Odysseus tries to depict himself as the protector of his men when he is actually the one responsible for causing many of their deaths. There are numerous occasions when his crew urge him to exercise restraint, but he refuses to heed their advice. They suggest stealing the cheese and lambs from the Cyclops and escaping before he returns. Odysseus refuses. His delay in departure causes the loss of some of his crew.

His arrogance gets the better of him when he taunts Polyphemus and reveals his name. This brings about the loss of more men and ships.

He may be trying to impress his audience with his "cleverness," but what comes across is his distorted self-image and his belief he can act with impunity.


message 14: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1725 comments I am struck by Odysseus’ depiction of the Cyclops as uncivilized, primitive, savage, and as “other.” This “othering” brings to mind Caliban in The Tempest.

Odysseus tells us the Cyclops have plenty of food even though they don’t grow it themselves. They live in caves, have no councils/leaders, don’t build ships, and have no interest in building cities or interacting with strangers. Odysseus interprets their lack of development as negative.

But is it? It seems to me they are living peaceful lives according to their own terms. They have no expansionist aims. Polyphemus performs his chores and organizes his surroundings. He is kind to his animals and speaks tenderly to his ram even while suffering from his wounds. We know the Cyclops have a sense of community because when Polyphemus cries out, his neighbors rush to come to his aid.

Granted, they have no agriculture. But agricultural also brought about the development of private property, inheritance issues, the subjugation of women, territorial wars, and a whole host of other problems. So agriculture is not all rosy.

Also, please note, it is only after Odysseus reveals he has been shipwrecked by Poseidon that Polyphemus gobbles up two of his men. Could that be because he recognizes Odysseus as a threat? After all, if his father opposes Odysseus, shouldn’t he also perceive Odysseus as an enemy?

Polyphemus’ “mistake” is that he is not Greek and does not uphold Greek standards of what it means to be civilized. Odysseus’ dismisses his values and lifestyle in the way that many indigenous peoples have been dismissed/decimated because their way of life is deemed savage and unworthy.


message 15: by Lia (last edited May 02, 2018 12:00PM) (new)

Lia Tamara wrote: "Odysseus admits he and his men sacked the Cicones in Ismarus, killing men, dividing up spoils, and enslaving the women. When the Cicones defend themselves, Odysseus cries, “Poor us!"

The Cicones are actually allies of Troy, it's mentioned in Book II of the Iliad, so sacking Ismarus is technically part of sacking Troy and not covered by guest-host contract. Though it's kind of manipulative of Odysseus to fail to mention that to the Phaeacians.

I also think the Phaeacians and the Cyclopes have something in common -- they are both highly dependent on their isolation, the sea that is a threat to others is actually their protection, with Poseidon as their protector.

Odysseus is a threat to them precisely because of their need to stay isolated. That he insists to cross (i.e. transgress) the boundaries (the sea) as a stranger is what makes him threatening. Poseidon demands Phaeacians to deny safe-passage to other groups regardless. That's the world order Poseidon tried to maintain, sea-travel is for his own "clans" only.

I don't think Polyphemus ate Odysseus' men out of allegiance to Poseidon, he explicitly said he does what he wants, not what the gods decree. He only changed his tunes after Odysseus outwitted him and identified himself.

This one is probably a stretch -- but eating his visitor is a somewhat efficient way to maintain the perfect order of his very tidy space. Everything there belongs; Odysseus, the stranger, does not belong.

I agree with @David and @Tamara that Odysseus is revealing his darker side, he's not even trying to make himself seem noble. He's not trying to inspire admirations from the Phaeacians -- he's trying to turn them away from Poseidon's established order; to impress on the Phaeacians that the age of isolation is over, Poseidon's rules are no longer enough to protect them. Men like himself are crossing seas, looting, sacking cities.

In other words, he isn't trying to come across as some gentle fatherly figure. He's trying to appear threatening.


message 16: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1725 comments Lia wrote: "He only changed his tunes after Odysseus outwitted him and identified himself..."

Actually, that is not quite correct.

After Odysseus identifies himself as a Greek who fought in the Trojan war, Polyphemus addresses him:

You order me to fear the gods! My people
think nothing of Zeus with his big scepter,
nor any god; our strength is more than theirs.
If I spare you or spare your friends, it will not
be out of fear of Zeus. I do the bidding
of my own heart. But are you going far
in that fine ship of yours, or somewhere near?"


This indicates that Polyphemus is open to sparing Odysseus and will make his own decisions even after he learns Odysseus is Greek. It is only after Odysseus reveals he was shipwrecked by Poseidon that Polyphemus eats two of his men:

But he
made no reply and showed no mercy. Leaping
up high, he reached his hands towards my men,
seized two, and knocked them hard against the ground...


Polyphemus may not pay attention to the gods, but he recognizes Odysseus as a potential enemy when he learns of Poseidon's role in the shipwreck.


message 17: by Lia (last edited May 02, 2018 01:01PM) (new)

Lia Tamara wrote: "Lia wrote: "He only changed his tunes after Odysseus outwitted him and identified himself..."

Actually, that is not quite correct.

After Odysseus identifies himself as a Greek who fought in the ..."


Ah, I was focusing on this

My people
think nothing of that Zeus with his big scepter,
nor any god;
our strength is more than theirs.


The Cyclopes are a kind of giant right? I don’t know about the timeline, whether this line of “myth” was already popular in Homer’s time, but the Giants also famously scorned, challenged the gods at some point, didn’t they? It sounds like Polyphemus outright elevated himself above the gods, any god.

I get it that he is the son of Poseidon, clearly he relies on him and counts on him to have his back if he's in troubles. I just don't think he was a "suppliant" until Odysseys outwitted him. It takes "pain" for Polyphemus to finally submit.


message 18: by Lia (new)

Lia I’m very impressed with this translation here:
The Cyclops groaned and labored in his pain,
felt with blind hands and took the door-stone out,
and sat there at the entrance, arms outstretched,
to catch whoever went out with the sheep.



He “labored” in his pain, sat there to catch whoever went out. After being … penetrated with a long, hard, hot object. You see where I’m going.

I have read about the (greek) wordplay on this, the sexualised language, the connotation to birthing pain. I’m just really surprised how well it retains that “birth” imagery and pun in English.

Also, Odysseus is outwitting a powerful opponent trying to catch his “birth” out of a cave. It sounds a lot like the cannibalistic, patricidal/ filicidal generational conflicts between Cronus/ Zeus/ and whatever came before that. It sounds like Odysseus is reenacting the birth of his own race here. (Or maybe I’m reading too much Joyce into this. Daedalus did wish to birth himself and be the conscience of his own race.)


message 19: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1725 comments Lia wrote: "I just don't think he was a "suppliant" until Odysseys outwitted him..."

Lia, I am not suggesting he was "suppliant" to Poseidon. I am saying that he sees Odysseus as a potential threat only after he learns Poseidon destroyed Odysseus' ships as in "the enemy of my father is my enemy."

That has little to do with being "suppliant" and everything to do with self-preservation.

But we can agree to disagree.


message 20: by Lia (new)

Lia Tamara wrote: "Lia wrote: "I just don't think he was a "suppliant" until Odysseys outwitted him..."

Lia, I am not suggesting he was "suppliant" to Poseidon. I am saying that he sees Odysseus as a potential threa..."


I see the distinction you're making. I still don't see Polyphemus as doing it out of intuitive allegiance to Poseidon. He clearly boasted that he does what he wants for himself, life on the island had been so easy for him, he needed to please nobody but himself. He only remembered the prophecy about his blinding after Odysseus named himself. Until this point, nothing constitutes a "threat" to Polyphemus or his survival, his island is as "blessed" as the Phaeacians'.


message 21: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Lia wrote: "I certainly noticed how each and every death in the Iliad was a bloody, gory, cinematic tragedy on display; whereas death of Odysseus' men is just statistics."

That's a nice point. Although that may change later in the work.


message 22: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments John wrote: "Having been clever enough to get Polyphemus to tell the other Cyclopes that he was being attacked by No One, shouldn't he have thought to leave well enough alone so that Polyphemus would tell Poseidon the same thing: "Father, you should make sure to punish No One for blinding me.""

Nice point. I would speculate that it's a matter of hubris, that Odysseus was so imbued with the idea of his being such a clever man that he couldn't not take credit for this clever escape. It was, I suspect, a boast that he could outsmart even the son of a god.

As with most manifestations of hubris, of course, it turned out badly by angering the one god which, as Susan pointed out, a person relying on getting home by sea should be especially careful not to anger.


message 23: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4617 comments Tamara wrote: "Polyphemus’ “mistake” is that he is not Greek and does not uphold Greek standards of what it means to be civilized. Odysseus’ dismisses his values and lifestyle in the way that many indigenous peoples have been dismissed/decimated because their way of life is deemed savage and unworthy. "

The distinguishing trait of the Cyclops is that they are solitary. This is a bizarre and totally foreign concept to Odysseus, and to Greek culture in general. (The adjective for a private person in Greek is "idios," from which we get the term "idiot." It's not as pejorative in Greek as it sounds in English, but it wasn't normal either.)

Odysseus is strangely curious about foreigners. When they land in the land of the Lotus Eaters he sends his crew out "to find out what sort of men eat their bread in this part of the earth," even though they have fully provisioned their ship with food and drink and need nothing from them. Odysseus just wants to learn about them. And when they arrive at the land of the Cyclops, he sets out himself, leaving most of his fleet behind, because he wants "to test out what sort of men they are who live here."

Apparently there is a price to pay for social science research. He seems to have learned this when he sends his fleet to investigate the Lestrygonians while he himself keeps a safe distance away.


message 24: by Lia (new)

Lia
Circe noticed me
sitting, not touching food, and weighed by grief.
She stood near me and asked, ‘Odysseus!
why are you sitting there so silently,
like someone mute, eating your heart, not touching
the banquet or the wine? You need not fear.
Remember, I already swore an oath.’
But I said, ‘Circe, no! What decent man
could bear to taste his food or sip his wine
before he saw his men with his own eyes,
and set them free?


This cracks me up. Of all the tall tales coming out of Odysseus,I found this one scene the most dubious. Odysseus (as told by Homer) famously takes care of his belly above all else. He said so to Achilles in Troy; he said as much to Alcinous:

I could tell many stories of the dangers
that I have suffered through; gods willed it so.
But let me have my meal, despite my grief.
The belly is just like a whining dog:
it begs and forces one to notice it,
despite exhaustion or the depths of sorrow.
My heart is full of sorrow, but my stomach
is always telling me to eat and drink.
It tells me to forget what I have suffered,
and fill it up.


Either Odysseus’s relationship with his stomach changed dramatically, or he’s telling incredulous lies to impress his host.


message 25: by John (new)

John Seymour | 53 comments Lia wrote: "John wrote: "Susan wrote: "If you need to sail home, surely Poseidon is the last god you want to anger."

I thought of that when Odysseus was taunting Polyphemus. Having been clever enough to get P..."


I don't read this as a guarantee, much less one Odysseus is aware of. "Daddy kill him or at least make him suffer a lot" is hardly a guaranty that I'm going to live.


message 26: by Lia (last edited May 03, 2018 04:27AM) (new)

Lia John wrote: "I don't read this as a guarantee, much less one Odysseus is aware of. "Daddy kill him or at least make him suffer a lot" is hardly a guaranty that I'm going to live..."

I suppose it depends on how you think a “curse” works.

I just noticed everything Zeus decrees to happen is happening, and it seems Athena’s request during assembly is also being fulfilled, exact to the number of days at sea, the location, what he gets out of whom, etc.

If we are to believe they treat words (prayers, curses, gods’ decrees) like incantations, then it seems we can count on Polyphemus’ curse to turn out exactly as he asks.

An alternative interpretation is that none of that happened, Odysseus is making things up to enchant the Phaeacians. Alcinous already spoke to Odysseus about the Cyclopes, and Cyclopes turned up in his story. Nausicaa and Athena both told him he has to win Arete over, and he talks about his crew reacting to his return as though he is their mother. He used sexualized language (in Greek) to describe the stabbing of Polyphemus, he described his emergence out of a cave as Polyphemus “labors” and suffers pain — as though to manipulate her into thinking about the painful cost of being alive, something very easy to forget in blessed Scheria where there’s no conflict and everything comes easily and abundantly.


Alcinous also told Odysseus about Poseidon’s prophecy. So maybe he’s just telling the Phaeacians that Poseidon granted Polyphemus that curse, the nature of the curse being that he’s allowed safe passage home after a certain amount of sufferings. Which means granting Odysseus safe passage is already acceptable to Poseidon.


message 27: by Ian (new)

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 619 comments Lia wrote: "Odysseus (as told by Homer) famously takes care of his belly above all else. He said so to Achilles in Troy; he said as much to Alcinous..."

When it comes to Circe, I would think that Odysseus may not be telling the truth, but rather is pressuring her. Despite being as dangerous as Polyphemus, she *is* capable of civilized behavior: she has now assumed the role of host, and *can't* let a guest go hungry. (A basic element of Zeus-fearing morality, which has come up before, and will again, after the return to Ithaca).

As for what he said to Achilles, I take it you are thinking of Book 19 of the Iliad, where Achilles is fasting until he takes immediate vengeance on the Trojans, and assumes that the whole army should do likewise. Odysseus tries to talk Achilles into allowing the troops, who had already been fighting, a break for a meal, so that they will be stronger when it comes to attacking the Trojans again.

This sounds like elementary military knowledge, as has been pointed out since -- I think -- antiquity. But the issue was actually a live one in classical times: a point which I think I owe to W. Kendrick Pritchett's five-volume "The Greek State at War."

It seems that the Greek armies had no easy-to-serve rations, which could be eaten while in formation, or even official army cooks to prepare and distribute something. If neither side was wiling to attack first, men already drawn up in a phalanx would, sooner or later, have to leave their places and go back to camp, where they, or their slaves, would fix a meal.

This breaking of ranks was extremely dangerous while facing an enemy, and victory might go to the commander who let his troops go hungry the longest, and struck when the enemy line was in disorder.

The armies in Homer don't form phalanxes, and seem to fight in disorderly masses following their leaders, but the risk of standing down presumably would be similar. (One wonders how the Greeks got on before they built the wall around their camp. Or maybe breaking off for meals before the Trojans could be defeated helps account for why the siege took ten years.)


message 28: by Kerstin (new)

Kerstin | 599 comments I found the taunting of Polyphemus rather comical, "look here, catch me now!" ...for some reason I imagine John Cleese of Monty Python as Odysseus :)


message 29: by Lia (last edited May 03, 2018 08:29AM) (new)

Lia Ian, sacker of preconceptions, you just broke my mental category of Achilles as the sort of heroes driven by his rage (heart, thumos); and Odysseus, his stomach.

I don't know if I share your suspicion that Odysseus was trying to pressure Circe. I've got another preconception working against this: Zeus sent Hermes to Aegisthus, Aegisthus rejected his wisdom, he was doomed. Zeus sent Hermes to Calypso, she knows better than to fight Zeus, she’s fine. Hermes shows up to offer advise/ moly to Odysseus, he follows his advice carefully as he faces similar “trials”, instead of a threat, Circe turned into an ally who did him no harm, gave him “secret knowledge” of how to get in and out of Hades, and gave him and his men every support imaginable, without any attempt to impede or delay them. As soon as his men were nursed back to health, she let them go. If the "evils" of the world can also be "good gifts" as long as you heed Hermes' wisdom, then it seems Zeus's "evil problem" is vindicated.

Obviously guest-host ritual/ obligation is a very big deal in the Odyssey, I have no objection to that. I just don’t see Circe as a dangerous threat to Odysseus, I see her as a friend, a guide, an asset.

Also, let me resist your very rational explanation of Achilles’ fast just a little: at the very least, I think it indicates how “godly” Achilles was, and in contrast, how completely unremarkable, earthly Odysseus is. He thoroughly suffers the sensations of his body, if he denies himself a meal, he (wants you to know) he suffers it greatly.

Which makes it a better manipulation tactic against the Phaeacians, given what he had just told Alcinous. (Look what a great motherly-leader I am, I refused food out of grief for my men.)


message 30: by Lia (new)

Lia Everyman wrote: "That's a nice point. Although that may change later in the work."

Fair enough, I just thought it might indicate the differences between Homer and Odysseus as story-tellers. Homer's vision seems more "divine," so far, Odysseus' seems completely human (but he's still got more stories to tell.)


message 31: by Lia (new)

Lia Kerstin wrote: "I found the taunting of Polyphemus rather comical, "look here, catch me now!" ...for some reason I imagine John Cleese of Monty Python as Odysseus :)"

Athena's "lit up" eyes get me every single time. I can't help seeing anime-eyes.


message 32: by Kerstin (last edited May 03, 2018 08:43AM) (new)

Kerstin | 599 comments We meet Odysseus the warrior in these chapters, and the ancient Greek warrior culture. To be victorious in war, you can never underestimate the enemy, for he is presumably just as smart as you are, maybe even more so. If you are in foreign territory, you are at a disadvantage. So you have to outsmart him. You have to be cunning, confident, and a healthy dose of bravado and cockiness won't hurt, as long as you don't slump into over-confidence. All of these Odysseus has in abundance - he is a hero, after all - and it does get him into trouble, for past victories can make a man feel invincible without the requisite humility. Odysseus does not strike me as humble, even when walking on the beach with nothing to wear but his birthday suit.

So around the fire, belly full and ample wine, he tells his story. Being a warrior is a violent life, and so far he has gotten himself out of his scrapes. His dares, while not necessarily smart at the time, later make for great story-telling.


message 33: by Dave (new)

Dave Redford | 145 comments Tamara wrote: "I am struck by Odysseus’ depiction of the Cyclops as uncivilized, primitive, savage, and as “other.” This “othering” brings to mind Caliban in The Tempest."

Yes, the way Odysseus describes the Cyclops (in the Fagles translation, "a savage deaf to justice, blind to law") struck me too as a bit rich and hypocritical, given how Odysseus and his shipmates have just raided the Ciconian people, killing the men and enslaving the women.

That said, though it has its merits, I have to confess I'm not completely sold on a postcolonial reading of this passage, for various reasons:
– The historical credibility of the idea that there was a Greek army in the Mycenean age, backed by the full apparatus of the state, bent on colonising foreign lands? I tend to think of the situation back then as more competing bands of marauding pirates, absent of the empire-building aims that we would associate with the Romans, Mongols, Ottomans or British, for example.
– Polyphemus is the son of a God, so occupies a status more elevated than most mortals. Also, nobody in their right mind would think of enslaving a Cyclops and occupying his land. For these reasons and others, I struggle with the idea that Polyphemus is somehow a symbol of oppressed, indigenous people.
– As Everyman points out in the intro, the unreliability of Odysseus as narrator makes this whole passage tough to interpret.


message 34: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1725 comments Dave wrote: "For these reasons and others, I struggle with the idea that Polyphemus is somehow a symbol of oppressed, indigenous people..."

Dave, I didn't mean to suggest that Polyphemus is a symbol of oppressed, indigenous people. I only meant that I saw a parallel between Odysseus' attitude toward a seemingly less "civilized" culture and the attitude of colonial powers when they interacted with indigenous people.


message 35: by David (new)

David | 2737 comments Dave wrote: "Tamara wrote: "I am struck by Odysseus’ depiction of the Cyclops as uncivilized, primitive, savage, and as “other..."

I think Odysseus refers to them this way because they are all individual neighbors and are not organized into a civil state. Also they neither show deference to the gods nor follow the rules of hospitality to strangers. More simply, they are neither Greek, nor do they follow Greek ways.


message 36: by David (new)

David | 2737 comments Kerstin wrote: "I found the taunting of Polyphemus rather comical, "look here, catch me now!" ...for some reason I imagine John Cleese of Monty Python as Odysseus :)"

And for losing his only eye, Polyphemus seemed rather like the black knight, "What that? Its only a flesh wound!"


message 37: by Christopher (new)

Christopher (Donut) | 537 comments David wrote: "And for losing his only eye, ..."

Maybe Polyphemus is going to become the bard of the cyclopes.


message 38: by David (new)

David | 2737 comments Hermes seems an interesting character. As the god of commerce and trade, among other things he certainly seems to provide a lot of "across the divide instruction" to humans as well as gods on how they should interact with each other.


message 39: by Tamara (last edited May 03, 2018 12:12PM) (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1725 comments I am curious to see what you make of the Moly flower Hermes gives to Odysseus to thwart Circe’s magic.

The moly is described as having black roots and white petals. It is a gift from the gods: “It is hard/ for mortal men to dig it up, but gods/ are able to do everything.”

Circe is able to turn Odysseus’ men into swine because they do not have the protection of the moly. Another way of stating this is that Circe transforms them into manifestations of their baser instincts. She is unable to do the same for Odysseus because of the moly.

The moly echoes another flower that is also a gift from the gods. I am thinking specifically of Homer’s Hymn to Demeter and the narcissus that lures Kore/Persephone into the underworld. It has been placed by Gaia under instructions from Zeus.

When Kore plunges into the underworld, she is young, innocent, virginal, and without voice or agency. When she emerges from the underworld, she is Persephone, queen of the underworld, powerful, empowered, with voice and agency.

We have two flowers/plants; both are gifts from the gods. The one prevents Odysseus from being reduced to his baser instincts; the other acts as the catalyst that propels Kore/Persephone to a higher level of self-awareness and empowerment.

I’m wondering if there is something to this. I’m wondering if the black and white of the flower is in any way comparable to the yin and yang—the feminine and masculine energies.

I am not suggesting Homer knew anything about yin and yang. What I am suggesting is that both Odysseus and Persephone benefitted from a gift representing wholeness given to them by the gods, a gift balancing and maintaining harmony of the two energies, the masculine and feminine.

Too much of a stretch?


message 40: by Rafael (new)

Rafael da Silva (morfindel) | 337 comments Why is this thread at the general folder not at the Odyssey one?

Lia wrote: "Tamara wrote: "Lia wrote: "He only changed his tunes after Odysseus outwitted him and identified himself..."

Actually, that is not quite correct.

After Odysseus identifies himself as a Greek who..."


The giants that have challenged the gods were the Titans, sons and daughters of Uranus, they preceded the Olympian gods. Polyphemus is son of Poseidon, so not a Titan.

Tamara wrote: "Polyphemus’ “mistake” is that he is not Greek and does not uphold Greek standards of what it means to be civilized. Odysseus’ dismisses his values and lifestyle in the way that many indigenous peoples have been dismissed/decimated because their way of life is deemed savage and unworthy."

Reading your message I thought in the same way as your message finishes. The Portuguese thought that the indians were lazy because they only work to get the enough, not to have surplus or profit.

Tamara wrote: "Odysseus admits he and his men sacked the Cicones in Ismarus, killing men, dividing up spoils, and enslaving the women. When the Cicones defend themselves, Odysseus cries, “Poor us!”

He accuses the Cyclops of being “giants, louts, without a law to bless them” (Fitzgerald). This is ironic coming from an individual who has just admitted to plundering and thieving and killing."


Good point.


message 41: by Rafael (new)

Rafael da Silva (morfindel) | 337 comments I have some questions.

When Odysseus stabbed Polyphemus' eye we know that he has only one eye? In my brazilian edition is not clear that the Cyclopes have only one eye, except that is said some times "his eye".

In these lines is said

But the ram my well-greaved comrades gave to me alone, when the flocks were divided, as a gift apart; and on the shore I sacrificed him to Zeus, son of Cronos, god of the dark clouds, who is lord of all, and burned the thigh-pieces. Howbeit he heeded not my sacrifice, but was planning how all [555] my well-benched ships might perish and my trusty comrades.

http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/t...

How Odysseus knows that Zeus not accepted the sacrifice? I misread it?


message 42: by Christopher (new)

Christopher (Donut) | 537 comments Rafael wrote: "I have some questions.

Howbeit he heeded not my sacrifice, but was planning how all [555] my well-benched ships might perish and my trusty comrades...."


I think this is a straightforward case of "I didn't get what I prayed for. It was not God's will."


message 43: by Lia (last edited May 03, 2018 01:10PM) (new)

Lia Christopher wrote: "I think this is a straightforward case of "I didn't get what I prayed for. It was not God's will."

This, but within the context of a chain of quixotic winning and losing. (Wish Nabokov would tally up the score for Odysseus too.)

I think he's trying to tell the Phaeacians what it's like to live life on the high sea without the kind of protection and certainty they have. His ship won't take him to his destination in a day, and he can't control the wind, you can fall asleep and lose everything, the boats won't steer themselves. You gain some, you lose some. Sometimes some gods kick you, sometimes other gods help you.

Odysseus wants them to think he got helped by the gods, but then lost 90% of his fleet, but then be beat the Cyclopes and delighted his men, but then he got scorned by Zeus. Which sets him up nicely to be helped by Hermes and Circe.


message 44: by Dave (new)

Dave Redford | 145 comments Tamara wrote: "I only meant that I saw a parallel between Odysseus' attitude toward a seemingly less "civilized" culture and the attitude of colonial powers when they interacted with indigenous people."

Ah, OK, I see that distinction.

When I think back to our group read of Herodotus, and the emphasis on "custom is king" in the Histories, it's clear that Odysseus fails the test here of respecting a culture that's different to his. There's certainly a cultural blind spot in the way Odysseus calls someone a "savage" because they don't follow certain customs (in this case, around hospitality and the gods), yet thinks that his own pillaging and murder is OK.


message 45: by Rafael (last edited May 03, 2018 02:02PM) (new)

Rafael da Silva (morfindel) | 337 comments Christopher wrote: "Rafael wrote: "I have some questions.

Howbeit he heeded not my sacrifice, but was planning how all [555] my well-benched ships might perish and my trusty comrades...."

I think this is a straight..."


Oh. Ok. It makes sense.


message 46: by David (new)

David | 2737 comments Everyman wrote: "There are many ways to interpret these events, and I look forward to hearing how group members interpret them and if appropriate give them extended meaning as metaphors.."

I think it is more fun to take the events at face value as Odysseus relays them as the Phaeacians would have without trying to "interpret" them with some psychological or other meanings.
Oh, you both have layers. Oh. You know, not everybody like onions.
Donkey, From Shrek
Not that I won't try and think of some, but do we know with any certainty if "Homer" intended the story to work metaphorically or allegorically on as many levels as we can imagine it can?


message 47: by David (new)

David | 2737 comments Dave wrote: "Tamara wrote: "I only meant that I saw a parallel between Odysseus' attitude toward a seemingly less "civilized" culture and the attitude of colonial powers when they interacted with indigenous peo..."

After my posting about the layers we can imagine, here is one.

Odysseus calls the cyclops a less civilized culture. The fact that they only have one eye, represents a weakness, or what we in IT call a single point of failure. Maybe this physical vulnerability is the manifestation of the vulnerability inherently present in less civilized cultures?


message 48: by Ian (last edited May 03, 2018 09:33PM) (new)

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 619 comments Rafael wrote: "I have some questions.

When Odysseus stabbed Polyphemus' eye we know that he has only one eye? In my brazilian edition is not clear that the Cyclopes have only one eye, except that is said some times "his eye"...."


Another of my long answers to a short, but good, question....

That is a good translation: it refrains from inserting "common knowledge." And you are obviously a good reader to catch it.

It seems that just about everyone who comes to read the Odyssey has already been told (or seen in movies) that Cyclops = "one-eyed," when it should be understood as "round-eyed" or "orb-eyed," without the implication that it is a single eye. The story as we have it in Homer does describe destroying a single eye, so this is clearly a part of the tradition, not a frequently-repeated error in reading the poem.

The best explanations for this curious fact that I've seen are:

(a) just about everyone already knew that part of the story of Odysseus, so it wasn't necessary to explain it all, even when Polyphemus was mentioned as a source of Poseidon's anger earlier in the epic,
or
(b) the original listening audience already knew *other* stories about one-eyed Cyclopes, and could be counted on to fill up the gap in the information without being told.

As support for (b), we do have a story, or an allusion to such a story, in Hesiod's account of the births and adventures of the gods, the Theogony, lines 1136-46. (I apologize for the slightly stilted English: the translation I've quoting is a little over a century old, and was using some archaic forms to begin with):

"And again, she [that is, Earth] bare the Cyclopes, overbearing in spirit, Brontes, and Steropes and stubborn-hearted Arges, who gave Zeus the thunder and made the thunderbolt: in all else they were like the gods, but one eye only was set in the midst of their fore-heads. And they were named Cyclopes (Orb-eyed) because one orbed eye was set in their foreheads. Strength and might and craft were in their works."

If some of the this material used by Hesiod, who is usually considered post-Homeric, was already known in Homer's time, this would be the best explanation: but we don't know that for sure.

We do know, from comparison to Ancient Near Eastern sources, that a lot of what Hesiod tells us would have been "borrowed" from other cultures, and perhaps circulating among Greeks, since the Bronze Age, or at least early enough for Homer or his predecessors to come across it.

There is a fairly recent short article on a *possible* Mesopotamian example of a fight with a one-eyed supernatural entity, complete with ancient illustration. A full understanding requires some previous knowledge of Babylonian gods and myths, but most of it is clear enough: See https://www.academia.edu/25635443/Ner...
for "Nergal and the Babylonian Cyclops," by A.R. George. (Nergal is ruler of the world of the dead, like Hades in Homer, but also has a reputation as a mighty warrior.)

On the other hand (a), the possibility that the whole story-complex of the cannibal giant in a cave, the blinding, and the escape using animals, *was* already known, although not necessarily attached to Odysseus himself, can't be discarded.

Similar stories are found throughout the Old World, and in North America, sometimes in places where a direct or even indirect Homeric influence is *very* unlikely. It is catalogued in the standard "Tale Type" index of folklore as Type 1137, but it is found with varying numbers of incidents and features (also catalogued, as "Motifs").

I've been reading -- slowly, they are very dense -- three recent articles on folktales which try to track Type 1137's distribution in time and space. So far, one suggests that the basic story could be Paleolithic, with the domestic animals a Neolithic addition. (I can provide on-line references, if anyone is interested in these fairly technical analyses of folktales and their distribution.)

However, the single eye doesn't seem to be a universal feature -- I know I've read one version where a forked stick is used instead of a single-pointed one: I haven't read far enough in the articles to see if this issue is mentioned in any of them.


message 49: by Rafael (last edited May 03, 2018 02:13PM) (new)

Rafael da Silva (morfindel) | 337 comments Ian wrote: "Rafael wrote: "I have some questions.

When Odysseus stabbed Polyphemus' eye we know that he has only one eye? In my brazilian edition is not clear that the Cyclopes have only one eye, except that..."


Not too long just long enough to be good. Thank you for your response.


message 50: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1725 comments David wrote: "Maybe this physical vulnerability is the manifestation of the vulnerability inherently present in less civilized cultures?..."

That all depends on how you define "less civilized" and on who has the power to define what is or is not considered civilized.


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