Classics and the Western Canon discussion

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Homer, Odyssey revisited > Books 17 and 18

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message 1: by Tamara (last edited May 29, 2018 04:10PM) (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1725 comments Books 17-18

These two books show Athena heavily intervening in the events to control the outcome. First, she pours “unearthly grace” on Telemachus, surprising everyone with his visible transformation. She prompts Odysseus to go among the suitors to beg for scraps to differentiate between the good and bad suitors. But we are also told, “although she had no thought of saving any/out of the massacre which was to come” (Wilson). Why would she ask Odysseus to do this if she has no intention of saving any of the suitors?

Athena intervenes again to increase Odysseus’ strength when he fights Irus. And although Odysseus suggests that Amphinomus may be spared the blood bath since he was the most hospitable toward him, we are told Athena had already condemned him to die. She then plants an idea into Penelope’s head, beautifies her during sleep to wow the suitors, and sends her down to demand fancy gifts from them. And finally, she increases Odysseus’ anger toward the suitors by making them jeer and taunt him mercilessly.

Athena wanted pain to sink down deep
Inside Odysseus. She made the suitors
Keep taunting him. Eurymachus was jeering
To make the others laugh.

(Wilson; lines 345-349)

Athena is intentionally navigating the situation to fuel Odysseus’ anger toward the suitors. She prods them to become increasingly malicious toward him. And she has apparently already made up her mind that all the suitors will die. It seems she is out for indiscriminate blood. There is no leniency, no mercy, no shades of grey, no accommodation for repentance. She is not going to be happy unless there is a complete blood bath. It’s all or nothing.

Is this what we understand by justice? What is the nature of divine justice as exhibited by Athena?


message 2: by Rafael (last edited May 29, 2018 11:25AM) (new)

Rafael da Silva (morfindel) | 337 comments Athena is the goddess of war too, so her behavior and mindset are not that strange. But, indeed, it make me thought that since the beginning she wanted to see a bloodbath, maybe this is the reason that she so eagerly tried to help Odysseus to survive.


message 3: by Susan (new)

Susan | 528 comments In a previous week's discussion, someone asked about description of women as white armed. My notes for book 18 where Penelope is described as "whiter than sawn ivory" say "paleness was valued in the woman, darkness in the man in Homer. (cf 16.175) "White-armed" is a common female epithet e.g. 6.101, cf 23.240.). ". Peter Jones, Commentary. That's not much of an explanation. Perhaps, a pale complexion conveyed that they did not need to work outside in the fields?


message 4: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1725 comments Susan wrote: "Perhaps, a pale complexion conveyed that they did not need to work outside in the fields?..."

I think that's right. It was a sign of affluence for women to have a pale complexion because it indicated they did not have to perform manual labor in the outdoors.


message 5: by Susan (new)

Susan | 528 comments Cphe wrote: "Question:

"These were his words, but hers were left unwinged" Mendelbaum greek 57-84

Unwinged is that meaning unheard, unspoken?"


Fitzgerald translates it as “She caught back the swift words upon her tongue,” meaning as you say, she didn’t speak them. Wilson is totally different: “His flying words hit home.”


message 6: by David (new)

David | 2737 comments Tamara wrote: "Is this what we understand by justice? What is the nature of divine justice as exhibited by Athena?"

By Socrates' standards the suitors are committing an injustice by insinuating themselves in other people's business, busybodies, and taking other people's stuff. The suitors continue to behave badly and fail Odysseus' tests. Without adequate law enforcement to do it for them, they seem justified in seeking justice themselves. Plus, he is the King of Ithaca, he is the law, right? Also there is a great and growing sense of kill the suitors or wait too long and by killed by them. Given all of the foreshadowing, I am champing at the bit for the suitor's demise.

It seems the idea that "It isn't really over till the bad guy(s) are dead" didn't start with Hollywood.

The alternative of Odysseus simply walking in and announcing "Honey I'm home!, whereupon the suitors all apologize, promise to make amends, and all go quietly to their homes and make good on those promised amends wouldn't make for a very exciting story.

Divine justice seems too capricious for rules and seems more like revenge.


message 7: by Ian (new)

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 619 comments Cphe wrote: "That's been the case for women through the ages hasn't it? It's almost a sign of prosperity.

Those with pale skin and hands (the hands always tell) tend not to do manual labour."


In pretty much all traditional societies work out of doors, let alone outside her own household, was the mark of a woman from the lower classes.

And the pale skin business is certainly true. There is a theory that this began to change in the US when railroads made it possible, even easy, for the northern rich to escape the winter in the sunny South, so evidence of exposure to the winter sun showed you *didn't* have to work.

The hands may been pale, but in Archaic and Classical Greece a respectable wife or good daughter was one who kept her hands busy spinning thread and weaving cloth, and this attitude seems to have carried over into the aristocracy. (Greek poets sometimes speak of "broad" or "strong" hands of women, instead of, or with the implication of, "beautiful" ones.) Penelope being a case in point, although she admittedly claims to be working on a "special project."

This has not always been the case. Proper Victorians would have been shocked at a "respectable" woman doing *economically* productive work, instead of "good works" -- an attitude that actually filtered down to elements of the working class. One of the official purposes of some early British labor unions was to get a wage for men that would allow "their" women to stay home, where they belonged. (In the rural background most of the new factory workers, coal miners, etc., came from, women did a LOT of manual labor -- and not always at home.)

Of course, a lot of those respectable middle-class women were very busy running a household, which had some economic value, even if not remunerated, and even with the help of servants. But, like everyone else, Victorians were quite capable of ignoring the obvious when it conflicted with a prevailing theory.


message 8: by David (new)

David | 2737 comments
[18.131-136]
And Odysseus, from his mind’s teeming depths:
“Amphinomus, you come across as a sensible man,
Just as your father was. I have heard of him,
Nisus of Dulichium, a good man, and wealthy,
Known far and wide. They say you are his son, And you seem soft-spoken, a good man yourself.

Lombardo
Is Amphinomus the example of the good man who does nothing in the face of evil, or and example of a good man keeping in bad company?


message 9: by Rafael (new)

Rafael da Silva (morfindel) | 337 comments A not so important question: that dog os of what breed? It was old enough to get ties with Odysseus and after 20 years is still alive? Or my math is wrong?


message 10: by Christopher (new)

Christopher (Donut) | 537 comments Rafael wrote: "A not so important question: that dog os of what breed? It was old enough to get ties with Odysseus and after 20 years is still alive? Or my math is wrong?"

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of...

Twenty years is an exceptionally long life for a dog. But, artistically, it makes sense for a dog who was a puppy to be old when O. comes back.-- and dies from joy, basically (or old age).


message 11: by Rafael (new)

Rafael da Silva (morfindel) | 337 comments Christopher wrote: "Rafael wrote: "A not so important question: that dog os of what breed? It was old enough to get ties with Odysseus and after 20 years is still alive? Or my math is wrong?"

https://en.wikipedia.org..."


Wow! Thanks for the link. I never thought that a dog could live for 29 years.


message 12: by Christopher (new)

Christopher (Donut) | 537 comments Wow. I just finished Book XVIII, and it was really good.

Homer has got Odysseus home, and really, it's now just a question of time before the 'slow singing and flower bringing' for the suitors and their kin, but as long as O. is in disguise in his own house, Homer is going to milk that situation for all it's worth.

Lots of trash talk in this book, and it really does build, so that this speech was perhaps the best:

Or again, if this day the son of Kronos should bring on a battle, and I were given a great shield and two spears, and a
helmet all of bronze well fitted over my temples,
so you would see me taking my place as one of the foremost
380 fighters, and you could not speak so in scorn of my belly.
But now you are very insulting, and think to be short with me;
also, as I suppose, you think you are a tall man and powerful,
because you have dealings with few men and no brave ones;
surely, if Odysseus were to come back to the land of his fathers, 385 the gates of the house, although they are very wide, would suddenly be too narrow as you took flight to escape from the forecourt.’
He spoke, and the anger mounted in the heart of Eurymachos,

And then, Telemachus:

But the suitors all through the shadowy halls were raising a tumult,
400 and thus they would speak, each man looking at the man next him:
‘How I wish this stranger could have gone to perdition
somewhere else, before he came here; he has raised such a tumult,
and now we are fighting over beggars; there will be no pleasure in
the stately feast at all, since vile things will be uppermost.’
405 Now the hallowed prince Telemachos spoke a word to them:
‘Fools, you are out of your minds and no longer conceal inside you
what you have eaten and drunk. It must be some god who troubles you.
You have feasted well; go to your homes and sleep, whenever,
that is, anyone desires to go home; I drive away no man.’
410 So he spoke, and all of them bit their lips in amazement at
Telemachos, and the daring way he had spoken to them.

It seems that Telemachus and Penelope are bound to honor the rules of hospitality, even though they and the suitors all know the suitors are abusing the hospitality.


message 13: by Christopher (new)

Christopher (Donut) | 537 comments Cphe wrote: "With the Mandlebaum translation the hound's age is nineteen.

How could there be discrepancies in the age of the dog translation to translation?"


Cphe,

It is an inference from the dog recognizing Odysseus, even though O. has been away for twenty years.


message 14: by Susan (new)

Susan | 528 comments Seems like a slip in the Mandelbaum. If Odysseus has been gone 20 years, Argos must be at least 20 years old since he knew Odysseus before he went to Troy.


message 15: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4617 comments Cphe wrote: "Question:

"These were his words, but hers were left unwinged" Mendelbaum greek 57-84

Unwinged is that meaning unheard, unspoken?"


There is some debate about the meaning of "winged," but the term is used for two things: arrows and words. The "wings" of an arrow are the feathers used to help the arrow fly accurately to its destination. By analogy, we can infer that "winged" words are shot like an arrow at their target. "Unwinged" might mean what you say then -- that they don't quite fly right. Maybe they're unheard, or maybe muttered under the speakers breath.


message 16: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4617 comments Cphe wrote: "With the Mandlebaum translation the hound's age is nineteen.

How could there be discrepancies in the age of the dog translation to translation?"


The Greek says that "the fate of black death seized Argos upon seeing Odysseus in the twentieth year." Whether that "twentieth year" refers to Argos's age or the length of time that Odysseus has been away is unclear. In either case, Argos must be at least 20 years old. I have no idea where 19 comes from.


message 17: by David (new)

David | 2737 comments I hope my Australian Cattle Dog beats the record.


message 18: by David (new)

David | 2737 comments OK, i will come out and say it. I thought the battle of the beggars with Irus was humorous. Was it intended to be a bit of comedy relief? I afraid I might be wrong in feeling this way about it because the suitors also found it humorous.


message 19: by Christopher (new)

Christopher (Donut) | 537 comments David wrote: "OK, i will come out and say it. I thought the battle of the beggars with Irus was humorous. Was it intended to be a bit of comedy relief? I afraid I might be wrong in feeling this way about it beca..."

It is interesting that Homer wrote the first epic poem, and the first 'mock heroic' poem as well. Isn't the wrestling match of the beggars a parody of the struggles in the Iliad?


message 20: by Susan (new)

Susan | 528 comments Cphe wrote: "Mendelbaum refers to O as "boxing" (when he has the fight with the other beggar in the hall) but I'm wondering if that term is too modern for the time period depicted here?"

There’s a boxing contest in the Iliad as part of the funeral games for Patroclus, although I don’t think they wore gloves. This is from the Perseus version:
“So the twain, when they had girded themselves, stepped into the midst of the place of gathering, and lifting their mighty hands on high one against the other, fell to, and their hands clashed together in heavy blows. Dread then was the grinding of their teeth, and the sweat flowed on every side from off their limbs But upon him goodly Epeius rushed [690] as he peered for an opening,and smote him on the cheek, nor after that, methinks, did he long stand upright, for even there did his glorious limbs sink beneath him. And as when beneath the ripple of the North Wind a fish leapeth up on the tangle-strewn sand of a shallow, and then the black wave hideth it, even so leapt up Euryalus when he was smitten. But great-souled Epeius [695] took him in his hands and set him on his feet, and his dear comrades thronged about him and led him through the place of gathering with trailing feet, spitting out clotted blood and letting his head hang to one side; and they brought him wandering in his wits and set him down in the midst of their company, and themselves went and fetched the two-handled cup.”


message 21: by David (new)

David | 2737 comments Christopher wrote: " Isn't the wrestling match of the beggars a parody of the struggles in the Iliad?"

That is an interesting thought, but I can't quite see it that way.

Odysseus stated several times now that "his belly", ie., food was the reason men went to war, although I do not think the recent war with the Trojans was over food. Maybe this is a way to poke fun at that idea to knock it down a degree or two leaving room for bigger causes, i.e., rude suitors in the house, or more metaphorically, a just civil state.


message 22: by David (new)

David | 2737 comments Tamara wrote: Athena is intentionally navigating the situation to fuel Odysseus’ anger toward the suitors. She prods them to become increasingly malicious toward him."

Maybe Athena knows that Odysseus is so naturally gentle, preferring to rely on his cunning rather than his fighting prowess, that she needs him to go from angry to hateful in order to wind him up enough to be able to kill all of the suitors?


message 23: by Tamara (last edited Jun 01, 2018 02:27AM) (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1725 comments David wrote: "Maybe Athena knows that Odysseus is so naturally gentle...

Odysseus naturally gentle? I can think of a lot of adjectives to describe Odysseus, but "gentle" wouldn't exactly spring to mind :)


message 24: by Susan (new)

Susan | 528 comments I see Odysseus as having a mix of characteristics and behaviors. It appears he can be gentle as testified by his mother (okay maybe biased) and Eumaeus. Obviously, he wasn't gentle at Troy or against Troy's allies. With the Cyclops, I would argue that he and his men had no choice -- it was them or the Cyclops -- not gentle, but more defensive than warlike.


message 25: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1725 comments Susan wrote: "With the Cyclops, I would argue that he and his men had no choice -- it was them or the Cyclops -- not gentle, but more defensive than warlike. .."

But even with the Cyclops, Odysseus had a choice. His men advised him to steal the cheese and lambs from the Cyclops' cave and run off before the Cyclops got back. But he insisted on waiting for the Cyclops. He admits to the Phaeacians it would have been a better choice to listen to his men's advice (Book 9: 223-228).


message 26: by Lia (last edited Jun 01, 2018 06:50AM) (new)

Lia IIRC Odysseus said it would have been more profitable to just steal the Cyclopes’ stuff and run, not a better choice. Apparently profit isn’t the only metrics of good/bad. And Odysseus might not be a consequentialist.

At any rate, he couldn’t know what kind of people dwell there until they met, nothing in the cave hints at violent cannibals. Wanting to meet people and exchange gifts isn’t exactly an unreasonable risk. His men’s tendency to choose the path of least risk, least discomfort (i.e. inside the bottle neck and also landing at Halios and choosing sacrilege over suffering hunger) is what killed them. Odysseus made the harder choice, not necessarily the worse choice.

I really think we should not judge Odysseus’ nature as a ruler based on how he handles strangers and enemies. Good kings were expected to vanquish enemies and those who threaten his people. Odysseus might be learning that it’s necessary to surgically remove the “cancerous” members of his society or the whole crew can be lost.


message 27: by Susan (new)

Susan | 528 comments As I recall, unfortunately, the stone that blocked the Cyclops cave when he went out was too heavy for Odysseus and his men to move. Once they met the Cyclops, they were trapped. As for whether he should have avoided the whole encounter, well, that wouldn't make much of a story.


message 28: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4617 comments I don't think it's Homer's intention to depict Odysseus as gentle or kindly in general -- the first word of the book is "Andra," which is one diphthong from Andreia, the word for courage (also translated "manliness.") I think many of these instances are meant to depict courage more than violence or brutality. Odysseus doesn't advocate for brutality, though there are certainly times when he is unable to restrain it. And we see in Book 17 that he is even able to "turn the other cheek" when it's the smart thing to do.

In Aristotle's Ethics we saw that courage is the mean between cowardice and rashness. That might be what we're looking at here -- how Odysseus arrives at the prudent choice. Gentleness may sometimes be the prudent choice; at other times, not.


message 29: by Ian (last edited Jun 01, 2018 07:58AM) (new)

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 619 comments I suspect that the idea of Odysseus being a "gentle" king (or however otherwise translated), refers to his actions as a judge, or more precisely as a mediator in disputes.

In "simple" societies -- and Odysseus' Ithaca seems to be more Greek Dark Age than Mycenaean -- the object of a trial before a judge is not punishing the guilty, or assigning property to the right person, but coming up with an agreement that the community can live with. There is no such thing as an established code of laws and precedents, but just case-by-case responses, regulated only by customs which may conflict with each other.

Except for the power to call up men for war, Odysseus as king may be a sort of "Chief Elder," working with the aristocratic assembly (as Telemachus attempted to do early on). There are descriptions of this kind of rule in Hesiod, and it is (somehow) depicted on the shield of Achilles in the Iliad.

Given his wiliness and general ingenuity, Odysseus would probably be quite good at settling disputes without leaving seriously aggrieved parties likely to get into a real feud, even if what we would call justice wasn't served.

Unlike, say, Agamemnon, who seems unable to bring the army assembly into accord, scolds other kings, and relies on his personal authority to settle matters, sometimes obviously to his own advantage.


message 30: by Lia (new)

Lia I have a question for you, Ian. Chronologically (i.e. story timeline, not when it was "written") -- would the "trial" of Orestes be before, concurrent with, or after Athena's intervention on Ithaka?


message 31: by Ian (last edited Jun 01, 2018 08:51AM) (new)

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 619 comments As you noticed, the story of Orestes' revenge is still a current sensation in the Odyssey, so some synchronism of the events is clearly implied.

So far as I can see, the Odyssey doesn't seem to consider the Furies' involvement, and/or the matricide issue, in Orestes' avenging of his father. So there is no reason to postulate a story of a trial to settle the issue.

Assuming that it *is* implicit in the story, the trial might be concurrent with, or slightly later than, the "Ithaca affair," allowing a little time for Orestes to be tormented. If the story of his madness is spread out, it might be considerably longer, that is, a few years.

This is, I think, what an ancient Greek might have concluded about it, *if* the problem even came to mind, which may not have been very often. The Greek-in-street doesn't seem to have been much concerned with absolute or relative chronology -- some of the Athenian orators seem to have gotten away with reversed time sequences, inverting cause and effect, without objections from their audience.

(I have thought about this before. I once raised the relative time issue at a public lecture by a translator of Greek tragedies for Penguin. He didn't venture an opinion, and didn't seem to think it was even a problem.)

The ancient handbook of mythology known as the "Library of Apollodorus" might have had something on the chronology of the matter, but the last part of it survives only in an abridged form, which is mostly a summary of Homer.

Even if the story was known, I would suppose that the association of Orestes with Athens, and therefore with a specific established court, is very likely considerably post-Homeric -- the Athenians seem to have inserted themselves into a lot of myths, or at least had local versions of them which were recorded and used by poets and mythographers (unlike the traditions of most Greek cities).

The role of Athena as Orestes' protector may well have been traditional. She is often shown helping favorite heroes, not just in Homer, but in the Theban epics about the warring sons of Oedipus and their allies, as well. (In the surviving material on that story, she is also shown as turning on a hero whose behavior greatly offended her -- he ate the brains of one of his enemies, which Athena found pretty gross....)


message 32: by Lia (last edited Jun 01, 2018 09:13AM) (new)

Lia Thanks Ian. I'm nursing this theory that Odysseus is set in a time of pre-legal institution. They either function under might-is-right, like all the heroes jostling for bigger cuts in the Iliad, and piracy as norm. Or else they rely on the kindness of the ruler, like what Odysseus was said to be like. The gods are clearly scheming something independent of what is good for Odysseus, I think they are probably implementing something, a new relationship, a new system.

I like to imagine it's another one of those "mixed gift" -- a handful of evil, a handful of nice (Achilles' recipe of Zeus' special brew.) The Gods are going to withdraw from excessively intervention on their favorite humans' behalf. Menelaus and Helen won't be making more hero (boy) babies; Calypso isn't allowed to make hero-spawns for Odysseus. (But then, Telegony... hmm...)

Odysseus' landmark episode would "explain" to Homer's contemporaries why superheroes and gods-materializing is a thing of the past.

So no more closeness to the gods, no more toiless, painless "golden age" abundance. In return we get institution of "justice" -- an established court system that settles dispute so that humans don't excessively live out their violent, vindictive "nature".

Athena is stoking Odysseus' passion to "make us see" the consequence of godless lawless human communities. She didn't turn him crazy to make him kill, she motivated him and made him choose with his own rationale. She didn't personally slaughter the suitors, she let them express their own nature and choose to ignore Odysseus' warning, she exaggerated their indulgence at the right (wrong?) moment by beautifying Penelope and bewitching them.

To set us up for their withdrawal (i.e. godless -- no more Poseidon fighting for his bloodline), we get laws and institutions to temper hostility, and the gods make a point to show us why these institutions are necessary, however unsatisfying it feels.

But that would require the Argives to be pre-legal justice, and make 'justice' Athena's "gift" to the polis. That's why I wanted to know if the Orestes "jury trial" is pre or post Odysseus. I agree it's probably invented after Homer's time, but it might support (or disprove) the idea that this is how the Greeks saw their march from Golden/ Hero age to Iron Age.


message 33: by David (new)

David | 2737 comments Tamara wrote: "David wrote: "Maybe Athena knows that Odysseus is so naturally gentle...

Odysseus naturally gentle? I can think of a lot of adjectives to describe Odysseus, but "gentle" wouldn't exactly spring to..."


I know you are thinking of the Cicones, so maybe "sometimes reluctant" would have been a better phrase to use than gentle. But recall, as the contemporary audience would have, that Odysseus wanted to avoid the war with the Trojans from the beginning and tried to get out of it by sowing his field with salt to feign insanity.

I just think by causing all this extra pain Athena is trying to get his blood up for the upcoming battle she is planning. By Telemachus' count at 16.260, 108 suitors and 10 others is a lot of people to just nonchalantly kill and it seems that any surviving gain of sympathy against odds like that would be the cause of undesired consequences.


message 34: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1725 comments David wrote: "I know you are thinking of the Cicones, so maybe "sometimes reluctant" would have been a better phrase to use than gentle..."

Yes, I was thinking of the Cicones, but I was also thinking of the Cyclops. In both instances, I think greed is at play.


message 35: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1725 comments David wrote: "I just think by causing all this extra pain Athena is trying to get his blood up for the upcoming battle she is planning..."

I know it's called the Odyssey, and i know Odysseus is the "star." But i'm wondering if he is really the main character. I'm beginning to wonder if the main focus of the poem is actually Athena and the lengths she will go to get her way.

More and more, I'm seeing the characters as pawns/puppets and Athena as the puppeteer who orchestrates events and people to achieve her desired outcome. Maybe that doesn't make any sense in a poem called the Odyssey. But Athena has a major role in the poem. Every where you turn, you find her figure behind the scenes, pulling the strings.


message 36: by Christopher (new)

Christopher (Donut) | 537 comments David wrote: "I just think by causing all this extra pain Athena is trying to get his blood up for the upcoming battle she is planning..."

Homer is also using this interim to get the reader's blood up (or the auditors in his own time).

Isn't this a case of show, don't tell. We get to see just how haughty and dangerous the suitors are.

I sort of think of them as Eurotrash beach house squatters who like to party hearty.

The Zebra-Striped Hearse




message 37: by David (new)

David | 2737 comments Tamara wrote: ". . .I was also thinking of the Cyclops. In both instances, I think greed is at play."

Concerning the cyclops, Odysseus seems more driven by curiosity than greed:
‘The rest of you will stay here while I go
With my ship and crew on reconnaissance.
I want to find out what those men are like,
[9.170] Wild savages with no sense of right or wrong
Or hospitable folk who fear the gods.’
The cyclops with their lawless and inhospitable ways seems to parallel the suitors. And now as a beggar, Odysseus is once gain be on a reconnaissance mission.


message 38: by Susan (new)

Susan | 528 comments Tamara wrote: "Books 17-18

These two books show Athena heavily intervening in the events to control the outcome. First, she pours “unearthly grace” on Telemachus, surprising everyone with his visible transformat..."


The questions raised here are fascinating, and I’m going to keep them in mind as the reading/discussion continues. How responsible are individuals for what happens now and particularly later? And what is Athena’s role in all this? What is the part justice plays in the story, and how is it defined? Since a discussion of justice based on this week’s reading is going to look very different from a discussion based on the reading in two weeks, these are good questiins to carry over in the ongoing discussion.


message 39: by Susan (new)

Susan | 528 comments So Odysseus sees and hears his wife for the first time in twenty years, and his reaction is “Odysseus’ heart laughed when he heard all this—/her sweet tones charmed gifts out of the suitors/with talk of marriage though she intended none.” I guess he knows from talking to Eumaeus and Telemachus that Penelope doesn’t intend marriage, but again, the emphasis on gifts!


message 40: by Lia (new)

Lia Susan wrote: "So Odysseus sees and hears his wife for the first time in twenty years, and his reaction is “Odysseus’ heart laughed when he heard all this—/her sweet tones charmed gifts out of the suitors/with ta..."

I love how Agamemnon seems threatened by any and all female assertion of agency, he seems to conclude all female scheming is inappropriate and evil. Whereas Odysseus takes it for granted that Penelope will use deception to not only survive the dangerous situation his absence engenders, but to triumph against her (their) enemies in their own game (i.e. the game of devouring his wealth.)


message 41: by Susan (new)

Susan | 528 comments Lia wrote: "Susan wrote: "So Odysseus sees and hears his wife for the first time in twenty years, and his reaction is “Odysseus’ heart laughed when he heard all this—/her sweet tones charmed gifts out of the s..."

Yes, he knows they are allies in this


message 42: by Lia (new)

Lia I just thought it makes a nice foil: well-endowed Agamemnon, self-centered with no regards for the gods (or his priest), his men, his comrades in war, his family members. V.S. Odysseus, whom is not as wealthy, not as physically powerful, from a smaller and poorer kingdom, but can count on his crew and members of his household to overcome crisis as a team.

Homer/ Athena aren't subtle about their parallel, I like to think their divergent telos have to do with their choices, and their relationship with the world, and the gods. Certainly the gods intervene and influence timing etc, but I think individual choices are also important.


message 43: by Susan (new)

Susan | 528 comments Lia wrote: "I just thought it makes a nice foil: well-endowed Agamemnon, self-centered with no regards for the gods (or his priest), his men, his comrades in war, his family members. V.S. Odysseus, whom is not..."

The Atreides’ brothers don’t seem to have much luck with their marriages, even though Helen has now settled down. I noticed though that it is, as you point out, Agamemnon who complains about Clytemnestra — other talking about the murders like Zeus (at the beginning of Book I) and Menelaus blame Aegisthus; Zeus doesn’t even mention her.

I agree even with all the powers the gods have to influence events, individuals also seem to have some agency, too.


message 44: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4617 comments Susan wrote: "I guess he knows from talking to Eumaeus and Telemachus that Penelope doesn’t intend marriage, but again, the emphasis on gifts! "

I'm not sure what to think of the emphasis on gift-giving and wealth, but I imagine Homer's audience must have found it fascinating. Odysseus, a king with seemingly boundless "resources" seems to lose everything several times in the course of the tale. He wakes up on a beach, with nothing, a couple times. Sometimes naked. When he is finally about to return, he is given a horde of treasure by the strangers of Phaeacia, which he must subsequently abandon, or at least hide, so he can assume the guise of a beggar. The first shall be last, so to speak. It's a brilliant dramatic device, but is there an economic message as well?


message 45: by Ashley (new)

Ashley Adams | 328 comments Tamara wrote: "Athena... prompts Odysseus to go among the suitors to beg for scraps to differentiate between the good and bad suitors. But we are also told, “although she had no thought of saving any/out of the massacre which was to come” (Wilson). Why would she ask Odysseus to do this if she has no intention of saving any of the suitors?"

I don't know the point of testing the suitors if they are all destined to die regardless. I think this might be one of the places where the character's lineage is somehow important. As in... you can still be remembered for good actions even though the will of the gods will not be altered.


message 46: by Wendel (last edited Jun 03, 2018 11:11AM) (new)

Wendel (wendelman) | 609 comments I’m not very good in dealing with gods, so I like to imagine the encounters with them as inner dialogues. It often works out quite well here. From Athena’s first appearance to young Telemachus, admonishing him to grow up and act, to her present role preparing the cleansing of Odysseus’ palace.

On the one hand we have Odysseus anger, the emotional impulse to kill all involved in the harassment of his family, on the other hand a feeling that his revenge should be just, based on some test. 'Gentle' if you wish - but apparently Athena does not support moderation.


message 47: by Lia (new)

Lia On a more impersonal level — if the absence of Odysseus is represented by injustice, the strong devouring the weak, betrayal of past favor etc, then the return of the King is supposed to be accompanied by restoration of justice, and I suspect “justice” back then strongly connote to punishment.

Odysseus isn’t just a traveller at this point, he has to enact his role as King. Somewhat like in Game of Thrones, Lord Stark had to execute escapees even if his character is depicted as compassionate and fatherly by nature.

It’s interesting that Athena allowed Ajax to escape justice after having committed sacrilege against her on such a personal level, it was Poseidon who killed him, out of personal sense of being slighted. I think Athena isn’t satisfying some personal impulse, I think she’s making sure all the guilty ones (guilty of courting Odysseus’ wife, devouring his wealth) get judged and punished, a bit like Eumaeus and Eurycleia are making sure Odysseus is fully informed which of the slaves are loyal and which are disloyal.


message 48: by Wendel (new)

Wendel (wendelman) | 609 comments There appears to be little system in Odysseus’ 'tests'. But he is not only testing, he also gives the suitors a last warning. At least, that's what it seems.

"… may some power save you,
spirit you home before you meet him face-to-face
the moment he returns to native ground!
Once under his own roof, he and your friends,
believe you me, won’t part till blood has flowed."
(XVIII, 167 - Fagles)

Is this truly meant or just a cruel joke (O. is already home)? Anyway, Amphinomus, the best of the suitors, is sensible enough to feel that the warning is more than idle talking:

Amphinomus made his way back through the hall,
his heart sick with anguish, shaking his head,
fraught with grave forebodings . . .
but not even so could he escape his fate.
(XVIII, 174)

How could he escape if it’s all a matter of fate? On the other hand, if it had been his fate to heed the warning, not even Athena’s intentions (next sentence) could have altered that. Or could they?

Fate is a difficult, maybe impossible, concept. Does it refer to the prison of habits, conventions in which we are caught? To personal lethargy? Loyalties we can't shed?


message 49: by Ian (new)

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 619 comments Cphe wrote: "Isn't fate in the hands of the gods?..."

Only sometimes.

The Homeric poems waffle on whether Zeus is the lord of Fate, or subject to it, sometimes one and sometimes the other. In some of the myths he clearly is *not* in complete control, given the lengths he goes to in order to avoid fated events (like Thetis bearing a son greater than his father).

And in the Iliad he can't save those heroes whose death is fated -- or at least not without more trouble than it would be worth.


message 50: by David (last edited Jun 03, 2018 03:51PM) (new)

David | 2737 comments Cphe wrote: "Isn't fate in the hands of the gods?"

In a word, no. Although there have been exceptions. From Vandiver's outline on Homer's Illiad:
. . .the concept of moira—fate, as it is usually
translated.
A. Moira’s most basic meaning is “share” or “portion.”
B. When applied to humans, it comes to mean “share of life,” thus
“time of death.”
1. Each person’s moira is inevitable, but generally not known
ahead of time.
2. Thus, moira has been defined as “what, in retrospect, was bound to happen.”
C. The gods seem generally to know each human’s moira.
D. The question of whether or not the gods can change a human’s
moira is left ambiguous by the Iliad.
1. Usually, the answer seems to be no. For example, Thetis
clearly cannot change Achilles’ fate.
2. When Zeus considers intervening to save the life of his son
Sarpedon, the implication seems to be that he could change
Sarpedon’s moira if he so chose, but that he decides not to.
E. The whole picture of moira reiterates that the gods are not transcendent deities outside the universe, but part of the universe. While not bound by moira in the same way humans are, they are nevertheless part of the system in which it operates and must respect it.
The Iliad of Homer by Elizabeth Vandiver



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