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Homer, Odyssey revisited > Books 19 & 20

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message 1: by David (last edited Jun 05, 2018 07:06PM) (new)

David | 2738 comments BOOK 19
Odysseus and Telemachus remove the weapons from the great hall and prepare to justify the move by the deceptively partial truths that they are getting dirty from all the smoke and they present an extra danger should a quarrel among drunken suitors escalate. Do these deceptive truths signal father and son working together? Athena herself provides the light by which they work, but why does Odysseus cut short Telemachus' inquiry about the source of the light with?
“Hush. Don’t be too curious about this.
[19.45] This is the way of the gods who hold high heaven.
Penelope comes out to sit by the fire while the maids come out to clean up. Melantho, sister to Melanthius the abusive goatherd, proves she is just as abusive. Odysseus warns her to be careful because misfortune can come to anyone as it came to him and adds Telemachus is now a man and will recognize if the women are behaving loosely. This impresses Penelope who also scolds Melantho for her behavior. Why doesn't Penelope scold her first?

Finally Penelope and Beggar/Odysseus begin a conversation 20 years in the making and Penelope tells him of her sad situation and how she deceived the suitors for a while by weaving a shroud by day and undoing it by night until she was betrayed by her own serving women. And Odysseus treads a fine line between deceiving Penelope with his beggar's background story claiming to be Aethon, a son of Crete and reassuring her by telling enough truths to prove he knows Odysseus by accurately describing Odysseus' clothes and his squire, Eurybates. When Penelope starts to cry he tries to further reassure her by telling her some more truths about Odysseus crew being wiped out after eating Helios' cattle but that the Phaeacians may have already brought him home.

Penelope then offers for Eurycleia, Odysseus' old nurse, to wash his feet. Does her false start give away that she knows the stranger is really Odysseus?
[19.387] She will wash your feet, frail as she is.
Eurycleia, rise and wash your master’s—that is,
Wash the feet of this man who is your master’s age.
Eurycleia recognizes Odysseus from a telltale scar from a boar but he silences her by threatening to kill her along with the suitors if she tells. Eurycleia not only swears her support to Odysseus but promises to list the servants who have been less than faithful.

Penelope then tells him of a strange dream she has of geese being killed by an eagle in her hall but tempers it with doubt by saying dreams may or may not come true. She then tells the beggar/Odysseus she will announce a contest to determine who she will marry, whoever can duplicate Odysseus' feat of shooting through twelve axes. Beggar/Odysseus enthusiastically agrees to this plan and promises Penelope that Odysseus will be there.

What, if any, significance is there in the similarities between Odysseus' hiding place after washing ashore in Sheria:
[5.482} . . .He found two olive trees there,
One wild, one planted, their growth intertwined,
Proof against blasts of the wild, wet wind,
[5.485] The sun unable to needle light through,
Impervious to rain, so thickly they grew
Into one tangle of shadows. Odysseus burrowed
Under their branches and scraped out a bed.
He found a mass of leaves there, enough to keep warm
and the boar's lair?
[19.480] Nearby, a great boar was lying in his lair,
A thicket that was proof against the wild wet wind
And could not be pierced by the rays of the sun,
So dense it was. Dead leaves lay deep
Upon the ground there. . .



message 2: by David (last edited Jun 05, 2018 04:00PM) (new)

David | 2738 comments BOOK 20
Odysseus watches the maids going off to sleep with the suitors and shows significant effort in restraining his growing anger. Athena comes to reassure him of his victory but he asks her a curious question:
[20.45] And worse, even if I were to kill them
By your will and the will of Zeus, how
Would I get out of it?
Think about that.”
What is he worried about getting out of if he does manage to kill all of the suitors? What does Odysseus feel that Athena is not taking into consideration?

Penelope wakes in the night and wishes for death from the gods and weeps. Odysseus hears Penelope crying and goes outside to pray to Zeus for a good sign and Zeus responds with a loud thunder clap that even a weak mill worker working late to make her quota interprets as a sign that the grain she is grinding will be the last for the suitors.

In the morning Telemachus chides his mother for honoring her husband but neglecting the stranger and Eurycleia corrects him. Was Telemachus hoping for something more?

Eumaeus the swineherd, Melanthius the goatherd, and Philoetius the cowherd meet the beggar Odysseus outside his door. Melanthius insults him, but Philoetius greets him respectfully and yearns for Odysseus' return. Has Odysseus found another sympathetic ally?

The suitors again plot to kill Telemachus, but an omen and a warning from Amphinomus put an end to the talks. How do we reconcile that it is Amphinomous that stops this round of plotting to kill Telemachus knowing that:
. . .Pallas Athena
[18.165] Had him pinned, and he would be killed outright
By a spear from the hand of Telemachus.
Everyone sits down to eat and the suitors hand out more insults, urged on by Athena increasing Odysseus' animosity toward them. One suitor Ctessipus throws an ox's hoof at Odysseus who dodges it. Telemachus tries to draw a line in the sand by stating, "Well I'd rather be killed in cold blood Than to watch their disgusting behavior", but the suitors only stop for a bit and continue laughing, their minds touched by hysteria from Athena. Theoclymenus, the seer that Telemachus brought back with him from Pylos predicts inescapable evil for the suitors and leaves for Peiraeus' home. Does Theoclymenus see the killing the suitors as an evil or justice?

Finally we are left with this great harbinger of doom:
But no meal could be more graceless than the one
A goddess and a hero would serve to them soon.
[430] After all, they started the whole ugly business.
Did they?


message 3: by Rafael (new)

Rafael da Silva (morfindel) | 337 comments The book is reaching its most expected point.

I am anxious to the competition between the suitors.


message 4: by Rafael (new)

Rafael da Silva (morfindel) | 337 comments Cphe wrote: "David wrote: "BOOK 19
Odysseus and Telemachus remove the weapons from the great hall and prepare to justify the move by the deceptively partial truths that they are getting dirty from all the smoke..."


Maybe this is a custom of the greeks of these days. She addresses this issue saying that the other women will gossip about her if she do not make it.


message 5: by Christopher (new)

Christopher (Donut) | 537 comments Cphe wrote: ".Penelope wasn't weaving a shroud for Odysseus but for his father which I found a bit strange..."

But a shroud is for burial. If Odysseus died at sea, he wouldn't need a shroud.


message 6: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1745 comments David wrote: "How do we reconcile that it is Amphinomous that stops this round of plotting to kill Telemachus knowing that:
. . .Pallas Athena
[18.165] Had him pinned, and he would be killed outright
By a spear from the hand of Telemachus..."


Doesn't this show that Athena's brand of "justice" is all or nothing? She makes no accommodation for varying degrees of culpability. Amphinomous consistently comes across as being one of the better suitors. And yet he is lumped with all the others and is punished as if he were equally culpable. Guilt by association.
It's ironic that he dissuades the suitors from killing Telemachus, and yet it is Telemachus who kills him.


message 7: by Tamara (last edited Jun 06, 2018 04:21AM) (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1745 comments David wrote: "Does Theoclymenus see the killing the suitors as an evil or justice?.."

Theoclymenus' role here is similar to Cassandra's in that his prophecy is summarily dismissed. He sees the death of the suitors as justice.

Emily Wilson's translation of the last lines of Book 20:

. . . But no dinnertime could be
less welcome than the one the mighty man
and goddess would soon bring them, in revenge,
because they started it and wronged him first.


Wilson's translation makes it clear this is about revenge--not justice. Or are they the same thing in the mind of Homer's audience?


message 8: by Susan (new)

Susan | 528 comments Cphe wrote: "I know a shroud is for burial. I just thought it a bit strange that it was a shroud she was weaving for her FIL.

I'm sure he was much comforted by that fact."


Interesting point. Maybe Penelope is weaving Laertes’ shroud because his wife/Odysseus’s mother died, so the task goes to Laertes’ daughter-in-law.


message 9: by Susan (last edited Jun 06, 2018 04:59AM) (new)

Susan | 528 comments Tamara wrote: "David wrote: "How do we reconcile that it is Amphinomous that stops this round of plotting to kill Telemachus knowing that:
. . .Pallas Athena
[18.165] Had him pinned, and he would be killed outrig..."


Good point, but planning not to kill your host and not attacking beggars seems like a minimum level of civility. And Amphinomous is one of a mob of suitors pressuring a young boy and a woman who we learn again here really does not want to remarry. How does their situation weigh in this definition of justice? One could argue that Athena is helping the weaker side here. What would have happened to them if Odysseus had not returned?


message 10: by Susan (last edited Jun 06, 2018 05:14AM) (new)

Susan | 528 comments One of the big questions of Book 19 is whether Penelope recognizes the beggar as Odysseus. (After going back and forth, I don’t think she did.) But I found very moving the parallelism in these lines where Penelope dreams of Odysseus and Odysseus half-waking thinks of her:

“‘Tonight the image of my lord came by
as I remember him with troops. O strange
exultation! I thought him real, and not a dream.’

Now as the Dawn appeared all stitched in gold,
the queen’s cry reached Odysseus at his waking,
so that he wondered, half asleep: it seemed
she knew him, and stood near him!” (Fitzgerald trans.)


message 11: by Susan (last edited Jun 06, 2018 05:35AM) (new)

Susan | 528 comments David wrote: What, if any, significance is there in the similarities between Odysseus' hiding place after washing ashore in Sheria?

I noticed that similarity, too, but I couldn’t really see a parallel between those two situations. Did you have any ideas on that?

The story of how Odysseus got his name was intriguing as well, with his grandfather saying
“Well you know, my hand
has been against the world of men and women;
odium and distrust I’ve won. Odysseus
should be his given name.”

My notes say “the Greek [describing Autolykos] is odussamenos, meaning a man who deals out and incurs hatred.”

But I believe there’s also an etymology that derives Odysseus’ name from a word for suffering or bearing pain that was discussed in an earlier thread.


message 12: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1745 comments Susan wrote: "But I believe there’s also an etymology that derives Odysseus’ name from a word for suffering or bearing pain that was discussed in an earlier thread..."

I remember reading somewhere that the name Odysseus means "the son of pain."


message 13: by David (new)

David | 2738 comments Tamara wrote: "Doesn't this show that Athena's brand of "justice" is all or nothing?"

The situation reminds me of the old sayings, "If you sleep with dogs you are going to catch fleas", and "you made your bed, and now you have to sleep in it".

It seems Amphinomus made his bed and is sleeping with the suitors. Now he is going to catch arrows.


message 14: by David (new)

David | 2738 comments Susan wrote: "David wrote: What, if any, significance is there in the similarities between Odysseus' hiding place after washing ashore in Sheria?

I noticed that similarity, too, but I couldn’t really see a para..."


Beyond the similar words, which may or may not just be a poetic repetition, I can make some comparisons.

1. The boar was in its lair, now Odysseus back home in his lair.
2. The boar rushes out and causes pain to one invading his home. It seems Odysseus is planning to cause some pain to those invading his home. I have heard Odysseus name means one who both receives and gives pain.
3. Odysseus was compared to a lion coming out to greet Nausicaa, now he can be compared to a boar coming out to greet those invading his home.
4. Odysseus is wounded but kills the boar. I can't say for spoilers how this might translate to the current situation. Does Odysseus win, or is he killed? Or maybe Odysseus wins, but part if him is killed and we get a new Odysseus?


message 15: by David (new)

David | 2738 comments Tamara wrote: "David wrote: "Wilson's translation makes it clear this is about revenge--not justice. Or are they the same thing in the mind of Homer's audience?"

Good question. Could we say it is just revenge? I found this interesting article comparing the two terms:

Don’t Confuse Revenge With Justice: Five Key Differences


message 16: by Ian (last edited Jun 06, 2018 01:25PM) (new)

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 619 comments Tamara wrote: "Wilson's translation makes it clear this is about revenge--not justice. Or are they the same thing in the mind of Homer's audience?..."

Well, as late as Plato's Dialogues, the "typical Athenian" -- or at least as the straight-men for Socrates -- seems to take it for granted that the "just man" will help his friends and harm his enemies -- the latter category being pretty much revenge plus "preventive action." Some characters seem to consider it the essence of justice, and have to be refuted.

(Of course, unlike Socrates, they haven't though it out. And such a program, if universally adopted, would indeed make ordinary life pretty intolerable, like Hobbes' version of the "state of Nature.")

Plato and Aristotle have a considerably higher standard, but I felt that, from time to time, this strictly friends/enemies assumption was in the background of Aristotle's "Ethics," as something to be indirectly addressed, rather than outright denied.

Another problem is that of whether helping undeserving friends is just, either, since it might be at someone's expense.


message 17: by Wendel (new)

Wendel (wendelman) | 609 comments The coming action against the suitors will not be a legal proces, but a matter of revenge (or of assisting fate, as understood by Athena/Odysseus). Apart from that, there is an operational aspect to consider: an attack by two men and a goddess against 100+ opponents calls for swift action: sparing some must be difficult and dangerous.

And yet, Homer wants his public to consider the moral problem, why else would he repeatedly stress the differences between the suitors? The situation reminds me of the treatment of collaborators after WW2 in my own and other occupied European countries. A disgrace that is still discussed today (especially the fate of women accused of collaboration - and consequently their children).


message 18: by Susan (last edited Jun 06, 2018 05:19PM) (new)

Susan | 528 comments Cphe wrote: "Susan wrote: "Cphe wrote: "I know a shroud is for burial. I just thought it a bit strange that it was a shroud she was weaving for her FIL.

I'm sure he was much comforted by that fact."

Interesti..."


I don’t know if anyone knows for certain what was customary. If Ian or someone else knows, maybe they can tell us.

As for Odysseus’ sister, Eumaios says in Book 15
“For she [Odysseus’ mother] brought me up with her own daughter,
Princess Ktimene, her youngest child.
We were alike in age and nursed as equals
nearly, till in the flower of our years
they gave her, married her, to a Samian Prince,
taking his many gifts.”

Since we don’t hear any more of Ktimene, I assume she is living in Samos with her prince.


message 19: by David (new)

David | 2738 comments Susan wrote: "Since we don’t hear any more of Ktimene, I assume she is living in Samos with her prince."

Recall from previous posts that Odysseus' sister, Ctimene, prince was none other than Eurylochus, who ran back to tell Odysseus about Circe turning the men into pigs, and later incited the men to eat Helios' cattle. He is now dead along with the rest of Odysseus' crew.


message 20: by Susan (new)

Susan | 528 comments David wrote: "Susan wrote: "Since we don’t hear any more of Ktimene, I assume she is living in Samos with her prince."

Recall from previous posts that Odysseus' sister, Ctimene, prince was none other than Euryl..."


Oh, yes, one of the few members of Odysseus’ crew where we are given their name. So, perhaps, Ctimene like Penelope is waiting for news of Odysseus’ ship and crew. At least, Eumaeus doesn’t say she’s remarried...


message 21: by Thomas (last edited Jun 06, 2018 09:11PM) (new)

Thomas | 4617 comments Tamara wrote: "Wilson's translation makes it clear this is about revenge--not justice. Or are they the same thing in the mind of Homer's audience?."

There is an interesting passage in Book 18 that once again convinces me that justice is not at work here. Here Odysseus compliments Amphinomos on his prudence and wise words, and tells him:

Of all creatures that breathe and walk on the earth there is nothing more helpless than a man is ... for he thinks that he will never suffer misfortune in future days... But when the blessed gods bring sad days upon him, against his will he must suffer it with enduring spirit. For the mind in men upon the earth goes according to the the fortunes the Father of Gods and Men, day by day, bestows upon them.

...therefore let no man be altogether without the sense of righteousness, but take in silence the gifts of the gods, whatever they give him. Even so, now I see the suitors, their reckless devisings, how they show no respect to the wife, and despoil the possessions of a man who, I think, will not for long be far from his country and friends...I hope you never will face him.
18.125 et seq.

In some sense, Odysseus is simply an instrument of the gods. He has suffered at their whims, and now he is to make others suffer similarly. While we may think that he is taking revenge or exacting justice, what he is actually doing is fulfilling the will of the gods. Just as Odysseus' men must suffer for the sacrilege they committed by eating the sun god's cattle, so must the suitors suffer for their "athemistos," their disregard for the law of hospitality. In a weird way, it isn't personal. This is simply how the world works.


message 22: by Susan (last edited Jun 07, 2018 06:25AM) (new)

Susan | 528 comments David wrote: "What, if any, significance is there in the similarities between Odysseus' hiding place after washing ashore in Sheria?

Beyond the similar words, which may or may not just be a poetic repetition, I can make some comparisons.

1. The boar was in its lair, now Odysseus back home in his lair.
2. The boar rushes out and causes pain to one invading his home. It seems Odysseus is planning to cause some pain to those invading his home. I have heard Odysseus name means one who both receives and gives pain.
3. Odysseus was compared to a lion coming out to greet Nausicaa, now he can be compared to a boar coming out to greet those invading his home.
4. Odysseus is wounded but kills the boar. I can't say for spoilers how this might translate to the current situation. Does Odysseus win, or is he killed? Or maybe Odysseus wins, but part if him is killed and we get a new Odysseus?

*****
The analogy in number 4 is the one I’m struggling with, but will keep in mind as we go forward. I was particularly interested in this because there’s an explicit reference/analogy to another part of that episode coming up in a future reading.



message 23: by Susan (last edited Jun 07, 2018 06:25AM) (new)

Susan | 528 comments Wendel wrote: And yet, Homer wants his public to consider the moral problem, why else would he repeatedly stress the differences between the suitors?

******
I suspect you’re right. And we are getting more of the differences in the suitors now that Odysseus is home. I don’t think Amphinomous appeared in the earlier books.



message 24: by Tamara (last edited Jun 07, 2018 10:48AM) (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1745 comments Thomas wrote: "In some sense, Odysseus is simply an instrument of the gods. He has suffered at their whims, and now he is to make others suffer similarly. While we may think that he is taking revenge or exacting justice, what he is actually doing is fulfilling the will of the gods..."

I can accept that. But doesn't it cut both ways?

If Odysseus is an instrument fulfilling the will of the gods, can't the same thing be said of the suitors? Aren't they fulfilling the will of the gods by behaving like obnoxious idiots? Doesn't Athena intentionally prod them to be even uglier toward Odysseus so he can more easily fulfill the will of the gods by killing them all? So aren't they being used as instruments of the gods here? And if so, where does the responsibility lie for their behavior?

Let me take this one step further.

The Cyclops asks Poseidon to punish Odysseus. Specifically, he says, if Odysseus is fated to get home, then let him get there alone "having caused the death of all his men" (Book 9: 534; Wilson). If that is the case, then everything the crew did after that, including eating Helios' cattle, can be considered as fulfilling the will of the gods.

I guess what I'm getting at here is aren't they all being manipulated/used as instruments to fulfill the will of the gods? The end has already been decided. Odysseus must return alone. His crew must die. The suitors must be killed. How any of this happens is immaterial. Athena's role is to manipulate people and events to ensure the end is achieved.

I agree with you when you say it isn't personal. None of this is personal. This is a bit like a giant chess game with the gods moving the pieces to achieve the desired outcome.


message 25: by Ian (last edited Jun 07, 2018 12:26PM) (new)

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 619 comments Wendel wrote: "And yet, Homer wants his public to consider the moral problem, why else would he repeatedly stress the differences between the suitors?..."

That's a really good question. I have few, not very conclusive, observations on the matter.

If the Odyssey is an example of oral poetry -- and I think that it is -- the audience (rather than readers) may not have had the time or inclination to consider the moral differences between the suitors before going on to the next plot point. The characterization may have had another function.

The suitors are, to begin with, at cross-purposes, since every one of them wants Penelope, and her property, for himself. Yet, as we see them, they are a rather amorphous mass, and in general agreement on how to proceed.

How many there were apparently wasn't clear to the ancients, but some of them set out to supply the information in more detail. The surviving epitome of this part in the later classical "Library" of (Pseudo-)Apollodorus lists about 123 names, broken down by home territories in Odysseus' kingdom. (As Wikipedia points out, the list has been damaged in transmission). Really long odds -- no wonder Athena feels it necessary to intervene!

Only a few of these names are recognizable from the epic, of course.. This catalogue may suggest a later mentality, reflecting the reading and contemplation of the poem, with questions about such things bothering *readers* (and Alexandrian editors) of the Homeric poems.

Or it might have some real tradition behind it, if not in the "Odyssey" proper as we received it, in parallel poems. I am reminded of the Catalogue of Ships and the Catalogue of Trojans (and their allies) in the Iliad, and the catalogues of nymphs in Hesiod's Theogony. So there may have already been a taste for such things in the oral tradition.

If not, though, there may have been a danger that the audience would have little interest in an extended catalogue of the suitors, by homeland and individual traits. But the tradition, despite the odd mass slaughter of Trojans by Achilles, clearly valued descriptions of single combats between identifiable champions (see the Iliad). So Odysseus should have some personalized opponents -- despite starting the battle using the less "heroic" bow and arrows, which somewhat evens the long odds against him.

Just listing the suitors wouldn't do much to differentiate them, anyway: In the Iliad, we often get short biographical comments to go each combat. But characterizing a few suitors, so that the audience can be interested in how they fare specifically, may have given the impression to listeners of more heroic-style individualization than is actually the case.


message 26: by Ian (new)

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 619 comments Susan wrote: "Since we don’t hear any more of Ktimene, I assume she is living in Samos with her prince...."

A minor point: Ktimene would be living on the island of Same, part of Odysseus' kingdom off the west coast of Greece. (Which ancient name should go with each island is unclear, but there is a modern Same, possibly an echo of the poem rather than a straightforward survival from remote antiquity.)

This puts her considerably closer at hand than if she was on the more famous Samos, in the eastern Aegean, off the coast of Asia Minor (i.e., near Troy).

On a related issue: this location also means that she wouldn't have that much difficulty taking care of Laertes' funeral rites so far as geography goes. If she would even have been allowed so public a role, which is a big if.

However, considering what is known of post-Homeric Greek customs, "Homer's" audience, if it was paying that close attention, might have assumed that her proper concerns were with her husband's family (the parents of Eurylochus, if still alive), rather than her birth parents.

This is certainly the case with Penelope, whose argument that she was responsible for giving her current father-in-law some assurance of a decent funeral may have seemed unanswerable. After all, given the importance of appearances in ancient society -- and others -- what man with a reputation to uphold would want to marry a wife who obviously is likely to fail to honor *his* parents, too?


message 27: by Susan (new)

Susan | 528 comments Ian wrote: "Susan wrote: "Since we don’t hear any more of Ktimene, I assume she is living in Samos with her prince...."

A minor point: Ktimene would be living on the island of Same, part of Odysseus' kingdom ..."


Thank you for explaining the correct locations. I was wondering why Odysseus’ next in command was from so far away as Samos, and whether Samos had their own contingent at Troy. Given their location, I suppose they may even have been Trojan allies and not on the Greek side at all.

I do disagree with the assumption that a listener takes in less detail than a reader. Although I can’t speak for others, my own experience with audiobooks is exactly the opposite — I recently listened to an audiobook of a story I knew well and picked up a key detail I never noted while reading.


message 28: by Ian (last edited Jun 07, 2018 08:34AM) (new)

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 619 comments Susan wrote: "I do disagree with the assumption that a listener takes in less detail than a reader .. I rcently listened to an audiobook of a story I knew well and picked up a key detail I never noted while reading..."

An audiobook is practically ideal for listening to something read aloud (at least if you are in a good environment), with a reader making an effort to make everything clear. And in your case, someone who isn't wondering what happens next, and paying close attention to everything.

An ancient audience to a live performance would have been just that, a larger or smaller crowd, listening to a (probably) unscripted "song." The poet, or reciter, would try to keep up the pace, in order to keep their interest, while relying on fixed formulas to allow fast composition (or re-composition) of the poem in performance.

There is empirical evidence, from early twentieth century Yugoslavia, that both poets and listeners believed that a given performance of a song was exactly like a previous one, although recordings and transcriptions showed that they could vary considerably. Which is a problem for those concerned with the age of a stable text for "Homer."

So what a listener could notice is a live issue in Homeric criticism. For example, there is a passage in the Iliad in which we learn that a member of the Trojan royal family, Aeneas, has (temporarily) dropped out of the fight because he hasn't received enough respect. It comes and goes in a flash. Would the original listeners have even noticed, let alone picked up the parallel to Achilles?

Some of those who say yes argue, from the evidence of the Epic Cycle, that the hero-withdraws-from-battle motif was a standard plot device, and that much of the audience would have caught on, due to it being familiar, rather than surprising. Much as a television audience would recognize a quick mention of fingerprints in a story involving a crime, without the need for elaboration.

I remain a bit skeptical of such quick comprehension by most (not necessarily all) ancient listeners. I've had too many instances of other people somehow not having heard what I did in a movie or television show. And there have been many things that I missed, too.


message 29: by Susan (new)

Susan | 528 comments Ian wrote: "Susan wrote: "I do disagree with the assumption that a listener takes in less detail than a reader .. I rcently listened to an audiobook of a story I knew well and picked up a key detail I never no..."

Certainly, as you point out, any audience for a live performance would be a mixed bag. I’ve attended (and even performed) at a few storytelling sessions, and not everyone in the audience is going to be attentive, but many are. Who knows how it would have been in the days when this and other entertainment was a rarer treat? And there are lots of points in both the Iliad and the Odyssey that are aimed at the careful auditor and would be missed by anyone else — the fact that each death in the Iliad is described differently, for example. I’ve heard of the research into oral bards in Yugoslavia and have The Singer of Tales on my TBR pile to learn more about the theory/research.


message 30: by Rex (new)

Rex | 206 comments Regarding revenge v. injustice, I think it's worth noting that blood vengeance customs often substitute for legal justice where there is no developed structure of authority across families or clans. "Impersonal" justice would, I suspect, be an odd idea even in the court systems of the ancient world, except insofar as judges are exculpated before the gods for the violence they commit administering it. The goal of the judge is to maintain the integrity of the community, in part by punishing injustice and making an example of criminals to satisfy the offended party.

The gods, too, "make examples" through mass punishments (say, of Troy or the suitors) that strike us as indiscriminate and cruel, when to the Greeks they are divine demonstrations that maintain the harmonious order of the world. The gods aren't (merely) selfish manipulators; they also have this responsibility. Thus in the early myths Themis, divine justice, was one of Zeus's first wives and his counselor; in Aeschylus, it is Dike (also justice) who legitimizes Zeus's overthrow of his father Kronos. Of course the Odyssey opens the very question of whether the gods are bringing suffering to those who deserve it or acting out of pure unearned animosity, as some like to complain.


message 31: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4617 comments Tamara wrote: "I can accept that. But doesn't it cut both ways?

If Odysseus is an instrument fulfilling the will of the gods, can't the same thing be said of the suitors?"


Yes, I think so as well. The animal analogy under discussion is apt because the humans in this story are not all that different from those animals. They, and we, act according to our natures, but then the question becomes "what accounts for human nature?" The answer, for Homer at least, is the gods. The gods are ultimately responsible for all human achievement and all human suffering.

This in effect denies human agency, but this doesn't seem to have been a big deal for Homer. Abstract ideals, like free will and justice, ideals that transcend everyday understanding, are not operational (which is perhaps the real reason that Plato denigrates him.) It occurs to me this time around that the Odyssey is more of a religious text than anything else. We see something of human virtue here, but piety and divine power seems to overshadow it all.


message 32: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1745 comments Thomas wrote: "It occurs to me this time around that the Odyssey is more of a religious text than anything else. We see something of human virtue here, but piety and divine power seems to overshadow it all..."

That's a very interesting observation--something I'm going to have to mull over for a while. Thanks.


message 33: by Susan (last edited Jun 07, 2018 11:33AM) (new)

Susan | 528 comments And yet Athena left Odysseus on his own for 10 years. So when the favorable gods desert you, is when we see human virtue?


message 34: by Rafael (new)

Rafael da Silva (morfindel) | 337 comments Ian wrote: "Susan wrote: "Since we don’t hear any more of Ktimene, I assume she is living in Samos with her prince...."

A minor point: Ktimene would be living on the island of Same, part of Odysseus' kingdom ..."


In traditional societies women usually belongs to the household. Before marrying they belong to the father, after marrying they belong to the husband. So, after marrying Ktimene would not bother about her former family anymore. This preocupation would lean towards the women of the family, as we know, Penelope and Odysseus mother, the latter, at this time, dead.

Tamara wrote: "Thomas wrote: "In some sense, Odysseus is simply an instrument of the gods. He has suffered at their whims, and now he is to make others suffer similarly. While we may think that he is taking reven..."

Good point.


message 35: by David (last edited Jun 07, 2018 03:50PM) (new)

David | 2738 comments Thomas wrote: "In some sense, Odysseus is simply an instrument of the gods. He has suffered at their whims, and now he is to make others suffer similarly. While we may think that he is taking revenge or exacting justice, what he is actually doing is fulfilling the will of the gods."

If that is true, is there any difference between Odysseus and other fanatics, biblical, ancient, or modern that proclaim, "I am killing you/you people because gods/god/allah wants me to"?

Or, is he more like either side in a war thinking god(s) was on their side to give their cause a divine blessing and lend authority to the belief in an easy, quick, or eventual outcome favorable to their side.


message 36: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4617 comments David wrote: "Thomas wrote: "If that is true, is there any difference between Odysseus and other fanatics, biblical, ancient, or modern that proclaim, "I am killing you/you people because gods/god/allah wants me to"?"

Good question. I think of divine will in Homer as the personification of natural law. Odysseus doesn't sack cities or take risks with the cyclops or sacrifice his men in the name of a god; he does it because that's his nature, and his nature may be best explained by the will of the gods. This is different from religious fanaticism, which invariably cites scripture (or a distortion thereof) as justification. I don't see Odysseus struggling with his conscience, even when he has to sacrifice his men. He doesn't need to justify himself or the gods. Justification suggests there is some higher ideal, like goodness or justice, that gods and men adhere to; there is no such thing in the Homeric world. There's just human nature and divine power.


message 37: by David (last edited Jun 08, 2018 03:11PM) (new)

David | 2738 comments Thomas wrote: "This is different from religious fanaticism, which invariably cites scripture (or a distortion thereof) as justification."

While I don't know if there was much "scripture" in those days, I see your point here and it is a good one. I suppose it would be a stretch to claim that Zeus' "Hospitality Rules" have been violated and are being abused by the suitors, as opposed to not extending hospitality at all in the case of the Cyclops, as a religious cause Odysseus is fighting for even if he is using a bow he got from a friend who was killed despite those courtesies of hospitality.

Odysseus' actions do seem to be sanctioned by the gods though, literally in this case, and I think that is an important point for Homer's contemporary audience to approve if not laud them. I wonder what Odysseus would do if the gods warned against attacking the suitors?


message 38: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4617 comments David wrote: "While I don't know if there was much "scripture" in those days, I see your point here and it is a good one.."

The Iliad and Odyssey are themselves sometimes cited as scripture, the same way later writers cite the Bible. I suppose this is because these stories encapsulate the norms of the societies that produced them and became the "authorities" by which behavior was judged. I used to think that the accusations against Socrates were politically motivated and that the charge of impiety was simply trumped up. But I'm starting to wonder now if that charge was more accurate than it appears. That one should act on the basis of rational ideas rather than the social norms as described in Homeric "scripture" could very well be seen as impiety.


message 39: by Susan (new)

Susan | 528 comments David wrote: Athena comes to reassure him of his victory but he asks her a curious question:
[20.45] And worse, even if I were to kill them
By your will and the will of Zeus, how
Would I get out of it? Think about that.”
What is he worried about getting out of if he does manage to kill all of the suitors?

*****

I assume (wrongly or rightly) Odysseus is worried about the reaction of the suitors’ families and kin. What if they seek revenge?


message 40: by Ian (new)

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 619 comments Susan wrote: "I assume (wrongly or rightly) Odysseus is worried about the reaction of the suitors’ families and kin...."

You're right. Odysseus is about to kill members of most (if not all) of the prominent families in his various island domains (and maybe some from the mainland -- I haven't checked recently on the full distribution).

Settling that potential feud (or, rather, whole series of feuds) will take some effort (avoiding spoiler for those who haven't read it before).


message 41: by David (new)

David | 2738 comments Ian wrote: "Susan wrote: "I assume (wrongly or rightly) Odysseus is worried about the reaction of the suitors’ families and kin...."

So Odysseus is not worried about "getting out of" any moral or legal consequences? He is just rightfully worried about getting out of the blood feud he just started, a Hatfield surrounded by 108 McCoy families.


message 42: by Ian (new)

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 619 comments Yes. What we would consider criminal law hardly existed. Just about everything was a tort, damage to a private party, not defiance of the government. Even leaving aside that Odysseus was supposed to be part of that government, he also was an offended private party.

The grieving families might have demanded what we might consider financial reparations, instead of revenge. What the Old English called wergild (wergeld in many modern dictionaries).

In modern terms, he might argue that he had used reasonable and appropriate force in repelling serial home-invaders, who had threatened the lives and well-being of the rightful occupants, and that their families had no grounds for wrongful death suits. (Whether that would be acceptable to a court is not something I'm qualified to say.)


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