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Discussion - Homer, The Odyssey > The Odyssey through Book 14

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message 1: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Odysseus reaches Ithaca, though he doesn't know it at first (which I found confusing; Athena came up with another mist, but OTOH he was looking around and seeing things, only not recognizing them. Oh well.)

I loved that comment of Alcinous: "let us give him a great tripod and a cauldron, each man of us, and we in turn will gather the cost from among the people, and repay ourselves." (Butler 13.12) Just like some modern politicians; we'll get the credit for giving these rich gifts as though coming from us, but we'll soak the taxpayers to pay for them.

Isn't it pretty nasty of Poseidon to punish the Phaeacians for helping out a stranger? All those virile young oarsmen turned to stone. Shades of Medusa. (Turning to stone being a favorite punishment of the gods?) And what sort of lesson is this teaching the young of Athens?

In contrast to Poseidon, Eumaeus is the perfect host, taking in the stranger, praising Odysseus who has been gone for ten years but is still fondly remembered (any boss could be proud of having an employee who hasn't seen them for ten years but still remembers them fondly), and trashing the suitors. By any reasonable measure, the pig farmer is a gentleman; here at last is a favorable lesson to teach the youth of Greece.


message 2: by Silver (new)

Silver One of the things which caught my eye when Odysseys begins telling his falsified story to Eumaeus he begins by saying:

My native land is the wide seaboard of Krete
where I grew up. I had a wealthy father,
and many other sons were born to him
of his true lady. My mother was a slave,
his concubine; but Kastor Hylakides,
my father treated me as a true born son.
High honor came to him in that part of Krete
for wealth and ease, and his sons born for renown,
before death-bearing Keres drew him down
to the underworld. His avid sons thereafter
diving up the property by lot
gave me a wretched portion, a poor house


This bears a close refection of the story of Zeus and how he and his brothers divided up their own dominions. Zeus convinced Poseidon, and Hates to draw lots to determine who would get what.

Since Odysseus was coming up with this story off the top of his head, it made me wonder, if he may have been familiar with this myth and borrowed from it in crafting his story. And this got me to think of the important role which storytelling plays throughout this book.

The adventures of Odysseus himself is presented to the reader in the form of him narrating his story to the Phaecians and Telemakhos is sent by Athena to hear stories of his father. I wonder if Homer is intending to make a statement about how important storytelling is to the people and the culture


message 3: by Roger (new)

Roger Burk | 1723 comments Odysseus's return to Ithaca is like coming up out of a dream. He's carried ashore without waking up. How wildly improbable! Athena appears to him in her own person--does such a thing happen anywhere else? And then all the treasure that the Phaeaecians supposedly gave him is whisked off to a cave and we never hear of it again. From now on it's just Odysseus with the clothes on his back, using all his wits and craft to figure out how to manage a homecoming.


message 4: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Roger wrote: "Odysseus's return to Ithaca is like coming up out of a dream. He's carried ashore without waking up. How wildly improbable! "

That struck me too.


message 5: by Adelle (new)

Adelle | 128 comments Everyman wrote at post 1 regarding giving gifts and making taxpayers pay for them.

Lol, yes! I enjoyed that, too. Butler's translation has the line, "For to give outright were hard indeed."

! And harder for "the people" than for Alcinous and his set.


message 6: by Adelle (new)

Adelle | 128 comments @1...

Regarding the punishment/revenge on the Phaeacians which Zeus sanctions....

I thought it particularly heinous due to the fact that--according to Athene-- it was due to Athene that the Phaeacians had made Odysseus welcome.

Further, it was through her advice and prompting that they gave Odysseus treasures.

I realize that Odysseus did not think he was on Ithica...but still... Odysseus seemed worse even then an ingrate:

They have given him much treasure...and O complains...."Where shall I leave my goods?" He wishes that he had run across a different powerful prince... And he says!!!! "Let me count my goods and see that the Phaeacians (who gave him the treasure) took none away upon their hollow ship."

I wondered...since this was related as a "meanwhile" scene...whether it was Odysseus's intended curse ("May Zeus, the god of suppliants, reward them!") which might have been what initiated the events that resulted in the Phaeacians being turned into stone.


message 7: by Silver (new)

Silver Adelle wrote: "@1...

Regarding the punishment/revenge on the Phaeacians which Zeus sanctions....

I thought it particularly heinous due to the fact that--according to Athene-- it was due to Athene that the Phaea..."


I saw the curse upon the Phaecians as being Zeus's way of trying to keep the peace among the gods. Athena convinces him that Odysseys has been punished enough and should be allowed to return home, so he lets her assist him, but Poseidon is unhappy about this outcome, and does not think Odysseus has suffered enough and complains to Zeus about his quarry as it were being allowed to slip away from his grasp. So to try and appease Poseidon for allowing Odysseus to return home, the Phoenicians are cursed for assisting Odysseus. While this may seem unfair, such is the way of the gods. And in retrospect, if Poseidon felt that he had not been given his proper due and decided to stir up some more trouble the outcome could be a good deal more dire.

I think it is similar to Odysseus having to choose between Scylla and Charybdis. Sacrifice the few to save the many. Either turn a few Phaeacians into stone, or risk Poseidon going on the war path.


message 8: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Silver wrote: "...While this may seem unfair, such is the way of the gods...."

Yet another example, to add to the many we mentioned in the Iliad discussion, of the way in which the gods play with men rather than respecting them; whereas the Christian god created and cares for mankind, we again see the Greek gods acting quite the opposite.

One has to wonder what it must have been like to live in a society where the gods were viewed as so hostile and capricious, requiring extensive sacrifices to try to stay on their good side, with no assurance of a favorable outcome. I'm not sure I could have lived comfortably under such a system.


message 9: by Silver (new)

Silver Everyman wrote: One has to wonder what it must have been like to live in a society where the gods were viewed as so hostile and capricious, requiring extensive sacrifices to try to stay on their good side, with no assurance of a favorable outcome. I'm not sure I could have lived comfortably under such a system. .."

The gods were portrayed in such a light as a direct reflection of the physical environment, and the unpredictable in nature of which the people lived in. They were at the mercy of the elements, and of course nature itself acts indifferent to the comfort of man. A sudden flood, or extended draught could demolish crops leaving families to starve. And for the people it was the gods who controlled these elements.

It is a lot easier to believe in a god who cares for mankind when living in world in which man has more control over his physical environment.


message 10: by Roger (new)

Roger Burk | 1723 comments The Jews managed it well enough.


message 11: by Laurel (new)

Laurel Hicks (goodreadscomlaurele) | 2438 comments Roger wrote: "The Jews managed it well enough."

Yes. Being in control of nature (and desiring to have control of other humans) seems more likely to cause men to say in their hearts that there is no God.


message 12: by Silver (new)

Silver Laurele wrote: "Roger wrote: "The Jews managed it well enough."

Yes. Being in control of nature (and desiring to have control of other humans) seems more likely to cause men to say in their hearts that there is n..."


Yet there is plenty of historical evidence how people who claim belief God use that as there excuse to control other people.

And as far as being in control of nature goes, God does grant man dominion over the beasts and the land, and the Seven deadly sins are all about controlling our own natural primal urges. Christianity is very much more about controlling nature than pre-Christian religions are.


message 13: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4430 comments Thinking back to the discussion in the previous thread about Odysseus' tales, it's interesting to compare the story that Odysseus tells the Phaiakians with the one he tells Eumaios. The latter is a much shorter, less dramatic yarn, and it seems to have a specific purpose: to explain Odysseus' threadbare appearance, and to get him a blanket for the night (as well as to possibly entertain Eumaios.) I suppose it could be argued as well that his story to the Phaiakians was to explain why he washed up on their beach, and to get safe passage to Ithaka, but the primary purpose seemed to be entertainment.

The big difference seems to be that Eumaios, the simple herdsman, does not fall for Odysseus story. One other interesting thing about the Eumaios dialogue is that the narrator slips into second person three or four times during their conversation, each time telling Eumaios how he responded to Odysseus. It's as if the narrator were telling the story to Eumaios himself. This strikes me as really strange. I haven't noticed this anywhere else in the poem so far. What are we to make of this?


message 14: by Silver (new)

Silver Thomas wrote: "One other interesting thing about the Eumaios dialogue is that the narrator slips into second person three or four times during their conversation, each time telling Eumaios how he responded to Odysseus. It's as if the narrator were telling the story to Eumaios himself. This strikes me as really strange. I haven't noticed this anywhere else in the poem so far. What are we to make of this?
..."


Thank you for bringing that up, it confused the heck out of me when I was reading it. I kept thinking why do you keep saying "You" when talking about what Eumaios is sayings. I was confused by the narrative point of view, and just who the story was being told to. I began to wonder if it was just something weird with my translation. It is very odd that it only occurs in this particular incidence and just pops up out of nowhere.


message 15: by Roger (new)

Roger Burk | 1723 comments I think that Homer really liked the character Eumaios and addressed him in the second person because he felt close to him. There may also be a metrical reason why the second person fits well with that name.


message 16: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4430 comments Roger wrote: "I think that Homer really liked the character Eumaios and addressed him in the second person because he felt close to him. There may also be a metrical reason why the second person fits well with ..."

I do wonder if Eumaios is just the type of person Homer was writing for.


message 17: by Michael (new)

Michael Canoeist (michaelcanoeist) | 138 comments Everyman wrote: "One has to wonder what it must have been like to live in a society where the gods were viewed as so hostile and capricious, requiring extensive sacrifices to try to stay on their good side, with no assurance of a favorable outcome. I'm not sure I could have lived comfortably under such a system..."

I wonder if one result could have been to reduce the natural fear of death -- since it was so randomized, so out of one's own control in such a system. Perhaps that fear would be internalized a little differently when a batch of wacky gods had the power over you.


message 18: by Roger (new)

Roger Burk | 1723 comments I suppose Homer wrote for rich men who could sponsor entertainments where a bard would sing, and maybe for the guests, who would be less rich men. But swineherds and women probably wouldn't be among them. Nevertheless Homer's women and common men are among his most fully-realized and attractive characters. This is perhaps evidence of his genius.


message 19: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4430 comments Roger wrote: "I suppose Homer wrote for rich men who could sponsor entertainments where a bard would sing, and maybe for the guests, who would be less rich men. But swineherds and women probably wouldn't be amo..."

Why do you suppose this? Is there evidence that bards were paid well? Or something else?


message 20: by Roger (new)

Roger Burk | 1723 comments Thomas wrote: "Roger wrote: "I suppose Homer wrote for rich men who could sponsor entertainments where a bard would sing, and maybe for the guests, who would be less rich men. But swineherds and women probably w..."

That's how I've always heard the epics started--chanted by bards like the singer in Phaeacia.


message 21: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Roger wrote: "Thomas wrote: "Roger wrote: "I suppose Homer wrote for rich men who could sponsor entertainments where a bard would sing, and maybe for the guests, who would be less rich men. But swineherds and w..."

But I'm not sure that they were so much for the elite, the way Court jesters were in Medieval England. I'm not sure about 750 BC or so when the Iliad and Odyssey were probably written, but by the 5th century, the public performances of the Athenian plays were attended by most of the community, or at least the urban community, rich and poor alike. Was this something new, or was it already a tradition that public performance was something widely shared?

Seems that Plato wouldn't have been so opposed to the poets if they didn't appeal to the wide population.

I have no scholarly findings to back any of this up, but OTOH when Perry and Lord did their work on the oral tradition among Yugoslavic singers who were in a sense the artistic descendants of the Homeric bards, they were apparently singing to anyone and everyone.


message 22: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4430 comments Demodocus sings for "all the populace," as his name suggests -- "received by the people" -- but he is summoned by the king. Singers seem to hold a special place in the community, like seers or priests. I would imagine they were supported in the same way.


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