The Gods Were Never Indifferent to Your Life
Posted October 17, 2011on:
So I just now looked at the table of contents and noticed that, unlike The Iliad, the entirety of The Odyssey is included in Norton. Therefore, I’m going to try to condense so we aren’t on this work for 3 months (there are 24 books!). So far, though, I must say, I am deeply enjoying this. No complaints at all. Homer is frequently hilarious, and offers a number of absolutely stunning descriptive passages. I commented about The Iliad that one can imagine how gorgeous it would have been to see the poet perform his work, and that holds true here as well.
Book 2 sees Telémakhos call for an assembly of the Akhaians. Aigýptios, an old man mourning his son, calls the meeting to order. (Homer continues his pattern here of really making a connection to the background characters.) Telémakhos declares to the crowd that he is extremely displeased with this whole suitor business.
Antinoös (one of the suitors) makes a classy move and blames Penélopê. Yes, exactly like jerks do now to women who are raped. Class through the ages. Antinoös describes a trick she did with her loom (readers of Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters will recognize it – Grover made use of it). He declares that they will not leave her alone until she chooses a new husband, unless Telémakhos sends her back to her father.
Telémakhos doesn’t take the stupid bait. Zeus is watching and decides now is a good time for Death from Above, by a pair of eagles. Halithesês interprets this as a prophesy that Odysseus will return and bring doom on those plaguing his household, and reiterates a previous prophesy that said that Odysseus would return in disguise after an absence of 19 years. Eurýmakhos responds, very disrespectfully, saying that Odysseus is long dead and that Halithesês should shut up and die, too. He agrees with Antinoös – if Telémakhos wants to be rid of the suitors, he should send his mother back to her childhood home.
“Clear-headed” Telémakhos replies: “I am finished with appeals and argument” and declares his intent to sail out in search of word on his father. If he finds Odysseus is dead, he will return and give his mother in marriage.
Mentor, who was left in charge of Odysseus’ household, stands to speak. He says he’s not so much bothered by the boorish behavior of the suitors, but is definitely sickened that the community is letting them get away with it. Leókritos retorts saying that if Odysseus returns and tries to dispose of the suitors, he’d be overwhelmed and killed. He also posits that Telémakhos is incapable of sailing.
The assembly ends and Telémakhos goes to the beach, where he prays to “the god of yesterday” (Athena, of course). Athena comes, this time disguised as Mentor, and strongly encourages him to stick to his plan. She dismisses his worry about what the suitors think and tells him that s/he’ll get the ship and the sailors if he’ll go home and gather the provisions.
When Telémakhos gets home, Antinoös is there (I’m beginning to hope he’ll be killed by the end), mocking. Telémakhos shuts him down, but all the others join in. Hooray for grown men acting like junior high school bullies! Telémakhos ignores them and goes to give orders for provisions to be made ready. Eurýkleia protests, worried for his safety, but he allays her fears and asks her not to tell Penélopê.
Meanwhile, Athena, this time disguised as Telémakhos, is going through the town recruiting and borrowing a ship. She then passes through Telémakhos’ house, making all the suitors drowsy so they leave and go home. She then appears to Telémakhos, as Mentor, to tell him everything is ready to go. The crew loads the ship and they set sail for Pylos, remembering to offer the libation to the gods.
I have begun to notice that each book begins with a beautiful descriptive passage. Book 3 begins with the sunrise over the sea. They have made the short journey to Pylos, home of Nestor, a great hero of the Trojan War. They arrive to see the people of Pylos making a great offering to Poseidon.
Telémakhos is feeling shy, unused to giving speeches and speaking to great men, and worried that he’ll offend people by asking too many questions. Athena, still disguised as Mentor, encourages him again. Nestor and his sons see the ship arriving and quickly invite them all to come participate in their sacrifice and feast. They show proper respect for their elders by having Athena/Mentor, as the oldest of the crew, take precedence. This is deliberately contrasted with the shameful behavior of Eurýmakhos yesterday. Athena/Mentor offers a prayer for honor and blessings to Poseidon, which is “granted in every particular by herself.” The sacrifice is complete and the crowd feasts.
Afterwards, Nestor asks Telémakhos his errand. Athena “gave him heart” to answer, for she desires Telémakhos to achieve fame on his trip. Telémakhos introduces himself and says that he’s seeking news of his father Odysseus.
Nestor embarks on a longwinded tale. He talks of the Trojan War. He comes briefly back to the topic of Odysseus, and then wanders off on a tale about how he came to leave Troy and return home. He rambles on (very much like a kindly but talkative grandfather), and speaks about how good it is to have sons who will avenge you.
Telémakhos manages a word in edgewise and mentions his trouble with the suitors. Nestor says he’s heard of it and asks what’s up with that. He also says that if Athena still loved Odysseus, she’d do something about it and the suitors would do best to run and hide. Telémakhos avoids this observation, but Athena/Mentor steps in to say that Odysseus’ fate of wandering is much to admired compared to Agamemnon’s fate (more on that in a minute from the King of Long Tales). Telémakhos asks Athena/Mentor why he is so certain Odysseus is alive at all, and then asks Nestor to tell what happened to Agamemnon.
Nestor jumps right on that opportunity. “Well now, my son, I’ll tell you the whole story.” He certainly does. Here’s the highlights: Klytaimnêstra (Agamemnon’s wife) had a suitor in his absence – Aigísthos – whom she eventually took as a lover. When Agamemnon returned, Aigísthos killed him and ruled in his place for seven years. In the eighth year, Orestês, son of Agamemnon, killed Aigísthos and Klytemnêstra. The day of their burial, Menelaus (brother of Agamemnon, who had been lost at sea all that time) returned. Nestor drops a hint about suitors and tells Telémakhos that he should go to see Menelaus and ask if he has any news of Odysseus.
Hilariously, Homer tells us that “while Nestor talked, the sun went down in the sky.” Athena/Mentor, seeing that it is now night, suggests that they complete the offering to the gods and retire for the night. Nestor insists that they take advantage of his hospitality for the night, but Athena refuses and flies away. Nestor says, “I have no fears for you … if, at your age, the gods are your companions.” Nestor offers a prayer to Athena and promises a great sacrifice for her. They offer a libation and go to bed.
In the morning, Nestor prepares the offering he promised, while Telémakhos takes a bath and puts on fine clothes. They have another feast, and Nestor orders his men to prepare a car to take Telémakhos and his men overland to Lakedaimon to meet Menelaus.
After this meeting with Nestor, I’m eager to see what sort of man Menelaus will turn out to be. Come back next week to find out with me!