Textbook Leftovers

Archive for November 2011

Oops! It was a long weekend at our house, and I didn’t realize it was already Monday. Better late than never, here we go with Books VII and VIII of The Odyssey. Homer is setting the stage for the “big reveal” of what Odysseus has been up to for all that time, so while things do happen, these two books are pretty unremarkable.

Nausikaa returns home from the river (Homer tells us about her nurse, a slave – I love that he does this), and Odysseus follows at a careful distance. Athena causes a fog around him so nobody bothers him, and disguises herself as a small girl to give him directions to the palace. They soon arrive at the home of King Alkínoös, and the “girl” gives Odysseus a hint that Queen Arêtê is the one he needs to win over. (Homer also tells us that the King is the much-older uncle of the Queen, as well as husband. So, you know, EW.)

Odysseus enters the palace, and Homer describes it. It’s apparently awesome. When he’s seen it all, Odysseus enters the house, where they are offering a libation to Zeus, and goes straight to Arêtê, begging her for mercy and help. When he’s done speaking, he goes to the fire and sits in the ashes. (The hearth is the center of the home and a sort of consecrated ground, especially for a supplicant.)

Everyone is silent for a moment, taking in the sight of this stranger and his desperate bid for mercy. An old man, Ekhenêos, finally speaks out, saying that allowing a guest to sit in the ashes unhelped “will not pass for courtesy,” and that the king and queen must grant him aid. Immediately, Alkínoös gives Odysseus the chair of his favorite son. Food and drink is brought, followed by another libation to Zeus (patron of honorable petitioners).

Francesco Hayez’s oil painting “Odysseus am Hofe des Alkinoos” -“Odysseus at the court of Alkínoös” Image source

Alkínoös announces his plans to get Odysseus sent on his way, and the rest of the guests leave the hall. Observant Arêtê, meanwhile, has noticed that Odysseus is wearing clothes that she made, and asks how such a thing came to pass. Odysseus explains that he has been prisoner of Kalypso for 8 years, and after sailing for 17 days, was shipwrecked on their island, near the river, where Nausikaa had found him that morning. With plans brewing for the next day, they all go to bed.

Book VIII opens the next morning, as Odysseus and Alkínoös arise and go to the town’s assembly ground. Athena, disguising herself as a crier, goes about the town, summoning everyone to the assembly. Alkínoös speaks, asking that a ship be made ready to sail at evening, and a festival all day. Everyone agrees, and gets busy.

Feasting. They do an awful lot of eating, these people. Haha. The minstrel, Demódokos, sings a song of Odysseus and Akhilleus (you may know him as Achilles), which makes Odysseus cry. He hides it well, but Alkínoös notices it, and calls for some sports. The young men are apparently quite impressive. Then one of them hurts Odysseus’ feelings, and Odysseus makes a speech about it and then kicks his butt at discus. He makes another speech about it (lol) and Alkínoös suggests dancing next. Demódokos sings a story (which is now very well-known) about Hephaistos catching his wife Aphrodite and his brother Arês en flagrante.

Alkínoös and all the other lords (and the guy who insulted Odysseus earlier) decide to load Odysseus up with gifts. Odysseus takes a bath, thanks Nausikaa for her help, and praises the minstrel for his skill. In response, the minstrel sings a song of the Trojan Horse. Odysseus cries again and tries valiantly to hide it, but Alkínoös sees it again and calls for the song to end. He finally (Odysseus still hasn’t told them his name) asks his guest to tell them who he is, and why he weeps for the Akhaians at Troy.

Odysseus will answer Alkínoös’ questions next week, in Book IX!

Hello! So sorry about the unexpected hiatus there – things got so crazy! I’m back now though, and this week, I’m recapping Book VI of The Odyssey. Just one book this week, and it’s a short one.

Image from Nice Art Gallery

While Odysseus is sleeping in the underbrush, Athena goes to the city of the Phaiákians (the people who inhabit this island) to pave his way forward, so to speak. She enters the home of Alkínoös (their king) and takes the form of his daughter Nausikaa’s best friend, who is a daughter of a shipman and otherwise doesn’t appear in this book. Read the rest of this entry »