Textbook Leftovers

Posts Tagged ‘heroic narrative

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!


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.

Image on pottery, apparently depicting Telémakhos and Nestor

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. Read the rest of this entry »

Sorry again for the delay, folks. I had some stuff to work out (I’m lying, I was just lazy). I’ve started a blog schedule over at my other blog, so check it out if you like. And now, with no more stalling, the first installment of our study of The Odyssey!

Image from Ed O'Keefe Photography, used without permission
An image search for the Mediterranean Sea is a beautiful thing. I recommend it.
Image © Ed O’Keefe

First, I want to flip back a few pages and revisit the introduction Norton gives to the Homeric epics. Both of these massive works are a clear reflection of the times. Greece as a whole was undergoing gigantic changes in its culture, politics, and social structure. Remember that the Iliad and the Odyssey were always publicly performed – while they were shaped by events, they no doubt had a hand in shaping the events themselves. The Iliad clearly deals with the ideas of peace and war, but especially grapples with the question of who should have power – the ones with merit (Achilles) or the ones with position (Agamemnon)? It never answers the question, but makes a valiant effort to explore it from many angles, including that of the women and the slaves, and even from the outsiders.

The Odyssey has a central question as well – what is a community? What is a culture? Why do we do things the way that we do? Over the course of his decade of adventuring, Odysseus encounters and experiences many different kinds of cultures and the people that live in them. This is compared with the breakdown of order at home. The epic never declares any one kind of culture to be the best – the “normal” civilized life of Greece is riddled with violence and betrayal, and the others are shown to have gaping flaws as well. It just endeavors to examine them and lay them out to be seen for what they are.

It is into this complex question that we now dive. I’m only dealing with Book One today. Read the rest of this entry »

When we left our tale, the Trojans were rallying and the Greeks were falling back without Achilles. In Book Nine, the Greeks are frightened by a storm and decide to man up and get Agamemnon to apologize to Achilles. Agamemnon (surprisingly) agrees, and waxes eloquent about the extravagant gifts he will give (it begins to sound sarcastic after a while). At the end of his list of gifts, he says he’ll give all this if Achilles will submit to him – now is it just me or is that not an apology at all? The other Greeks think this is a swell idea, and send Ajax and Odysseus to talk to Achilles. This goes about as well you expect.

Achilles tells them in no uncertain terms that he hates Agamemnon and hates this selfish war. He will have no part of this, not for all the prizes that the king will offer. He has decided to sail for home. They all take their turns to soliloquize, but Achilles will not budge. After this wordy interlude, the Greek army girds its loins to fight on, but fail pretty miserably. Agamemnon, Diomedes, and Odysseus are all wounded, and Achilles refuses to relent. Read the rest of this entry »

Book Four of the Iliad begins in a strange way. Two heroes, one from each side of the battle, meet in the no-man’s-land. They begin to taunt each other and it really begins to feel like a WWE match complete with ceiling-microphones. Each of the heroes ties his own heritage to legend, telling great tall tales about his forefathers. They end their verbal battle by acknowledging each other as friends and trading armor as a token of friendship (except one of them totally robs the other).

After that one-off scene, the Hero appears. Hector, Prince of Troy, enters the city. He asks his mother to beg Athena for mercy, and goes to find his brother Paris and tear him a new one. Read the rest of this entry »

Here we go with the Iliad! Norton includes selections from several of the books, with summaries of the omitted parts. Today, I’m dealing only with Book One.

It is fitting that the first word of this epic poem is Rage, because just about everyone in this part of the poem is mad as hell. I actually made an “Angry List” in my margins. The list of the pissed includes: Achilles, Agamemnon, the priest of Apollo, Apollo himself, Hera, and Zeus. And probably quite a few of the non-speaking roles, as well.

Now, if you don’t already know, the vast Acheaen (aka Greek) army, is currently waging war on Troy in retribution for the “kidnapping” of Helen (the wife of Menelaus, one of their kings). Read the rest of this entry »

At the beginning of Part 4 of Gilgamesh, our hero is still weeping for his friend. And a new fear has struck him – fear of his own mortality. “What my brother is now, that shall I be when I am dead. Because I am afraid of death, I will go as best I can to find Utnapishtim whom they call the Faraway, for he has entered the assembly of the gods.”

Gilgamesh embarks on an epic journey to find Utnapishtim, who is a sworn doppelganger for the biblical Noah. Gilgamesh fights a pride of lions, speaks with Scorpion-men, and traverses a pitch-black tunnel. He has now found the garden of the gods, a paradise of gemstone fruit and plants. One of the gods is here, and tells him to give up, for he “will never find the life for which [he is] searching.” Gilgamesh then finds and speaks to a nearby goddess. He tells her the story of his toils and of his deep sorrow and fear. She tells him again that he can never find immortality. Instead she counsels him to go out and live his life and enjoy it for all it is worth. I am interested to see that again a woman is the voice of reason and hope. Where the male god just said “give up,” the goddess offers wise advice and help. Read the rest of this entry »