Textbook Leftovers

Posts Tagged ‘poetry

What happened to The Odyssey, you ask? Well, frankly, I got bored with it. It’s a great story, but it was way too much work to blog about. So, we’re moving on to the next entry in the Norton (still in Volume A, by the way) – Sappho of Lesbos.

Gasp! Scandalous!

Okay, so what do we know about this notorious lady? Not much, as it turns out. She was born around 630 bc, on the island of Lesbos, off the coast of Asia Minor. She had a husband, and at least one daughter. There was a collection of her poetry, spanning nine books, in the library of Alexandria. That’s awfully unfortunate for us, because now all that remains of her apparently huge folio is two complete poems and a bunch of fragments. She was liberally quoted in other works by the ancients, and it’s clear that she was enthusiastically loved even then. And it’s clear why – she gives us a beautiful picture of the joy and sorrow of love.

Sappho on an Attic red-figure vase by the Brygos Painter, ca. 470 BC. Image from Wikimedia Commons.
Sappho on an Attic red-figure vase by the Brygos Painter, ca. 470 BC. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Yes, love. Now we get to the ~scandal.~ Read the rest of this entry »

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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 »

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 »