Textbook Leftovers

Posts Tagged ‘women

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 »

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 »

I checked out the table of contents again. We’re gonna be in Greece for a while, guys. Today’s selection begins on page 258 and we leave Greece to head to China on page 804. I intend to stick with it; just a heads up. After Greece, we travel to China, then India, and finally Rome before finishing this volume. There are some truly epic and historic works in our path, and The Odyssey is not a lightweight. Let’s carry on, shall we?

We pick up, you remember, with Telémakhos arriving at the home of Meneláos at the beginning of Book Four. Meneláos is celebrating the wedding of two of his children (to two other people, not to each other, ew). As Telémakhos and Peisístratos (a son of Nestor) arrive, they are seen by Eteoneus, a friend of Meneláos. Eteoneus asks “should we greet them or tell them to move on” because of the celebration. Meneláos tells him that’s stupid, and to go out and greet the newcomers.

Homer gives us yet another of his beautiful descriptive scenes as Telémakhos settles in. Meneláos welcomes him and Peisístratos to the party (another example of how important hospitality is in Homer’s culture). Telémakhos is in absolute awe at Meneláos’ court, but Meneláos just says that while all his treasure is great (and imma let you finish) but he’d gladly trade it all if he could have his dead friends back. He mentions that he misses Odysseus most of all, and Telémakhos tears up at the mention of his father. Meneláos knows now that this must be Odysseus’ son, but he says nothing.

Gozo, Malta, is said to be the home of Calypso (or Kalypso)
This is the island of Gozo, Malta, said to be the Isle of Kalypso, where Odysseus is currently being held prisoner. Image from Tertium Quid. 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 »

I’ve read a great deal of love poetry. A huge percentage of the Western canon of poetry is focused on love. I’m female and I spent half my adolescence thinking about luvvv. This is not a subject that I am unfamiliar with. And I have to say that these selections of love poetry from Ancient Egypt might be the best I have ever read.

There is something refreshing about the language of all these poems. They are so simple and straightforward and honest – even more amazing because of the complexity of some of the themes. Sexuality has been a taboo subject for so long in the West that it is astounding to read such unabashed treatment of attraction and sensuality. Read the rest of this entry »