25 April 2018
The Odyssey is the epic that lives it life through ages, has been read over many time, digging its way into our hearts, becoming an instant classic. Odysseus and the adventures of his homecoming create a much different tale than Homer’s other work, the lliad, provided. The epic is not about bloodthirsty men trying to get their hands on kleos anymore; it is about the homecoming of a man who uses his wits, not his weapon. The Odyssey is not only a great romantic, adventure epic, but it’s terribly realistic in its depiction of human nature and a brilliantly crafted narrative. Today we could learn from how Homer lays out his plot and plays the characters off against each other for maximum reader involvement. Of course, it was composed almost three thousand years ago and our sensibilities have changed rather drastically in those centuries. Which mean the Odyssey texture does not go down as smooth as the modern story. The key to understand this story is that you have to work a bit at putting yourself in the ancient mindset and understanding it, especially when your copy of The Odyssey is translated as poetry. Once you make that effort, you will start to find it coming easier and easier, and it will eventually end up not so ancient or foreign at all. It eventually sucks you right into the tale. Homer is way ahead of his time in the indirect route he takes in telling the story. The standard approach to an epic is to start in medias res in the thick of the story, as the same author does with the Iliad. But instead of setting off with Odysseus at the fall of Troy, picking up from the end of the Iliad, and following the character’s ten-year journey home from the war, here Homer starts near the end of the story. We’re shown the state of Odysseus’s home and family, with suitors for his wife Penelope despoiling his estate. His son Telemachus is sent by the gods to find his father. The emotional growth in the paralleling stories of Telemachos and Odysseus holds a key to Homer’s storylines. When Telemachos travels to Sparta he meets Menelaus, Odysseus’ friend from the war. When Menelaus mentions Odysseus, Telemachos first tries to be strong and continued to hide about his identity but breaks down and cries, showing that he has lots to learn from his father. Telemachus receive a message about his father Odysseus is still alive and believe it was a fake rumor and state that “Eurymachos, there is no more hope of my father’s homecoming. I believe no messages any more, even should there be one, nor pay attention to any prophecy, those times my mother calls some diviner into the house and asks him questions” (413-416). Telemachus finally learns his father has been kept captive on an island by the nymph Calypso. Then the narrative switches to Odysseus. With the help and hindrance of various gods, he escapes from the island, is almost drowned and is washed up in another land where he stays anonymously. Here we get the adventures we’ve all heard before: visiting the land of the Lotus-Eaters, fighting the Cyclops, escaping the cannibals, descending into Hades, outsmarting Circe who turned his crew to swine, evading the Sirens who lure sailors to their death, passing between the monsters Scylla and Charybdis, being captured by Calypso (Peter T. Struck, 2009). The rest of the tale concerns the homecoming of Odysseus, disguised as a beggar, and his bloody revenge on the interlopers. Plus, a little extra excitement at the end as a civil war erupts before the gods can impose a peace. It’s all exciting stuff. But significant too in how it depicts a hero. Odysseus is not just an honest, just, god fearing action hero. He’s crafty, a trickster. Odysseus was a man of wit and courage, one who was unfortunate enough to anger the god “Aias, son of stately Telamon, could you then never even in death forget your anger against me, because of that cursed armor? The gods made it to pain the Achaians, so great a bulwark were you, who were lost to them. We Achaians grieved for your death as incessantly as for Achilleus the son of Peleus at his death, and there is no other to blame, but Zeus; he, in his terrible hate for the army of the Danaan spearmen, visited this destruction upon you.”‘ (Books 11, 553-560). Even with his unlucky fate of a long homecoming, he was blessed with a loyal and loving family, a family that highlight the various aspect of his personality. All of these characters molded Odysseus, just as he molded them though the events of the Odyssey. They reflect his growth as a character with their own trials and tribulation. Odysseus displays the vengeful anger and self-righteousness that mixed with promiscuity, greed, and single-minded self-interest—and tenderness, especially in regard to his wife and son. It’s a complex mix but it works. Much more interesting than the more completely self-righteous characters of the Iliad. One of the confusing but also a nice thing about this tale is, in a contrast with the Iliad, is that god is really relax. Apart from Athene, who gives Odysseus a hand now and then, most of them are not constantly interfering. They leave the mortals to work out their problems in their own bloody and lovable ways. The tale Odyssey have put many other off guard is how Homer’s use stock phrases, like how Homer describe the water is always “the wine-dark sea”, and some character arrive with the same adjective before their name. Not all homer’s translations retain this repetition, but if it ever shows up in the stories, bear in mind that it means to be recited, and perform an image to the story teller and the audience’s impression.
Peter T. Struck. “Timelines of Homer’s Odyssey” Greek and Roman Mythology, 25 April 2018. http://www.classics.upenn.edu/myth/php/homer/index.php?page=timelinesH. L, Havell. “The Odyssey” Gutenberg eBook #13725, 12, October 2004. https://www.gutenberg.org/files/13725/13725-h/13725-h.htmHeather Sebo. “Ajax” La Trobe University, 25 April 2018. https://www.latrobe.edu.au/marketing/assets/podcasts/subjects/mds1ang201317.pdf