Sunday, October 16, 2016

Odyssey by Homer

Odysseus encounters many obstacles on his way back to Ithaca

Odysseus, King of Ithaca, wily hero of the Trojan war, sets out for home with twelve ships laden with booty. Ten years later he washes up naked on a beach, resorting to burrowing into a pile of olive leaves for warmth. In the interim, he has experienced many adventures, seen many wondrous things and even bedded two goddesses. However, the kingdom of Ithaca lies neglected and his wealth is being depleted by the 108 suitors come to court his presumed widow Penelope. Penelope, still in love with Odysseus, and needing to preserve the kingdom for their son Telemachus, has delayed and delayed her choice of a husband, but can delay no more. Odysseus, disguised as an old beggar, finally arrives, and with the help of the goddess Athena, wreaks a terrible revenge.

The Odyssey seemed far more “narratively constructed” than the Iliad. In every scene, the hero has an unstoppable motivation – I want to go home. The use of secrets (and secret scars) combine to support gripping scenes of high emotional intensity. What Odysseus longs for is what we all long for: home. Perhaps this was the original video game: surprises and monsters, capped with an orgiastic mass murder. The meeting of Penelope and the disguised Odysseus is masterfully told.

Women play an important role here, starting with Athena. They want to protect the hero yet they also want to contain and maybe even imprison him. Women are both a source of emotional longing, and what is harder for the modern person to understand, a source of currency or wealth and property. I’m not sure if I completely understood that. Everyone deeply respects Penelope, yet Penelope must be married.

Both kings and swineherds provide hospitality, even though Odysseus is not that nice. He certainly lies a lot.

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