Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Odyssey, Bk 4: The King and Queen of Sparta

The Odyssey At last they gained the ravines of Lacedaemon

Telemachus and Nestor's son Pisistratus arrive during wedding festivities. Menelaus says "Wait, don't tell me. You must be the sons of kings. I'm right, aren't I."

Unbidden Menelaus speaks of Odysseus.

for none of all those comrades, pained as I am,
do I grieve as much for one...
that man who makes sleep hateful, even food,
as I pore over his memory. No one, no Achaean
labored hard as Odysseus labored or achieved so much. (116-120)
Menelaus realizes T is Odysseus' son, but ponders whether to grill him. Why do that? But Helen, of the launched a thousand ships fame, steals his thunder.
"Right or wrong, what can I say? My heart tells me
to come right out and say I've never seen such a likeness,
neither in man nor woman--I'm amazed at the sight.
To the life he's like the son of great Odysseus,
surely he's Telemachus!" (155-159)
Helen goes on...
The boy that hero left
a babe in arms at home when all you Achaeans
fought at Troy, launching your headlong battles
just for my sake, shameless whore that I was." (159-162)
I seem to recall her doing this in the Iliad as well. She seems to require it of herself, call herself a shameless whore. That bit goes by unremarked upon, as though it's just part of the background noise, she says it so often. I also get this image of two embittered people, staying together for propriety, with barely veiled hostile remarks flying back and forth across the dinner table. I could so see this in a contemporary movie, the unhappy rich couple spatting incessantly, finding small ways to manipulate the other, 'for the other's own good' of course.

Like here:
Then Zeus's daughter Helen thought of something else,
Into the mixing-bowl from which they drank their wine
she slipped a drug, heart's-ease, dissolving anger,
magic to make us all forget our pains...
No one who drank it deeply, mulled in wine,
could let a tear roll down his cheeks that day. (243-248)
Can't have this war-induced grief bringing down a wedding party, can we?

Helen recounts a story of helping Odysseus when he entered the city as a beggar spy. Menelaus snarks back about her knocking on the wooden horse, hoping to get those hidden inside to betray themselves.
Three times you sauntered round our hollow ambush,
feeling, stroking its flanks,
challenging all our fighters, calling each by name-- (310-312)
Menelaus recounts his way home--how he held The Old Man of the Sea, who then had to tell him the truth. Menelaus gets to go home, the Old Man tells him, because he's the son-in-law of Zeus. So that's why the rich couple stays together: she's the one with the 'money' or 'connections'; he's the one with respectability. An unhappy match, that. The Old Man also tells him of Odysseus' being held by Calypso.

Ruh roh:
But lord Antinous sat apart,
dashing Eurymachus beside him, ringleaders,
head and shoulders the strongest of the lot.
Phronius' son Noemon approached them now,
quick to press Antinous with a question:
"Antinous, have we any notion or not
when Telemachus will return from sandy Pylos?
He sailed in a ship of mine and now I need her back..." (706-713)
Penelope discovers T's absence. She prays to Pallas, who sends a phantom with a dispatch to ease her pain. Of course she can't help but ask about Odysseus. The phantom's response:
"I cannot tell you the story start to finish,
whether he's dead or alive,
It's wrong to lead you on with idle words." (940-942)
Why idle words? So the bards can have a story to tell?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Eeek! I got behind already but am nearly up to speed again. Am greatly enjoying reading parts of each chapter aloud. Those gangstas slouching around Odysseus' crib eating and swilling...and then they've got the nerve to sass Telemachus! I think he's like 16 so they give him shit about his boyishness.
What's up with cutting out victims' tongues and throwing them on the fire in book 3 pg44&45? Which victims? Why tongues? Did I fall asleep and miss something?
I dig Big M, what a toughie and loyal 4eva to his friends! that heifer slaughter was a bit graphic for me.
On to Book 5!
Oh it's me-homi-I have to use my gmail account to add comments here