Monday, November 24, 2008

The Odyssey, Books 13 and 14

The Odyssey Ithaca at Last

King Alcinous showers Odysseus with presents, and urges his court to do likewise:

Come,
each of us add a sumptuous tripod, add a cauldron!
Then recover our costs with levies on the people:
it's hard to afford such bounty man by man. (13-16)
Yeahhh, these rich folks gotta stick together, and tax the underclass. Suuuure, we can bail him out, the people can pay for it! The more things change...altogether now....the more they remain the same.

The Phaeacian crew competently get Odysseus to Ithaca, and offload him and his party prizes like some smuggler's stash. Unfortunately, Poseidon finds out, and the Phaeacians must be punished. Ah, but the god's enmity didn't begin with their care for Odysseus, as Alcinous remembers a prophecy.
Oh no--my father's prophecy years ago...
it all comes home to me with a vengeance now!
He used to say Poseidon was vexed with us because
we escorted all mankind and never came to grief. (194-197)
What are gods good for if they won't support kindness?

Athena sends the obscuring mist again, so when Odysseus wakes up from his Athena-induced sleep, he doesn't recognize his own land. She sets him straight, though. The two tricksters spin tales with each other, and reminisce about the times they encountered each other, and the times they didn't. They hide his treasures in a cave, then plan his approach to his home, overrun with 'suitors'.
Come, weave us a scheme so I can pay them back!
Stand beside me, Athena, fire me with daring, fierce
as the day we ripped Troy's glittering crown of towers down.
Stand by me--furious now as then, my bright-eyed one--
and I would fight three hundred men, great goddess,
with you to brace me, comrade-in-arms in battle! (442-447)
So Athena tells him to trust the swineherd, and disguises him as an old man. They both do love their disguises.

The Loyal Swineherd

The swineherd calls off the dogs, and takes Odysseus in as the disguised beggar he looks.
My master, I tell you, would have repaid me well
if he'd grown old right here. But now he's dead...
If only Helen and all her kind had died out too,
brought to her knees, just as she cut the legs
from under the troops of men! (77-81)
He calls the suitors what they are, 'bandits.' He won't believe Odysseus is really alive, even when the old man swears. Disguised Odysseus spins quite a tale of being born a rich man's son of a concubine. As any good liar knows to do, it seems he spins some truth into the lies.
Far out of the front I'd charge and spear my man,
I'd cut down any enemy soldier backing off.
Such was I in battle, true, but I had no love
for working the land, the chores of households either,
the labor that raises crops of shining children. No,
it was always oarswept ships that thrilled my heart,
and wars, and the long polished spears and arrows,
dreadful gear that makes the next man cringe. (251-258)
For all he wanted to return home, I wonder if some of Odysseus' difficulty in getting back home had to do with a bit of truth found here. Now that he is almost there, he must still delay. There is no going home...it's never the same. We're never the same, even if we try to go home. The loyal swineherd refuses to believe the long tale...he'd been fooled before.

While Odysseus sleeps, the swineherd gears up to go outside with the pigs. The description sounds majestic, like any hero preparing for war:
First, over his broad shoulders he slung a whetted sword,
wrapped himself in a cloak stitched tight to block the wind,
and adding a cape, the pelt of a shaggy well-fed goat,
he took a good sharp lance to fight off men and dogs. (596-599)

1 comment:

Murasaki said...

I've finished visiting Ithaca and was a bit mopey (Odie hangover)but have suddenly found myself obsessed with technology;ie Facebook. It's the fun superficial high school-like experience I missed out on in my teens...