Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The Odyssey: Books 18, 19, 20

The OdysseyThe Beggar-King of Ithaca

Arnaeus aka Irus the tramp picks a fight with Odysseus the beggar. Bad move. The suitors enjoy the prospect of a smack-down, but don't expect the stranger to win. He gets the prize, food and a chance to sit inside.

Odysseus takes the opportunity to find out if there are any loyal men. One catches his attention, and we get a glimpse inside Odysseus' mind, possibly. He says:

"Amphinomous, you seem like a man of good sense to me.
...Listen. Listen closely.
Of all that breathes and crawls across the earth,
our mother earth breeds nothing feebler than a man.
So long as the gods grant him power, spring in his knees,
he thinks he will never suffer affliction down the years.
But then, when the happy gods bring on the long hard times,
berate them he must, against his will, and steel his heart.
Our lives, our mood and mind as we pass across the earth,
turn as the days turn...
as the father of men and gods makes each day dawn.
I too seemed destined to be a man of fortune once
and a wild wicked swath I cut, indulged my lust for violence,
staking all on my father and my brothers.
Look at me now.
And so, I say, let no man ever be lawless all his life,
just take in peace what gifts the gods will send... (149-163)
Athena fans the flames and prods Penelope to mix it up.
Forcing a laugh, she called her maid: "Eurynome,
my spirit longs--though it never did till now--
to appear before my suitors, loathe them as I do.
Heh. And those suitors said she led them on. Teased them, made them do all they did. Yeah.

Penelope says Odysseus said she should marry someone else if he does not return before her boy's beard grows in. Clearly she doesn't wish to marry any of these men. They are loathsome and uncouth, "a far cry from the time-honored way". Why, real suitors give bride-gifts, don't eat her out of her home. Odysseus sends the maids after her, saying he'll tend the torches. Melantho reveals herself as a bad maid.

Penelope and Her Guest

The suitors gone for the night, Telemachus and Odysseus stow the weapons. Melantho is bitchy toward the stranger again, and Odysseus scolds her. So does Penelope. Pene tells O of her weaving scheme. Tit for tat, she wants news from him. Odysseus spins yet another story, that he's from Crete, and was there when Odysseus was on his way to Troy.

The way he describes himself, I think he's trying to torment his wife. He did say he was testing her.
I noticed his glossy tunic too, clinging to his skin
like the thin glistening skin of a dried onion,
silky, soft, the glint of the sun itself.
Women galore would gaze on it with relish. (267-270) left nothing to the imagination. It's nice to know women were recognized to have a sex drive, even if noblewomen had little say about what they did with it.

He tells her Odysseus is coming home soon. Despite his convincing story, Penelope still won't believe it. Dare not, I suppose. She has Odysseus' old nurse give him a bathe. Eurycleia recognizes him by his scar "made years ago by a boar's white tusk."

We learn how Odysseus got his name. His mother's father,
...Just as I
have come from afar, creating pain for many--
men and women across the good green earth--
so let his name be Odysseus...
the Son of Pain, a name he'll earn in full. (460-464)
This other translation has it as "Lo, inasmuch as I am come hither as one that has been angered with many..."

Just about a hundred lines pass in an instant, in the nurse's memory. Then, Odysseus warns her to keep quiet about his identity. His nurse assures him she can tell which women are traitors, but he says he can tell.

Now clean, Penelope resumes her grilling of the stranger, and asks for his interpretation of her dream. (Yet another sign of lesser birds killed by an eagle.) Odysseus interprets it as the other seers interpret it...her husband will return and destroy the suitors. Penelope still won't believe it. She's been down so long.

And now she shares the test she has devised for the suitors: the one who can shoot Odysseus' bow through 12 axes, he will win the bride.

Portents Gather
Off in the entrance-hall the great king made his bed,
spreading out on the ground the raw hide of an ox,
heaping over it the fleece from the sheep the suitors
butchered day and night, then Eurynome threw
a blanket over him, once he'd nestled down. (1-5)
I've got just one thing to say about that. Eewww. Stinky. But then that is a perfect spot for him to see just which women "whored in the suitors' beds each night." Odysseus holds his rage in check.

Early in the morning Odysseus asks Zeus for a sign, and "he thundered at once." (111) After all the help from Athena, and hearing all those other signs, he still needs a sign? Maybe it's protocol, to send a prayer before battle.

The swineherd returns, and has a warm greeting for the disguised Odysseus. The goatherd returns, and has only insults. Enter the cowherd Philoetius. He is of the swineherd's ilk. He only stays on, enduring the usurpers, because to leave would be disloyal to Odysseus' son.

Telemachus has definitely developed a bristly manner with the suitors. It's all he can do to hold back, I'll bet. Of course Antinous, the brawn not brains leader, sneers.
"Fighting words, but do let's knuckle under--
to our prince. Such abuse, such naked threats!
But clearly Zeus has foiled us. Or long before
we would have shut his mouth for him in the halls,
fluent and flowing as his is." (300-304)
Right at this point while reading a bee landed on my open book. I couldn't help but wonder, is this a portent? What would a bee signify?

T's bristly voice comes to clarity:
But no more of your crimes against me, please!
Unless you're bent on cutting me down, now.
and I'd rather die, yes, better that by far
than have to look on at your outrage day by day:
guests treated to blows, men dragging the serving-women
through our noble house, exploiting them all, no shame!"
Dead quiet. The suitors all fell silent, hushed.
Telemachus' guest Theoclymenus enters and sees another portent.
Night shrouds your heads, your faces, down to your knees--
cries of mourning are bursting into fire--cheeks rivering tears--
the wall and the handsome crossbeams dripping dank with blood!
Ghosts, look, thronging the entrance, thronging the court,
go trooping down to the world of death and darkness!
The sun is blotted out of the sky--look there--
a lethal mist spreads all across the earth!" (392-398)
Awesome! The suitors jeer. I have yet another vision of a retelling of this book through Telemachus' view. There could be something more between these two, something not said in the lines of Odysseus, some adventure that bonds them and makes them so loyal to each other. This would be a great book for teens...the whole finding dad, fighting alongside dad, but feeling inadequate next to dad thing. A great coming of age story.

That reminds me of some lines from Book 19. Boy sees a sign of the gods, and Odysseus shushes him.
. ...Pallas Athena strode before them,
lifting a golden lamp that cast a dazzling radiance round about.
"Father," Telemachus suddenly burst out to Odysseus,
"oh what a marvel fills my eyes! Look, look there--
all the sides of the hall, the handsome crossbeams,
pinewood rafters, the tall columns towering--
all glow in my eyes like flaming fire!
Surely a god is here--
one of those who rule the vaunting skies!"

"Quiet," his father, the old soldier, warned him.
"Get a grip on yourself. No more questions now.
It's just the way of the gods who rule Olympus.
Off you go to bed. I'll stay here behind
to test the women, test your mother too.
Back to Book 20. There was the's the prophecy:
. Oh I can see it now--
the disaster closing on you all! There's no escaping it,
no way out--not for a single on of you suitors,
wild reckless fools, plotting outrage here... (410-413)

Portents, prophecies...can we get on with the action already?

No comments: