Madame Bovary Read-Along

C.J. at Ebookclassics and Juliana at Cedar Station are hosting a Madame Bovary read-along and I am going to be one of the participants.  I think I’ve read this novel before but, as you can see, it’s been so long that I can’t quite remember.

The rules:

Step One:  Sign-up by commenting below or linking to your blog post using the widget.  (Note: Widget will be available on April 1st)

Step Two:  Grab the button and post it to your blog

Step Three:  Make a note of our posting schedule.

Every week either Juliana or C.J. will host a check-in post with thoughts and discussion questions.  Please note the posting schedule below:

        Part One – April 10, 2014
        Part Two – April 20, 2014
        Part Three – April 30, 2014

Step Four:  Twitter Users – Don’t forget to use the hashtag #MadameBovary2014 throughout this event to help other participants find your posts and for informal chats about the book.

Step Five:  Please visit the blogs of your fellow read-along participants and say hello (this post [C.J.’s] will be sticky and the list will be regularly updated).

I’m looking forward to it!

The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis

The Silver Chair
First Edition Dustjacket
source Wikipedia

“It was a dully autumn day and Jill Pole was crying behind the gym.”

Eustace Scrubb and Jill Pole seek shelter from bullies in their Experiment House school and, after stumbling through a door, find themselves in Aslan’s country, not realizing that Aslan has called them there for a very special purpose.

Ten years ago after the death of his mother, Prince Caspian’s son, Rillian, disappeared into the North without a trace.  With Puddlegum, the pessimistic Marshwiggle as their guide and companion, Eustace and Jill set out to discover his fate.  However, Jill missed some of the four signs that Aslan had given her and the adventurers wonder if their quest has not been made more difficult because of her oversights.  Will they be able to save the heir of Narnia from the evil Emerald Witch, and even more importantly, what will they have learned by the end of their adventure?

Lewis makes me laugh with some of the symbolism he inserts into these tales for children.  In one scene, the Witch attempts to enchant the children, striving to convince them that their world is only a dream and that her world is, in fact, the real thing.  Bravely, Puddleglum, in desperation, stamps on the fire, hoping the resulting pain will break the spell.  He declares even if they have imagined all the wonderful things of their world, he prefers them to the cold, dark, menacing world of the Witch, and he pledges to live as a Narnian even if Narnia does not exist.  Puddleglum’s curious statement echoes Blaise Pascal’s famous wager that argues that even if God does not exist, to live by His precepts will ensure a better earthly life; what one would gain would be infinitely more valuable than what one would lose.


Puddleglum the Marshwiggle

This book is my least favourite of the Chronicles so far, but Lewis still manages to tell an engaging tale that keeps the reader interested and invested in the characters.  Next up is The Horse and His Boy!

C.S. Lewis Project 2014

Other Narnia Books


Paradise Lost by John Milton

                                                                           “Of Man’s first disobedience and the fruit
Of that forbidden tree whose mortal taste
 Brought death into the world and all our woe,
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
Restore us and regain the blissful seat,
Sing, Heavenly Muse, that on the secret top
Of Oreb or of Sinai didst inspire
That shepherd who first taught the chosen seed
In the beginning how the heavens and earth
Rose out of Chaos; or, if Sion hill
Delight thee more, and Siloa’s brook that flowed
Fast by the Oracle of God, I thence
Invoke thy aid to my adventurous song,
That with no middle flight intends to soar
Above the Aonian mount, while it pursues
Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme.”


Samuel Johnson declared that Paradise Lost is “a poem …… which respect to design may claim the first place, and with respect to performance, the second, among the productions of the human mind …..”   It is a poem about the rebellion in Heaven and the ejection of the fallen Angels; it is about the Garden of Eden, the deception of the snake, and the fall of Man.  But it is much more than all these points, separately and as a whole. Just as Satan falls into the depths of the burning pit of Hell, Milton delves into the depths of the human Soul and conversely soars to the heights of the God of Heaven, weaving a tapestry of images and profundity that will leave the reader amazed and speechless.  Initially, the reader believes he is following Milton’s lead, not realizing until later that he is part of the tapestry itself and Milton’s words have become part of his soul.


John Milton’s Cottage
courtesy of Old Skool Paul (sourced Flickr)
Creative Commons License

In this poem, Satan’s actions are especially shockingly compelling as we follow his fall from Heaven, his brash, swaggering leadership of the fallen angels, and then his quest to best God to get his spiteful, yet senseless, vengeance.  We think of Hell as a place, full of fire and brimstone, burning and torment, and while Milton gives Hell a location in this poem, it is much more than that.  Satan carries Hell inside him.  It torments him, not only with thoughts of rage and hate and revenge, but almost more effectively with thoughts of despair, regret and impossible hope.  Conflicting emotions scrape and tear at him incessantly.  For him, Hell is not external; it is an internal condition from which he cannot escape.

Milton’s superlative crafting of the character of Satan has led many people to believe he was perhaps too successful, making Satan the most exciting and heroic character of the poem.  William Blake stated that “the reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels and God, and at liberty when of Devils and Hell, is because he was a true poet, and of the devil’s party without knowing it”.  It is certainly true that Milton intimately understood “the devil’s party”.  Like us all, he experienced sin within himself and within others:  rage, treachery, deceit, the desire for power, etc.  And with his astonishing talent, he was able to craft a character that is perhaps the most Satan of all the Satans in the history of literature.  Milton’s Satan is capable of tricking not only Adam and Eve and angels, he is able to trick the reader of Paradise Lost as well, in such a subtle manner that certain readers admire his bravado, respect his machinations, and feel sorry for his plight.  While Milton’s brilliance in this area of the poem is breath-taking, it is also unsettling.  C.S. Lewis in his lectures on Paradise Lost, approaches this issue in a dexterous manner, saying that if the reader chooses to admire Satan, he must only realize what he is admiring:

“No one had in fact done anything to Satan; he was not hungry, nor over-tasked, nor removed from this place, nor shunned, nor hated —- he only thought himself impaired.  In the midst of a world of light and love, of song and feast and dance, he could find nothing to think of more interesting than his own prestige …..

……… Satan lies about every subject he mentions in Paradise Lost.  But I do not know whether we can distinguish his conscious lies from the blindness which he had almost willingly imposed on himself ……

…….  What we see in Satan is the horrible co-existence of a subtle and incessant intellectual activity with an incapacity to understand anything.  This doom he has brought upon himself; in order to avoid seeing one thing he has, almost voluntarily, incapacitated himself from seeing at all.  And thus, throughout the poem, all his torments come, in a sense, at this own bidding  …..

……. the design of ruining two creatures (Adam & Eve) who had never done him any harm, no longer in the serious hope of victory, but only to annoy the Enemy (God) whom he cannot directly attack ……

…….  From hero to general, from general to politician, from politician to secret service agent, and thence to a thing that peers in at bedroom or bathroom windows, and thence to a toad, and finally to a snake  ——-  such is the progress of Satan.  This progress, misunderstood, has given rise to the belief that Milton began by making Satan more glorious than he intended and then, too late, attempted to rectify the error.  But such an unerring picture of the ‘sense of injured merit’ in its actual operations upon character cannot have come about by blundering and accident.  We need not doubt that it was the poet’s intention to be fair to evil, to give it a run for its money —- to show it first at the height, with all its rants and melodrama and ‘Godlike imitated state’ about it, and then to trace what actually becomes of such self-intoxication when it encounters reality.”


Depiction of Satan
Gustave Doré (1866)
source Wikipedia

Yet in spite of the beautiful images painted amid the stark reality, Milton seems to rush the end of the poem, packing the whole Old Testament into the last two books and surprisingly uses a more direct narrative instead of showing the reader with his usual subtle yet beautiful verse.  Lewis remarks on the lack of genius in the last books in comparison to the earlier wonderful artistry of the poem:

“It (Paradise Lost) suffers from a grave structural flaw.  Milton, like Virgil, though telling a short story about the remote past, wishes our minds to be carried to the later results of that story.  But he does this less skillfully than Virgil.  Not content with following his master in the use of occasional prophecies, allusions, and reflections, he makes his two last books into a brief outline of sacred history from the Fall to the Last Day.  Such an untransmuted lump of futurity, coming in a position so momentous for the structural effect of the whole work, is inartistic.  And what makes it worse is that the actual writing in this passage is curiously bad.  There are fine moments, and a great recovery at the very end.  But again and again, as we read his account of Abraham or of the Exodus or of the Passion, we find ourselves saying, as Johnson said of the ballad, ‘the story cannot possibly be told in a manner that shall make less impression on the mind’.  ……….  If we stick to what we know we must be content to say that Milton’s talent temporarily failed him …….”

Yet even with its flaws, Paradise Lost is an epic that is at once majestic, beautiful, poignant, tragic and instructive.  It opens a window into the Biblical story of the fall, allowing the reader to live the experiences and emotions first-hand.  What a task Milton took on and how well he succeeded!  I predict this read be my favourite of the year.  My feeble summary only covers the surface of its significance; you will only have to read it yourself to discover its grandeur!

Further reading:
         A Preface to Paradise Lost – C.S. Lewis
         Charles Williams Selected Writings (contains an essay on Milton)


The Odyssey Read-Along Book XIII & XIV

The Odyssey Read-Along @ Plethora of Books


The Phaiakians give Odysseus numerous gifts, store them in the ship and set off for Ithaka.  On the way, Odysseus falls into a deep sleep and does not even wake when the Phaiakians carry him on shore and leave him with his gifts on the beach.  They return home but Poseidon is angry that they have helped our hero and, as punishment, he turns their ship into a rock in their harbour for all the people to see.  A prophecy has been realized and, worried, Alkinoös vows they will never convey another man at the risk of making the gods angry.  When Odysseus awakes he is furious, not recognizing Ithaka because of a mist Athene has put around him, and he think the Phaiakians have dropped him on a foreign island.  Grumbling, his first thought is to check his treasure to make sure that they haven’t stolen anything.  When Athene approaches as a man, he at first does not recognize her and asks if she can rescue his possession and him.  She reveals to him that he has landed on Ithaka, whereupon he tells her a pack of lies about his journey and landing to cover his true intent, but then Athene turns herself into a woman and he recognizes the goddess.  She lightly chides him in almost an admiring tone for his crafty, devious words.  He reveals he still does not think himself in Ithaka, that she is teasing him but Athene confirms it again with words that are temperate, but speak poorly about Odysseus’ character.  She lifts the mists and he now sees Ithaka; rejoicing he promises her gifts.  They then hide his gifts within a cave, placing a stone over the door, and Athene transforms Odysseus into an old man for protection so no one will recognize him.  She then departs for Lakedaimon to fetch Telemachos while Odysseus goes on to find his swineherd.
Hero or Ruffian
As the story moves on, Odysseus’ character becomes more questionable.  His majestically contrived words earn him many gifts from the Phaiakians, yet when he thinks they have left him somewhere other than where he requested, he is quick to blame them and then suspect them of treachey.  He is the most consumate liar when he first meets Athene and even she, while appearing somewhat disgusted at his display, cannot help sounding impressed, telling him he could almost fool a god.  He even appears to disbelieve Athene when she confirms he is on Ithaka, and she chides him then as well:  “Anyone else come home from wandering would have run happily off to see his children and wife in his halls; but it is not your pleasure to investigate and ask questions, not till you have made trial of your wife ……”  Yet we must not forget that Odysseus is in the gravest danger from the suitors if they realize he has returned.  He must be intensely careful now in order to guard is life.  Deception and disguise are his weapons at this point, and no one wields them as well as Odysseus!
I’m trying to find out where these fit into the story and the importance of them.  I do realize that they are connected to glory and honour and are therefore of the highest import, but Odysseus appears addicted to them, risking death at the hands of Polyphemus in the off-chance he could aquire some; in this chapter he is first of all worried that the Phaiakians have stolen some of what they’ve given him and when he meets Athene he says, “ ……. Rescue these possessions and me.”  His treasure comes even before himself.  Is this the normal Achaian love of fame and glory, in that wealth is directly proportional to status, or does Odysseus’ lust for goods contain something extreme and unusual for the culture?

Minerva (Athena)
Jacques-Louis Dubois (19th century)
source Wikimedia Commons

Book XIV

Odysseus finds his swineherd, Eumaios on the porch of an enclosure, but is attacked by his dogs.  Eumaois calls them off and then takes Odysseus in as a stranger, offering him food and wine.  While Odysseus eats, he tells him of the intemperate behaviour of the suitors and their lack of respect towards Penelope; as Odysseus listens, he contemplates the evil he will do these foul men.  The swineherd praises his master and Odysseus is so impressed by his xenia and the way he has handled his goods while he has been absent, he assures Eumaios that Odysseus is bound homeward, yet the old swineherd does not believe his words.  He gives further news of the suitors and how they plan to waylay Telemachos on his way home, with murder in their hearts.  When he asks Odysseus his identity and from where he comes, Odysseus weaves such shocking tales full of deceit that even Eumaios does not believe him, showing wisdom in his scepticism.  He laments that Odysseus had not perished in the war, for if he had, he would have won fame for his household.  Odysseus, then seems to play a game with his servant to get him to give him a mantle or tunic: when the first ploy of asking for one in exchange for his information of Odysseus’ return doesn’t work, he later employs another duplicitous story to aid his devices, yet Eumaois claims there are no extra mantles, then helps to put him to bed under thick sheep fleeces, covering him with a mantle.  Afterwards Eumaios goes out to watch the herds from a sheltered hollow of rock.
The reality of the suitors’ actions must be getting more real to Odysseus as he comes closer to home.  He now has from Eumaios a full account of their actions and while listening, he was devising their destruction.  When Eumaios tells him of their intent to ambush Telemachos and murder him, Odysseus then really has no choice but to kill them all.
Lies and Deceit
I do understand why Odysseus feels it is necessary to lie and deceive to conceal his identity (for protection in this case), but the elaborate, florid, dramatic lies that he weaves ………….. well, are they really necessary?  In this case, even Eumaios does not believe him.  Perhaps, subconsciously, from working for Odysseus before he left for the Trojan War, he has learned to recognize falsehoods told by his master …….??

Uysses attacked by the dogs of Eumea
Louis-Frederic Schützenberger (1886)
source Wikimedia Commons

Candide Read-Along Intro & Chapters 1 – 8

And so begins our Candide Read-Along, hosted by Fariba at Exploring Classics.  I was slightly intimidated by this novel but, after doing some research, I feel much more confident that I’ll be able to understand the main points of the novel.  That said, this novel, because of it’s satirical nature and specific satirical targets, deserves an introduction.


Published when Voltaire was 66 years old, Candide was expressly written to satirize the philosophy of Optimism.  This optimism was not simply the positive hope of better circumstances, but the belief that everything that happened was for the best, no matter if good or bad, happy or tragic.  This philosophy disgusted Voltaire because he felt that it left no facility for bettering oneself or one’s surroundings and that it supported fatalism and complacency.  The tragic earthquake in Lisbon in 1755 seemed to precipitated the writing of this novel, causing the author to question justice in such a calamity, and reflected in his poem, “Poem on the Disaster of Lisbon,” written weeks afterward.  Candide was further emphasis of Voltaire’s rejection of the attitude that life was the “best of all possible worlds” and that everything that happened in it was for the best.

detailed portrait by Maurice Quenton de la Tour
source Wikipedia

Voltaire was an established writer and thinker by the time he wrote Candide, yet a controversial figure who by many was both admired and hated.  He  was continuously clashing with the government and the church, suffering two periods of incarceration, and most of his adult life was spent exiled from Paris, the city of his birth.  Much of his works were published under a pseudonym to avoid prosecution.  During a stint in exile, he spent three years in Great Britain and, impressed with the freedoms of England, particularly that of speech, his stay intensified his desire for reforms in his home country.  In 1758 he settled in Ferney in eastern France, spending his time farming, writing and supporting local business.  Candide was written here, not long after his move.

Satire:  the use of humour, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues

Chapter 1

Candide, a young man with “sound judgement and great simplicity of mind,” lives in the household of the Baron Thunder-ten-tronckh.  It is suspected that he is a child of the baron’s sister and a neighbourhood nobleman.  With a innocent susceptibility, he accepts his tutor, Pangloss’ teaching of “everything is necessarily for the best purposes.”  Cunegonde, the baron’s daughter espies Pangloss dallying with a maid, decides she wants to repeat the experiment with Candide, but they are caught in the act of caressing by the baron and Candide is literally booted from the house.

Voltaire’s sarcasm is apparent in his treatment of the baron.  He gives his castle a pretentious name, makes the baron important merely because he has a castle with doors and windows and praises the baroness for her prodigious weight, equating it with esteem.

Chapter 2

Arriving in the nearest town, Candide meets two Bulgar soldiers who force him to come with him but due to Candide’s naiveté he innocently does their bidding.  After being conscripted into the army, he is trained, yet one day when out for a walk he is seized, taken back to the barracks and put on trial.  The sentence passed is that he can be beaten by the regiment 36 times (running the gauntlet) or have 12 bullets put into his brain.  He chooses the former but, after 3 times is near death.  Fortunately the king of the Bulgars happens along and pardons him, realizing that he is “a young metaphysician, utterly ignorant of worldly matters.”  The armies of the Bulgars and the Avars then clash in battle.

Voltaire explores army conscription; people were often tricked into serving and severely punished if they did not obey the rules.  He also brings in the question of free will:  “It did him no good to maintain that man’s will is free and that he wanted neither; he had to make a choice.”  I’m not quite certain his point in this; did he deny free will and feel that fate controlled circumstances or did he accept free will but feel that it was limited by our circumstances?

Chapter 3

The two armies meet and there are 30,000 deaths from cannons, rifle-fire and bayonets.  Candide decides to go away to reason about cause and effect.  He encounters a burned Avar village, with scenes of carnage and molestation, and littered with body parts.  In a Bulgar village he finds similar atrocities and decides to go to Holland where he would find Christians who would treat him as he was accustomed to be treated in the baron’s castle.  Yet when he begs for alms he is mocked and derided.  An orator who is speaking of love labels him a wretch and rejects him outright because he will not speak against the pope.  Fortunately he meets Jacques, an unbaptized Anabaptist who gives him shelter, a bath, food, money and offers to teach him to manufacture Persian  fabrics.  Candide assume this treatment confirms the “all is best in the world” theory.  On his walk the next day, he happens upon a diseased beggar.

Voltaire feelings of revulsion of the effects of war is apparent in this chapter.  He uses oxymorons to get across the absurdity of war: “….. a harmony whose equal was never heard in hell,” and ” ….. during the heroic carnage,” as well as horrific scenes of slaughter.  The hypocrisy of Christianity is also brought to the forefront, which is countered by Jacques, the Anabaptist.

Chapter 4

Candide discovers that the beggar is his old tutor, Pangloss, who gives him the horrific news of Cungonde’s death.  Candide faints and when he recovers, Pangloss tells him that the baron and his wife and son were killed, Cungonde was raped and disembowelled and the castle razed to the ground.  He blames his affliction on the baroness’ maid who infected him with syphilis, tracing the disease back to Columbus’ shipmate.  Jacques pays to have Pangloss cured, the tutor only losing an ear and an eye.  Two months later they must travel to Lisbon, and on the ship, Pangloss states it is all for the best but Jacques contradicts him, saying that men are not born bad but make choices that have direct bearing on their situations.  Pangloss counters that individual misfortunes are for the greater good.  They encounter a raging storm.

Pangloss’ reasoning with regard to him contracting the pox had some sort of weird psychological reasoning which I could not follow.  Pangloss rejects that his situation could be punishment for sin or caused by evil.  I did like how Jacques mentioned that, 

“Men must have a corrupted nature a little, because they weren’t born wolves, yet they’ve become wolves:  God didn’t give them twenty-four-pounders or bayonets, but they’ve made themselves bayonets and cannons with which to destroy each other.”

Another comment on the senselessness of war.

Chapter 5

The storm becomes perilous and Jacques is tossed into the sea (after saving a sailor who now does not attempt to save him) where he drowns.  Candide wants to jump in to save him but Pangloss prevents this heroic act, explaining the harbour was designed especially for the Anabaptist to drown in.  When they reach land, there is an earthquake and later, after getting dinner from some inhabitants that they assisted, an officer of the Inquisition argues with Pangloss that if all is for the best, there then can be no original sin or punishment.  Pangloss argues back and they discuss free will.  The officer ominously nods to his attendant.

Another instance of free will being mentioned and more of Pangloss’ philosophy.  The problem of evil is touched on.  Is man evil?  Are things like Pangloss’ recent condition and the earthquake punishment for evil?  What is purposeful and what is destiny?  What can be altered and what is fate?  The earthquake mentioned here is based on the real earthquake of 1755 in Lisbon.  

Chapter 6

After the earthquake, the “wise men of the country” decided to have an auto-de-fe (or a ritual of public penance, during the first part of which accused heretics were sentenced by the Inquisition), and they burn people to prevent another quake.  Pangloss and Candide are arrested, the former for having spoken and the latter for listening.  Candide and Pangloss are forced to wear miters, Candide’s with flames pointing down and devils with no claws or tails and Pangloss’ with the flames pointing upward and devils with claws and tails.  Candide was beaten to beautiful music, Pangloss was hanged and the earth trembled again.  Candide begins to question the “best of worlds,” thinking of the fate of Pangloss, Jacques and Cunegonde.  An old woman tells him to follow her.

Superstition seems to be a main theme of this chapter, exemplified by the auto-de-fe in hopes of avoiding another earthquake.  Along with Pangloss, two men who would not eat the pork were hanged, obviously two Jews.  Candide begins to question the “all is best” philosophy and he no longer has Pangloss to continually reinforce these views.  What will happen to his perceptions without his friend?

Chapter 7

The woman takes him to a hovel, feeds him and he sleeps.  The next evening she takes him to an isolated house where he finds Cunegonde.  He is ecstatic, falling at her feet.  Cunegonde tells him Pangloss’ report was true but she survived and will tell him more after he relates what has happened to him since he left the castle.  He does.

There is not much to say, except to note the air of mystery in the chapter.  It says Candide regards “his whole life as a nightmare, and the present moment a delightful vision.”  A flair for the dramatic.  Why would he regard is whole life a nightmare when he was completely happy up until the point he was evicted from the castle?  I suppose it’s a devise to emphasize his overwhelming happiness at discovering Cunegonde alive.

Chapter 8

Cunegonde recounts the horrors she experienced at the hands of the Bulgars.  The Bulgar captain sold her to a Jew and later, when she was noticed by the Grand Inquisitor they decided to share her, although she so far has resisted them both, as “a lady of honour may be raped once, but it strengthens her virtue.”  She saw both Pangloss and Candide at the auto-de-fe and suddenly realized that Pangloss’ theory of “all is for the best” is not true.  She gave her servant orders to find him and voilà!  But Don Issachar, the Jew has arrived home expecting his rights.

Discussion Questions

1)      Do you think Pangloss is a predatory figure or merely naive like Candide? In other words, is Pangloss deliberately trying to lead others astray or does he actually believe in the philosophy of optimism?

I think Pangloss truly believed in his philosophy.  Voltaire makes him almost blind to what is around him and his comments do not stem from what he actually sees (outward) but solely from what he believes (inward).

2)      How do you feel about Voltaire’s writing style? Do you find this book funny or disturbing?

So far I am keeping an open mind.  I have not consciously read a book as satire before, so I’m wondering if all satires are as overdone as this one is feeling.  I’m finding it mostly disturbing, yet it is so contrived and theatrical, I’m honestly having trouble taking it seriously to have a feeling either way.

3)      Who is your favorite character thus far?

Jacques is definitely my favourite character so far.  Actually, he is the only character who has seemed like a character; the rest have been more like caricatures.

The Odyssey Read-Along Book XI & XII

The Odyssey Read-Along @ Plethora of Books

Book XI

When Odysseus and his companions reach the city of the Kimmerian people, they make shore and find the place of which Circe had told them.  Digging a pit a cubit in each direction, Odysseus pours in honey-milk, sweet wine, water and then sprinkles barley over it all.  Promising a sacrifice when he returns home, he slit the throats of the sheep and lets the blood run into the pit as well.  Ghostly souls surrounded the pit, “up out of Erebos, brides, and young unmarried men, and long-suffering elders, virgins, tender and with the sorrows of young hearts upon them, and many fighting men killed in battle, stabbed with brazen spears, still carrying their bloody armour upon them.”  Odysseus gives the sheep to his men to finish the sacrifice, but he crouches with his sword by the pit, not allowing any of the ghostly apparitions to draw near until he has spoken with Teiresias.  The first soul to approach the pit is one of his men, Elpenor, who had falled off the roof of Circe’s palace just before they had set sail.  He laments that he was not buried or mourned, and pleads with Odysseus to return to Circe’s island to accomplish this task; Odysseus agrees.  

Tiresias appears to Odysseus
Johann Heinrich Füssli (1780-1785)
source Wikipedia

Next, he encounters the soul of his dead mother, before Teiresias the Theban appears before him and speaks a prophecy:  Poseidon will make his homecoming difficult.  If they do not eat the cattle & sheep of Helios, they may reach Ithaka, but if they do, only Odysseus will return, he will find troubles in his household and will have to punish with violence the men who have committed treachery there.  After Odysseus sets his household in order, he instructs him to go on a journey where he will meet unusual men and there make a sacrifice to Poseidon.  His death will be from the sea and “unwarlike” but in old age, and his people will be prosperous.  Odysseus, while he listens to the instructions, is more interested in gaining information about his mother, but Teiresias says any who he allows to drink the blood will give him answers and then he fades away.  When Odysseus inquires of his mother how she met her death, she reveals that it was from pining away for him and, greived, he tries three times to embrace her but is unable to do so because of her state in death.  After his mother, a catalogue of women come to him, Tyro, Antiope, Alkmene, Epikaste, etc. and the reader learns something of their history.  The end of this catalogue brings Odysseus out of his story and back to the court of Alkinoös and the Phaiakians, but they urge him to continue, completely enraptured with his tales.  He resumes his story of Hades, as Agamemnon steps up to the pool, lamenting the treachery of his wife and the untrustworthiness of women.  Yet he then compliments the virtue and loyalty of Penelope, but cautions Odysseus to go covertly to his homeland.  Achilles then comes, happy to receive information about his son.  The soul of Aias, however, will not speak or approach him, still angry over the loss of Achilles’ armour to Odysseus.  Odysseus tries to make restitution but Aias will have none of it and walks away.  There is another catalogue of souls of men such as Minos, Orion, Tityo, Tantolos, etc .  While Odysseus wishes to see more souls, a “green fear” comes upon him again and he returns to his ship.

Odysseus lands at the beach of Hades
by Theodoor van Thulden
source Wikipaintings

In the scene in Hades, in order to speak with Odysseus the shades must drink the sacrificial blood first, all except for Elpenor: he is able to speak without drinking  Why is this?  Is it because Elpenor was not properly buried and mourned and he is no longer of the earth, yet not able to reach Hades until someone rectifies the error?  It would explain his plea to Odysseus.

Faithfulness and Treachery

Agamemnon goes to great lengths to explain his murder and how it was brought about.  He is particularly caustic towards his wife, vilefying her as “treacherous”, “sluttish”,  “deadly” and “vile” and claiming that she would not even allow him a proper death ritual.  He then goes on to praise Penelope, calling her “circumspect”, “virtuous”, and that her mind “is stored with good thoughts.”  The comparison is striking, yet even so he warns Odysseus to return to his own country in secret.
Ulysses and the Sirens
Pablo Picasso (1946)
source Wikipaintings

Book XII

Leaving Hades, Odysseus and his men return to the island of Aiaia to give Elpenor a proper burial.  Circe’s addresses Odysseus, revealing all the struggles which he will face on the way home, and what he must do to have a successful journey; then she gives them a fair wind to set them on their way.  The first terror they face is the Sirens, “enchanters of all mankind”; no one can resist their song, yet the reward is to become part of the boneheaps of men on the beach.  As per Circe’s instructions, Odysseus stops the ears of his men with wax and gets them to lash him to the mast.  When the lovely Melody of the Sirens drift into his ears, he begs his companions to untie him, yet they only lash him tighter.  After the crisis passes, their next challenge is to get past Scylla, and as Circe described her, she is a six-headed, twelve-footed monster with three rows of teeth and is “full of black death.”  As Circe prophesied, she grabs six men with each head as they row by, and Odysseus reveals that he did not tell his men about Scylla because six men had to be sacrificed to her; had the men realized the danger, they would have stopped rowing and sought protection inside the ship. On the other side of the channel, the monster Charybdis is sucking and vomiting water, yet they make it through with the loss of six, and come in sight of the island of Helios, where Hyperion, the Sun God resides with his sheep and cattle.  Odysseus counsels that they keep going but the men, led by Eurylochos strongly protest and he submits to their whining, making them swear an oath that they will not touch the sheep or cattle, knowing that if they do, as Circe foretold, that they will never make it home.  But to their dismay, a South Wind blows for longer than a whole month, and as the men eat up the supplies, Eurylochos finally convinces them to take one of Helios’ cattle.  While Odysseus is away, they butcher a fat oxen, using the justification that they will kill it as a sacrifice and then build a temple to Helios when they return home.  Returning, Odysseus is horrified; his men all blame each other and, as Circe and the blind Teiresias prophecied, they are shipwrecked on their way out.  All the men perish but, as he is pulled towards Charybdis, Odysseus manages to hold onto a fig branch until she disgorges two long timbers and he rides on these until he reaches the island of Kalypso.

The Siren
John William Waterhouse (circa 1900)
source Wikipedia

More and more examples of faulty or non-existent leadership abound.  Why did they leave Elpenor without a proper burial?  Odysseus is deceitful towards his men by not telling them that six of them will die while passing by Scylla.  Is this strong leadership; is it the only way they will be able to pass this area and arrive home?  Did Odysseus sacrifice six to save many?  Is this right?  And finally the men not only break their oath to Odysseus by eating the cattle of the Sun god, but they then blame each other when he finds out.  As they struggle to find their homeland and attempt to emerge unscathed after numerous clashes with gods, monsters and fantastical creatures, are they losing some of the qualities that make them human?  Are they becoming more like the world they are inhabiting?
A 19th century engraving of the Strait of Messina, site
associated with Scylla & Charybdis
source Wikipedia

(While copying my post to my Blog, my Blogger font caused me grief and, not having the patience or the resourcefulness of Odysseus, I couldn’t fix it without a struggle, so I apologize for the lack of uniformity in this post.)

The Odyssey Read-Along Book IX & X

The Odyssey Read-Along @ Plethora of Books

Book IX

Odysseus finally reveals his identity and begins the story of his adventures on his quest to return to his homeland.  First Odysseus and his men sack the city of the Kikonians at Ismaros, killing the inhabitants and taking their wives and possessions, but when the Kikonians bring reinforcements, the Achaians are driven away.  Caught in the North Wind (caused by Zeus), they are swept along for ten days, finally landing in the land of the Lotus-Eaters.  When the scouts Odysseus sends out, return “drunk” on Lotus and without the desire to return home, he ties them in the ships and they escape immediately, sailing until they reach the land of the Cyclops.  After landing in an area far away from habitation, Odysseus takes his ship and men and goes to reconnoitre with a host of 12 companions.   They find the cave of Polyphemus and, although his companions beg him to take the stores and fly away, Odysseus refuses, believing that if he meets Polyphemus, that he will give him presents.  They are startled however, to see he is a monstrosity and they hide in the back of the cave until he spies them and asks their business.  Only Odysseus is brave enough to answer, asking, as supplicants, for “guest presents or others gifts of grace, for such is the right of strangers” with respect to the gods.  Polyphemus scorns the gods, stating, “we are far better than they,” and asks Odysseus after his ship.  With crafty words, Odysseus claims they were shipwrecked.  In response, Polyphemus grabs two of his men, “slapped them, like killing puppies, against the ground, and the brains ran all over the floor, and ate them.”  Odysseus realizes there is little chance of them being able to push away the boulder in front of the cave, so he begins to devise a plan.  They find a large olive branch and shave and shape it to a point, then draw lots to see who will attack the Cyclops.  Upon the return of Polyphemus, Odysseus identifies himself as “Nobody,” plies him with wine and when he is sleeping, they shove the spear into his eye, turning it, “like a man with a brace-and-bit who bores into a ship timber.”  The cries of Polyphemus bring the other Cyclops, who cannot get inside because of the boulder.  When they ask his troubles, he answers, “Nobody is killing me by force or treachery!”  Puzzled, they tell him he must be sick and return to their homes.

Odysseus in the cave of Polyphemus
by Jacob Jordaens (1635)
source Wikipaintings

Odysseus then concocts a brilliant plan to tie three sheep together and have one of men hang under each of the centre sheep.  In this way they all escape, but unwisely Odysseus chooses to taunt the Cyclops when they are at sea, and twice Polyphemus hurls pieces of mountains at them, causing them to be pushed back to shore.  Eventually they escape, but not before Polyphemus calls on his father, Poseidon, and prophecies death or troubles for Odysseus.

Ulysses deriding Polyphemus
by William Turner (1848)
source Wikipaintings


The Cyclops does not recognize the code of hospitality.  Is this because his father is a god and he does not have to worry about offending them?  I don’t think so, based on what has happened to other children of gods.  Are they reasonably remote and usually do not have to worry about visitors, because of their hideous appearance and deviant behaviour?  This is puzzling.


Yet again, Odysseus proves his ingenuity and bravery in the face of huge odds and terrifying circumstances.  His speeches to the Cyclops were touched with manipulation, falsity and daring.  His quick thinking and careful planning were instrumental in their escape.  Considering his stubborn refusal to leave in the first place because he wanted presents, his actions were well considered, however he still caused the death of some of his men.

King or Leader

Originally I had thought of Odysseus as the king of Ithaka, but even if this term has been used, I’m beginning to conclude that it was a loose term.  As I read on, I wonder if he could be more accurately described as a type of leader.  There are instances of him refusing to listen to his men, such as the case of mocking the Cyclops and not leaving the island without gifts; yet there are also cases where his men don’t listen to him, as when he urges that they leave after the first battle with the Kikonians and, because of their stubbornness, end up in another battle and are subjected to casualties.  Does this behaviour make the suitors behaviour at home less surprising?  What was Odyssey’s role in his own country?

Approximate location of the Kikonians
source Wikipedia

Book X

They arrive at the Aiolian island where Hippotas’ son, Aiolos lives.  For one month he entertains Odysseus and his men and then gifts him with a bag “stuffed full inside with the courses of all the blowing winds” upon his departure.  But lo, as the ships finally spy their homeland, the men begin to grumble about the greater portion of spoils that Odysseus has in his possession.  While Odysseus sleeps from exhaustion because he would not permit anyone but himself to handle the ship, the men unwittingly release the winds which wildly blow them back to the island of Aiolos.  In spite of Odysseus’ pleadings relating to the foolishness of his men, Aiolos is appalled to see them and sends them away, astounded that the gods are so much against them.  Sailing, on the seventh day, they reach the citadel of Lamos and three people are sent off to scout.  They encounter the daughter of Antiphates who sends them to her house, but there stands a woman as tall as a mountain, and when Antiphates materializes, he snatches up one man and prepares to eat him for dinner, while the rest flee back to the ships.  The king raises the alarm throughout the city and these giants begin to hurl boulders at the ships, and spear men like fish as they go.  Only Odysseus’ ship escapes and they reach the island of Aiaia, where Circe, the goddess who speak with royals and the daughter of Helios, lives.  Odysseus and Eurylochos draw lots to determine who will reconnoitre the island and Eurylochos sets off with his men.  When they find the house of Circe and she invites them inside; Eurylochos is the only one who refuses, suspecting treachery.  His surmise is correct as Circe proceeds to lead the men into pig pens and transform them into pigs.  Eurylochos hastens back to tell Odysseus of his mens’ sorry fate. Odysseus decides to face Circe on his own and on his way he meets Hermes who tells him how to best the goddess and gives him medicine to help counteract her potion.  When Circe hands him the drink, he swallows it and, leaping up, draws his sword and springs at her as if to kill her.

Tilla Durieux als Circe
by Franz von Stuck (1913)
source Wikimedia Commons

Astounded that the mixture has had no affect on him, she invites him into her bed, whereupon he forces her to swear that she will practice no more treachery upon him.  She washes him, yet he refuses to eat before she sets his men free, which she does with a command to go back to his camp to bring back the rest of his companions. They cry and weep for joy when they see Odysseus return, but Eurylochos attempts to prevent the men from visiting Circe; Odysseus contemplates killing him but is restrained by his men, and Eurylochos, afraid of being left behind, follows.

by Wright Barker (1889)
source Wikimedia Commons

For a year, they feast daily on “unlimited meat and sweet wine,” until Odysseus cannot bear it and clasps Circe’s knees, begging her to allow them to resume their journey.  She agrees but imparts a surprising stipulation:  Odysseus must visit the house of Hades and speak with the soul of Teiresias the Theban and blind prophet before his quest may continue.  She gives him directions and instructions for sacrifice when he arrives there, then sets him on his way.


Is it my imagination or is the chain of command seriously compromised? First, upon sight of their homeland, the crew becomes jealous of Odysseus’ spoils, and secretly opens the bag of the winds, which blow them back to where they started.  Their envy of his treasures is palpable and their actions, mutinous.

Eurylochos, in spite of being elected leader of the reconnaissance expedition to Circe’s house, chooses not to go inside with his men.  Was that jettisoning his leadership responsibilities?  Did the men refuse to listen to his guidance?  And when he was the only one to make it back to the ship, he was a nervous wreck, refusing to return, even when Odysseus came for them, assuring them everything was alright and that Eurylochos’ men were restored to their origin form.  Odysseus wants to decapitate him for his insolence and has to be restrained.  Was this because Eurylochos attempts to influence the men directly, without speaking to Odysseus first?

Either they are suffering from a slow breakdown of leadership, or the society of Ithaka is sufficiently lawless that there is room made for actions that challenge the chain of command.


The breach of xenia, or the tradition of guest-host hospitality, continues. The Phaiakians disliked strangers and entertaining them, the Cyclops wanted to make meals of them and mocked that his “gift” to Odysseus was that he would eat him last, and now the Laistrygonians attempt to eat them, and Circe turns them into pigs.  Are these lands so far from mainland Greece that they don’t recognize this tradition?

Ulysses at the Palace of Circe
by Wilhelm van Ehrenburg (1667)
source Wikimedia Commons

Paradise Lost Read-Along Books XI & XII

Paradise Lost Read-Along

Book XI

Heaven hears Adam and Eve’s prayers for restoration and the Son intercedes on their behalf with the Father:

” ……….. Now, therefore, bend thine ear
To supplication; hear his sighs, though mute;
Unskilful with what words to pray, let me
Interpret for him, me his advocate
And propitiation; all his works on me,
Good or not good, ingraft; my merit those
Shall perfect, and for these my death shall pay.” (30 – 36)

God accepts His Son’s sacrifice but divulges that they must leave Paradise as they are tainted with sin.  They have lost Happiness and Immortality which are replaced by the “final remedy,” Death.

” …………….. so Death becomes
His final remedy, and after life
Tried in sharp tribulation, and refined
By faith and faithful works, to second life.”  (61 – 64)

Sadly, man now knows both good and evil when he should have been content to know good only.

God commissions the angel Michael to take from among the Cherubim “flaming warriors” and return to to the Garden to evict the luckless couple, yet if they are obedient, he will reveal a new covenant to them.

As Michael prepares to descend, Adam tells Eve he anticipates that God will hear their prayers and that they will live instead of perish.  Though she feels herself unworthy of forgiveness, she is grateful for the pardon and suggests they live in the Garden “though in fallen state, content.”  Yet Adam anticipates that they have not understood all the changes that will arise from their fall and with his assumption, down comes Michael “from a sky of jasper,” “a glorious apparition.”  He indeed confirms that their humble prayers were heard and that “one bad act with many good deeds well-done may’st cover.”  However he cannot allow them to remain in Paradise.

Adam laments, “heart-struck, with chilling gripe of sorrow stood, that all his senses bound”; and Eve cries her protest.  But Michael gives her a response that is at once wise and universal:

“Lament not, Eve, but patiently resign
What justly thou hast lost, nor set thy heart
Thus overfond, on that which is not thine.”  (287 – 289)

Adam shares his fear that he will no longer be able to be close to God, yet Michael comforts him.

“Yet doubt not but in valley and in plain
God is as here, and will be found alike
Present, and of his presence many a sign
Still following thee, still compassing thee round
With goodness and paternal love …..”  (349 – 353)

Michael then takes Adam up the hill of Paradise to show him all the torment, tragedy, hatred, violence, misery and disease that will be a result of their sin. He sees Cain and Abel; death and sorrow.  Adam despairs, whereupon Michael gives him advice for living:  “the rule of not too much, by temperance taught,” “nor love thy life nor hate, but what thou liv’st live well; how long or short permit to Heaven.”  He relates the story of Noah and how God promises never to destroy the Earth again by flood.

Adam, Eve and the archangel Michael
by Gustave Doré

Book XII

Still revealing the future, Michael discourses on how the “second source of men” will have the judgement fresh in their minds and therefore will exist peacefully for a long time until Nimrod builds the Tower of Babel to reach to Heaven and God punishes him, visiting on the people a confusion of language and cacophonous din.  Appalled, Adam censures the attempt of man to dominate man, as it was never in God’s plan; birds, beasts, fish and fowl were to be in subjection of man, yet “man over men he made not lord” instead intending “human left from human free.”  Michael agrees, stating:

“……….. Justly though abhorr’st
That son, who on the quiet state of men
Such trouble brought, affecting to subdue
Rational liberty; yet know withal,
Since thy original lapse, true liberty
Is lost, which always with right reason dwells
Twinned, and from her hath no dividual being
Reason in Man obscured, or not obeyed,
Immediately inordinate desires
And upstart passions catch the government
From Reason, and to servitude reduce
Man, till then free.  Therefore, since he permits 
Within himself unworthy owers to reign
Over free reason, God, in judgement just,
Subjects him from without to violent lords,
Who oft as undeservedly enthral
His outward freedom.  Tyranny must be,
Though to the tyrant thereby no excuse.
Yet sometimes nations will decline so low
From virtue, which is reason, that no wrong,
But justice, and some fatal curse annexed,
Their inward lost …………..”  (79 – 101)

After Noah, men begin to worship idols and slavery ensues, yet God calls Abraham, the blessed patriarch, and through his line a “Great Deliverer” will come who will “bruise the Serpent’s head.”  Michael’s speech continues through Moses.  When Adam asks why “so many laws and so many sins among them; how can God with such reside?”, the angel explains “law was given them, to evince their natural pravity”.  His narrative progresses through the Old Testament to the Messiah whereupon Adam rejoices at the coming conqueror yet Michael corrects his misconception.  Salvation will not be obtained by battle but by “obedience and by love, through love alone fulfil the Law”; Christ will defeat Sin and Death, then Earth “shall all be Paradise, far happier place than this of Eden, and far happier days.”  Adam asks if he should repent of his sin or rejoice at the good that will spring from it and who will be the guide for God’s people.  Michael says God will send His Spirit and also there is the Church but he goes on to warn about false teachers full of ambition, superstitions and traditions that will “taint”, using the Church to gain wealth and secular power.  Corruption will reign:

“……….. Yet many will presume,
Whence heavy persecution shall arise
Of all who in the worship persevere
Of Spirit and Truth; the rest, far greater part,
Will deem in outward rites and specious forms
Religion satisfied; Truth shall retire
Bestuck with slanderous darts, and works of Faith
Rarely be found; so shall the World go on,
To good malignant, to bad men benign,
Under her own weight groaning ……”  (530 – 538)

…. until the return of the Lord.  Michael instructs Adam to:

“………………… Only add
Deeds to thy knowledge answerable; add faith;
Add virtue, patience, temperance; add love,
By name to come called Charity, the soul 
Of all the rest: then wilt thou not be loth
To leave this Paradise, but shalt possess
A Paradise within thee, happier far.”  (581 – 587)

Adam wakes Eve who has been consoled in her dream by the hope of her seed to come.  Michael takes one of their hands in each of his and then leads them from the Garden of Paradise:

“Some natural tears they dropped, but wiped them soon;
The world was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide;
They, hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow,
Through Eden took their solitary way.”  (645 – 649)

The Explusion of Adam & Eve from Paradise
by Benjamin West (1791)
source Wikipaintings


Wow, what a marathon ending!  These last two books appeared rushed to me; Milton packed nearly the whole Old Testament teachings into these two books/chapters.  Again, I’m not an expert in poetry, but the sound, tone and pacing of the poem did not feel as grand, as beautiful or as skilfully woven, when compared to the rest.  There were certainly brilliant moments, but only snacks here and there instead of the smorgasbord to which we’ve become accustomed.  In fact, it is certainly ironic that these two chapters were so packed with information, yet I’m having to think harder to find areas of the poem to comment on.

When Michael showed Adam the future, he gave him images in book XI but only narrative in Book XII. Was this because Adam would be overwhelmed by the visual evidence of the results of their sin?  Or is it simply the structure Milton chose for the poem?

For the first time, I noted a commentary on his own times inserted into the text, and his push for a “rational liberty.” (see above, Book XII, lines 79 – 101) However as interesting as it was, again I felt it was rushed or inserted before the poem end, a pet topic that Milton felt the need to bring to the forefront.

Historically, there are so many Paradise Lost paintings/engravings of stern angels pointing the way out of Heaven, and Adam and Eve running like stricken and tragic sinners, yet actually the angel gave them hope and then gently led them out of the Garden.  Within a destructive, disastrous, heartbreaking circumstance, Milton did a spectacular job of revealing hope and restoration without altering their condition, a lovely combination of encouragement, pathos and reality.

Not only can I not believe that I’ve come to the end of this read, I can’t believe that I waited so long to read it.  Milton’s verse is so grand and beautiful!  I will definitely read this again in the very near future. Final review to come ………….

Milton dictated to his daughters the (Paradise Lost)
Eugene Delacroix
source Wikipaintings

Zoladdiction – April 2014

I have begun reading through Émile Zola’s Rougon-Macquart series, already having completed The Fortune of the Rougons and Son Excellence, Eugène Rougon.  My next book is La Curée, which I had planned to start soon.  Well, imagine my surprise and delight when I stumbled upon Fanda Classiclit’s Zoladdiction challenge for April 2014!  Of course, I didn’t even have to think to decide to participate.

How to join?

  • You must have a blog or Goodread account to post your reviews
  • Register yourself in the link below (submit your blog or Goodreads’ profile URL).
  • Help me to spread the Zoladdiction, either by putting the Zoladdiction button on your sidebar, or by discussing the event on Twitter using hashtag #Zoladdiction.
  • Start reading Zola’s works when your calendar turns to April 1st, of course.
  • In addition to reading the books, you are welcome to post anything concerning Zola during April.
  • The master post would be up on April 1st with a link where you can put all your posts.
  • There’s no level or deadline, you can satisfy (or start, if you’re a new fan of Zola) your Zoladdiction by reading as many books as you like the whole month!
  • I encourage you to post a brief wrap up in the end of Zoladdiction (the link will be closed only on May 10), and let us know how do you feel/think after delving into Zola’s works for a month.  

So, how Zoladdicted are you?  Will you join? 😉

The Odyssey Read-Along Books VII & VIII

The Odyssey Read-Along @ Plethora of Books

Book VII

Athene puts a deep mist about Odysseus so the Phaiakians cannot see him and then meets him at the entrance to the city in the guise of “a young girl, a little maid, carrying a pitcher.”  She cautions him against drawing attention to himself as the people of this country do not like strangers or entertaining them, and also gives him some helpful background information with regard to Alkinoös and his wife, Arete.  When he reaches the palace, he finds the king and queen and, as Nausikaa instructed, grasps the queen by the knees.  It is at this point the mist is removed from him and all the people gathered gape at this stranger in a pose of supplication.  When he goes to sit in the ashes of the hearth, they raise him to a place of honour, feed him and he recounts generally of his suffering.  When they inquire as to how he acquired his garments (Arete recognizes them), Odysseus offers the truth of how they came into his possession, but honey-coats his explanation so that Alkinoös is impressed instead of offended, and actually offers him Nausikaa in marriage.

Silver-Tongued Odysseus

In the previous chapter, Odysseus charmed Nausikaa with his gallant words, causing her to wish for him as a husband over all Phaiakians, even though he is a foreigner in their land.  When he meets Alkinoös and Arete, he must take even greater care because he had earlier met their daughter, causing her to make “friends with a man without being formally married.”  Yet Odysseus tells them the truth, while sweetening his words with an irresistible charm that does not fail to enchant the king and queen.  The king offers Nausikaa’s hand in marriage, along with property and respect among the people

Identity & Crafty-Odysseus

Odysseus has yet to reveal his identity.  I wonder why he feels the need to conceal himself.  He also cleverly avoids answering Alkinoös’ offer of his daughter.


  1. the divinity of Phaiakia
  2. the Phaiakian love of ships
  3. the Phaiakian’s knowledge of right and wrong
  4. Athene’s continuing care of Odysseus

Odysseus at the Palace of Alkinoös
Francesco Hayez (1814 – 1815)
source Wikipedia


Alkinoös takes Odysseus to an assembly and Athene, this time in the guise of a man, goes throughout the city encouraging people to come to learn about the stranger.  Alkinoös counsels the people to help Odysseus on his journey, and then calls for Demodokos, the singer, upon whom the Muse had visited both good and evil, removing his sight but gifting him with a sweet singing voice (is he modelled after Homer?).  He sings of the quarrel between Odysseus and Peleus’ son, Achilles, and how great Agamemnon was pleased, for the prophecy Apollo had spoken to him was fulfilled, signifying the beginning of evil for the Trojans.  Odysseus weeps uncontrollably, burying his head in his mantle and it seems Alkinoös understands his anguish.  He suggests that they have fulfilled their desire for lyre and feasting and now they should have contests to test speed and strength, so Odysseus can recount their prowess when he returns home. Laodamas, son of Alkinoös, at Euryalos’ urging, challenges Odysseus, who is offended at his intemperate words.  When Euryalos further angers him, he becomes rather heated and defends himself:

“Friend, that was not well-spoken; you seem like one who is reckless.
So it is that the gods do not bestow graces in all ways
on men, neither in stature nor yet in brains or eloquence;
for there is a certain kind of man, less noted for beauty,
but the god puts comeliness on his words, and they who look toward him
are filled with joy at the sight, and he speaks to them without faltering
in winning modesty, and shines among those who are gathered,
and people look on him as on a god when he walks in the city.
Another again in his appearance is like the immortals,
but upon his words there is not grace distilled, as in your case
the appearance is conspicuous, and not a god even
would make it otherwise, and yet the mind there is worthless.
Now you have stirred up anger deep in the breast within me
by this disorderly speaking …….”  (166 – 179)

Rising, he grabs a discus and far out throws anyone who has yet competed. He then boasts of other feats he is capable of, and mentions the Trojan country where he was; when he finishes his speech, all men are “stricken to silence.”  To lower the tension, Alkinoös suggests dancing with more story-telling, and Odysseus watches the performance, at the end conceding the superiority of their dancers with an eloquence and diplomacy that wins admiration.  Alkinoös promises gifts to Odysseus, and even Euryalos gives him a sword.  Nausikaa reminds him of her rescue of him, and wishes for his kind thoughts of her in his homeland, whereupon he charms her again with words and finally he offers Demodokos the best portion of his meat.  The singer, pleased, begins to sing of the Argives and their means of gaining the inner city of Troy inside the Trojan horse.  Once more Odysseus sobs his heart out in sorrow, and Alkinoös, watching, finally directly asks for his history.

Fame and Glory

The Phaiakians were looking to win the admiration of Odysseus with their contests but, when it becomes apparent he can best them at most sport, they then turn to dancing, an area in which they prove their supremacy. They want him to carry home a tale of an exploit in which they could impress foreigners.


Still Odysseus conceals his identity and, instead, strategically employs diplomatic and persuasive speech to win their respect.  His survival, in this case, perhaps does not depend on weapons, but tact and ingenuity.   His politeness reflects much more on his character than actions.  After hearing the Phaiakian songs of the Trojan War sung by Demodokos, will Odysseus feel more comfortable with revealing himself?

The Phaiakians

These are a curious people and are difficult to characterize.  Their kingdom is far away from others, and they do not seem to welcome strangers in the same manner as other countries.  They are not completely unsophisticated, yet there are clues that they are not as advanced as other nations.  A prime example of this is when Euryalos almost apologizes for his gift sword being merely made of bronze, but then points out that the handle is silver and the scabbard of ivory.  Could their possible inferiority also be the reason that they want Odysseus to carry home a story of their aptitude and excellence in a respected arena, such as sports or dancing?

Frederic Layton (1878)
source Wikipedia