The Iliad ~ Book V & Book VI

The Iliad Read-along

I’ve been having some computer problems but am still almost on track as the read continues.  I hope that you’re all enjoying it.  Once you become familiar with the characters, the interplay between and around them is fascinating.  In these next books, we learn more about Diomedes, are introduced to Hektor’s family and learn more about the ancient Greek worldview.  And, of course, the gods work towards fate often in confusing ways, as the story unfolds.

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The Iliad ~ Book III and Book IV

The Iliad Read-along

Book III

The Achaians advance across the plain and the Trojans move to meet them.  Alexandros (Paris) struts out to challenge any of the Argive leaders, yet when Menelaus, the husband of Helen, steps forward, in cowardice Alexandros/Paris shrinks back to disappear among the fighters.  Hektor, shamed by his brother’s behaviour, rebukes him firmly:

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The Iliad ~ Book I & Book II

The Iliad Read-along

Normally with my read-alongs, I post my summaries and comments at the end of the week of the scheduled read to allow people to absorb the work before they read what I have to say.  But this poem can be a little overwhelming on a first read with all its different names and unfamiliar customs, so I’m going to TRY and post as the beginning or middle of the scheduled section.  Hopefully my posts can help you navigate through it and perhaps add some understanding to assist you on your way.

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The Iliad Read-Along and an Introduction

The Iliad Read-along

Well, I’ve been encouraged very nicely by some Goodread’s friends to host a the Iliad read-along in 2020.  Because of my love of Greek literature and always wanting to share that love, I’ve agreed to do it.  It’s probably crazy, piggybacking it on my The House of Mirth read-along, never mind The Art of Loving and The Four Loves read-alongs before that, but those who know me will agree that it’s not surprising.  Ha, ha!

So here we go ….!!!!

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The Odyssey (an Oral Tradition) by Homer

The Odyssey

“Tell me, Muse, of the man of many ways, who was driven far journeys, after he had sacked Troy’s sacred citadel.”

It is nearly 20 years after the Trojan War and Ithaka is still without its king, Odysseus.  Anarchy reigns, as numerous suitors vie for the hand of his wife, Penelope, while ravaging his household goods and disrespecting his memory, and his son, Telemachos, is helpless to prevent them.  Has our hero perished in his quest to reach his homeland, or is he still alive somewhere, struggling to reach home?

The Odyssey begins in media res, or in the middle, where Odysseus is near the end of his journey, becoming shipwrecked on the land of the Phaiakians. These people, who we learn are very close to the gods, give Odysseus an audience for the retelling of his story and the various adventures he has experienced, while attempting to return home from the battlegrounds of Troy.

From a violent assault on the land of the Cicones, to narrowly escaping a drugged existence in the land of the Lotus-Eaters, Odysseus endangers his men by deciding to stay in the land of the Cyclops in hopes of gaining host-gifts, and they must set to perilous flight.  Poseidon, angered at the maiming of his Cyclops son, Polyphemus, plots their suffering and Odysseus and his men must endure captivity by Circe, an island goddess; a trip to the land of the Dead; a narrow escape from the Sirens, Scylla and Charybdis; and further imprisonment by the nymph, Calypso, lasting seven years, before he is released and lands on the island of the Phaiakians.  Yet, mainly because of the rage of Poseidon, but due also to Odysseus’ and his men’s misguided judgement, his whole crew is killed on the way home and he is left to continue the final part of his journey alone.

The Odyssey Homer

Fame and glory, or in Greek, kleos, are the most important values in this society. It appears that the suitors can disrespect and commandeer Odysseus’ household, only because there is no story attached to his fate.  If he had died fighting in Troy, and therefore receiving a generous helping of fame and glory, this inheritance would have passed down to Telemachus, which would have engendered a reverence and respect among the people. It might not have prevented a few of the more aggressive suitors attempting to utilize their power, but Telemachos certainly would have received more support and sympathy from other Ithakan families.   Gifts and spoils are another aspect of fame and glory.  The more one acquires, the more renown is added to their reputations.  This perhaps explains why Odysseus pours on the charm with the Phaiakians, who bestow on him more gifts than he could have won at Troy, then taxi him to Ithaka, unaware that they have angered Poseidon, who turns their ship to stone in the harbour on their journey back.

The guest-host relationship, or in Greek, xenia, is another aspect of Greek culture unfamiliar to modern readers.  If a guest visits your house, you are required by the tenets of hospitality to give him food and shelter.  These acts are even more important than discovering his name and peoples, as we often see this information offered after the initial formalities are served.  The concept of xenia is emphasized because one never knows if one is hosting a man or a god.  As a modern reader, it was amusing to see poor Telemachos attempt to extricate himself from Menelaos’ hospitality and avoid Nestor’s, in an effort to avoid wasting time in the search for his father.  I’m certain amusement wasn’t Homer’s intention but it wasn’t surprising as to the emphasis placed on this tradition.  Any deviation from this custom could result in dishonour and a possible feud with your potential host or guest.

The Odyssey Homer
1. Mt. Olympus   2. Troy   3. Kikonians   4. Lotus-Eaters   5. Cyclops
6. Aeolia’s Island   7. Laestrygonians   8. Circe’s Kingdom  9. Land of the Dead
10. Sirens   11. Scylla & Charybdis   12. Kalypso   13. Ithaka
source Nada’s ESL Island

Greek literature has been a surprising passion of mine.  From my first read of The Iliad, I was hooked and I often wonder why?  The heroes are chiefly concerned with fame, glory, reputation, pillaging and the spoils of war; the gods are jealous, capricious, vindictive and possess far too many human traits for comfort.  Yet I think what draws me to these characters is that they are so real …….. fallible, vulnerable, imperfect, yet they exhibit these deficiencies through an heroic, courageous and larger-than-life persona. They have their customs and traditions, institutions designed to help their society flourish, and which are important enough to sacrifice happiness, comfort and, at times, even their lives, to preserve.

The Odyssey Read Along Posts:  Book I & II / Book III & IV /  Book V & VI /  Book VII & VIII /  Book IX & X /  Book XI & XII / Book XIII & XIV /  Book XV & XVI /  Book XVII & XVIII /  Book XIX & XX /  Book XXI & XXII /  Book XXIII & XXIV

A note on translations:  if you plan to read only one translation of The Odyssey, I would highly recommend Richard Lattimore’s translation, as it is supposed to be closest to the original Greek, while also conveying well the substance of the story.  Fitzgerald is adequate but likes to embellish, and the Fagles translation …….. well, as one learned reviewer put it, “they are so colloquial, so far from Homeric that they feel more like modern adaptations than translations.”  I would have to agree.

For people who are interested in introducing their children to the tales of Homer, there are a number of excellent books for children which I will list here:

This book counts as Plethora of Books Classic Club Spin, so I finished her book and my spin book, as well.  I’m going to give myself a pat on the back and less guilt for not finishing my previous spin book (yet). 🙂

Translated by Richard Lattimore

 

Classics Club

 

The Odyssey Read-Along Book XXIII & XXIV (the end!)

The Odyssey Read-Along @ Plethora of Books

Book XXIII

Eurykleia announces to Penelope of her husband’s return, yet Penelope calls her crazy and laments that she is torturing her.  Eurykleia claims she is speaking the truth; Penelope believes, then does not believe her again.  When she descends and sees Odysseus, she produces the same pattern of vacillating feelings, until Odysses produces knowledge of the construction of their bed, the frame built around an olive tree, and her resistance crumbles as she throws herself into his arms.  She confesses that she had always been afraid of tricks from the suitors and that was the reason she felt it necessary to always keep her guard up.  They go to bed, make love, then afterwards fall into conversation, as Odysseus tells her of the prophecy of Teiresias and of the stories of his voyage home.  Waking in the morning, he informs her that he is going to visit his father on his estate, but he is also concerned that a rumour of the death of the suitors may have spread and instructs her to stay in her upper chamber.  He leaves with Telemachos, the swine and oxherd, and as they leave the city, Athene covers them in darkness.

Penelope
What a lovely reunion between Odysseus and his wife!  Although she oscillates between disbelief and belief, I think her reaction is sincere; she truly has been afraid of tricks from the suitors, yet her dearest wish is for her husband to return home.  Her greatest wish and her greatest fear together vie for supremacy in her mind, and is it no wonder that she cannot reconcile her feelings and make a reasonable judgement?
Deception
Odysseus’ plan for the murder of the suitors, again shows his wily reasoning.  He also had devised a plan if anyone questioned the noise coming from the palace:

“So I will tell you they way of it, how it seems best to me.  First, all go and wash, and put your tunics upon you, and tell the women in the palace to choose out their clothing.  Then let the inspired singer take his clear-sounding lyre, and give us the lead for festive dance, so that anyone who is outside, some one of the neighbours, or a person going along the street, who hears us, will think we are having a wedding.  Let no rumour go abroad in the town that the suitors have been murdered, until such time as we can make our way out to our estate with its many trees, and once there see what profitable plan the Olympians show us.”


 

Penelope & Euryclea
Angelica Kauffman 1772
source Wikimedia Commons


Book XXIII

Hermes summons the souls of the suitors and “they followed, gibbering,” as he leads them to Hades.  There, a number of Greek heroes appear, including Achilles and Agamemnon.  Achilles laments that Agamemnon was cut down in the prime of his life and experienced a “death most pitiful”, when he could have died in the land of the Trojans.  Agememnon reciprocates with a narrative of the funeral of Achilles.  When they see the souls of the suitors, they are astounded, and Agamemnon questions Amphimedon, who appears to give an accurate accounting, but puts the blame on Penelope for her “planning out death and black destruction.”  He also criticizes Odysseus’ treatment of them after their death.  Amusingly, after Amphimedon’s elaborately long story, Agamemnon only remarks on the wonderful loyalty of Penelope.  As this is happening, Odysseus and his company arrive at his estate and find his father in the orchard.  Odysseus ponders whether to announce himself outright, or “to make a trial of him and speak in words of mockery.”  He decides the latter.  Chiding his father for his ragged appearance, he then pretends that he has encountered Odysseus in another country, and offers another extravagant lie as to his history.  When his father begins to groan and lament, he finally reveals himself.  Laertes, like Penelope, is at first sceptical, whereupon Odysseus shows him his scar.  His father hugs him with joy but then expresses fear at repercussions that must come because of Odysseus’ actions.  They go into the house where Laertes is bathed and anointed, then appearing like an immortal god; he laments he did not take part in the battle against the suitors with his son.  Meanwhile “rumour” is flying through the city and Eupeithes, the father of Antinoös calls for revenge, yet Medon says that Odysseus’ conduct was with the approval of the gods, throwing fear into the assembly.  Halitherses reasons that the suitors’ own actions brought on the terrible tragedy, bringing half the crowd to his side.  Athene asks Zeus for advice and he judges that Odysseus’ actions were proper, and that it is time for friendship and peace.  Athene flies down in the form of Mentor, as Odysseus sees men approaching the estate and cautions Telemachos not to “shame the blood of your fathers.”   Athene gives Laertes an uncommon strength and he is able to throw his spear right through the helmet of Eupeithes.  The parties fall to fighting until Athene stops them, calling for a cessation from “wearisome fighting” and claiming that “without blood, you can settle anything.”  Recognizing the goddess, the men flee towards the city.  Odysseus makes to follow, but Zeus throws down a thunderbolt and Athene commands him to stop the quarrelling.  So pledges were sworn on both sides, settled by Athene, and we can assume Odysseus lived and prospered until his death, as foretold by the prophecy of Teiresias.
Fame and Glory
The conversation between Achilles and Agamemnon were contrasting an ignoble death vs. a noble one.  Achilles had fought and died bravely at Troy, and therefore he was buried with honour and ceremony, and his name is still remembered.  Conversely, Agamemnon died a shameful death, struck down covertly by his wife’s lover, and his body was not treated properly after burial.  It seems that in Hades, his only concern is the loyalty or disloyalty of women
Deception
Will the deception of Odysseus never end?  I could not believe he chose to tease and “play with” his father, after all the poor old man had been through.  However, he called his actions a “trial” so perhaps he felt he still needed to establish the loyalty of whoever knew is true identity.

The Palace of Ulysses
source Wikimedia Commons

The Odyssey Read-Along Book XXI & XXII

The Odyssey Read-Along @ Plethora of Books

Book XXI

The contest and therefore, the beginning of the slaughter of the suitors, is begun by the history of the backstrung bow.  It was given to Odysseus by Iphitos when they had met trying to retrieve their sheep and horses from the men of Messene.  Odysseus had left it behind in Ithaka when he went to Troy, and in his household it had remained.  Penelope retrieves the bow, announces the contest to the suitors and then places it in the hands of Eumaios, who is weeping when he sees it in remembrance of his master.  Antinoös derides him, and then admits that the bow will be hard to string, as he reminisces about Odysseus’ strength.  Telemachos announces that he will be part of the contest and, if he wins, his mother will be able to remain in his house.  He sets up the axes, making them perfect, although he has never done this task before, then picks up the bow, sending the string singing three times before Odysseus stops him at the fourth by making a signal with his head, and Telemachos encourages a suitor to come and test his skill.  Antinoös determines the order in which they will proceed, and Leodes is the first to try, a man disapproving of the suitors’ actions.  He fails, so the suitors decide to heat the bow but even then, they are not able to string it.  Meanwhile, Odysseus meets Eumaois and the oxherd, Philoitios, outside the courtyard and, based on their unwavering loyalty, decides to reveal his identity to them.   They are overjoyed and there is lots of kissing.  He gives commands to both: to Eumaios, to put the bow into his hands and then tell the serving women to bar the doors and not to open them if they hear crashes and outcries; to Philoitios to make fast the courtyard with a bolt.  In the meantime, Eurymachos finds he is unable to string the bow and is distraught, yet Antinoös chastises him, saying that of course they cannot string the bow on a holy feast day, and that they must try again tomorrow.  Odysseus states he would like to attempt the feat that day, but the suitors are alarmed in case of his success, and issue threats if he is able to string it.  Penelope chides them for their rudeness, stating the impossibility of her becoming the wife of “the stranger” but Eurymachos argues that their reputation is at stake, and finally Telemachos intervenes, sending his mother back to her house.  Eumaios tries to carry the bow to “the stranger” but the suitors are so vehement against him, he drops it.  Telemachos exerts his will and it is finally handed to Odysseus.  Eurykleia and Philoitios carry out their orders, while Odysseus strings the bow and makes it sing, sending an arrow through all twelve of the axes. 
A Decrease in Power
The suitors are made even more uneasy, not only by the bow itself, but at the possibility of “the stranger” being able to best them.  Antinoös, though he is full of hot air and bragging, seems to avoid even attempting the feat and later makes an excuse that it’s because it’s a holy feast day that none of them can succeed.
Identity
The first people to whom Odysseus chooses to reveal himself, are two servants, Eumaios and Philoitios, a swineheard and an oxherd.  What a surprise! ……. Or is it?  One of Odysseus’ self-given tasks is to find who he is able to trust in his household and from that, whom he will kill and who will survive.  Both servants have shown a steadfast devotion to their master and therefore, perhaps deserve his confidence.
There are more and more instances of Telemachos showing a governance and mastery of his household.
N.C. Wyeth

Book XXII

Odysseus sheds his rags and then springs upon the threshold, announcing that he will shoot another mark that has yet to be struck by man.  To the shock of the assembled party, the arrow flies straight through the throat of Antinoös and he slumps over dead.  “Poor fools”, they thought he had let the arrow fly in error and his target was accidental.  In all his glory, Odysseus reveals his true identity:

“You dogs, you never thought that I would any more come back form the land of Troy, and because of that you despoiled my household, and forcibly took my serving women to sleep beside you, and sought to win my wife while I was still alive, fearing neither the immortal gods who hold the wide heaven, nor any resentment sprung from men to be yours in the future.  Now upon all of you the terms of destruction are fastened.”

Fear choked the suitors, but they attempt to bargain for their lives, as Eurymachos blames all their behaviour on the influence of Antinoös, promising to pay Odysseus gifts.  Odysseus rejects his explanation and proposal, stating not one man will be left alive, causing Eurymachos to call the suitors to arms.  Odysseus kills Eurymachos and Telemachos, Amphinomos, on his way to his father’s side.  He then runs to fetch arms for the four of them (including Eumaios & Philoitios) and they continue to kill.  Agelaos calls for someone to run to the village for help but Melanthios informs him of the barred door but offers to search the house for the hidden weapons.  Quickly he finds them and begins to arm the suitors, giving Odysseus pause. Telemachos confesses that he had inadvertently left the door open and asks Eumaios to find out the culprit.  When he discovers Melanthios, Odysseus instructs them to bind him and hoist him up along the high column to suffer.  Athene appears as Mentor and Agelaos appeals to him, causing anger to grow in Athene.  Surprisingly she chastizes Odysseus for the temperance he’s shown towards the suitors, accusing him of complaining instead of standing up to his enemies.  She assists him with some of the killing but “did not altogether turn the victory their way.”  There is a volley of spears between the two parties, but while Odysseus and his warriors hit their targets, Athene causes the suitors’ aims to go astray.  Now the slaughter ensues.  Leodes grasps Odysseus’ knees in supplication and is killed, but when Phemios the singer does the same, Telemachos pleads for mercy for him and also Medon, their herald, who had taken care of him.  Odysseus agrees, stating, “that good dealing is better by far than evil dealing.”  Otherwise, not one man is left alive and Telemachos sends Eurykleia to Odysseus.  When she sees him standing among the blood and battle-gore, she is ecstatic, yet Odysseus lightly scolds her:  “Keep your joy in your heart, old dame; stop, do not raise up the cry.  It is not piety to glory so over slain men.”  Odysseus instructs her not to awaken Penelope, but to assemble all the women who have been disloyal into the hall.  They proceed to hang all these women and, for a finale, hack off  the nose, ears, hands, feet, and private parts of Melanthios to feed to the dogs.  Eurykleia gathers all the women who remain and they are overjoyed to see Odysseus.  “He recognized all these women.”

Disloyalty
We understand the grudge Odysseus carries towards the suitors, but his anger towards the women was explored more in this book.  Their crime appears to stem from their immorality and their mutiny against the household.  Both Eurykleia and Telemachos state that they refuse to listen to him or his mother, and that they have taken to sleeping with the suitors.  I’m not clear if the judgement of immorality is based on a cultural standard, or if it is because they are sleeping with enemies of Odysseus. Upon viewing the slain suitors, their reaction was weeping and wailing, so their treachery was quite apparent.
Note: The last sentence of this book: “He recognized all these women,” is very telling.  That would mean that all the women would have had to be over 20 years old (probably 30 or more likely, 40).  It appears all the young women were the immoral ones, and the older ones were the ones who remained loyal and steadfast.  This is, perhaps, another example of the breakdown of societal conventions due to Odysseus’ absence, and the lack of leadeship on the island.
The Suitors
We witnessed a rather gory end to these young men.  Should Odysseus been more temperate and spared more of them?  I tend to think not.  He will have enough to deal with, trying to explain his actions, and to leave one alive if he is not completely certain of his loyalty, could have been quite dangerous.  If one of them appeared loyal at the palace and then later began to stir up dissent in town, his actions could undermine Odysseus’ position.  Sadly, I think out of necessity, they all had to perish. 
I wonder if any of these suitors had known the real Odysseus, if they would have dared to behave the way they did.  My guess is no.

The Odyssey Read-Along Book XIX & XX

The Odyssey Read-Along @ Plethora of Books

Book XIX

Ordering Eurykleia to get the women into the house, Telemachos and his father proceed to store away all the weapons.  Afterwards Telemachos goes to bed, but Penelope descends from her chamber, wishing to speak with “the stranger”. Once again Melantho harps at Odysseus and he has harsh words for her, but Penelope, catching their conversation, scolds her maidservant and sends her away.  Sorrowfully she confesses to “the stranger” how she has avoided marriage for the past three years, but now she feels that she can delay her fate no longer.  Odysseus requests that Penelope not ask for his history but she ignores his entreaty and, seemingly against his will, he must weave an elaborate lie to placate her curiosity.  When he tells her of Odysseus’ return however, if spite of his apparent sincerity, she does not believe him,   She offers him a bath in the morning yet he will accept only if an old woman with as many sorrows as he, will give it to him.  Penelope sends him Eurykleia, his old nurse, and to his consternation she recognizes a scar he received on his leg from the tusks of a wild boar when he was just a young boy.  Wild with joy, she makes to summon Penelope but Odysseus stays her with rather harsh words.   Professing her loyalty, she leaves and returns with a new basin of water and proceeds to wash him and anoint him with oil.  Then Penelope speaks with him again, admitting to her indecision over her course with the suitors and then requesting that he interpret her dream:  she had twenty geese that fed on wheat and a great eagle came and broke the necks of all of them.  The eagle returned, claiming to be Odysseus and the geese the suitors.  Once again Odysseus tries to convince her of his return and the suitors’ destruction, but she then prevaricates, stating that some dreams are true but others only deception, and she believes her dream the latter.  Tomorrow she will set up a contest between the suitors and whoever can send an arrow through twelve axes set up in order, that is the man she will marry.  She retires to her chamber to weep for Odysseus.
Disbelief
How believable is Penelope’s disbelief?  She has had numerous tales of Odysseus’ return, yet she absolutely refuses to lend them any credence.  One would think she could at least send out servants to try to confirm or deny the stories, but it is as if she has given up long ago and the only way she is able to survive is to believe the worst and attempt to deal with it.  It is not surprising that Eurykleia is able to recognize something of Odysseus in “the stranger”, yet Penelope cannot.  She has already abandoned hope.
Portents and Omens
We have seen many portents throughout this poem, which always seem to need to be read by someone.  The omen of the eagle and twenty geese perhaps is not difficult to interpret.  I also thought that the 20 geese could symbolize the 20 years that Odysseus had been away and the sudden appearance of the eagle, his sudden return.
Rather shockingly, in the dream, Penelope likes her geese and cries sorrowfully when they are slaughtered.  Does this mean she likes the attentions of the suitors?  Is her claim of delay a ruse to continue their behaviour, which may possibly stroke her ego?
Deception
We finally learn how Odysseus could have honestly come by his ability to so cleverly deceive:

“This was his mother’s noble father, who surpassed all men in thievery and the art of the oath ……” 

However he is not pleased to deceive his wife, although when she persists, he does lie to her, as he finds it necessary to do so.
 

Odysseus and Penelope
Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein (19th century)
source Wikimedia Commons


Book XX

Sleep evades Odysseus as he agonizes over the suitors’ treatment of his household, meanwhile Athene descends and lightly scolds Odysseus for not being grateful that his wife and son and house are within his reach, as well as his lack of faith that he will overcomes his enemies.  As Athene drifts slumber over him, Penelope is praying for the gods to end her life; she would rather be under the earth with Odysseus than have an inferior husband.  Her husband hears her weeping and prays to the gods to send him an omen, both inside and outside, whereupon he hears thunder sent by Zeus and a mill woman prays for the suitors destruction.  Telemachos rises and checks with Eurykleia that the stranger has been treated well, then she makes sure that the palace is ready for the suitors’ arrival for the public festival.  Eumaios stops to speak with Odysseus but Melanthios mocks and challenges Odysseus, who gives no answer.  Philoitios, an oxherd, then arrives, asking about “the stranger” and lamenting the absence of Odysseus and how the suitors ruin his household.  Odysseus assures him of his master’s return, Eumaios prays for the same and Amphinomos reads an omen that Telemachos will not be murdered.  The sacrificing begins and Telemachos commands that “the stranger” will be treated well, amazing everyone with his authority, and even Antinoös defers to his spoken wishes.  One suitor, however, Ktesippos, protests at “the stranger’s” presence and hurls an ox hoof at him, which misses, causing Telemachos to praise the miss otherwise he would have had to stick him through the middle with his spear.  Again, everyone is astounded at his command, and Agelaos tried to calm the situation, but then refers to the giving of Penelope in marriage.  Telemachos states he would be willing to see her married if it was of her own free will, but since she resists, he will not force her.  The suitors laugh at his words, but instead of a sincere laughter, it is as the laughter of men who have lost control and sounds most like a lamentation.  Theoklymenos, disparages their laughter, prophesying their doom and leaves when they threaten him.  They continue their boisterous mocking and jeering but Telemachos only looks at his father.  Penelope listens outside the door.
Identity and Authority
Again we have numerous instances of Telemachos taking control of his household.  He is described as a “man like a god”, has control over his servants, to an acceptable degree, his own mother, and exhibits a subtle control over the suitors.  His speech to Ktesippos exemplifies his newly-acquired power and authority:

“Ktesippos, it was better for your heart that it happened so; you missed the stranger, he avoided your missile.  I would have struck you with my sharp spear fair in the middle, and instead of your marriage your father would have been busy with your funeral here.  Let none display any rudeness here in my house.  I now notice all and know of it, better and worse alike, but before now I was only an infant.  Even so, we have had to look on this and endure it all, the sheepflocks being slaughtered, the wine drunk up, and the food, since it is hard for one man to stand off many.  Come then, no longer do me harm in your hostility.  But if you are determined to murder me with the sharp bronze, then that would be my wish also, since it would be far better than to have to go on watching forever these shameful activities, guests being battered about, or to see you rudely mishandling the serving women all about the beautiful place.”

And yet there is still a sense that both the behaviour of Telemachos and Odysseus is a careful balancing act, but there is evidence, psychologically at least, that the scales are beginning to swing in their favour.
A Decrease of Power?
This chapter shows the suitors at a disadvantage in their surprise at Telemachos’ mastery of situations, and evidenced by their hysterical laughter.  While initially their mocking had a powerful ring to it, we sense now that their laughter is forced and purposed to cover up something.  Could it be the advent of fear?  Hmmm …….

Parthenon Temple of Athene

The Odyssey Read-Along Book XVII & XVIII

The Odyssey Read-Along @ Plethora of Books

Book XVII

Telemachos arrives home and Penelope bursts into tears when she beholds her beloved son.  Telemachos begs her not to “stir up a scene of sorrow” and as he walks through the palace, Athene “drifts an enchantment of grace upon him.”   The suitors appear to welcome him, while all the while planning his destruction, but Telemachos avoids them.  Peiraios, brings the guest from the ship, and speaks to Telemachos about bringing the gifts from Menelaos, but Telemachos bestows the gifts upon him and ensures that the stranger is treated well.  Telemachos relates his travels to Penelope and the portents for the destruction of the suitors and the return of Odysseus, whereupon the stranger, Theoklymenos, supports Telemachos’ story with confirmation of the omen.  The suitors are amusing themselves before they turn to feasting, and Odysseus starts out for his home, on the way meeting Melanthios who is driving his goats and who taunts Odysseus with words indicating his sympathy with the suitors.  He tries to knock Odysseus down but is resisted, and they exchange heated words before Melanthios leaves for the palace to sit with his favourite, Eurymachos.  When the two reach the palace, Odysseus bids Eumaios to go inside while he waits outside, yet his dog, Argos, recognizes his master after 19 years (wow, a nineteen-year-old dog!).  Telemachos immediately spies Eumaios, gives him some food to take to “the stranger” and asks that “the stranger” beg from the other suitors as well.  Antinoös chastises Eumaios for bringing “the stranger” and Telemachos chides both of them.  When Odysseus reaches Antinoös, he compliments him to get a bigger portion, then spins an elaborate story.  Antinoös becomes angry with him, they have words and Antinoös hurls a footstool at Odysseus, striking him on the right shoulder.  Not only Odysseus protests but so do the others, concerned that they are not showing the proper guest-host relationship, as one never knows if one is entertaining a man or a god in disguise.  Penelope hears of the intemperate treatment of “the stranger” and summons him to her but Odysseus says he will come to her after the sun has set.  Eumaios returns to his pigs but Telemachos instructs him to return in the morning.

Know Your Enemies
Telemachos cleverly advises his father to go begging from each of the suitors.  This act ensures that Odysseus will have better knowledge of his enemies when the time comes to strke.  It is interesting to note that Athene must prompt Odysseus to go begging, perhaps evidence that the ruler of Ithaka’s pride has not been completely subdued, even if it means gaining the upper hand.
Self-Control
Odysseus, on his way, is able to practice his self-control before he reaches the suitors.   He does not react to Melanthios’ striking him, and even holds his temper against further verbal abuse.  This practice allows him to control his anger against Antinoös when he reaches the palace, when Antinoös strikes him with a footstool.  I can imagine that the anger is building inside him and the suitors will pay horribly for their rash actions.
Sneezes
What  is the implication of Telemachos’ sneezes?



Odysseus Recognized by his Dog
Theodoor van Thulden
source Wikipaintings


Book XVIII

A beggar, Arnaios or Iros, challenges Odysseus, and Antinoös helps to stir up the situation.  Odysseus elicits a promise from the suitors, not to interfer in their fight but when the suitors see his massive limbs, they predict a possible surprise outcome, and Iros is not so willing to fight, having to be pushed on by the suitors.  Odysseus decides not to kill him but instead to lightly hit him and manages to break the bones in his neck, whereupon the beggar sinks to the ground, kicking and bleating.  The suitors laugh at his plight.  Amphinomos gives Odysseus his reward of meat and Odysseus compliments him, prophesying his fate through a speech, and Amphinomos is apprehensive.  Penelope, now graced by Athene with further charms, descends and takes the suitors to task for their ill-treatment of guests, as well as her son who admits that he does not always take the wise course.  Eurymachos tries to bring the subject around to the wedding of Penelope but she deflects his words with a story of Odysseus and tricks them into offering gifts, which pleases her husband mightily.  The suitors give them willingly but Antinoös reminds her that they will not leave until she chooses a husband.   As night comes, Odysseus offers to keep the lights lit for the serving women but one, Melantho, mocks and derides him, until he threatens her with dismembering, whereupon all the women scuttle away.  Eurymachos then takes up the mocking of Odysseus, who counters with insults until Eurymachos tosses a footstool at him, hitting the cupbearer instead.  This act incurs the wrath of Telemachos who gives them such a set-down, they are amazed at his bravado.  Amphinomos upbraids them for their actions, saying that they must treat guests properly; they drink to the gods and then each goes home to bed.
Deception and Truth
We have already seen the numerous crafty deceptions of Odysseus, and in this chapter Penelope echoes her husband’s trickery, cunningly wheedling out of the suitors, numerous gifts for their household.  Telemachos, however, not only speaks with authority but appears to avoid falsity.  Most of his speeches are direct and truthful.
 

Odysseus Fighting with the Beggar
Lovis Corinth (1903)
source Wikipaintings