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

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