Home » Greek and Roman Mythology » The Odyssey – Books nine to sixteen

The Odyssey – Books nine to sixteen


Picture credit : BBC.co.uk

Some of the best and most famous parts of the Odyssey are in books nine to twelve such as the Cyclops and the sirens. These famous episodes are in Odysseus recounting his own stories. I really enjoyed this weeks lectures. Peter Struck is such a great person to listen to.

Here then are my course notes.

Odysseus and the Cyclops

Odysseus starts telling his hosts who he is. At the end of book eight the King Alcinous asked him

“Come, tell us the name they call you there at home?”

For him the question of identity had several points -name,  lineage and origin. Odysseus answers those questions and then he tells them about his past.  Alcinous had asked him “What great things have you done?” A great Greek heroes identity is more than his name, lineage, and where he is from, it is also about his grand adventures in their past.

Picture credit : users.globalnet.

Odysseus in telling his stories takes over the role of the bard in the story. Just like a real poet he performs his own identity.

The stories tend to come in threes. In book nine, we have a group of three, the adventure with the Cicones, then the Lotus Eaters, then the Cyclops. In book ten, we have another three, Aeolus, the Laestrygonians and Circe  then in book eleven a long journey into the underworld. In book twelve another group of three, the Sirens, Scylla, and Charybdis, and the Cattle of the Sun.

In each of these groupings there are two short ones and a long one. I found this very interesting because of the dactylic hexameter that Homer uses. That is one long and two shorts. This format is a reflection of that so we have dit dit dum rather than dum dit dit. I am not sure that this is at all important but it struck me as pertinent.

Peter Struck advised us to look out for the idea of temptation. There are pleasures awaiting Odysseus, but those pleasures sometimes come at a price. There is also the idea of curiosity and gaining knowledge. We get examples of how not do Xenia, how not to treat your guest and ‘food crimes’. Most of what happens in this exploration is driven by a search for knowledge. There’s a specific search for knowledge, that’s anchored from Circe forward but all the episodes have  temptation toward built into them.

English: 18th-century French engraving of Odys...

The lotus-eaters. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The further Odysseus ventures out the stranger things get. Firstly he lands on the shores meets the Cicones, beats them, grabs their treasure and leaves.  This is standard, hero pillaging behavior  Then he meets the Lotus eaters, they seem roughly like normal people but they do like a certain food, the lotus leaves. They make everyone feel marvelous  There must be some pharmacological effect. Odysseus loved this but knew that they should leave.

Then they reach the Cyclops. The ship lands on shore, a party of men gets out

Photo credit : thejoyofshards.co.uk

explore. What they find on their way in is that these strange creatures are not quite like themselves. These Cyclopses lack cultivation; they don’t know anything about farming, so they don’t have the tools and resources to subsist on a grain-based diet. They don’t have councils where they might get together to solve problems. They don’t have homes, they live in caves. Most remarkably they don’t have ships, Cyclopses don’t know how to build ships, so they don’t have contact with the outside world. They don’t meet people who are different from them. This is a sign of great lack of civilization for these Greek sailors.

The Cyclopses entirely lack the idea of Xenia. Polyphemus doesn’t realize that he’s supposed to be providing a gift to the people that arrive in his house.  He doesn’t provide Odysseus and his men with hospitality. Odysseus and his men rummage around on their own, looking for food and gifts and asking for them. That might seem a little presumptuousness but Homer seems to think that this is normal. The gifts in the episode show up in interesting ways. Odysseus repeatedly asks for one but the Cyclops doesn’t provide it.

photo credit : Sperlonga.org

Odysseus brings wine from this ship. He remembers it as a gift that he received from a hero called Maron. Odysseus had saved his family. The wine becomes his perverted gift to Cyclops. The wine utterly debilitates him and Odysseus and his crew poke out the one eye the  Cyclops has. They drill this awful heated poker into the Cyclops’s eye blinding him.

The laws of Xenia are consistently violated, firstly when Cyclops doesn’t serve food but instead uses Odysseus’s men as food. He grabs two of them, smashes their head against the ground and eats their brains. But it’s not only that the Cyclops is ignoring the rules of Xenia, it’s that he is perverting them.

Universal law number three “ it’s not good to be food.”

Humans don’t like the idea of becoming food for other creatures. It is a source of revulsion to us. It’s so awful that it’s not just terrifying or frightening, it’s utterly disgusting. The violence that’s involved in killing someone is taken a step further as a human is chewed, swallowed and metabolized. The full annihilation that comes through metabolism seems to be at the core of just how awful it is to image a human being becoming food. There’s a part of us that likes to think of ourselves as much more special than a member of the food chain.

To escape this particular problem Odysseus has the idea of debilitating the Cyclops. If they killed the Cyclops they’d be stuck in the cave. Then he straps himself to the bottom of the ram and has his mates strapped to the bottom of the other animals in the flock and they escape. When Cyclops checks the animals he doesn’t feel Odysseus and his men underneath. Odysseus introduces another of his famous tricks. The Cyclops asks his name and he says

“Nobody—that’s my name. Nobody—so my mother and father call me, all my friends”.

When his neighbors ask him who was hurting him, the reply was

“Nobody,friends’—Polyphemus bellowed back from his cave—‘Nobody’s killing me now by fraud and not by force.’‘

So the go home.

Odysseus then adopts this pure anonymity in some ways he loses his name not quite well enough though. Odysseus is on his way out, like great heroes he can’t stand the idea that the Cyclops might go through the rest of his life not knowing who it is that beat him. As he and his men are escaping, Odysseus shouts out

‘Cyclops—if any man on the face of the earth should ask you who blinded you, shamed you so—say Odysseus,raider of cities, he gouged out your eye, Laertes’ son who makes his home in Ithaca!’

When he does that Odysseus gives Polyphemus a means to draw down a curse. Without the name, Polyphemus would have been powerless to do that but now he can ask his father, Poseidon, to punish Odysseus.

Cyclops represents an example of a social lesson on the importance of Xenia. He stands as a perfect example of what not to do. All the Greeks that read this can sit back and listen to a myth that emphasizes the importance of proper guest treatment. If you don’t do that, a person runs the risk of being compared to one of these awful criminals the Cyclops.

Cycle Two : Cicrce

Next is a short episode with Aeolus and other with Laestrygonians, then a longer one with Circe. With Elias, there is a pretty strange environment.  A foreign king has control of the winds, and he has them all stuffed into a bag. Aeolus’s sons and daughters marry one another. The lines that are drawn around incest taboos are sometimes different from society to society, but in most of them, brother and sister marriage is prohibited. Again curiosity leads to a problem, the crew can’t wait to see what’s inside that bag and they get blown back to Aeolus who sends them away. They then meet the Laestrygonians where they have a bloody battle. The Laestrygonians eat some of Odysseus’s men.

Circe photo credit : mythologica.fr

The next episode involves Circe. They are again washed up on an unknown shore and a search party goes off to explore with Odysseus staying behind. The most powerful piece of this episode is that Odysseus’s men get turned into pigs they have their humanity taken away from them. They are turned into animals that are in a standard repertoire of food.   Odysseus’s men wonder how a woman can turn a man into a swine.  Homer is a man and men who liked to hear the story it from each other, may well have feared that women had the power to turn men into some other   creature, a beguiling magical power.   Circe’s not the first female character that we’ve seen that has magical powers. There is also an erotic dimension to Circe. Odysseus wins her over and she has an erotic relationship with Odysseus that lasts a year.

Magical powers and an erotic lock on men are standard pieces of ancient myth. Odysseus’s way of overcoming Circe’s is to pull his sword on her but he also has a special magical potion from Hermes which gives him power to resist her magic.

Photo credit : mfa.org

After a year Odysseus’s men have to talk Odysseus out of this one and when they do, Odysseus then prepares to leave. First Circe gives him a special secret knowledge, clues that he needs to find his way home. There’s one problem with his journey home that Odysseus needs and she says, to ask the smartest man around Tiresias who is unfortunately dead. In order to talk to Tiresias.   Odysseus has to go to the underworld.   Circe helps him to lay out a trench and lay out an attractive, bait for the   shades to come out of the underworld and help him to find his way to Tiresias. Before they leave Circe, there is a loose end that doesn’t quite get tied up. One of the crewmen, Elpenor, drinks too much and falls off the roof and dies completely alone.   No one realizes what’s happened. They’re off on their next adventure and they don’t even know he’s dead.

The Underworld

In book eleven they go to the Underworld which isn’t really under anywhere, it’s far away.   Odysseus and his follow Circe’s instructions and up out of the earth come these shades. To do this he uses bait one of the   ingredients in the bait is blood. The shades need blood, they are human beings who have lost all their blood and their substance, and are disembodied.   Getting the blood in them allows them to talk and Odysseus can have conversations with them.   They don’t get fully re-embodied though, as we learn in that very famous scene of   Odysseus trying to hug his mother; they are insubstantial shades

Picture credit : englishare.net

The Greeks would much rather be alive than dead. Even the great ones, don’t seem to have a very good life. We hear this in a poignant piece from Achilles. But first they come across Elpenor. He tells Odysseus and his men to bury him so he can be peaceful.  A functionalist would say that what   Homer is doing here is providing a sense of legitimacy to the social, cultural and religious custom of burying dead bodies.

Next we meet Tiresias who is Apollo’s priest. He has deep wisdom of not

Picture credit : mythologica.fr

only the future, as a seer in Ancient Greece is  not just about seeing future events. It’s also about seeing the present and the past in a different way than us. Odysseus asks Tiresias for help and Tiresias tells Odysseus that he has run afoul of Poseidon. Odysseus realizes that it’s time for him to make amends and to Poseidon for the  awful thing he did to his son Polyphemus.  The punishment seems to be a little   strange at first what Tiresias says is that you have to take an oar and take it so far inland that people don’t know what it is. Then plant the oar in the ground and build a temple to Poseidon.

Poseidon’s temples mostly are nearby  the sea where people know of his powers and worship him.   Those that are inland may not have even heard of him. Odysseus has therefore been told to spread the word about Poseidon beyond areas of the landscape that are effected by the sea,  so far inland that people would mistake his oar for a winnowing fan.

Picture credit : library.thinkquest.org

Other dead people come out, drink some blood and talk with Odysseus.  He sees his mother and has a sad and poignant if quick chat with her.   We hear from lots of female heroes and the  adventures they’ve gone through.   We hear from someone we haven’t heard for a while, Alcinous, this is Homer’s way of breaking the  flow of the narrative to remind us that we are on the island of Scaria  and Odysseus is telling Alcinous and his people the story. Odysseus seems to be quiet tired and  exhausted.   Alcinous breaks in and says please   Odysseus go on and tell us more.  Odysseus then jumps in carries on with the narrative and starts to tell stories about the heroes of the ancient   past.

He sees his dead compatriots and Agamemnon and Agamemnon warns him to be careful when he goes  home.  He tells Odysseus how his wife and her lover killed him.  This message is not going to be lost   on Odysseus.   He’s a very clever and cautious man.   He also meets Achilles this is where Homer tells us about the killing of Achilles, not in the Iliad.

‘No winning words about death to me, shining Odysseus! By god, I’d rather slave on earth for another man—some dirt-poor tenant farmer who scrapes to keep alive—than rule down here over all the breathless dead”

The  opposite of what he said in the Iliad underscoring just how awful   it is to be dead. Odysseus and his men go to the underworld and getaway.

After burying Elpenor and getting some more help from Circe they head off homeward bound. Odysseus knows to watch out when he runs into the sirens and the Scylla and Charybdis and to be careful when he run into the cattle of the sun.

photo credit : theoi.com

The Sirens’ story is a short episode represented by this image with Odysseus strapped to his mast his men are busy rowing impervious to  the beautiful sounds that are coming at them from these figures that this artist  has chosen to represent as being in  position on either side of the vessel.   He looks glued to his mast but still craning towards this beautiful sound. Here is the siren song.

“Come closer, famous Odysseus, Archaea’s   pride and glory. Moor your ship on our coast so you can hear our song. Never has any sailor passed our shores in   his black craft until he has heard the   honeyed voices pouring from our lips, and once he hears to his heart’s content, sails  on a wiser man.   We know all the pains of the Greeks and Trojans, once endured on the spreading plain of troy when the gods willed it so. All that comes to pass on the fertile earth, we know it all.”

Photo credit : wikimedia

The next stop they have to make somehow threads the needle between two awful things. The Scylla and Charybdis. Here the Scylla is represented as Homer talks about a monstrous woman with   horrible mouths and this snakelike underneath. Odysseus in making his way through the   Scylla and the Charybdis has some advice that he relies on from Circe but   he also faces just awful   situation.   He knows that if he gets too close to Charybdis he’ll lose all his men, so he decides, to do the opposite and get a little too close to the Scylla. He knows he’s going to lose some men.

Universal law number “Usually making leadership decisions means choosing between two bad things”

Although there is logic to what Odysseus decides to do he is the one who decides that some of his men are going to die. They get eaten by this creature.  Having known all things, having made the tough call that is required for him to get his ship intact through these two awful things,  he now has  his final adventure, the cattle of the sun.   He was told to steer clear of this but Odysseus’s men prevail when the winds blows   in the wrong direction they’re stuck without food.

The role of cattle in ancient Greece.

Photo credit : metmuseum.org

For Sacrifice cattle are the most appropriate gift a person can give, and therefore they’re the thing that is grand enough to be a gift to the gods.   Greeks sacrifice other things too, if  they’re less prominent, if they’re less wealthy it’s perfectly fine to sacrifice a   pig to the gods or a chicken or whatever   you have around.   Humans usually partake of the killed animal and eat the flesh, the gods usually only want just the smoke, and a few other things. The Greeks, spent a lot of time   trying to get more cattle, they were fascinated by cows, cattle and oxen. We find these   representations, of cattle in prominent places in the artistic record.

For example the beautiful golden cups above  that were recovered at the site of Vaphio in southern Greece their representative of a   very old time.   The cups probably date from around 1500   B.C.E.   We see this time on these Vaphio cups, and on the island of Crete, and other   archaeological finds from the Mycenaean   and Minoan period, known as a high heroic age, where bulls are a central subject matter for the most lavish beautiful artistic representations we can find.   This is true in Fresco’s, in wall   paintings, and above in the amazing cups made of gold, so already a luxury item.

Nestor makes a sacrifice Picture credit : BC.Edu

There are also social and cultural roles of   meat.  Meat especially cattle meat is extremely important. Eating beef is an experience of overwhelmingly rich   protein.  There is just no question that what is being ingested into a body that’s eating meat is scratching some itch.  Now, vegetarians and those who for whatever reason don’t eat meat may poo-poo this and yet there is enough anecdotal   evidence out there of the  rapturous effect that the eating of   high-protein food in does to people for us to recognize that having a  hyper protein-rich food source is something that some people at  least find thrilling.   Beef is the most expensive form of this super rich protein to be found in   antiquity. Only the most aristocratic and most wealthy people could have afforded it.   It was the luxury food item.  When Telemachus goes to see Nestor and there’s this   demonstration of wealth,   81 bulls are being sacrificed.

Most ancient temple sites where cattle are being slaughtered in a regular way also, needed to control huge lands around   them in order to raise the meat that they needed to sacrifice at the temple.  The famous temple site of Delphi required control of   thirteen square kilometres in order to provide enough grazing land for the cattle that they needed to raise to slaughter at that temple.

Food crimes.  

The Odysseus’s men are punished severely. They’re supposed to starve to death when all of this food, which is fully authorized by their cultural norms, is sitting right in front of them. Homer says, I can’t believe they did that, it’s awful, and they get blotted out from the face of the earth. Odysseus’ men cross the line and eat the Cattle of the Sun. Although this seems ruthless to punish them so awfully   for just doing what normal people would do the point is that Helios has declared that these cows are not food

Cattle of the Sun Photo credit : math.nyu

When start talking about what counts as food we can encounter some strong opinions. Some people may look at a lamb and feel it couldn’t possibly count as food or meat. Some others eat insects whilst others balk at the idea.  The disgust response will be provoked even at a creature that other people think is just fine to eat.

The line between what counts as normal authorized food is clear for most of us. Most of us think that it’s absolutely natural, but when we look at the cultural differences in an historical context as well as a contemporary context. It’s obvious that this line is not natural. It’s culturally informed, culturally determined. Just because the line is culturally constructed doesn’t mean it’s irrelevant. It’s one of the basic building blocks of how we decide on associations with   people. Do they eat the same a food that I do? We may have a disgust response watching the other people eat food that’s not authorized in our cultural categories.

When someone is entering into that disgust response it’s not something you can talk them out of it even if it’s a perfectly clean protein source. There is a strong, firm line between what’s food and what’s not food.

At the far end of the ‘not food’ category is humans, we count as ‘not food’. Mostly it’s universally true, very widely is it true that eating other human beings is considered to be an awful ‘food crime’. This was absolutely the case for the Greeks.

Food crimes happen when things enter the food chain that shouldn’t be there. If other human are responsible for metabolizing, then it is worse. Crossing that line between what counts as food and not food provokes a disgust   response. The most extreme of food crimes which we would put in the category of cannibalism, eating something that’s not authorized as food, can provoke that disgust reaction.

Odysseus and his men transgress this line and eat something that they already know a god has declared as being ‘not food’. This is a much more serious thing than just satisfying their hunger because they   happen to have got into a bad spot in their journey. They have committed a food crime and therefore the god is going to punish them with utter severity.

Inner and Outer Worlds

Penelope and her Suitors Picture credit: Stanford.edu

Back in Ithaca Odysseus is home.  He washes up on shore, not sure where he  is. The same thing that he wonders whenever he washes up anywhere. This is very similar to the start of his other adventures. Odysseus realizes that whatever situation he’s running into is bound to be   very complex.   He has to get some information about it and figure out what’s happening. Penelope is doing the same thing.   These two great figures, Penelope and Odysseus, are characterized by the same verb.  In Greek, there’s a verb that means ‘to weave’ used for things like plots and   plans and schemes.  When Odysseus is plotting and planning, he is weaving and Penelope is famously a skilled master weaver.

In Ithaca the land and the territory there is as complex, rich and packed with meaning as the rest of the wider world, as though Homer is giving us equivalence between Odysseus’s wide world and what he sees when he washes up on shore.  This beautiful land of Ithaca is waiting for him. Odysseus spends some time making alliances on the outskirts laying back in the weeds trying to figure out what’s happening in the city. It has taken half of the book to get back there; it’ll take the second half of the book for him to get from the edges of this little area up to the center.

It was relatively simple for him to wash up on the shores of Ithaca. He needs to make his way to a town center which is something that belongs to the people of Ithaca.   He’ll be recognized there as a stranger, someone who doesn’t quite belong, that’s okay   Further inward is the outer courtyard of Odysseus’s house.  A stranger may walk in there somebody who wants to make contact with the household. If a person walks into that space he would be questioned.  The interior rooms of the house; this is the ‘oikos’ or the inner rooms of the house, where Penelope is in   charge.   To make it into that space requires something much more than curiosity on the part of the visitor it requires an invitation. Inside there is an inner room,  Penelope’s bedroom to get is not going to be easy for Odysseus, it will require all the skills that he can muster.   There’s a final point inside the   bedroom, Odysseus’s and Penelope’s bed. He wants to make it to that spot.   That’s going to require all the ingenuity   he’s been able to muster, up till now in   the epic, all the skills, the wits, the game playing will be required.

Before he can get there, he needs some guidance.   Athena is his first guide when he washes up on shore. Earlier when Odysseus washes up on Scheria, he had a guide. Athena is here playing the same role as Nausicaa did.   Odysseus’ immediate response is the same too he instantly comes out with a lie. When Athena asks him who he is and what he is doing there.   He just starts lying instantly.   Athena’s response to this is quite   fascinating, she loves this.

“As his story ended,goddess Athena, gray eyes gleaming, broke into a smile and stroked him with her hand, and now she appeared a woman beautiful, tall and skilled at weaving lovely things. Her words went flying straight toward Odysseus: Any man—any god who met you—would have to be some champion lying cheat to get past  you  for all-round craft and guile! You terrible man,foxy, ingenious, never tired of twists and tricks—so, not even here, on native soil, would you give up those wily tales that warm the cockles of your heart!Come, enough of this now. We’re both old hands at the arts of intrigue.

Extracting Knowledge

Odysseus starts to make connections that are crucial in his finding his way into his own house.   The first connection we see him make is a sad one with his dog that recognized him and then died. He spends time with Eumaeus, the swineherd, who will be crucial as he has a position in the household. With his help Odysseus enters society at the very lowest point.

Xenia is very well practiced here. Eumaeus exercises it in his own humble way appropriate to what he is able to offer.   He offers pig meat not cow, and sheepskin for a bed.  He gives Odysseus a simple cloak.   Odysseus is a good guest, he accepts the gift, they make a connection.   Eumaeus is pretty consistently referred to in  the second person.   Homer says,

You answered the prince, Eumaeus, loyal swineherd.

Eumaus Picture credit: mainlesson.com

That happens several times.   There are a couple of   characters that Homer addresses   in the second person.   These are very well trusted people in the   inner circle of Odysseus’s household.   It suggests some intimacy as though Homer wants us to have a special connection with that person in Odysseus’ house.

Odysseus wants something out of that  connection.   He wants information and he gets it by circuitous routes, mostly via conversation. The two of them go back and forth, weaving the fabric of their social interaction. Odysseus is an   eminent liar and he lies a lot, a long lie that goes on for many pages.   It is a long digression, but Odysseus is trying to make that connection.   Eumaeus then tells Odysseus an important piece of information.

“Many strangers come to visit the island   and approach Penelope.   She welcomes them in and listens for news of Odysseus”

Eumaeus asks Odysseus (in disguise) “Who are you?” That “Who are you?” is similar to that we have heard before it includes questions of name, lineage, origin and background.  Odysseus is persuasive (universal law number two)   he knows his audience. He tells Eumaeus the story that he thinks Eumaeus wants to hear.   It’s something that dovetails with some   aspects of Eumaeus’s own background to make a connection. It is also quite close to the truth.

Universal law number fiveWhen you tell a lie, you should tell a lie that’s close to the truth”.

Odysseus tells a story that is rife with all kinds of adventurous details about being blown from pillar to post, it involves some engagement in Troy, and it talks about the heroes there.  We have lots of detail that maps on to what Odysseus has really experienced. He tells Eumaeus that Odysseus is coming to test his reaction. At the end of this long story though, Eumaeus says

“So much misery, friend! You’ve moved my heart,deeply, with your long tale … such blows, such roving.But one part’s off the mark, I know—you’ll never persuade me—what you say about Odysseus. A man in your condition, who are you,  I ask you, to lie for no good reason? Well I know the truth of my good lord’s return, how the gods detested him, with a vengeance—never letting him go under, fighting Trojans,or die in the arms of loved ones”

The connection, between the two of them, is sealed on this host-guest relationship of Xenia.   Neither one of them is a fool, even Eumaeus, at the low end   of the social totem pole, is not a fool.   So, the connection between them is just getting started.

Meanwhile Telemachus….

Picture credit : bc.edu

While Odysseus is making connections with Eumaeus, Telemachus is still with Menelaus.   Athena appears to him in a dream, a standard   feature of how epic poetry works.  Homer understands that dreams come in the middle of the night. A diety will take a particular form, hover over the person’s head, and say, why are you asleep?   You have a lot to do.  Then the person who has the dream starts to wake up and says, Why am I sleeping?   I need to start worrying and that’s the end.   Dreams bring news that’s supposed to shake your world. This is a turning point for Telemachus

He leaves Menelaus’ palace back through Pylos, and home to Ithaca picking up Theoclymenus on the way.   This is a person has an interesting story, he is running away from his hometown because of blood guilt, and   is trying to find a place to go and he wants passage to Ithaca. Telemachus agrees to take him. In Homeric times the idea of  having a blood guilt because you killed  someone and were therefore in exile didn’t necessarily mean that you were a crazed murderer to be ostracized.   Often it was portrayed as a duel situation where one  aristocrat had to kill another. That was bad for both of them the dead one and the other guy who is now banished from his city. The person   escaping the blood guilt is someone that is a sympathetic character who needs some extra help.

The  name Theoclymenusis interesting.   It is ends with two Greek words meaning someone who listens to, or someone who hears and starts with ‘Theo’ a God.   Theoclymenus has a special relationship with the gods. He is capable of reading signs. Signs are an important theme for us as these books unfold.   A lot of them are going to be signs from the gods but also special human to human kinds of communications and   secret codes that especially Odysseus and   Penelope engage in.   The idea of a stranger from the outside world in Theoclymenus is also mirrored in   Odysseus.   He too is a stranger from the outside  world.

Back in the hut Eumaeus tells his tale. Odysseus listens and is a sympathetic audience and he learns more things about the lay of   the land around his home.   All of this intelligence Odysseus is   gathering in a very subtle way.  He is learning the things he needs   to know, getting prepared the sign readers   are coming in.   Telemachus is on his way back, we’re on   our way to the crucial   moment or the climax of the book.

Reunion Father and Sons

In books thirteen to sixteen, Odysseus is reunited with his native land. He makes connections with people but not quite his own inner circle until book sixteen. He is reunited with his son, Telemachus, in quite a moving scene

There’s a wonderful simile that starts this book off.  Homer uses similes to tremendous effect through the poems in both the Iliad and the Odyssey. They work slightly different in each   epic.   In the Odyssey what we often get is a way   for the, the characters in the story to   change places.   They get compared to things that seem like   other characters should be being compared   to drawing connections inside the stories. For example.   Telemachus comes home and we hear Odysseus looking at him and thinking about him.   Then we have

Straight to the prince he rushed, and   kissed his face, and kissed his shining   eyes.   Both hands, as the tears rolled down his   cheeks.   As a father brimming with love, welcomes   home his darling only son in a warm   embrace, what pain he’s borne for him and   him alone.   Home now, in the tenth year from far   abroad.   So, the loyal swineherd hugged the beaming   prince.   He clung for dear life, covering with   kisses, yes, like one escaped from death.”

At first it seems like it is Odysseus welcoming him like a father.  He’s been gone for a long time.   But Homer put Eumaeus in the place of   Odysseus making him the father.  Odysseus still needs to keep his distance. Eumaeus has a chance to play Odysseus   here and Telemachus has a chance to be Odysseus, too.   Because when Eumaeus welcomes him home, he   welcomes him home like someone who’s been gone for ten years from far abroad.

“Reunion of Odysseus and Telemachus” (photo credit : acsu.buffalo.edu)

Eumaeus  goes off on his mission, and Odysseus is alone with Telemachus. Athena leaves and when she leaves, she gives a wink, she nods and wrinkles her eyebrows at Odysseus.  This wink back and forth between them is a secret sign Telemachus doesn’t see her. Odysseus then reveals himself to   Telemachus and the revelation of father to son is abrupt. Telemachus is confused, doesn’t realize,   wait a minute it can’t really be you.   Then they just break down and embrace. Telemachus quickly mistakes Odysseus for a god, and just like Odysseus did when he washed up on Scheria, he is quick to say   no, I’m not a god.  When a hero is identifying  him or herself, they first disclaim a divine aspect showing deference to the   divinities. Then Odysseus is ready for   business and asks about the suitors.

Eumaeus is taking message from the stranger to Penelope. He is shuttled back and forth with messages between Penelope and Odysseus who continues lying. He can’t walk in and announce himself as that doesn’t work so well, we’ve seen that   in Agamemnon’s case.

There are some points in Penelope’s story that make us wonder about how much Penelope knows and when she knows it.  It seems like she’s moving along this   course of events not just as a passive   player but as a very active player.


1 Comment

  1. […] The Odyssey – Books nine to sixteen (louisecharente.wordpress.com) […]

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