The Wonderful World of Greek Literature (Week 3 of The Odyssey)

October 20, 2015

Hours 000–1.5

In-Class Discussions

As we delve our way into the third week of our discussion pertaining to the Odyssey, we make a transition from the Telemacheia to Odysseus, and his struggles to get home from Ogygia. In class, we discussed the Telemacheia in its entirety mostly concentrating on hospitality (xenia), the idea of Odysseus’ journey (hodos), Odysseus as a man (his character traits such as his sophrosune, how he was an Outis; a nobody), Nestor (the help he offered Telemachus through his xenia). We also contrasted the relationship that exists between Helen and Menelaus after the Trojan war. We learned key terms such as protean, which pertains to Proteus (a creator Menelaus had to trap on his journey home from Troy, and it’s ability to change forms from a snake, lion, boar and even bursting fountains).

Hours 1.5–3.5

Required readings: Book 5 Summary

In the previous book, we left off at the point where back in Ithaca, the suitors had learned of Telemachus’ absence and they’d devised a plan of attack lead by Antinous. Penelope as a mother had fretted over such possible attack and in response, she prays to the gods for an intervention. In the beginning of book 5, the gods are gathered on Mount Olympus in a council with the absence of Poseidon. Athena once again makes a plea to her father and the gods on Odysseus’ behalf. Zeus, in his response decides to send his son Hermes (Argeiphontes) to Odysseus’ rescue. Binding on his magic sandals Hermes makes his way to Ogygia over strong waves to persuade or order Calypso regarding the decision of the gods. Hermes finds the nymph at her hearth in a forest of cedar smoke and thyme. He is welcomed and shown xenia by the nymph but soon after, Calypso is perturbed by the news that Hermes brings. She’s furious that the gods are jealous of the love she has for Odysseus as a mortal and how Hermes delivers the news in saying that he takes no pleasure in crossing the desolate seas. As Zeus is the god king, Calypso has no other option but to adhere to the king’s wishes. The nymph goes to find Odysseus to offer him the news of the gods. She finds him at his usual spot for lamentation and offers to set him free but Odysseus is in disbelief and holds that it’s a trick by the goddess. Through this book, the love Odysseus has for Penelope is made known as well as being homesick (“ . . . as always, / wrenching his heart with sobs and groans and anguish, / gazing out over the barren sea through blinding tears” (5.93–95)). Calypso offers Odysseus equipment to build a raft as well as supplies to get him home without an escort. She offers Odysseus another chance to say no, to a journey home (“If I told you that there’s heartbreak and shipwreck in store,” asks the goddess, “would you trade immortality and me for that mortal wench?”). Once again Odysseus shows the love for Penelope and the need to get home by resisting( “Yes, though she’s nothing in comparison to your radiant self, I’d gladly endure what the sea deals out.” “Very well then, you may go.”). Odysseus is in disbelief and contends that the goddess is trying to trick him, as he, himself, is full of tricks. The goddess swear by Styx to make him believe the truth in what she’s saying, and hence he joins the preparations to make sail. He’s instructed to keep Orion and his fellow constellations to his left along his journey. After seventeen days of sailing, he’s noticed by Poseidon, who is returning from a journey to Ethiopia. He announces to make the journey for Odysseus memorable. With his trident in hand, he stirs the open sea with a fury as well as squalls which tears the sails of Odysseus’ raft. He’s counseled by Leucothea, who appears as a bird to make for shore with a charm she provides but Odysseus is hesitant to hold onto the raft which Poseidon soon destroys. He wraps the talisman veil around his waist as instructed and at shore, he’s required to throw it back into the sea. He comes to rest on the island of Scheria which houses the Phaecians.

Questions pertaining to book

  1. How would you describe the relationship between Menelaus and Helen after returning from the Trojan War? Are they in love? Are they close to one another?How does Calypso compare to the other goddesses in the Iliad or Athena in the Odyssey? What are her motives? How does she influence the plot of the Odyssey?
  2. How strongly does Odysseus want to go home at this point in the story? What to you explains his desire to go home?

The relationship between Menelaus and Helen in my opinion seems to be a cordial wife and husband relationship without too much emphasis placed on love. They seem not to be in love but tolerate each other for appearances sake. They’re not that close to each as book four depicts with Menelaus shift of the conversation between them and Telemachus. Menelaus is heard in the previous book taking the focus away from what Helen in that he portrays Odysseus brilliant plan instead of talking about what Helen did in Troy.

Calypso as a goddess is no different from the other goddess. She is egocentric and only cares about having her way, which she goes to great lengths to effect. She even lies to make the plan to set Odysseus free her own even after she’s ordered by Zeus to set him free. Her motives seems to want to keep Odysseus for himself just as the men gods are able to keep for themselves sexual partners. Her influence in the plot seems to revolve around human equality regarding the sexes. She wants to be able to do what the other men gods do with her advocacy for equality in the treatment of mortals.

As already made known, in earlier paragraphs, Odysseus is very much homesick and wants to go home badly. Besides being homesick, the most important thing to note here is the love he shares with his wife Penelope. He’s willing to even refuse the possibility of becoming an immortal as offered by Calypso to go back to his wife. He refuses the charms and the beauty by both Circe and Calypso to be able to make it home to his wife.

October 21, 2015

Hours 3.5–4.5

Required readings: Book 6 Summary

Athena appears in a dream to the princess of Scheria. In her dream, she’s wonders about her wedding day, and as such she’s supposed to go by the river in the city to wash her wedding gown. In reality, she decides to do what is modest, by asking to go and wash her household’s linen with her maids. While at the river, after washing and bathing, she and her maidens play and the noise wakes Odysseus, who has been in a slumber from the treacherous journey he’s made thus far. Upon waking up, he quickly covers his nakedness from the princess and her maidens with an olive branch. On discovery the maidens take off afraid but the princess Nausicaa, remains. Odysseus is torn between being suppliant by touching the princess on the knees or with words. He decides to use words so not to offend the princess. He commends the Nausicaa on her bravery and beauty. Odysseus gets offered a great deal of hospitality by the princess in that, she offers him food and clothing as well as oil to anoint himself. After all is said and done, the princess gives Odysseus instructions on how to get to town so he can supplicate her mother for help to get home. She however doesn’t allow Odysseus to follow her to the palace so as to give people of the city a wrong impression of herself. With further assistance from Athena, Odysseus is made very wholesome where even the princess is taken a liking to him by thinking to herself a wish for a husband like him.

  1. How does Nausicaa compare to Calypso and Penelope?
  2. Are the Phaeacians heroic? Is there king a good leader?

Compared to Calypso, Nausicaa seems to be very generous without having an ulterior motive. She is seen instructing Odysseus on how to reach the palace to supplicate her mother but doesn’t want to be seen with him even though she’s taking a liking to him. In comparison to Penelope, Nausicaa offers hospitality but she’s brave enough to avoid been made a fool of. She offers a humane side but resists the temptation of having Odysseus take advantage of her hospitality by following her to the palace.

The Phaeacians in my opinion are heroic, in that, they offer help to all who they deem worthy of such help. They have a good leader in Alcinous who is wise enough to move them after a war to a place where they have everything in abundance. They’re even seen to be of the fighter type but instead they expend their talents on sports and the likes.

October 22, 2015

In Class Discussion

Hours 4.5–6.0

On this particular day, Dr. Sanbridge gave a very good sermon using Susan Ingold’s book as a tool to reach us the students. He spoke on the “Hungry Mind” and what it entails. The take-away from this lecture was how we should learn through our years of education to be able to apply ourselves and not just to memorize and spit out information. He made a correlation of how interests change and how such changes can be managed using what we actually learn in school. We also discussed a little about the “No child left behind Act”.

October 23, 2015

Hours 6.0 — Infinity

Books 7–10 Summary

Odysseus now following the instructions given him by Nausicaa waits to enter the city. He asks for directions and Athena appears as a little girl to give it, while also shielding him with a fog to be able to make it pass all sentries. While in the palace, Odysseus supplicates the queen with such great honor that he’s offered assistance by both the queen and the king to return him home. They hold a banquet in his honor, as well as games which he later partakes. The Phaeacians show him enormous hospitality by even offering him gold which collected and made ready for his departure. While at the banquet, Demodocus is asked to entertain through singing, and he sings of the Trojan war and its heroes. Odysseus is saddened by the entertainment and begins to sob, which prompts king Alcinous to believe that Odysseus might be a Greek hero after all. The king declares a holiday the next day in favor of Odysseus. Games are held to celebrate the day, but during the games Broadsea embarrasses the king by taunting Odysseus regarding his manhood with regards to sports. The Ithacan hero proves himself by hurling discus further than any of the Phaecians. This once again goes to prove to the people Odysseus might but he still maintains to keep his true identity hidden. In book 7, the queen questions Odysseus on how he came to wear clothes that were sown for her household, and he proclaims it was Nausicaa who offered him such great hospitality. Odysseus after all is said and then, reveals his identity and tells of his story but one. He discusses his journey from Troy to Ismarus, where his men sacked the city but yet waited for the Cicones to gather reinforcements to attack them, which left a few of his men dead. From the land of Ismarus, Zeus pushes them by pushing them on the seas to the Island of the Lotus-eaters. On this Island, three of his men eat of the lotus which causes a lack of desire to journey home. He gathers said men and tie them down and make for the seas again. This time around, the sail to the land of the Cyclops. Upon arrival, they rest inside Polyphemus, one of the cyclops cave and enjoy some of his food while they wait on him to show them hospitality. Polyphemus arrives and through questioning, Odysseus figures out that he’s not about hospitality and in fact, plans to eat them. He devours two of the men for dinner and breakfast and as a reward promises to eat Odysseus last. It is when Odysseus offers him some strong wine, which the uncouth cyclops drinks in abundance. He gets drunk on the strong wine and Odysseus devises a plan to poke his lonely one, and use him to escape his cave. When asked who his was, Odysseus tells the Polyphemus that he is called Outis, which means a nobody. When they injure the cyclop and he yells for help, he can only tell his comrades that it is nobody that hurting him. Without help from his comrades, Odysseus and his men escape the cyclops cave when he releases his herd of sheep to go out and feed. The men of Odysseus and himself hide under the bellies of the sheeps to make their way out of Polyphemus cave. While out and on their ships escaping, Odysseus once again foolishly yells to the cyclop that it is he, Odysseus of Ithaca, son of Laertes who hurt him. The cyclops hurls a boulder which almost causes damage as well as derail their ship but they manage to escape. With Odysseus giving up his name, Polyphemus consults his father, Poseidon, god of the seas to ask for his revenge. Their next stop is the Island of Aeolus, where the keeper of the winds resides. On this Island, Odysseus and his men entertain the Keeper of the Winds with stories of Troy for some time. After a while, the god decides to give them favorable winds that would send them home, but he places other winds stored in an ox-skin pouch on their ship. After sailing for days on in, the men can finally see the horizon to Ithaca. Odysseus takes leave and decides to get some rest via sleep. His men discover the pouch of ox-skin and they deliberate among themselves if it was treasure that Odysseus was keeping for himself. They open the pouch and they’re blown by the winds in the pouch back to the Island of Aeolus. This time around the god refuses to help them because he believes it is Odysseus and his men destiny to suffer. Odysseus and his men once again set sail and this time they arrive in Laestrygonia, where they’re attacked on arrival. He devises a plan to help his men but most of them die and only one ship is safe to escape. This lonely ship sails to the Island of Circe, where upon arrival, he divides his men into two companies to do reconnaissance. During this recon, the goddess Circe had offered Odysseus men some food and wine to drink. She had placed in the wine, some enchanted potion, which by her wand turns the men into swine. The only one safe is Eurylochus who refuses the hospitality based on his premonitions that something might be wrong. He returns to tell Odysseus of what had happened. Before Odysseus makes his way to find out for himself, he’s provided with a counter potion and instructions on how to resist and fight Circe to surrender. His fellows Hermes’ instructions and he succeeds in making Circe turn his men back into human from the previous swine. Odysseus somehow after going through such an ordeal with Circe welcomes her hospitality and forgets about going home. He’s is now reminded by his men after some months to start their journey again.

Reading Assignment Questions.

  1. Why does Odysseus agree to tell his story to the Phaeacians?
  2. What does it mean to be “civilized”? Are the people that Odysseus encounters in his wanderings civilized? Why or why not?

I think Odysseus finally agrees to tell of his story to the Phaeacians because they’d gone above and beyond their duties to make him feel like the hero he is with their hospitality. I also share belief that, during Demodocus’ entertainment session, he might have told of the story of the Trojans in an incomplete manner and as a hero to the war, he felt it in his place by way of pride to make things right. Since they were going to help send him home, it was only right that he made himself known as to who they were really dealing with in compliance to showing them respect in return for their deeds.

The Greek culture in regards to hospitality dictates that a stranger to welcomed with open arms and treated with respect. This is due in part to the belief that it might be a god disguised in some form to test the people for whom he visits. A contrast I can derive here comes from everyone else and the Cyclops. They believe crudely in a manner not consistent with everyone else the Greeks have encountered during their journey home. The Cyclops share a common belief that they’re on the same level or perhaps bigger than the gods and hence they don’t have to show them reverence be it in disguise or in their true form.