The Odyssey of Homer (Journal 8)
Class Period (LKH 257; Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017; 11:00am to 12:30pm)
A friend of Dr. Sandridge had sent him a new book called The War Nerd Iliad by John Dolan. Dr. Sandridge said this was one of the perks of his job, and was one of the reasons why he didn’t want a job where he would be earning too much money: earning too much money can only come from working long hours, and he would not be able to read as much as he liked to. The War Nerd Iliad is supposed to be the Iliad in prose. Dr. Sandridge read the class a passage, and the book started from Chryseis’ perspective. She remembered her homeland and how the Greeks had raided her city, killing all the men, including her baby brother. She also remembered that the Trojans, who were their allies, were unable to come to their aid that day. This first chapter is titled two kings, one army. From the get go, this tells us that the book is quite different from the original Iliad. Even though I understand what he is trying to do — he is saying that the Achaian army was under two influences (Achilles and Agamemnon — this is not what Homer was trying to do. Homer wanted to show Achilles’ menis, and only gave few mortal women (Andromache, Hekabe, Helen, Briseis) a speaking role. Dolan also calls the Achaians the Greeks, something that Homer never did.
We went on to discuss what we felt the role of the book was. Dr. Sandridge said that he was conflicted about books like that. On one hand, books like this one could help make the Iliad and other classical works relatable to the general public and make the classics less elitist. On the other hand, it could stray far from the original and people may not be encouraged to read the original and compare the two. He also asked to what extent the book might teach about Homer’s Iliad and ancient Greece. I felt that the book would not teach much about the Iliad. Maybe it would stay true to the bones of the Iliad, but the rest could differ greatly. It might however teach a great deal about ancient Greek society. Another point that was made was that the Iliad leaves room for interpretation (but I think only if you have a good teacher), while John Dolan’s book tells you how to interpret the book. For instance, from the passage we read, Agamemnon came across as a horrible person. But when we read the Iliad, we realized that there were many sides to be. Basically, the book could make the characters of the Iliad one-dimensional when they are not, stopping readers from developing the theory of mind and empathy that we did while reading the Iliad.
The setting of the Iliad and that of the Odyssey differ greatly. The setting of the Iliad was the battlefield, the plain were everything went down (even the gods fought there). The settings of the Odyssey are palace life or domestic life, and life on the sea. Next, we talked about the Phaiakians and their characteristics. For starters, they were an isolated people, which would explain why their hospitality was a bit off. When Odysseus came to ask for help from Arete, it wasn’t until Echeneos told Alkinoos to sit him that he did. This isolation meant that there was inbreeding in the community. Prime example: Alkinoos married his niece, Arete (to keep the royal line pure). They had no knowledge of sea-faring. At first, this confused me because I felt that they were adventurous, transporting people from one place to another. But Dr. Sandridge made the distinction that for the Phaiakians, travel was about the destination and not the journey. They also didn’t face any hardships in their sea-faring, because their transportation was so sophisticated. The Phaiakians were also matriarchal, because Arete was a known leader among them. She was said to dissolve disputes, which Dr. Sandridge said is one of the oldest forms of leadership, even in hunter-gatherer societies.
Books 9 to 12 (ILab; Sunday, October 22, 2017; 2:00pm to 7:00pm)
After Alkinoos asked Odysseus to tell them who he was, Odysseus started by telling them his name, and what country he was from. He said that he did not know anything that was more pleasant than one’s own homeland. He stated that he had been detained by both Calypso and Circe, two nymphs, on their islands. But neither of them could persuade him to stay because he longed to go back home.
After he left Troy, he and his companions sailed to the island of the Kikonians on Ismaros. He and his men killed the people on the outer parts of the island and looted their land. He ordered his men to retreat after they had sacked the city, but they refused. This made me ask what type of leader Odysseus was. He commanded his men to do something and they did not. I think that if it was Agamemnon, he would have ordered the deaths of those who disobeyed him. Maybe Odysseus is a more lenient and democratic leader. He allows his men to do as they wish (allowing them free will). It could also be that he is unable to control his men, and they have no respect for him (this is a less likely option). News reached the Kikonians living on the inner parts of the island, and they attacked Odysseus and his men. The Kikonians killed 6 men from each of Odysseus’s ships. The rest of them managed to escape. After Ismaros, they went to the island of the lotus eaters. They stayed on the shore for a while, after which Odysseus sent some men to scout the island. The lotus eaters offered the men some of the lotus, a plant with hallucinogenic effects. The men did not want to return to the ships after that. Odysseus had to go on the island and drag them back for them to sail off again.
The toughest journey Odysseus had in book 9 was on the island of the Cyclopes. When they first got to the island, they found it to be a lush place with wild goats and no agriculture. The Cyclopes did not grow anything, but ate what they found in the wild (so they were hunter-gatherers). Odysseus explained their way of life: they did not live together as a community, but in individual families (nuclear families). They did not have any council of elders or advisors who could make decisions for them, and they did not interact with each other. They were not adventurers because they had no ships. Odysseus and his men beached their ships on the harbor. They went hunting and got wild goats for their meal. The following day, Odysseus called an assembly and picked 12 men to go with him to explore the land and find out who the inhabitants were. He carried some provisions, in particular a bag of black wine given to him by Maron, a priest of Apollo when they sacked the city of the Kikonians. Only Maron, his wife and one housekeeper knew how to make the wine, and when he wanted to drink it, he would take one cup and mix it with twenty cups of water. The story of Odysseus and the Cyclops is one that many know about, even if they haven’t read the Odyssey.
There are many reasons why Odysseus told his story to the Phaiakians. For starters, maybe he wanted to tell all his trials to them so that he could have a listening ear. Sometimes, we really don’t want people to give us a solution to our problems. We just want to talk and get stuff off our chest. During times like these, we just want a silent, listening ear, which is what the Phaiakians are for most of Odysseus story. He could also have told the story to get more sympathy from them, to make them pity him and then provide support for him. A third reason is that he wanted to show off his travels and gain reputation for it. There was no way he could gain kleos for an untold story. He had to tell them the story so that they could marvel at all that he had done and overcome. Then they too could tell other generations what they had heard. In this way, his legacy would live on.
Class Period (LKH 257; Tuesday, October 24, 2017; 11:00am to 12:30pm)
Dr. Sandridge started class by fielding questions about the books we had read. I asked if there was any geographical truth to the Odyssey, just like the Phaiakians were actual people. He replied that people have actually mapped out the route Odysseus took: the island of the Cyclops is said to be in Sicily. But there is no or very little truth about the culture and people who lived in those areas in the Odyssey. I was asking because I thought the poet’s stories about those places could be based on something he had heard. Previously, we said that the epics are like a game of telephone. I thought it was possible that the Greeks had heard of some far off people who had some eccentric traits, and as time went on, the Greeks made them out to be something else. But I guess that would be difficult to ascertain. Dr. Sandridge said that the Odyssey differs from the Iliad because of how fantastical it is.
Saada had a comment about how Odysseus’ wind bag from Aiolos was used in other movies and stories, like Sponge bob and Percy Jackson. Dr. Sandridge called this reception studies, how the classics are used in modern times. Dr. Sandridge made an example of Dear White People, where the dean referenced the Odyssey while speaking to his son. People often use the classics in the modern world because they are seen as prestige items, and referencing them or talking about them gives you clout or a reputation. In Virgil’s Aeneid is reception because several parts of it, such as when Aeneas goes to the underworld, are taken directly from the Odyssey.
Dr. Sandridge asked what our favorite part of Odysseus’ journey was. Mine was the lotus eaters, because I felt it was very contemporary. The lotus eaters were high all day, every day. I was thinking of the Make Love, Not War period when almost everyone was into marijuana and psychedelics. Dr. Sandridge also made a connection to the Vietnam War when people would have pot parties to help them escape, temporarily, from all that they had seen during the war. Dr. Sandridge also said that TV could be the lotus, because many people now use TV as an escape, binge watching dramas etc. I thought that was a nice connection to make.
After all this, we looked at a passage from the Odyssey in both Greek and English. This was definitely my favorite part of class. I don’t know why, but I enjoyed it. It was fun to look at the words in Greek and decide which English word it was. We also made out the Greek alphabet using all the recognizable proper nouns that we found in the Greek translation.
Books 13 & 14 (HPT West; Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2017; 6:15pm to 9:45pm)
After Odysseus had narrated all his trials, everyone was speechless at first (I would be too). Then Alkinoos said that Odysseus would soon be on his way home. But first, he asked all the elders and men who were in attendance to each give Odysseus a tripod and a cauldron. Everyone went home for the night and returned with their gifts the next day. They held a feast and Demodokos sang, but Odysseus could not wait for nightfall so that he could be on his way. It is here that we learn that the Phaiakians travel at night. I guess this makes sense: it would be weird in those days for someone to see a really sophisticated ship. He asked Alkinoos to pour libations and let him go because he had received all he wanted, which was gifts and conveyance to his home. Dr. Sandridge already explained that part of Odysseus’ (or anyone’s) fame and reputation as a traveller was the gifts that they received from their hosts. It symbolizes the connections that they made and the distance that they had travelled. I know that in modern times, it would be considered quite ill-mannered to be so dogged about wanting gifts from your host. The hosts were supposed to give it to you from the goodness of their hearts, not because they were obligated to, and the guest is supposed to be surprised and happy about it, which is not the way Odysseus’ comes across. He seems to feel entitled to the gifts, actually.
After Alkinoos made libations, Odysseus offered his goblet to Arete and left. Alkinoos sent his herald Pontinoos to show him the way and Arete sent her maidservants to carry the gifts and clothes for Odysseus. Odysseus’ escorts put the gifts away and gave him a cover and beddings to sleep on. They set off and Odysseus fell into a gentle sleep, one the poet wrote was almost like death. The poet also wrote the ship was so fast even the falcon would not outpace it. The ship got to the harbor of the Old Man (Phorkys) in Ithaka, just before dawn. They quietly set sleeping Odysseus and all his gifts under an olive tree and started the journey back home. This has to be the best way to travel! Last class, Dr. Sandridge said that the modern equivalent of the Phaiakians ship would be the private jet. Poseidon was unhappy with what they had done, having not forgotten the threats he made to make Odysseus’ journey home as stressful as he could. Zeus told him to do as he wished to punish the Phaiakians for helping Odysseus. He said he would strike the returning ship and cover the city with a mountain, a very harsh punishment. Zeus told him to forgo the latter punishment, which he did. When the Phaiakian ship was almost at shore, it turned to stone. Alkinoos remembered the prophecy that had been made about Poseidon’s anger. He immediately called for the dedication of 12 bulls to Poseidon and declared that they would stop transporting people. My question is why Zeus did not protect them from Poseidon’s anger. Zeus was the god of xenia, and if anyone or any people embodied the trait, it was the Phaiakians. I don’t know that I would go as far as taking my guest to their house. Maybe the metro, but not their house. I thought that Zeus could have consoled Poseidon with something else, or convinced him to let go of his anger.
When Odysseus awoke, he didn’t recognize where he was. He was angry because he thought the Phaiakians had dropped him in some unknown land. The first thing he did, which seemed very materialistic, was to count his gifts to make sure that the escorts did not take any. He met Athena in the form of a young boy, who told him that he was in Ithaka and he rejoiced. Odysseus then cooked up some story about being an exile from Crete. He really knows how to protect his hide. Then Athena changed to her actual form and chided him for his cunning ways. Together, they put his gifts away and plotted destruction for the suitors. Athena changed Odysseus into an old man and instructed him to find his swineherd, Eumaios, while she went to bring Telemachos back from Sparta.
There are many definitions of the word “civilization.” One definition is that it is the highest or most advanced stage of any society, and a second states that it is the society, culture, and way of life of a particular area. I find the second more appealing than the first. The first definition gives people grounds to claim superiority. The Greeks, especially the Athenians, considered anyone other than them to be barbarians. The European colonizers of Africa, Asia and the Americas felt that they were more civilized and could take over land and country that was not theirs. This elitism still exists today in how we refer to many indigenous cultures as primitive (I think that is a horrible word). Many of the people that Odysseus came across in his journey had customs and ways of living, a communal shared life. Now, they may have been hostile to foreigners, but this does not mean that they were not civilized. The only group that I would call uncivilized are the Cyclopes because they did not share anything and lived apart from each other, with minimal interaction.
I felt that Odysseus’ trip to the underworld made him similar to Herakles. Herakles also went to the underworld and returned. But unlike Herakles, who was strong and had no fear, Odysseus showed fear. It makes sense for Herakles to not know fear: he was a demigod. But Odysseus wasn’t, and that it makes sense for him to be afraid. However, he overcame that fear and carried out the work he was instructed to. His stint in the underworld also shows how much he valued family. He tried to hug his mother three times and failed three times. Agamemnon and Achilles also ask after their family members (Orestes, Neoptolemos and Peleus), showing in a way that it was important to have people to survive them. Also, he learnt that all are equal in death, just like Achilles said in Book 9 of the Iliad, by seeing Agamemnon, Achilles, Patroklos, and Ajax, all great men, grieving in the underworld. From Achilles, I think he learnt to value a long stress-free life over a short one with glory and a legacy after death. Achilles said:
“O shining Odysseus, never try to console me for dying. I would rather follow the plow as a thrall to another man, one with no land allotted him and not much to live on, than be a king over all the perished dead.”