- Homer’s Odyssey, Books 13–14
- What does it mean to be “civilized”? Are the people that Odysseus encounters in his wanderings civilized? Why or why not?
To be civilized is live in a social society, with social institutions, and political culture. It is to recognize that you belong to a larger and greater group of people, and that group of people and their institutions act in the interest of the greater good of society. In recent history, western society has had a monopoly on what was deemed “civilized.” White westerners were successful in deeming other people, such as Africans, and Indigenous people across the globe as “uncivilized,” which gave them justification for genocide and slavery. There is a process of “un-civilizing” people which is known as othering. This is done on the basis of religion, culture, physical features, and more. Also, being considered uncivilized is often simply being foreign of unfamiliar to a group of people.
In the case of Odysseus’ journey, the people that he met were very civilized. A recurring theme in the Odyssey is hospitality. The Phaeacians, especially the royal family showed him great hospitality. They allowed him a place to stay, invited him to great feasts, and the king even offered his daughter’s hand in marriage. They also were integral in his journey home by giving him the means to do so with a ship. I would say that a very important theme of civilization is also hospitality. How a person or society treats strangers and foreigners tells a lot about their values a “civilization” and that is why Zeus was so big on hospitality and would punish cities that did not display proper zenia.
2. Odysseus goes to the underworld to find out how to get home. But what else does he learn in the process, about himself, about how the world works, or about what’s important in life?
Odysseus encounters many familiar faces in the underworld. He runs into soldiers he fought with in the Trojan war, Tiresias, and his mother. His mother helps him get his priorities straight and realize what is and what isn’t important. She is a sobering moment in his eventful chaotic life. She also tells him how when he was off to the Trojan war, she died of grief, because she missed her son so much. She made him realize the importance of family and how he needed to do everything he could in is power to get back to his homeland. He also left his wife and son for the war and they could have suffered the same fate as his mother. This encounter with his mother also gives insight on how during war, you leave people behind. When a warrior leaves, people and loved ones may be alive, when a warrior comes back, if he comes back, those people may be gone, dead, or something else may have happened to them. When a person is off at war, the world does not stop.
During his encounter with Tiresias, he is foretold his fate. He is reassured that he will make it home and he will indeed punish the suitors that have tried to ruin his home. He will make a sacrifice and he will die a peaceful death in his sleep. This new must have made Odysseus feel at ease. Certainly a fortune teller in the underworld could not have been wrong, right? Lol
My father served in the navy for 18 years. This could be considered his great odyssey. He left home at age 25 and traveled all over the world. He met people, made friends and family, got to experience other cultures and “civilizations” and more. This was a transformative and rewarding experience for him that changed his life. It was also a very reflective period in his life that allowed him to find himself, what was important, and who was important. He eventually came back home for good. He used to tell me of the great excitement and nestos that he would experience while being away.
Sometimes you have to go away and go through a struggle to realize what is most important in life. At this point of my life, I feel like I am on an Odyssey, not yet trying to find my way back home, but trying to find out what is important to me. I haven’t lived at home in over 5 years. I have been out exploring the world as much as possible. From New York, to Cuba, to Haiti, to South Africa. As I discussed earlier, home may not be the place that you are from. I may discover a new home. I may discover how much I miss my original home. Nonetheless, this is a journey that is worth taking and one that gives my life purpose and value.
Day Twenty (October 26)
Assignments (all assignments begin at the end of the class day on which they are assigned and must be completed by the beginning of the next class):
- Read Homer’s Odyssey, Book 15–17
- How do you know when you’re “home,” other than the fact that you’re in a familiar physical space? How does Homer capture Odysseus’ feelings about being home?
You know you’re home for several different reasons. Your people will embrace you and tell you what you have missed since you’ve been gone. This happens to me whenever I go home for breaks during school. I always have to get caught up on what’s been happening with my family, my neighborhood, and my city. The news is both good and bad most of the time. You can’t help but feel the need to attached to the events have occurred, so you end up asking yourself “would this have happened if I was here?” Usually when I come back home I feel mentally and emotionally at ease. There is a soothing calm like still water that takes over my psyche. I know I’m home when I can eat the food that is native to my soul. Home cooking is usually the first thing that I confirms that I am indeed at home. Home cooked meals is usually what a person craves the most when he or she is away from home. Also, home does not necessarily equate to a place where you grew up. Home is where the heart is. Home is wherever you feel that you belong. Howard University is my “home” because it has nurtured me in a very crucial epoch of my life. Cuba also feels like my home. I visited for 2 weeks and made very special bonds with the Cuban people. They treated me with great xenia, so centuries from now, when there is about to be a great duel between two great warriors, they will boast their lineages before battle and once they realize they have ties, the conflict will be resolved. South Africa is another place where I feel is my home. I visited with the YAALI program at Howard and I also experiences great xenia. But sometimes you have to leave your home or homeland because as the great poet and musician Gil Scott Heron proclaimed, “home is where the hatred is” also.
Homer captures Odysseus’s feelings about home through a dialogue between him and Eumaios about the history of Ithaca. It’s obviously hard for Odysseus to maintain his disguise. Odysseus is extremely passionate about his homeland and aspires to take it back and restore order as he knew it.