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The Odyssey Reading Club -- Entry 10 -- Thoughts, Questions, and Ideas on Book II

Book III! We leave Ithaca! We meet Nestor, one of the surviving heroes of Troy! And he talks...God does he talk...

As with my previous wrap-ups, this is going to be rather disjointed, so please bear with me.

Yeah. Nestor. He's pretty much the archetypal grandfather in some way. A full generation (or more) older than Odysseus, even in The Iliad, he's presented as a wise old man, and that's a full decade before his appearance here. He's seen a great deal of the world, and in doing so he has became wise. The stories he tells could have been put in the mouth of any number of characters, but Nestor alone can give us, for lack of a better term, the morals contained within. He knows not only what happened, but, more importantly, why certain things happened the way they did.

Of course, the centerpiece story, one of several ghosts that appear (sometimes literally) throughout the course of The Odyssey, is that of Agamemnon, greatest of kings, brought low by an unfaithful wife. Every time we get the story, we get a bit more shading. Here, Nestor focuses on the fact that, since Agamemnon's brother Menelaus was delayed in getting home, Aegisthus had no one (save an easily removed bard) standing between him and both Clytemnestra and the throne. I can't help but wonder if the tremendous amount of respect the Ithacans have for Odysseus is aiding Penelope in her attempts to keep the suitors at bay. We're told repeatedly how just, wise, and kind a ruler Odysseus was while on the throne. Just as Penelope is no Clytemnestra, it seems that Odysseus is no Agamemnon who needs a brother to protect him and his dominion. Again, differences in character yield differences in fate.

It is worth noting, though, that Nestor explicitly warns Telemachus to return home after visiting Menelaus. Don't dally, he says, go home and guard what you have--echoing the old nurse's admonition from Book II.

There's a whole lot of sacrificing going on, too. I mean, a lot of it. After the large feast held in honor of Poseidon, Nestor commands another one for the next day after Athena makes her presence known. Again, Nestor is old and wise, and he knows that to have a god in disguise dine with you demands a truly spectacular sacrifice. He literally has a bull's horns gilded, just to make it prettier. Interestingly enough, Telemachus plays no role in this sacrifice to Athena. Instead, he's off getting bathed, not by a servant, but by Nestor's youngest daughter. Think about that for a minute.

I like what it says about the relationship Athena has with Odysseus, and, by extension, with Telemachus that he *doesn't* participate in the sacrifice. It's almost of if their bond is so strong, it doesn't need to be reinforced by ritual. This is further explored by the earlier scene where Telemachus (contrary to what Nestor had just said), makes the claim that the gods could not grant his wishes, even if they wanted to. Athena (as Mentor) could have raged at this. Instead, she merely rebukes him--almost like a parent correcting a favorite child. She chides him, yes, but still favors him. She also, by piping up and then shortly revealing herself as a goddess (which must have really freaked everybody out), implicitly lets everyone know that Odysseus is still alive and indeed is still being watched and guided by the gods. After all, would she be guiding his son so carefully just to find news of how his father died? Possibly...but it seems unlikely. Also, is it coincidence that Telemachus doesn't speak again after Athena reveals herself? There are several ways of reading this, I suppose, but I favor the idea that there's simply nothing left for him to say--to say anything of his journey and his quest, after being revealed to be the favorite of the goddess, would surely come off as boastful or petty, wouldn't it?

I also like the fact that Athena then goes off to God-knows-where, and leaves Telemachus to get on with his visit to Sparta. I'm not entirely sure what to make of it, but it seems that she now knows he is among friends and will be seen immediately (and, more importantly heard) as his father's true son. Again, the respect for and memory of Odysseus is guarding, protecting, and guiding Telemachus wherever he goes, so she can leave him to complete his journey without her. We also, for the first time in the story, see Telemachus meet a comrade of his own age, and, almost as important, of his own class. Two sons of kings, setting of on the road to meet Menelaus, and his wife...Helen of Sparta. Ooh...Book IV!!!!

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It's quotation time!

"This was the prayer of Athena-- / granted in every particular by herself." lines 67-68, Fitzgerald translation.

I've checked this line in all three versions I'm consulting, and in every one, the meaning is the same. Athena, disguised as Mentor, is outwardly praying to Poseidon, but inwardly granting those prayers herself. Again, the importance of receiving guest well is stressed, for those guests may be the very gods to whom you pray. Nifty, that.

"His mother bore this man to be wretched." line 95, Lattimore translation.

That's Odysseus in a nutshell, that is.

"poor fool, he never dreamed Athena would not comply. / The minds of the everlasting gods don't change so quickly." lines 162-3, Fagles translation.

Such a brief, yet revealing portrait of Agamemnon. He knows that he and his men have inspired Athena's wrath (see my glossary for Book III if you're unsure as to why--it certainly is dealt with very elliptically here), but he still thinks he can make everything better by a quick sacrifice. Nestor's commentary here makes it clear that, unlike himself, Agamemnon did not know how to seek favor with Olympus.

"it is good, when a man has perished, to have a son left / after him ... So you too, dear friend, for I see you are tall and splendid, / be brave, too, so that men unborn may speak well of you." lines 196-7 & 199-200, Lattimore.

Our life's goal in Homeric times--to have children to continue our legacy and to be spoken of well after our death. Has it really changed much in 3000 years? I doubt it. Ungender the terms and change brave to the more encompassing "great," and I think it's still pretty much the same.

And again, I love the last line so much you're getting a three-peat.

"And the sun set, and all the journeying ways were darkened." line 497, Lattimore.

"As the sun sank and the roads of the world grew dark." line 557, Fagles

"Behind them / the sun went down and all the roads grew dark." lines 541-2. Fitzgerald.

Isn't it just lovely?

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