Skip to main content

The Odyssey Reading Club -- Entry 34: Thoughts on Book XIV

Welcome back! I know we're already moved on to Book XV in the schedule, but I haven't shared my thoughts on Book XIV yet, darn it, so I'm going to do so now. But, seeing as how this is well behind, I will be (hopefully) brief.

This is a lovely scene, really--and it essentially is one long scene, featuring the disguised Odysseus and Eumaeus talking, eating, and becoming friends. Of course, Eumaeus does not know that the disguised stranger is his beloved master Odysseus, but he nevertheless treats him as well, insofar as he is able, as have any of the great kings as Odysseus has encountered on his travels.

Which is one of the weird things about this section, really. Odysseus has returned home, but he has not yet had his return, his nostoi. The suitors are still plaguing his house, a topic about which his loyal swineherd is most upset, and his son, Telemachus, is still across the ocean, about to encounter an ambush. In a strange way, this need for secrecy and discretion turns this initial period in Ithaca into just another of the long series of stops along his journey where Odysseus has thrown himself at the mercy of his host. Odysseus is back on his native soil, but he is not yet home. Indeed, it will still be quite some time before Odysseus will be known to all as having returned in glory.

So we see Odysseus living by his wits--again. This time spinning a yarn about being a soldier from Crete who knew of  Odysseus at Troy and has heard talk of him since, seemingly an elaboration of the backstory he shared with Athena when he first arrived in Ithaca before they revealed themselves to each other. His story, oddly enough, seems to be a strange retelling of some of the adventures he shared with King Alcinous and Queen Arete during his stay with them: a crew not heeding their commander due to desire for treasure, a stay of some seven years with a person who is both savior and jailer (think Calyspo & the Egyptian King), a year with someone who damages the world with deceit (Circe & the unnamed Phoenician). He even incorporates elements on his stay at Phaeacia into his narrative, saying that he was found half-dead on the beach by the child of a monarch--sound familiar?

We see here Odysseus taking elements of his own life, elements that we "know" to be factual, as they were relayed to us by Homer as narrator, and weaving them into a tapestry that, while not true, isn't exactly false either. He modifies structure, he changes details, but he tells something approximating his own story. Only here we know what he is telling his host is false--don't we? I won't cover the same ground I went into more deeply in my post on "The Poets of The Odyssey," but I do think it's fascinating that, even though Odysseus' "real" story is much more unbelievable, full of witches and sea monsters and journeys into the House of Death, we give it much more credit within the confines of the narrative than we do to this one he tells his loyal swineherd.

There's much more to say on the events of this charming section, but I promised to be brief, so I'll just mention one more thing. Depending on your translation and reading style, you may have missed this (the Fitzgerald version omits it entirely, which is a pity) but, for the first time (I believe) sing the initial invocation of the muse, Homer directly addresses a character. The Fagles version, with its simpler and cleaner rendering has (line 408) "And you replied, Eumaeus, loyal swineherd," which you can almost miss if you're moving at a brisk pace, but the very literal Lattimore translation renders it as "Then, O swineherd Eumaios, you said to him in return" (line 360).

Now, I won't pretend to know why Homer chooses this moment to insert himself into the narrative, but I do think that Homer is essentially trying to confer honor onto this lowly character, possibly the most disadvantaged and lowest born in the entire story. "Here," he seems to be saying to the reader, "take note of this man--this servant, who shares as readily and as generously any king. Look to him and give him honor. Just because a man is not high-born does not mean his cannot exemplify the best among us."

But maybe you have other theories? If so, I'd love to hear them!

In the interest of brevity, I'm going to forgo the quote section of the post, but it shall come back. Yes, it shall come back.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Prague Blog: Preliminary -- Why?

Since I decided to uproot my entire life, move to a country I have never visited, and train in a career I have no experience with, people have often asked me, "Why?" I'm sure that many of them likely were wondering 'WHY?!?!?!" but, if so, they were polite enough to hide that fact. So, here, as the first (unofficial, preliminary) installment of my Prague Blog, I thought I would try to make the case for why this isn't a completely ridiculous thing to do.

The first starting premise for this is probably a key facet of my personality: I don't like things. Not, "there are things I don't like," but rather, on the whole, I don't care about physical things. I am not a thing person.* To a lesser extent, but still worth mentioning, I am not a creature comforts person. It is true that I go a bit stir crazy when I don't have access to walkable shops, etc., and I do have a great fondness for hot and cold running water and HVAC , but my needs in t…

Prague Blog: Preliminary -- What I Leave Behind

This post if pretty melancholy, and more personal than I often get. If you want more like this (or less), one way to ask is to go to https://www.patreon.com/sjcaustenite, become a Patron, and then exercise your right to request something more cheerful in the future.


**********************

When I first made the decision to move to Prague, I focused solely on the opportuity it presented. Once the decision had been made, however, I started to think of practicalities. Like, how good is their internet speed? (About the same as the USA's, if not better.) How much are smokes? (About $4.50 USD--yes, I know I should quit, but I would rather quit because I want to rather than because it's too expensive.) What's the gay scene like? (So thriving the NYT did a piece on it.) Do they have Pizza Hut? (The chain is returning to Prague this year after a 13 year hiatus.)

Generally, the things that make my life not just tolerable but enjoyable will be available in abundance. Oh, to be sure, t…

Prague Blog: Preliminary -- The Things I'm Carrying, in Video Form

In Book II of the Iliad, Homer (let's just call the author that) enumerates the forces that sailed from Greece to lay siege on Troy, and then does a similar, smaller listing of the Trojan force. The "Catalogue of Ships," as it's known, stops the forward momentum of the epic to make sure the reader understands the scene on the plains outside Troy. At the same time, it establishes a great deal about the power dynamics at play, and provides us greater insight into the characters involved. Sometimes, what (or who) you own can speak volumes about who you are. In that spirit, but with none of the grandeur, I'm making a list of all the things I kept when I left my apartment and, more to the point, all the things I am taking to Prague with me.

The first category is things I'm keeping but not taking. This includes about a hundred books, mostly from my time at St. John's; a Johnnie chair, a college graduation present from my mother; various small items of sentiment…