Archive for the '#TCOdyssey readalong' Category

ODYSSSEY Readalong, Books 19-21

Wednesday, February 4th, 2015


Welcome back to the penultimate entry in the Odyssey readalong. Thanks for joining me!

What did everyone else think? You can comment below, or tweet with the hashtag #TCOdyssey.

The pacing this week again reminded me of that of a soap opera. Since they have to tell a long story, slowly, everything is drawn out and repeated a number of times. This week’s segment took 3 books to show us basically these:

1. Penelope talks to the disguised Odysseus, she’s about to give up.
2. Odysseus schemes with Telemachus on how they’ll take care of those nasty suitors.
3. Odysseus meets said challenge then rips his disguise off to reveal: I’m back!

Book 19: Penelope and her Guest. Penelope asks to talk to the beggar. He talks to her, tells her he saw her husband, then goes on to tell a pack of tremendous lies, since that’s apparently part of the required skill set for a hero.

His old nurse washes his feet, notices his thigh scar, and nearly spills the beans to Penelope. Odysseus, rather harshly IMO, hushes her and swears her to secrecy.

Book 20: Portents Gather: Zeus makes noise with thunder, which foretells the suitors doom. AGAIN. Taunting of the beggar ensues, along with a hurled cow hoof, which Odysseus ducks.

Book 21: Odysseus Strings His Bow. Doesn’t that sound like a naughty euphemism for something else? Telemachus sets up 12 axes for an arrow to go through. The suitors try to handle Odysseus old bow; they’re too weak. They make excuses. Odysseus tells the old nurse to herd all the women upstairs and lock them in and not pay any attention to smash-n-crash noises from downstairs. After much back and forth, plus some more inevitable taunting, Odysseus takes up his bow, Zeus sends another peal of thunder as a sign, then Odysseus shoots an arrow through all 12 axes, then gives a sign to Telemachus and….

Yes, Book 21 ends with an ellipses, and Book 22 is Slaughter in the Hall! Woo hoo! Finally, those weaselly suitors will get what’s been coming to them for the entire book.

I was trying to find the company logo that showed an archer shooting through a bunch of axes. It’s for TSG, and I saw it when we watched X-Men: Days of Future Past last weekend. Which was decent, but that’s about all I can give it. Here’s the link to the logo, which commenters savage for inaccuracy of shooting, the axes, and on and on.

Join us next week for the slaughter, and for the final installment of Homer’s Odyssey. Then gird your loins and grab your bookmarks, because this Odyssey readalong has been but a prelude to the next big read:


Previous Posts:

Odyssey readalong schedule link

Week one books 1-3: link

Week two books 4-6: link

Week three books 7-9: link

Week four books 10-12: link

Week five books 13-15: link

Week six books 16-18: link

THE ODYSSEY Readalong bks 16-18

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015

Welcome back to the Odyssey Readalong. Hey, for those of you who aren’t joining us, there is an audio version of it read by, wait for it…Ian McKellen! If you are more likely to listen than to read, then you might want to check it out.

Things have really picked up this week now that Odysseus and Telemachus are back in Ithaca, and everyone isn’t just sitting around talking. I assume the reason for the steady insertion of recaps is that this oral history wasn’t told aloud in one fell swoop, so this is the ancient version of “Last Time in the Odyssey…”

Book 16: Father and Son

Telemachus arrives at the swineherd’s hut, and is greeted warmly. He is super nice to Odysseus even though the latter is disguised as an old, smelly beggar. Telemachus sends the swineherd to Penelope to tell her he’s back secretly, but says not to tell Laertes yet, but rather the nurse. After he leaves, Odysseus goes outside for a chat with Athena, who “stroked him with her golden wand” to reveal him in all his heroic glory, and when he appears before Telemachus, T says, whoa, you must be a god. And then O: Nope, just your dad. They they cry a lot, and loudly, then plot revenge against those suitors, then finish thusly:

When they’d put aside desire for food and drink
they remembered bed and took the gift of sleep. (532-533)

Book 17: Stranger at the Gates

After a goatherd talks some smack to him, Odysseus enters his own house still disguised as a feeble beggar. The suitors give him a hard time, he starts to beg from them, and Antinous continues to distinguish himself as the biggest jerk of them all by throwing a footstool at the poor old man. Even all the jerky other suitors note that this is too harsh. Penelope says she wants to see the beggar in case he has news of her husband, but he responds via messenger that he’ll see her later when it’s safer (and presumably darker.)

Book 18: The Beggar King of Ithaca


Another beggar comes round and yells at Odysseus to step off. One of the suitors thinks it would be good fun to see the beggars go a few rounds, so calls them out. When Odysseus peels off his rags to reveal strapping muscles, the other guy, Irus, becomes sore afraid. Odysseus wonders whether to kill him or just give him a glancing blow, and decides on the latter, yet then punches him so hard it breaks his jaw and causes blood to spurt everywhere. Odysseus’ version of pulling a punch is pretty harsh. Then he goes inside, and the suitors are nice to him again, he tells Penelope’s maids he’ll take care of the lights, one of them talks smack to him (she’s the one sleeping with that dog Antinous) at which point Ulysses says, “You wait, you bitch” and no, that’s not dialog from The Wire, but from the Fagles translation.

Eurymachus, the secondary jerk, gets mad at the beggar and throws a stool, then Amphimous and Telemachus calm them down and

they drank the heady wine to their hearts’ content
and went their ways to bed, each suitor to his house (482-483)

This week’s reading really flew for me, and I enjoyed it on its own. What did everyone else think?

Previous Posts:

Odyssey readalong schedule link

Week one books 1-3: link

Week two books 4-6: link

Week three books 7-9: link

Week four books 10-12: link

Week five books 13-15: link

THE ODYSSEY week 5 Readalong: Bks 13-15

Wednesday, January 21st, 2015


Welcome back, those of you who are reading Homer’s Odyssey!

And, for those of you who chose to sit this one out (perhaps wisely, grumble), you’re welcome for the recaps, especially if you’ll be joining us next month when we start the Ulysses readalong.

(Because I seem to be constitutionally incapable of saying no to book discussions. Because the only thing better than reading a book is reading a book then talking about it with someone/s smart and funny!)

VT asked if I was “glad” to be doing the simultaneous reads of Sandman and The Odyssey. Not really. I wish Sandman could have been some other time, and spread over a longer period. One week for each graphic novel would have been ideal. But, this was the best time for others to read Sandman, and this timing for Odyssey fit nicely with reading Ulysses next year prior to Bloomsday, so, as the kids say these days, it is what it is.

Well, let’s get to it, then. There were a few weird and hilarious moments for me this week.

Book 15: Ithaca at Last

I am not a fan of gifs and such, but I really felt the call for an exclamation point with this chapter title, and that reminded me of Elaine from Seinfeld


So: Ithaca at Last!

At the end of 12, Odysseus finished his tale. Alcinous agrees that it’s time for him to go, and asks, nay, demands that his guests pony up even more swag for Odysseus than they did before.

Then recover our costs with levies on the people:
it’s hard to afford such bounty man by man.” (Book 13 l.15-16)

So, in other words, cough up a tripod or cauldron, then tax your people to pay for it. Glad I’m not one of his subjects.

Odysseus and the Phaacians sail off with the swag. O relaxes and falls asleep, so when the ship hits shore (hard) they drag him off and leave him sleeping amid his treasure in order to book it back home. Alas, Poseidon is still pissed about O killing his son and gripes to Zeus that O is returning with more treasure than if he hadn’t been screwed (literally and figuratively) and shipwrecked multiple times after the war.

Zeus says, bro, what is your problem? You’re a powerful god. Do what you want, man.

Poseidon says, well, I know that messing with Odysseus yet again might piss you off, so how about I mess with those Phaeacian mother cussers. I TOLD them not to offer hospitality to strangers. I’ll crush their ship and put a mountain around the port!

Zeus says, “Wait, dear brother,” and what I expected him to say was something like “way harsh, dude” but instead he says, wouldn’t it be great if you could turn the ship to stone just as it was getting there! THEN put up a mountain. BAM!

Thus, just as the ship gets into harbor and the sailors are glad to be home and the city excited to see them back, poof, the ship and crew are turned to stone.

Alcinous suddenly recalls that prophecy back in Book 8.


Quick, he says, sacrifice a dozen bulls to Poseidon and maybe he won’t put up the mountain, too! And then…

Odysseus wakes up, doesn’t recognize Ithaca, bitches about the poor, stoned Phaecians who got him there so fast and didn’t take one jot or tittle of his treasure.

Athena appears, in disguise as per her usual. Odysseus invents some tremendous lies and then she mocks him and reveals herself and says to stash the booty. Then she disguises him as a smelly beggar and tells him to go see…

Book 14: The Loyal Swineherd

The swineherd recaps the sitch in Ithaca, if you’d forgotten. Which you totally haven’t.

And then, something really weird happens in the storytelling. It’s as if Odysseus is later telling this back to the swineherd (whaaat?)

And you repled, Eumaieus, loyal swineherd,
“It’s wrong, my friend, to send any stranger packing…” (Bk 14, l. 63-64)

Then Odysseus tells a bunch more tremendous lies, then passive aggressively tells a story about a time when it was cold and he forgot his cloak in the war. And the swineherd is really nice about it and doesn’t roll his eyes, just goes and gets his best cloak of goat skin and Odysseus snuggles up in it next to the fire and falls asleep again.

Over and over, the swineherd says, when Telemachus gets back, we’ll get you a proper cloak and shirt.


Book 15: The Prince Sets Sail for Home

After leaving Odysseus last book, Athena flies off to see Telemachus, who is sleeping with Nestor’s son, Pisistratus. Go home, she says. So he prepares a ship, laden with gifts. An eagle appears with a dead goose. Helen says, the eagle is Odysseus and the goose is those silly suitors, whom he will kill. Yay, says everybody.

Just as they’re about to leave, some guy, a prophet named Theoclymenus, shows up, is the subject of lengthy story that does not have obvious relevance to the story, and asks to bum a ride. No prob, says Telemachus.

Meanwhile, back at the swine shack, the nice swineherd tells his lengthy backstory, and then they go to sleep again.

At this point Telemachos sneaks into Ithaca (because a bunch of the suitors are waiting to ambush and kill him) and tells Theoclymenus that things are a little dicey on the homefront. Then a hawk flies by with a dove in its mouth and Theo says Telemachus’ line will reign forever in Ithaca. T then foists Theo off on a spearsmen, and heads to the swine shack, because as we know from Book 14’s title, he is a Loyal Swineherd.

So, that’s it for this week! Moving right along, as the Muppets sang. What did everyone else think? Did you find the sudden POV switch with Odysseus and Eumaeus as weird as I did? The backstories of Theo and the swineherd as boring as I did? Do you think Poseidon put up the mountain or was appeased by 12 bulls?

Discuss it in the comments, or on Twitter with the hashtag #TCOdyssey.

Previous Posts:

Odyssey readalong schedule link

Week one books 1-3: link

Week two books 4-6: link

Week three books 7-9: link

Week four books 10-12: link

ODYSSEY readalong wk 4: bks 10-12

Wednesday, January 14th, 2015


Welcome back to week 4 of readalong for The Odyssey. Finishing book 12, we are now halfway through! Woo hoo! But, that’s not counting introductions and back matter. D’oh. Go to the end of the post for links to the schedule and previous posts. You can also tweet with the hashtag #TCOdyssey.

Without further ado, let’s get to this week, which ends at a new beginning.

When last we left Odysseus, he was in the castle of princess Nausicaa’s mom and dad after a sporting event. He revealed who he was, and told the story of how he’d killed Polyphemus and thus incurred the wrath of Poseidon, which brings us to

Book 10: The Bewitching Queen of Aeaea., who is Circe, yet she is referred to as having shining braids just like Calypso. Confusing!

The book starts not on Aeaea, but on the Aeolian island, where Aeolus gives good host, then sends Odysseus and his men on their way with a sack of wind. Tee hee. Fart joke. They get really good wind mileage, but the men begin to grumble (take note: most of the bad things that happen are portrayed by Odysseus as because his men did them. And the men are all dead and gone by this point, so who’s to contradict him?) and think he’s got a sack of treasure, so they open it, the wind escapes, the ship stops moving, and they have to row all the way back to Aeolus’ house, where he refuses more help, saying anyone dumb enough to lose the advantage he gave them before is obviously screwed by the gods.

O and crew row off, dejected, find a new island, that of the Laestrygonians. They seek hospitality, but the Laestrygonians are both giants and cannibals. Run! Run away! Some of the men die.

The row off to a new island, the one of Circe, who invites the crew to her house. Only two men stay behind, Odysseus and Eurylochus, smart enough to set a trap. Circe turns the men into pigs. Literally. O meets Hermes, who is just chillin’ on the island, who gives him some tips about how to avoid getting turned into a pig, plus rescue his men. He has to eat a weird plant called “Moly” (Attention, those of you also reading Sandman–the same plant used to capture Calliope by that nasty old author!) then not turn into a pig and before he has sex with Circe, make her promise not to hurt him or the men again. He does not seem to have a problem with this exchange of services, and not only restores the men but seems really nice and they stay for A YEAR till she insists that their next trip be to hell. Literally.

The men have almost no time to be happy they’re no longer pigs, before they’re crying about having to go to hell. Circe dumps a couple sacrificial animals off and disappears, her way of saying Buh-bye!

Book 11: The Kingdom of the Dead. In which Odysseus chats with ghosts. His most recently dead soldier who fell off a roof probably because he was still drunk asks Odysseus if he’ll give him an honorable burial. Roger that. Then the blind Tiresias, the one Circe said Odysseus had to go talk to, comes, drinks blood and tells Odysseus something we’ve heard before: don’t touch Helios’ sun cattle! Odysseus’ mom comes and tells him a bunch of stuff that makes him feel super guilty: Telemachos is powerless, Penelope is besieged, the kingdom is being plundered, and oh, yeah, the mom died of a broken heart because Odysseus was gone so long. Nice guilt trip. There are lots of other dead people, including Ajax who holds a grudge, Achilles who says being dead sucks, and Tantalus (tempted by water/food), and Sisyphus (pushing rock up hill that always falls down) and Heracles. I’m a little unclear on how Heracles can be both in the underworld and on Olympus, but that’s what it sounds like it says. Finally, O is overwhelmed by the dead, and he and his crew get the hell out of hell.

Chapter 12: The Cattle of the Sun. I could go into detail, but all that matters here is that according to Odysseus, they manage to get past the sirens by stopping their ears and keeping O lashed to the mast, ahem, erect, and then they pass the monster Scylla only losing six more men, avoid the whirlpool Charybdis (the proverbial rock and a hard place, plus referenced by Sting) and he wants to row, row, row their boat past the island of Helios, but they’re becalmed, and the men go ashore and he makes them swear not to eat the cattle. But they do. And it’s not Odysseus’ fault, because he was asleep. Plus, he made them swear. They try to leave, and as predicted, they lose the ship, all the men, and Odysseus has to go by Scylla and Charybdis in reverse and ends up at Calypso’s island of Ogygia where she kept him a sex slave till Hermes showed up, back in book 5.

AND since Odysseus’ tale has now looped back so we know it all he refuses to say more to the court of Alcinous. And the next chapter is titled “Ithaca at Last”, and I think we can all agree, that, yes, it’s about time Odysseus got back already.

So, we’re halfway through. Interesting how most of the heroics that live on in popular memory are crammed into book 12, not spread out over the entire book.

What did everyone else think?

Previous Posts:

Odyssey readalong schedule link

Week one link

Week two link

Week three link

ODYSSEY Readalong week 3: bks 7-9

Wednesday, January 7th, 2015


Welcome back to those reading along with us through Homer’s Odyssey. I think there are four of us total, including me and my husband G., but hey, I committed to this, and I’m going to do it. So if anyone else out there is lurking and reading, give a shout in the comments.

Prior to Christmas, the story finally shifted from Telemachos to Odysseus himself.

Book 7: Phaecia’s Halls and Gardens. Athena in disguise as a small girl guides Odysseus to the castle and gives him useful info, and then disguises him. He follows directions, goes in and hugs the queens knees and begs for hospitality, which they give him. This encourages him, so he goes further and asks for a ship before the queen notices O is wearing her daughter’s clothes. Another awkward Odyssey moment. He spills the beans on his trip from Calypso to Nausicaa, and everyone is very impressed, then they go to sleep. Honk shoo.

Book 8: A Day for Songs and Contests. Things get set up for a party. A blind singer tells a story of Odysseus and Achilles. O cries, but only the king notices (similar to what happened with Telemachus a few books ago). He switches things up and calls for the feats of strength to commence. Those who win are named to spread their fame. Odysseus is first invited, then taunted, and he gets up and hurls a discus farther than anyone else, and tells them to bring it on. Again, awkward! King brings back the singer, asks outright who he is, then settles back to hear about the ten years O has been missing. (Finally!)

[Aside: did you know I lettered in track in high school, and when I ask people to guess what my event was they never can. It was discus.]

Book 9: In the One-Eyed Giant’s Cave. O and his men left Troy, raped and pillaged a town, landed on an island of Lotus Eaters, who got so high they didn’t even remember home, then went to an island of Cyclopes. O insisted they try for hospitality. Instead, they got imprisoned and the Cyclops ate a bunch of the men. They sharpened a stick, got him drunk and poked him in the eye. A bunch of his Cyclops buddies came to see what the ruckus was about, but O had given him a fake name: Nobody. They left after the cyclops, whose name is revealed as Polyphemus, keeps shouting that Nobody tricked him.

[Aside: when we read an excerpt of this in 9th grade English, our teacher, Mr. S the hog farmer, told us about the girl the year before who'd had to read the Cyclops passage and had accidentally pronounced his name Polypenis. Tee hee.]

The men sneak out under the bellies of sheep, get to their ship, but then Odysseus starts taunting Polyphemus and boasts his real name. Couldn’t just sail away, but had to incur the penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct, which was Polyphemus complaining to his dad Poseidon that Odysseus was a jerk (to be fair, he was still angry about all those men Polyphemus ate), and that’s why Poseidon has been so angry at O till now. O tries to set things right with Zeus, who won’t accept his sacrifice, and that’s why Athena had to intercede on his behalf. So, just a little over a third of the way through, we’re finally getting some answers.

That’s it for this week. Join us next Wednesday 1/14 to discuss books 10, 11 and 12. What did you think?

Previous Posts:

Odyssey readalong schedule link

Week one link

Week two link

Odyssey Readalong Week 2: Bks 4-6, Proper Entry

Sunday, December 28th, 2014


Apologies for the lame-ass placeholder a week and a half ago for chapters 4-6 of The Odyssey. You know: the holidays. I thought programming in a break would help, and it does, since I’m just now getting to this.

Book 4: The King and Queen of Sparta, finds us still hanging out with Odysseus’ son Telemachus, who arrives at King Menelaus’ house just as a double wedding is starting. Rather than going insane with stress that a whole bunch of uninvited people just showed, up, Menelaus and Helen graciously show them hospitality, an ongoing theme of the book. In the Fagles translation, Menelaus is red haired, in the Fitzgerald, he was fair haired.

Helen was the cause of the Trojan war, chronicled in The Iliad, after Paris stole her away to Troy. In Homer, Helen is the daughter of Zeus and Leda (he appeared to her as a swan–I originally wrote that he “came” to her as a swan but that felt too smutty) and is the sister of Castor, Pollux, and Clytemnestra. She is also the subject of these famous lines on her beauty, which Christopher Marlowe wrote in 1604, in the play Doctor Faustus:

Was this the face that launch’d a thousand ships
And burnt the topless towers of Ilium[1] … ?

You know what this means, right? Reading The Odyssey is preparing us for season 3 of Orphan Black! You’re welcome.

Menelaus recognizes Telemachus, who is crying at the memory of his father, so he doesn’t say anything. Awkward! Helen, however, says right out:

“To the life he’s like the son of great Odysseus,
surely he’s Telemachus! The boy that hero left
a babe in arms at home when all you Achaeans
fought at Troy, launching your headlong battles
just for my sake, shameless whore that I was.”

“My dear, my dear,” the red-haired king assured her,
“now that you mention it, I see the likeness too…” (158-164)

I was surprised when Helen called herself a whore, which seemed pretty harsh, then had to laugh when it seems like Menelaus is going to tell her not to be so hard on herself, and instead merely agrees that Telemachus is the spit of Ulysses.

For those of you with different translations, what does Helen call herself in line 162 in your editions? I’d check our Fitzgerald and Lattimore, but I sold them last night as my husband and I are continuing with the Fagles.

Helen drugs the men so there won’t be more crying, and tells stories of Odysseus, such as when he dressed as a beggar to get the lay of the land, and how she called to the men in the Trojan horse in the voices of their wives, which so tempted them that Odysseus had to clamp his hands over their mouths.

Menelaus tells the story of how he got away from the war, then Telemachus gets ready to leave for Pylos.

Meanwhile, back in Ithaca, the guy whose ship Telemachus took wants it back, and Antinous learns that T has left and vows that he and the other suitors will ambush him on the way back. Penelope also learns that T is gone, frets, and is reassured by Athena who disguised herself as P’s sister, but disappears when P asks for news of her husband.

Book 5: Odysseus–Nymph and Shipwreck. Yay, we get to meet Odysseus! As we knew before, he’s the sex slave of Calypso on the island of Ogygia. Athena asks Zeus to intervene, he can’t be bothered and sends Hermes, who visits Calypso, listens to her complain that the gods get to keep their human lovers and the goddesses never do, then Hermes tells her to let go, and since Odysseus has been sitting on the beach looking off into the distance and sighing rather than being a good sex slave, she lets him go, but not after an action montage in which she helps Odysseus build and outfit a good escape boat. He sets sail for Ithaca, but Poseidon returns from a far off trip, finds O on the water, and whips up a huge storm. A nymph sees O and tries to help him by giving him her scarf (apparently all women see him, and want him) but he’s suspicious, is thrown overboard anyway. After a long time, and rocky coast, he and Athena and a river god get him to shore and he falls asleep in a shrub.

Book 6: The Princess and the Stranger. Athena continues to help (or is it meddle?) with Odysseus’ getting home, and visits the princess Nausicaa (where Miyazaki got the name for the awesome warrior princess of his masterpiece (one of several) Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind) and tells her to think about marriage, and go down to the river to wash her wedding gear so she’ll be attractive to suitors. She borrows her dad’s mule cart, takes her handmaidens, and they go wash and frolic by the river. Until they see a nekkid man, Odysseus, who covers up his privates with a branch but they panic and run about anyway. Nausicaa stands firm, though, and O decides it’s wiser to talk to her than to grab her knees, and he begs her help. She, like all women seem to be, is moved by his good looks and agrees to help, and dresses him in some of the now-clean laundry, and they go back to the palace. I sense trouble ahead, though, both with Athena putting marriage in Nausicaa’s head, and her words to her girlfriends:

Ah, if only a man that that were called my husband,
lived right here, pleased to stay forever… (270-1)

are unfortunately reminiscent of Calypso.

Odysseus prays to Athena for help, and she hears him, but Poseidon is literally still seething in the sea, so we can guess it won’t be smooth sailing from here.

AND, hey! that’s it for sections 4-6. What did you think?

Also, did you know Sean Bean played Odysseus in the movie Troy? That seems about right, I think, except that Odysseus doesn’t die, and most Sean Bean characters die spectacularly.

Remember, you can tweet, too, using the hashtag #TCOdyssey.

Previous posts:

Odyssey Readalong week 1: link

Odyssey Readalong schedule: link

Odyssey Week 2 Post to Come

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

I am caught between a rock and a hard place, the origin of which we haven’t yet reached in our reading. As Sting sang, it’s between Scylla and Charybdis, though I often can’t remember which is the rock and which is the hard place, until I remember Marathon Man, and the brother’s code name, and that usually puts it to rights.

Anyhoo. I will do a proper write up of sections 4-6 this week later today after I finish (is it ever possible to actually finish?) the holiday card project. I’m catching up after 5 years of not doing it, and there’s been a fair amount of spelunking and sleuthing for addresses and contacts.

Also, my husband G. Grod abandoned the Fitzgerald and I abandoned the Lattimore translations, both in favor of the Fagles, which we find much more readable, not only in content, but in form. It’s a lovely trade paperback in a large font.

I’m putting this up in case you want to start commenting or questions before I do the proper write up.

The Odyssey Readalong Wk 1 Bks 1-3

Tuesday, December 9th, 2014


Welcome to The Odyssey Readalong!

Who’s with me?

My husband G. Grod is supposed to be but he can’t seem to finish reading Caitlin Moran’s How to be a Girl, but once he does he says he’s going to start The Odyssey, because he’s gung ho to read Ulysses next year.

As you may know by now, we’re weird like that in our family.

But, since I’m the moderator, I not only read the first 3 sections already, but also did a smidgen of research on them. This epic was written sometime between 600 and 800 BCE (that’s Before Common Era, because, especially since we’re talking about the Greeks it makes more sense to use this non-Christian descriptor even though Jesus was so important, whether he was the savior or not, that BCE and BC are the same.) That means it’s had longer than most works to be studied and debated. There is so much to know that I’ve decided I’m going to try and keep things simple, on a need-to-know basis for helpfulness in the upcoming Ulysses readalong.

About The Odyssey in general: it may or may not have been written by a poet named Homer, who may or may not have been the same one who wrote The Iliad, which was about the 10-year Trojan War, where The Odyssey is about Odysseus’ 10-year journey home from the war. There’s lots of argument for and against. One theory has it that The Iliad was by Homer, and the Odyssey by a child (Homer Jr.?) or apprentice. There are many translations, I’m reading the one by Lattimore since we had it in our house.

Book 1 opens with an invocation to Athene, goddess of wisdom.

Tell me, Muse, of the man of many ways, who was driven
far journeys, after he had sacked Troy’s sacred citadel.
Many were they whose cities he saw, whose minds he learned of,
many the pains he suffered in his spirit on the wide sea,
struggling for his own life and the homecoming of his companions.
Even so he could not save his companions, hard though
he strove to,; they were destroyed by their own wild recklessness,
fools, who devoured the oxen of Helios, the Sun God,
And he took away the day of their homecoming. Fom some point
here, goddess, daughter of Zeus, speak, and begin our story.

Book 1 is part of the first four books about Odysseus’ son, Telemachos. There is quite a lot here about a murder of Aigisthos, but I want to focus on the big O, who is being held as a sex captive by Kalypso on her hard-to-pronounce island Ogygia. Poseidon the powerful and moody sea god is angry with Odysseus and is impeding his trip home. We learn later it’s because O killed Polyphemus, a cyclopes and child of Poseidon.

Athene wants to move things along, so she goes to Ithaka, disguised as a guy named Mentes. Telemachos shows him/her hospitality, and she favors him and learns first hand how annoying all the suitors are who want to marry Odysseus’ wife Penelope and become king, because he’s been gone so long (20 years now ) they assume he’s dead. The suitors are eating all the food and partying and generally not being good guests. Athene hints to T that he should go find out for himself.

Book 2: Telemachos calls a meeting to complain about the suitor situation. The suitors complain because Penelope had tried to put them off by weaving a funeral cloak for Laertes, Odysseus’ father (who wasn’t even dead yet!) and every night she unraveled her work till a maid ratted her out to the suitors. Zeus sends eagles as a sign, but the crowd won’t agree on the meaning. A man named Mentor speaks up against the suitors (this is where we get that word from!) but the crowd is unmoved. Athene disguises herself as Mentor, tells T to get ready for a journey then disguises herself as T and goes about the town, recruiting for the ship, then T and Athene/Mentor and the new crew leave Ithaka.

Book 3: T goes to Pylos to get news of O from Nestor, who fought with O in the war. They arrive in a sacrificial dinner to Poseidon which they wisely do not disrupt. Lots of lines about Agamemnon and Menelaos, but I’m going to continue to not pay much attention to them other than that Odysseus waffled between which brother to follow home, and picked wrong because Menelaos and Nestor made it home. Nestor says lots of nice things about O and how T looks like O, and then Athene reveals herself as an eagle, and Nestor promises both a sacrifice of a gold-horned calf to her and horses to T for the road trip to Sparta to find out more about O.

Initial impressions: this is not a hard read, and is about Greek gods and goddesses and heroes, so full of ripping stuff. Interestingly much of the mythology is fresh in my mind from recent readings with my sons of the Percy Jackson series, which is good with some details, as in the Cyclopes being sons of Poseidon.

I’m not sure why it took so long for T to start complaining about the suitors, and why no one had gone to look for O before, but the story had to start somewhere, and 10 years plus 10 years is a nice round number.

What did others think and what questions do you have?