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


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

2 Responses to “Odyssey Readalong Week 2: Bks 4-6, Proper Entry”

  1. V Says:

    It’s a little before line 162 in Fitzgerald, and the line is translated as “daring all for the wanton that I was.” Guess that’s old-school classical for whore!

    I finished a bit on schedule before and have set it aside for other reading. Just getting back to Book 7 now, so we’ll see what I can get done before Wednesday. Things seemed to slow down a bit in Book 6, a bit focused too much in my view on washing.

  2. David Says:

    I looked for the passage and couldn’t find it. Mine isn’t numbered though. I sense trouble ahead as well and think Nausicaa has gotten the wrong idea.
    I’m really enjoying the story and will hopefully start to tackle the next books this evening.