ODYSSEY readalong wk 4: bks 10-12


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

One Response to “ODYSSEY readalong wk 4: bks 10-12”

  1. V Says:

    Wow, you’re finding a lot of subtext.

    The visit to the underworld gave a good contrast to roles of men and women, I thought.

    Even though this was an action-packed reading segment, I still found it a struggle at times with its “Inception”-like layered narrative. Maybe it’s the parallels between Circe and Calypso.

    One thing I haven’t recalled in this rereading is the fate of Eurylokhos. (Also, Fitzgerald uses a lot of different spellings. Circe is Kirke.) Glad there are some things to discover.

    Speaking of glad, are you still glad to be doing this with all the other reading you have?