Thursday, February 18, 2010
Reading the Classics with Paul- The Odyssey Part 1
I think one of the most immediately striking aspects of this text for me was that people don't write like this anymore. I think we may be the poorer for it. Parts that could have said "I cut down trees and built a boat" were about winning favor with the goddess who gives you an axe with which you use with great skill to fend off the hatred that Neptune has for you. I'm surprised someone like Allen Ginsberg didn't write an autobiography in that manner, elevating the mundane details of our lives and friends to such heroic levels. Maybe I should write my own autobiography in that manner.
Anyway, I also kept wondering how much of this is a mythologizing of fact.
This week's reading dealt largely with Telemachus having a devil of a time with the suitors who have come to woo his mother to try to get them to marry them and, possibly more to the point, to eat The Odysseus family's livestock and drink their wine. Odysseus is still on the back of the milk carton and the leeches have crept in. Telemachus makes a bunch of noises about it but nothing really seems to get them to go away. Yes, if only Odysseus would show up. Then they'd be sorry.
When Poseidon is away at a convention, Athene talks to Zeus and then goes and talks to Telemachus while disguised as King Mentes. The words of Mentes are very wise and encouraging.
Let me take a moment here to express how much I've been enjoying this translation by Samuel Butler. It's a testimony to a good translation when an ancient text breathes and lives with such electricity, flows so well. Ancient text, especially when they involve a lot of esoteric characters, can get a bit clunky to modern eyes if not handled properly. Especially with all of these long speeches, but in all honesty I've enjoyed every moment of it so far.
Telemachus goes to meet a few people who give him information. Nestor talks for a very long time. Then there's that wonderful scene with Menelaus and Proteus where they hold Proteus down and he turns into a dragon and a lion and fire and a Volkswagen and a fish to try to get away from them. Proteus reveals that Odysseus is being held captive by the nymph Calypso. Zeus sends Hermes to tell her to release Odysseus (and as much as I'm a dyed in the wool monotheist, I can definitely understand in experiencing life in this world how one could come to the conclusion of sometimes having some gods smiling on you while others hate you.) Calypso helps him build a boat. Poseidon attacks Odysseus with the sea and we end this week's reading with Odysseus asleep by some olive trees.
It is a rip-roaring good adventure story which I am enjoying tremendously. It is by no means too late to get on board with this one. We did read a little much this week, but I wanted to get through the "Telemachus talking to people" part in one go.
As a side note, I read ahead a while ago and to jog my memory before this post I listened to the Librivox recordings of this while walking over the past few days. It's a wonderful and free resource which I would recommend to anyone. Although there are varied qualities of people who read the text and sometimes they switch horses from one chapter to the next.
Next week we will read through book IX, which in my copy takes us up to page 99. We'll go a little lighter this next week and there's a rather dramatic story break at that point. Enjoy!