Notes on the Odyssey of Homer
derived partly from George Dimock’s The Unity of the Odyssey
Jamey Hecht, PhD
- Clarity and Fame (κλεοσ) vs. Ambiguity and Obscurity
- Hospitality (ξενια) and Civilization (θεμισ) vs. Barbarism
- Indulgence of Appetites vs. Clear-headed Self-Control (σωϕροσυνη)
- Pain and Experience vs. Ease and Ignorance
Πλαγχθη, επει Τροιησ ιερον πτολιεθρον επερσε
1. Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story
Μουσα. The invocation of the goddess makes much more sense, is much more important, if you remember that the poem is composed orally. The Muse helps the bard to invent and then helps the rhapsode to recite what the bard has invented. The request for the Muse’s help inaugurates an economy of divine abundance to compensate for human scarcity; this model of human effort mixed with divine inspiration will be repeated throughout the poem. To row is human, to sail divine. [thus spake the late great Jack Collins, Latin-Greek Institute, CUNY].
The poem has inside it the experience of already knowing the story. They ate the Cattle of the Sun and died, but Odysseus got home again.
2. of that man of many turns
Polytropos = much-turning, of-many-turns, resourceful
Πολυτροποσ. Odysseus is the complement to Athena because of his resourcefulness;
the gods help those who help themselves.
arnumenos hain te psuchain kai noston hetairon
αρνυμενοσ ην τε ψυχην και νοστον εταιρων. (i.5)
striving-to-save his both life/soul and the homecoming of his companions.
9. to save his life, to bring his shipmates home
They ate; he suffered pain and experienced the world.
Aρνυμαι: save, earn, win; in the participial form seen here, striving to preserve his life. Bound up with this idea of saving his life is the production / maintenance of his image, for life in the Homeric world is always, for persons of the aristocratic class, a lived, mortal life of experience made visible and in some sense permanent by an immortal life of fame. Kleos = glory, fame, renown. Odysseus does not remain with Calypso because there is no story that can be told about a man who has dropped out of life, no matter how beautiful the place may be into which he has escaped.
Calypso’s name means “she who conceals; the hider.” Her name and her “hollow cave” suggest that Odysseus is hidden somewhere (in a feminine sexuality that leaves no scope for Iliadic male activity, the production of honor in the light of day, nor for Odysseus’ typical activity in the Odyssey, which seems to be trial and experience and exposure).
νησω εν αμϕιρυτη, οθι τ' ομϕαλοσ εστι θαλασσησ. (i.50)
νησοσ δενδρηεσσα, θεα δ' εν δωματα ναιει (i.51)
neso en amphiruto, hothi t'omphalos esti thalasses
nesos dendreyessa, thea
αμϕιρυτ η, • amphirutê • sea-girt
50. a wooded island, in the sea's middle
Hear the liquidity of the consonants in this passage; nothing is clearly defined or delineated in sharp distinctions; instead it all blends together.
"a sea-girt island in the exact center of the sea; an island covered with trees"
she keeps on coaxing him/ with her beguiling talk, to turn his mind from Ithaca.
Calypso not only hides Odysseus from the world, but hides the world from him.
In the meantime the suitors think he’s dead, and in a way they’re right.
When Menelaus comes to die, his condition will be a lot like this immortality which Calypso is offering --- easy and without stories.
let him find
news of his dear father where he may
and win his own renown about the world.
The lack of definition is the problem in Ithaca too --- is Odysseus coming home, or not?
Uncertainty over this homecoming is making Telemachos’s life miserable.
“The beauty of the suitors’ position lies precisely in the fact that, as long as nothing is known about Odysseus, they can woo his wife as though he were dead, while ignoring Telemachos’ rights as though Odysseus were alive.” George Dimock, The Unity of The Odyssey, (Amherst: U. Mass. Press 1989) p23
“Although Telemachos fails in his main object” -- to clarify Odysseus' situation: is he coming home or not? -- “much else is brought into clearer focus: Telemachos's own situation as he realizes that he must take a stand against the suitors and proceeds to do so (book 1); the suitors' situation as they are compelled by his opposition to reveal that their claim rests on force alone (book2); Penelope's predicament as she comes to recognize that her suitors will destroy her son (book 4); and the character of Odysseus himself as Telemachos experiences the difference between his father and the worthies from whom he seeks news of him (books 3& 4).” Dimock, pp.15-16
The divine agent of this clarity is Athena.
Mentes is in some sense really Mentes the family friend, dropping by for a visit. But because the conversation is so significant, it is, in an equally compelling sense, really Athena to whom Telemachos is talking.
252. My mother says I am his son: I know not
surely. Who knows his own engendering?
Here Telemachos nearly fails to accept the responsibility for the role he is struggling to assume. A few lines later (271-275) he wishes Odysseus had died at Troy, winning honor. Then there is the terrible lack of Odysseus' image, the only image that can remind Telemachos whose son he is and whom he is himself entitled to emulate:
273. making him vanish, as they [the gods] have, so strangely.
Were his death known, I could not feel such pain --
if he had died of wounds in Trojan country
or in the arms of friends, after the war.
They would have made a tomb for him, the Akhaians,
And I should have all honor as his son.
Instead, the whirlwinds got him, and no glory.
He's gone, no sign, no word of him: and I inherit
trouble and tears --- and not for him alone...
(Compare Hamlet, "Time is out of joint...O cursed spite, that ever I was born to set it right.")
Odysseus' image, and the comparison of the son to the absent father, brings Telemachos round --- in effect, converts him to the active pursuit of revenge and justice.
294. I wish we saw him standing helmeted
there in the doorway, holding shield and spear,
looking the way he did when I first knew him.
This invocation of Odysseus' image is enough to inspire Telemachos with the spirit of his father, so that he has the courage to pursue the plan Athena gives him at 309.
Note the plan: p.225 lines 309-341.
Telemachos offers a gift, but Athena does not linger to accept it.
386. Mother, why do you grudge our own dear minstrel
397. The lady gazed in wonder and withdrew
Telemachos assumes authority in his dealings with his mother (Compare Hamlet in Act III scene ii, Mother, for love of grace... Shakespeare's Henry IV and Henry V also depict the maturation of a young prince: You'll find a difference, as we his subjects have in wonder found, between the promise of his greener days and these he masters now.)
236. savages, they must be, to hold him captive
is a line that Athena says about Odysseus. But it applies to Telemachos, too, because the suitors, who are like savages in their disregard for the laws of guest-host relationship, hold him captive to his childhood position by usurping his place in the household.
263. A wedding? Revel? At the expense of all?
Not that, I think. How arrogant they seem,
these gluttons, making free here in your house!
A sensible man would blush to be among them.
Athena compares the suitor's conduct to the festivities at a wedding; that's ironic because it's precisely a wedding they're hoping for (they each want to marry Penelope), and because when they are all slaughtered by Odysseus at the end of the poem, he will disguise the noisy slaughter as a wedding, so that no one overhearing it should suspect.
When Athena came in, it was Telemachos and only Telemachos who offered her the rights of a guest, just as when she leaves it is he alone who offers her a gift.
While Athena (disguised as Mentor) and Telemachos eat, they are lucid and alert; their minds are working, plotting how best to kill the suitors. While the suitors eat, they are "absorbed in the music and the singing; they have an easy life, scot free, eating the livestock of another." (lines 191-193, Fitzgerald's translation modified). Compare Odysseus and his men in the Cattle of the sun episode mentioned in the very beginning of the poem --- Odysseus survived because he resisted physical impulses and kept a clear head, while they ate and gratified those impulses, and they perished.
Notes on Odyssey, book 2
The major action in book 2 is the assembly, in which Telemachos publicly makes clear the suitor's exploitation of him and his household.
Book 2 also includes an oracle. We will discuss oracles when we come to book 17.
Notes on Odyssey, book 3
In book 3, note the hospitality-scenes. They give a clear picture of how guest and host are supposed to behave, a picture which both instructs Homer's audience and shows a striking contrast to those who do not practice hospitality, e.g. the Lystragonians, the Cyclops, Aigisthos (the man who seduced Agamemnon's wife and killed Agamemnon on his returns from Troy), and the suitors (who want to do to Odysseus what Aigisthos did to Agamemnon).
Note the description of Agamemnon's homecoming, which occurs several times in book 3. It is the example of how not to come home, how not to survive: Agamemnon has only force(βιη, bie), not cleverness (μητισ, metis); he clings to the old, heroic, Iliad-type of behavior, and cannot adapt to a new world of new, subtler dangers. Odysseus makes the same mistake in the Cyclops episode, but he learns from his mistake and his eventual homecoming is a success.
Finally, note the implicit and explicit comparisons of Orestes to Telemachos. Orestes (see, for example, book 2, 206-213) was the son of Agamemnon, and he heroically became famous (gained kleos) by killing Aigisthos and thus avenging his father's murder. To compare the two young men is to suggest that Telemachos may turn out like Orestes by killing the suitors, who are eating up Odysseus' estate and trying to court his wife.
Notes on Odyssey, book 4
Menelaos is tremendously wealthy, he has the most beutiful woman in the world for a wife, and yet he is always grieving. Like the Phaiakians (whom we meet in books 6 & 7), he lives in such ease and luxury that life does not really reach him anymore. Odysseus, whose story is painful but ongoing, is far more alive than Menelaos, whose story --- wealthy as he is --- has come to an end .
The Trojan war was caused by a breach of hospitality, at Menelaos' home: an invited guest, named Paris, kidnapped/eloped with Menelaos' wife Helen and took her back to Troy. The Greeks fought for ten years to get her back, and eventually succeeded, destroying that great and ancient city in the process.
This scene in book 4 is another, different, hospitality-scene in Menelaos' house.
Therefore it contrasts with the earlier, disastrous one. Note the way the herald hesistates to admit the guests when they first arrive (25-35).
230. But now it entered Helen's mind
to drop into the wine that they were drinking
an anodyne, mild magic of forgetfulness.
Whoever drank this mixture in the wine bowl, etc.
This drug is part of what makes Menelaos so mild in his dealings with Helen, who has committed serious offenses against him in the past (the adultery with Paris, the adultery with Deiphobos after Paris was killed, the nearly disastrous tempting of the hidden soldiers inside the Trojan horse) and discomfits him in the present (she broke the careful tension in his hosting of Telemachos by blurting out who Telemachos was, and she told the misleading tale of her allegiance to the Greeks, a tale Menelaos counters with his own story about the Trojan horse, in which Helen had again switched over to the Trojan side).
Helen's drug and her beauty are in some sense the same; they make men forget who they are and what is most imprtant to them. This kind of tension between immediate pleasure and long-term responsibility --- the loss of identity and the earning of identity --- will occur again and again in the Odyssey (the Cattle of the Sun, the Sirens, the Lotus-Eaters)
Menelaos' failure to avenge Agamemnon. Menelaos' immortality.
570. How soon
can you return to Argos? You may take him [Aigisthos]
alive there still --- or else meanwhile Orestes, etc.
Proteus advises Menelaos that he can still avenge his brother Agamemnon's murder, thus pursuing Justice and earning kleos (fame, a metaphorical kind of immortality) for himself. But a moment later, 585-595, Menelaos learns that because he is Zeus' son and Helen's husband --- that is, because he is well-connected --- he will be literally immortal anyhow: after his death he will dwell in Elysion. There will be no winter, no torrential rain --- and though safety is good, too much of it diminishes us as human beings. (California).
Menelaos does not go on to avenge his brother; instead, having raised a burial mound in Agamemnon's honor, he simply goes home, to begin enjoying the same boring leisure he will know in the afterlife. In fact, it may seem that Menelaos gives up on the pursuit of kleos the moment he learns that he will go to Elysion after his death.
Odysseus makes the opposite choice, in refusing the literal immortality of Calypso and pursuing the painful course of justice and kleos, the immortality of the image. Notice the way Proteus describes Calypso's island and Elysion in the same speech, implicitly comparing them.
(Sources: The Odyssey, William Thalmann; The Greeks, H.D.F. Kitto; Homer's Odyssey, ed. Harold Bloom)
ca. 10,000-8000 Development of agriculture, paleolithic age
ca. 4000 Dawn of Neolithic age in Greece
ca. 3000 Beginning of northern invasions of Greece
ca. 2800 Dawn of Bronze Age in Crete
ca. 2000 Unification of Minoan power in Crete
ca. 2000-1700 Akhaian invasion
ca. 1600 Destruction of Phaestos and Knossos in Crete. Palaces rebuilt.
Greek linear script replaces hieroglyphs
ca. 1600-1400 Strong Cretan influence in Greece. Shaft grave dynasty at Mycenae
ca. 1400 Second destruction of Cretan palaces. Rapid wane of Minoan power
ca. 1325-1200 Great age of Mycenae. Development of Mycenean trade in Egypt and the Eastern Mediterranean.
1287 Battle of Cadesh between Egypt and Hittites;decline of both powers
ca. 1250-1240 Trojan War? A modern archaelogical estimate.
ca. 1225 Trojan War? A modern estimate for the sack of Troy VII.
ca. 1200 Destruction of Mycenean palace-culture
1194-1184 Traditional date for the Trojan War. Sack of Troy VI.
1100-1000 Traditional date of Dorian invasions
1100-750 Darke age; population and material culture decline sharply from 1200 to 1050. Iron introduced ca. 1100
776 First Olympic games festival
ca. 750 The alphabet appears in Greece; reintroduction of writing
ca. 750-700 Probable period of composition of Homeric Iliad and Odyssey
700-480 Archaic Age Homeric poems are written down.
479-323 Classical Period. Civic editions of the Homeric Poems
323-31 Hellenistic Period. Written texts of the Homeric poems are edited by scholars at the library in Alexandria
Notes on Odyssey, book 5
170. O forlorn man
Here Calypso calls Odysseus "forlorn man" or "poor fellow," or "wretch," with the fond condescension of a lover. But once he has made her swear that her offer of freedom is not just a trick, his escape from her becomes a real possibility, and her tone changes --- she calls him by name:
Diogenes Laertiade polumechan' Odysseu
Διογενεσ Λαερτιαδη, πολυμηχαν' Οδυσσευ (V.203)
212. Son of Laertes, versatile Odsseus
In fact the Greek is much more magnificent in its tone of respectful praise, and much more specific to Odysseus than Fitzgerald's rendering. The meaning runs more like this: “Godlike (descended-from-Zeus) Son of Laertes, Odysseus of many schemes.” Remember that his name, his image, his identity, his integrity, is precisely what Calypso was “hiding” by keeping him on her island.
234-6. Now as he spoke the sun set, dusk drew on,
and they retired, this pair, to the inner cave
to revel and rest softly, side by side
Once Odysseus has broken her hold on him, he can be affectionate towards her in a meaningful (because voluntary) way; his masculinity is restored along with his mortality and his freedom.
244-270 Odysseus builds the boat that enables his return to the mortal world. But note: the work of building the boat is itself his re-entry into the mortal world, because in these seven years with Calypso, there was no work for him to do. (Compare Genesis 3: 19) Now he can do what mortals do, and gods and animals don't, namely work. Note that he counts the days --- there was no need to before, since time didn't matter with Calypso.
499. grown from the same spot -- olive and wild olive ---
Odysseus buries himself in the leaves of this thicket and goes to sleep, hidden from the elements and from any predators that might happen by. The mixture of domestic and wild olive trees suggests the combination, in Odysseus' nature, of wild, instinctive drives with civilized knowledge.
Notes on Odyssey, book 6
When he emerges again from these bushes in book 6, line 135, he is compared to a wild animal (a lion), even as he wonders whether the people among whom he has arrived are "savages... or gentle folk."
235-256 Odysseus scrubs himself off, removing the traces of the night he spent sleeping naked in the leaves. This is, again, a rebirth out of the wild and into civilization, exemplified by the highly civilized and polite speech Odysseus makes to Nausikaa.
This theme of civilization (themis) vs. wildness or barbarism is prominent in the Phaiakian books (6 and 7) because while the Cyclops don't have enough themis, the Phaiakians have too much. They are so isolated from the rest of the human race (and so close to the Gods, who visit them undisguised and often) that they are a little surprised to hear that Odysseus is hungry.
~120-~140. The land of the Phaiakians is the first Utopia in Western Literature. The fruits and vegetables there grow year round, apparently without much cultivation, just as the ships move not by the sweat of the sailors but by their mere thoughts.
Notes on Odyssey, book 7
Odysseus' experience among the Phaiakians resembles Telemachos' at Menelaos' house. Each is amazed at the godlike opulence of his host's house, and each enjoys the ritual hospitality. When Menelaos recalls his comrades lost in the Trojan war, "especially Odysseus," Telemachos weeps into his cloak, just as Odysseus does when the bard Demodokos sings about the Trojan war: the host notices the guest weeping, and thereby identifies the guest. Pain confers identity.
Notes on Odyssey, book 8
276-383. Demodokos sings the tale of the adultery of Ares and Aphrodite.
Note: the different gods and goddesses have different responses to this tale, as the Phaiakians and Odysseus, or the suitors and Telemachos, or Telemachos and Penelope, respond to the same songs differently. The Odyssey is full of descriptions of what poetry is and how it affects people.
The adultery among the gods has no lasting consequences: they live on Olympus, and laugh it off. Paris's adultery with Helen caused the bloody Trojan war; Clytemnestra's adultery with Aigisthos caused their own deaths and that of Agamemnon; the suitor's desire for Penelope results in the bloodbath at the poem's end.
545-555. Odysseus, having heard both the tragic song (of Troy) and the comic one (of the adultery of Aphrodite), deliberately chooses to hear the tragic type again. Rather than laugh at the distant Olympian farce or to hear of Troy as a mere adventure story, he chooses to weep at a story of real suffering, of the kind that he has experienced as the city-sacker, the violent conqueror, rather than as the defeated victim (though he has lost all of his companions to violence). The simile of the refugee woman contrasts the life of suffering and experience (a life shared by both hero and victim) with the Phaiakian life of games and leisure.
561. Grief/ seems fixed upon his heart. Break off the song!
Alkinoos is almost frantic with the thought that Odysseus is not having a good time, but it was Odysseus who asked for this sad song to be played. Alkinoos has not learned what Telemachos understood when he told his mother to let the minstrel play on --- that sorrow has its truth, not to be ignored or concealed. So distant are the Phaiakians from experience that (580-587) their ships are thought-propelled, and (605-610) Alkinoos can't imagine his guest having any closer relation lost to the war than an in-law or a friend.
Notes on Odyssey, book 9
110-122 The description of the Cyclops as primitive, pre-civilized figures.
Breaches of Xenia (guest-host relationship) by the Cyclops Polyphemos
A. 265. "Strangers," he said, "who are you? And where from?"
This question is not supposed to be asked until after a host has served his guests a meal.
Polyphemos asks it the moment he sees Odysseus and his men.
B. 287. We Kyklopes/ Care not a whistle for your thundering Zeus
When Odysseus asks for guest-friendship in the name of Zeus (who is, indeed, the God of hospitality and strangers), the Cyclops responds with impious scorn and defiance.
C. 304. Then he dismembered them and made his meal
Rather than offer his guests a meal, he eats them.
D. 364. Kyklops, try some wine.
The host should offer wine to the guest, but here the guest offers wine to the host.
E. 357. He hefted his great boulder into place
The host should not keep the guest too long nor prevent him from leaving when he likes.
F. 385. Nohbdy's my meat, then, after I eat his friends.
Others come first. There's a noble gift, now.
The host should offer the guest a parting gift, but the Cyclops mocks this with his "gift."
110-145. Description of the Cyclopes' island.
Note: the nearby island is better for the Cyclopes, but they don't go there because it has never occurred to them to do so, nor to build ships for the crossing (130-133).
Their own island is perfect for agriculture, but they don't engage in it because --- it has never occurred to them. Also, it requires cooperation, and they are solitaries.
Polyphemos is duped by Odysseus because he has no experience with names. No experience with strangers, therefore: no experience of wine (despite boast to the contrary), the shutting of the gate before checking if there are strangers inside already, the assumption that the prophecy about his eye referred to someone larger than himself.
The name Odysseus gives is Μη Τισ, which sounds like Mey-Tis and means "Nobody."
"Tis" means "someone" and "Mey" means "not, none." Together they make the word for "nobody."
It is also true that the word for cleverness (and for the stratagems that a clever man makes) sounds just like these two little words for "nobody": Μητισ, cleverness (one word), sounds like Μη Τισ, nobody (two words). Note these ironies:
1. For Odysseus to escape Polyphemos by calling himself Mey Tis (Nobody) is itself a wonderful piece of meytis (cleverness).
2. Odysseus calls himself Nobody, thereby losing his identity --- but cleverness, which he is exercising in that very loss --- is his most distinguishing characteristic (he is over and over again named by Athena and others Polymetis Odysseus, “Odysseus of much Cleverness”). So in losing his name he is subtlely, through the pun, reinforcing his name.
3. Having lost his name for a while, Odysseus relapses into the old heroic need for kleos (fame) through violence (as in sacking a city or putting out a monster's eye), and shouts his name and address to Polyphemos. That mistake --- that failure of meytis --- brings on Polyphemos' prayer to Poseidon, a curse that keeps Odysseus hidden and obscure --- without kleos, as Telemachos complains at Book 1, line 278 ("no glory" is "no kleos") --- for years to come.
Though Polyphemos is quite intelligent within the realm of his dairy-farming, a solitary activity and one which does not change, he is at a loss when confronted with another intelligence. The Cyclopes' lack of community, their utter lack of social experience --- makes them such poor hosts and so vulnerable to Odysseus' revenge.
"The other Kyklopes' failure to make sense of Polyphemos' nonsensical cry is as absurd as his original mistake, but Homer makes it plausible by his earlier references to their indifference to communal responsibilities. They too are caught in the same trap as Polyphemos, although he mistranslates meytis as a real name while they translate it correctly back into the negative pronoun 'nobody.'" (Norman Austin, "Intimations of Order," reprinted in the Norton Critical Edition of the Odyssey).
402. turning it as a shipwright turns a drill
The handicraft of making ships is part of the metis, intelligence, of Odysseus which the Cyclopes lack. They specifically lack the ability to build ships, which is both a cause of their isolation (no voyaging, no meetings with others) and an effect of it (no cooperation, like that of Odysseus' men who work as a ship's crew together).
Notes on the wanderings of Odysseus, books 9 through 12
Notes on Odyssey book 9, The Lotos-Eaters
98. but those who ate this honeyed plant, the Lotos
The Lotos is a real problem not so much for Odysseus as for his men. It offers the loss of memory altogether. The men have to be tied down to their benches. Compare the Sirens' episode, where Odysseus must be tied to the mast of the ship. The Lotos tempts the men with utter loss of memory; the Sirens tempt Odysseus with total immersion in memory.
Book 10, Aiolos
50. Temptation had its way with my companions,/ and they untied the bag.
Had they not done so, they would have gotten straight home, but the Phaiakian sort of freedom from the normal frustrations of seafaring cannot hold. Everyday reality intrudes, by way of the men's' curiosity, and they are blown off course again. This happens while Odysseus is asleep, and the whole episode of Aiolos is a kind of rehearsal for the Phaiakians episode.
Book 10, Laistrygonians
The Laistrygonians episode is a sheer disaster for Odysseus and his men; after the foolhardy mistake with Aiolos' bag of winds, the cannibalistic Laistrygonians are a terrible blow of further bad luck. Odysseus restores the men's confidence and re-unites their little community with the killing of the stag on Circe's island and the ensuing feast on the beach.
Book 10, Circe
333. a moly in the language of the gods ---/ fatgue and pain for mortals to uproot
Hermes gives Odysseus a drug, moly, that is hard for mortals to dig up. It prevents him from being seduced by Circe, and that ends up making him able to seduce her in turn. The Cyclops ate Odysseus' men; Circe feeds them, but they lose their identities just as surely. Being turned into a pig is perhaps Homer's idea of the fate of the amnesiac. It is this rash eating --- like the eating of the Cattle of the Sun --- that causes the men to succumb to Circe's power, and it is a gift of the Gods --- Hermes' present of Moly to Odysseus --- to be able to resist this.
"It seems right that the female who seduced Odysseus' crew by a bogus offer of love and care should really become interested in the man before her only when he shows himself both able to resist her gratifications and willing to kill her if necessary to preserve his men's identity and his own." Dimock, p.127
Notes on Odyssey book 11, Hades
As Odysseus left for the Land of the Dead, one of his men, young Elpenor, fell drunk from Circe's roof and broke his neck, the latest victim of reckless eating and drinking and the surrender to impulse. He gets to Hades almost instantaneously. Odysseus promises Elpenor a burial with a humble monument, the oar he rowed in life.
The Prophecies of Teiresias
120. But if you raid the beeves, I see destruction
Teiresias warns against eating the oxen of the sun.
136. "What winnowing fan is that on your shoulder?"
When Odysseus gets home, after he dispatches the suitors, he must travel to a far place where people know nothing of ships and the sea; these inlanders will not even recognize an oar for what it is. And yet as we have learned from Elpenor, the oar is a fitting symbol of the life of wandering, pain and experience that he and Odysseus will have shared.
There is a similarity between what Teiresias is telling Odysseus to do in the future, and what he is doing now among the Phaiakians. The story of his wanderings erupts among their peaceful leisure like an oar planted among people who don't put salt on their food: the hosts' lives lack savor, because they have too much security, while the guest's (Odysseus') life is painful and deep, because it has so little security, so much exposure.
175-240. Odysseus' conversation with his mother's ghost
215. only my loneliness for you, gentle Odysseus, / took my own life away
Odysseus' mother has died of grief for lack of Odysseus, who bites his lip to hear of this, and feels guilt (or something like it). But note Antiklea's parting words:
239-240. Note all things strange seen here, to tell your lady in after days.
The following portion of Book 11 is a catalogue of women, now dead, a catalogue describing their lives from the perspective of death: how these women are remembered. What Antiklea wants Odysseus to describe to Penelope is how a woman is remembered, what makes for a good reputation in the afterlife, where reputation is all that is left of a person. Next there follow Odysseus' meetings with Agamemnon, Achilles and Ajax.
503. Land your ship / in secret on your island
Agamemnon warns Odysseus about the need for secrecy upon homecoming.
544. Better, I say, to break sod as a farmhand
Achilles here "critiques the old heroic value system" as they say...
633. But he gave no reply, and turned away,
following other ghosts toward Erebos
We are reminded that Odysseus won the competition for the armor of Achilles, and Ajax lost. It was a fair decision, since it was made by Athena and the Trojans, but Ajax could not bear defeat and killed himself.
"Ajax died for an honor which Odysseus would give up to have Ajax still alive. Ajax can never forget that he was defeated, but Odysseus rises above defeat and victory alike." (Dimock, p.158)
Notes on Odyssey, book 12
The crime of eating the oxen of the sun is essentially the crime of choosing death over life: literally, because over and over again the men are warned that eating them will cost them their own lives, so that this eating, when it happens, is a flight away from hunger and discomfort and into death; and metaphorically because there are 350 sheep and 350 cows, as if they were the days and nights of the year --- they belong, after all, to the sun --- so that to eat them is to kill time, to abbreviate life.
Notes on Odyssey, book 13
Among the Phaiakians Odysseus has gone from a naked, nameless man sleeping wild in the bushes to a man revered by the Phaiakians, provided with a homecoming and more treasure than he can carry as a parting gift.
That has been a process of winning and securing his identity: through the encounter with Nausicaa on the beach, the introduction and supplication at the palace, the athletic games, the hearing of the poet Demodocus and Odysseus' weeping at the memories those songs aroused; the telling of his name, and finally the singing of his own stories, the wanderings of him and his men.
This gradual re-establishment of his identity has been a preparation for the last phase of the poem, in which he will first lose his identity all over again --- by disguising himself as a beggar --- and finally gain his old identity openly and completely, through the old-heroic, kleos-bringing, undisguised violence in the slaughter of the suitors. The non-violent corollary of that disclosure is the series of recognition scenes in which members of Odysseus' household are told who he really is (Telemachos, Eumaus, Eurykleia, the Cowherd, and finally, Penelope).
At this point, the beginning of Book 13, Odysseus has survived the anger of Poseidon.
Whatever suffering he has left will be at home, and no longer the struggle to get home.
The first half of the Odyssey is over.
90. Slumber, soft and deep,
like the still sleep of death, weighed on his eyes
as the ship hove seaward.
This is a kind of death-and-rebirth, from the wanderer to the homecomer.
220. Odysseus/ awoke, but could not tell what land it was
after so many years away
Odysseus must start at the bottom again, as he did with the Phaiakians (book 5, sleeping in the olive thicket like a wild animal).
349. You play a part as if it were your own tough skin.
This is the first of the recognition scenes: Odysseus recognizing his homeland.
There is also the mutual recognition of Odysseus and Athena.
This is the first time Athena has appeared to Odysseus openly; until now she had feared the anger of her brother Poseidon (see the last lines of book 6, p.286).
Note Odysseus' dependence on Athena for his success against overwhelming odds, but note also his independence of her in the matter of his identity --- he is who he is by his own nature.
She hides the Phaiakian treasure, disguises Odysseus, and makes a plan to kill the suitors, not because he can't do these things, but because she can do them better.
Notes on Odyssey, book 14,The visit of Odysseus to Eumaios the faithful swineherd
103. All they want is to prey on his estate
Odysseus learns the state of things on Ithaka (a long, mortal version vs. the quick, Athena-told-him version of book 13) and tests the loyalties of his dear ones.
The whole scene is an example of humble but heartfelt Xenia, more beautiful than the hospitality of the Phaiakians because it is closer to the source of things.
63. All wanderers/ and beggars come from Zeus
Odysseus getting the full, local description of what is going on; later, he will see for himself, but first he must know what to expect.
517. to put it in his head to take his cloak off
Odysseus must deceive both his enemies and his friends, since he's in disguise, but note the way Odysseus can get Eumaos to do what he want, without Eumaos realizing it --- Odysseus is his master. The profession of beggar involves a lot of manipulation. Consider the way Odysseus almost let the young dogs attack him (cf. the Suitors).
Notes on Odyssey, book 15
Telemachos returns Peisistratos to Pylos and comes home to Ithaka, prompted by Athena.
Odysseus hears Eumaios' story of how he came to live on Ithaka on Odysseus' estate.
As Eumaios recounts his affection for Odysseus' mother and father and sister, imagine what Odysseus' own feeling for those same people must be like.
Notes on Odyssey, book 16
The recognition of Telemachos by Eumaios
15-35. The swineherd/ rose in surprise
Not a word about what Odysseus is feeling, when Eumaios is embracing Telemachos. As though to make sure that we see through Eumaios to Odysseus, Homer compares the swineherd's joy to a father's.
49. Friend, sit down; we'll find another chair
Telemachos is, indeed, well mannered to strangers. He has turned out alright.
95-120. Odysseus, disguised, heartens Telemachos with the image of Odysseus.
150-162. Eumaus leaves, Telemachos asserts himself prudently.
The recognition of Odysseus by Telemachos
Athena presides over this recognition, transforming Odysseus before Telemachos' eyes.
τον δ απαμειβομενοσ προσεϕη πολυμετισ Οδυσσευσ 201
Τηλεμαχ, ου σε εοικε ϕιλον πατερ ενδον εοντα
ουτε τι θαυμαζειν περιουσιον ουτ αγαεσθαι
Fitzgerald's rather nasty "this is not princely" is not in the Greek, which is more like "it is not fitting, it is not seemly."
285. Before long they will stand to right and left of us
Odysseus is full of a confidence in devine help that he confers on Telemachos.
Note the economy of scarcity in Telemachos' skepticism (283."other affairs of men").
Notes on Odyssey, book 17
460. What fatherly concern you show me! Frighten
This unknown fellow (ξεινοσ), would you, from my hall
Telemachos shows Antinoos how unqualified he is for the role of Odysseus.
The suitors demonstrate that they deserve the punishment they get.
630. Telemachos' sneeze
Oracles are a kind of knowledge
page 233: Book 2, 188-190.
I am more fit to interpret this than you are.
Bird life aplenty is found in the sunny air,
not all of it significant.
This is a note repeated throughout Western literature, since oracles are always articulated in the medium of the normal material world. Generally the prodigies are in the form of weather, birdflight, animal entrails, or the stars, all of which can, within reason, seem significant when they aren't and vice versa. Is some event a sign or not, and if so, what does it signify?
The oracles in the Odyssey mostly concern the triumphant return and revenge of Odysseus, good omens therefore for him and his, bad omens for the suitors. Generally it is the suitors who misunderstand the omens, thinking them either meaningless or favorable to themselves: they cannot read the signs, just as they can't read the natural, circumstantial signs of their coming doom --- the armaments removed from the walls, their failure to ambush Telemachos, all the innuendo in the beggar's speech, his quick victory over Iros --- but most of all, they can't see that Odysseus is among them, until it is too late.
Notes on Odyssey, book 18
After the fight with Iros, the suitors begin to respect the disguised Odysseus somewhat. He gives them fair warning, at 142-167. This adds significantly to our sense that Odysseus is justified in his murderous revenge.
Notes on Odyssey, book 19
Eurykleia's recognition of Odysseus
Recall Helen's recognition of Odysseus when he was disguised at Troy, in the story she told in book 4.
Penelope's interview with the disguised Odysseus. Here his self-control recalls the moment Menelaus descrivbed in book 4, when Odysseus kept himself and the other warriors quietly hidden while Helen tempted them with the voices of their wives.
Notes on Odyssey, book 23
Kleos is inverted in the slaughter of the suitors. Even though the deed is of the martial kind performed at Troy, the fame of it must remain secret:
μη προσθε κλεοσ ευρυ ϕονου κατα αστυ γενηται
See essay by Charles Segal in Bloom volume, p.147
The simile at 23. 233-240 in the Greek, "As the sight of land brings joy to men swimming," see Norman Austin, "Intimations of Order" at page 397 of the Norton Critical Edition of the Odyssey.