Monday, September 24, 2012

The Odyssey

Just finished Homer's The Odyssey last night. Well, actually finished the novel the night before, but last night finished out the Notes on the Translation, which were really interesting too!

So, where to start with my rambling thoughts on this epic? Well, it definitely goes down as one of the best books I've ever read. Wow! I was so nervous about reading it at the beginning - have you seen how thick the book is? Gasp!! But it was awesome. You just have to start and keep going until you reach that point when you don't want to stop. That probably came, for me, around Book 9 - In the One-Eyed Giant's Cave - wowza!!! What descriptive powers Homer has. I wasn't prepared for it, and subsequently, read this chapter right before going to sleep, so that made for an interesting night of weird dreams! Bwahahahaha!!! From that point on I didn't want to put the book down. Going to bed (I always read before bed) was now my favorite part of the day. I was hitting the bed by 10:00pm - haven't done that for a LONG time. I would read a book/chapter (or two) a night, depending how tired I was.

I started reading The Odyssey when I joined Edie's Book club, over at lifeingrace - you must check out her beautiful, awesome blog - I just love reading it - Edie has such grace, and beauty, and a peaceful nature about her. It is always so inspiring to read her blog, so when she decided to set up a book club I knew this was going to be great! You can still join - just click on the forum link up top right on the top of the blog page. It is a great opportunity to hear and discuss what others think about the book, and share notes/opinions. I love it because I get to hear from people who are way smarter than me. It makes you think about different aspects of the book you may have missed, or didn't understand. Oh, it makes me want to join a real live book club, to have discussions about Homer, about the themes of the book, about the ancient times in which the epic is set. But, none alas, so online book club it is, and so very thankful for it, too.

So back to my general ramblings:

1. Homecoming - what a beautiful theme indeed - after 10 years of war at Troy, Odysseus and his crew set sail for home, back to their families, back to their wives and children, back to their beloved Ithaca. However, the gods (particularly Poseidon) have different plans for them, and so the journey back is difficult, filled with danger and peril, death and destruction, and extreme hardship. For Odysseus, the home journey takes 10 years and tests every fiber of his dedication, devotion, and strength. His homecoming is not the hero's welcome you would expect for a king back from war, but is the homecoming of a husband and father, who has to come home to defend his family's honor, home, and rightful standing in his own kingdom.

2. Xenia - hospitality. Back before there were hotels or restaurants, travelers relied on the hospitality of the people they came across, for food and shelter. Xenia (good xenia) was expected by the gods - take the stranger/s into your home - feed them, be a good gracious host, lavish them with gifts, hear their story, and send them on their way, when they are ready to go, with everything they need to reach their destination, successfully. However, not everyone shows (good) Xenia - some are unwilling to let their guests leave, while others like to eat mere mortals! That is not good Xenia, people!

3. Questions - the first twelve books raise so many questions - Why doesn't Penelope throw the suitors out of her palace? Why doesn't Telemachus do something about the suitors? Why doesn't Telemachus just take over reign, or Penelope, for that matter? Why let the suitors waste away their resources so much? Why is there no one to help them? etc... - so here are my thoughts on these questions -  this sets up a confusing nature for the reader - frustration, questions, etc, and gives us a real insight into the turmoil of the palace and how Penelope and Telemachus are feeling. Also, if Penelope or Telemachus (or anyone else) were able to help (and did), and rectify the suitor situation then that would make Odysseus redundant. This is so important to the main theme of the book - homecoming. It would completely diminish his homecoming, undermine his importance, and the significance he plays in his family and his kingdom. The father figure, the king, is so important to a functioning family, and to a successful kingdom.

4. Telemachus is "sent off" by Athena (as Mentor) to mature/ rebirth and realize the scope of his role - Odysseus's true son. Yes, they are big shoes to fill, but his own journey lets him awaken as the Hero's Son, and gives him the courage to stand beside his father (later in the novel) to fight the suitors.

5. Real men weep...yep!

6. Strength - This book is mainly about the strength of character, of the mind. How strong is Odysseus in his devotion, love and commitment to his family, and country, to endure all he went through to get home? And he continues, without tiring, without ever giving up hope or determination. And, once home, he still continues, with his right mind set intact, focusing on the best way to deal with his homecoming/ family/ and finally the demise of those suitors.
He has strength - physical, yes indeed, but also emotional, mental, and spiritual. No wonder Penelope held out so long for her Odysseus! She knows there is no other man that even compares to him, and she would rather die then marry a lesser man.

7. Secret Signs - testing the heart. I love love love the significance of the wedding bed. Penelope tests Odysseus with her "secret code", all about their wedding bed made from/ connected to a live olive tree. Only Penelope, Odysseus and one single maidservant knows of the bed, which Odysseus made with his own two hands. It symbolizes the constancy of Penelope and Odysseus’s marriage. How wonderfully consistent - what devotion (I think it was outside pressure from family and kingdom that initially allowed the suitor to take their place at the palace, not necessarily from Penelope herself)! Penelope tries to trick Odysseus  - "Come, Eurycleia, move the sturdy bedstead out of our bridal chamber...", knowing it is impossible to move. Odysseus, outraged by his wife's harsh words, tells of the immovability of their bed—a metaphor for the unshakable foundation of their love, and therefore, at last, confirms his true identity to her - her husband is home!

8. I love how Odysseus reveals his identity to each important family member. First to Telemachus - he is disguised as a beggar, then revealed by Athena, all in the secret location of the swineherd's home (a devoted servant), to mastermind together (as father and son) the downfall of the suitors and the rightful return of the king and prince. For Penelope, it was their true undying devotion and love for each other - symbolized by their (immovable) wedding bed. And finally, for Laertes, his legacy to his son - the trees planted for him on the farm, and its connection back to Ithaca, his homeland. 

Okay, enough of my ramblings! It certainly sparked a desire to learn more, especially to revisit my ancient history lessons (which was my most favorite subject at school), so I hit up Half Price Books hard! Now, lots of extra reading to do :) Oh, and of course, continuing on with the book club - Antigone up next.

I found this wonderful book full of posters ready to frame - what a find!

I think this year is my learning year.

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