Sunday, August 05, 2012

At the end of this post, I pull out an old school D&D reference. (Sundays With The Classics)

Didn't you kind of always think The Odyssey was about Ulysses and his journey home from the Trojan War?  Because I swear that's what I was told it was about or perhaps learned it being about back in school.

But it's not, not so far.  So far, it's all about Telemachus, Ulysses' son, and his troubles dealing with all the people who have come to pester his mom to marry them since Ulysses never came back, and I'm having a bit of trouble understanding that.

There's this scene in the beginning of The Odyssey where Telemachus gets together a whole general assembly of Greeks to complain to them and tell them his plan. He makes a big speech to all the men who are trying to get his mom to marry them, and tells them off for wasting his patrimony and says they should go somewhere else and mooch of someone else.  It's an incredible scene because imagine a kid getting together everyone in the neighborhood, all the rich folk and then the regular people, and saying "Hey, rich people: quit mooching off me!"  It was like Occupy The Odyssey.

Only what happens next is even more amazing, only I won't get to that yet because here's what's confusing me:  Telemachus' mom is apparently able to be courted, because everyone thinks Ulysses is dead [SPOILER ALERT! COURTESY OF ATHENA WHO AT VARIOUS TIMES IS ALSO CALLED MINERVA AND PALLAS AND THAT MAKES IT VERY CONFUSING: He's not!] and so all these rich guys want to marry her because that would (I think) make them the king of whatever island Ulysses is/was living on.

But if Ulysses is dead, that would presumably make Telemachus his heir, and Telemachus would own all the stuff, which is where I'm confused: apparently Telemachus can't run the show because Ulysses isn't officially dead but that doesn't stop the rich guys from all insisting on Penelope (Telemachus' mom) marrying them.

Greece was weird.

But here's the amazing part of the scene:  Telemachus gets all the moochers together, and tells them off.  "Quit mooching from me, you're wasting my estate," he tells them, and what do the rich guys do?

They blame his mom.

Honestly: One of the rich guys gets up and makes a speech about how it's all Penelope's fault because she won't come out and marry one of them, and talks about how she's supposedly been making a funeral shroud but she unravels it each night and they know about that and so they can't help it they have to stay there.

And then they refuse to help him fit out a ship to go find his dad, and instead, having blamed his mom for their actions, go have another party in Telemachus' house.

It was like Jersey Shore only with names that are slightly less silly.

But Telemachus has Pallas Athena on his side, and she goes around the city in the guise of Telemachus, asking for help, and pretty soon everyone pitches in anyway, even though they just refused to help Telemachus, so I'm supposing that the Athena Minerva used some godly magic on them, and when I left off, Telemachus had snuck some wine out of his own house and sailed off to Pylus, where he's having a feast of ox entrails in a celebration of Neptune, and Minerva is at his side but I'm pretty sure she's disguised, although I kind of think that Telemachus kind of knows it's Athena.

Which is where I left off thinking: If you were to go on a journey and realize that one of the people helping you was a god, would that make you feel cool, or nervous, or both?  

I was going to go with cool but then you realize that the gods are capricious, and you've got to watch your step, and also you realize that the gods could have simply given you what you're after-- Athena could, presumably, have just gotten Neptune to let Ulysses come home -- but they're counting on you to do the thing.

In terms of power, though, so far Athena's about Gandalf's level of power: supposedly a god, all she's really done is disguise herself and get other people to make a ship for Telemachus.  That's slightly more useful than ventriloquizing trolls.  Slightly.  So while Telemachus seems pretty accepting and not very nervous about having one of those mercurial Greek gods hanging around him, that's not so remarkable when you realize that her godlike abilities amount to a +5 in bartering.


PT Dilloway, Superhero Author said...

One of the suitors ought to just marry Telemachus. They were into that kind of stuff back then. Probably where the Catholic Church learned it from.

Michael Offutt, Tebow Cult Initiate said...

One of the best aspects of the Iliad and the Odyssey is the role of the gods. In the Iliad, I loved it when Ares broke down and cried on the battlefield. Here was the great god of war sobbing like a baby.

Athena admired Odysseus because he was clever. So she helped out where she could. But poor Odysseus had angered Poseidon because he had blinded his son the cyclops.

To keep all those suitors in check, the wife and son of Odysseus had to be clever.

And yeah, Greece was/is culturally different than here. But not so much as you'd think. American men are essentially the same way. They want to own a woman and then own the best property and keep the rest of the world at bay while they reproduce.

That formula has not changed in thousands of years and is still relevant today.

Briane P said...

But they didn't keep the suitors in check: the suitors are bankrupting Telemachus.

Andrew Leon said...

It's one of those situations where everyone figured Dad was dead because the rest of the fleet had come back but he hadn't. However, there was a specified time period before they could officially say he was dead. The wife didn't want to commit, because she was still hoping he was alive. However, if she had just said I want to marry X all the rest would have had to go.