Saturday, September 08, 2012

I'm going to sacrifice HECACHEESEBURGERS*. (Sundays With The Classics)

Sundays With The Classics ought properly to be titled, now, Biking With The Classics and, today, Biking at 5:45 a.m. With The Classic, as a shift in schedules prompted by Mr F and Mr Bunches starting kindergarten will now have me working out early on Saturdays, and shifting around my increasingly-lackluster posting.

But BIKE I DID, and READ THE ODYSSEY I did, and whoa nelly was there a lot going on even though it's mostly just talking.  Here is a quick summary of what happened today:

1.  Telemachus and Nestor, his buddy the son of the last big guy who Telemachus visited, got to Menelaus' house.

2.  They met Helen of Troy, who turns out not to be capable of letting people forget that she totally cheated on her husband and started a war that led to thousands of deaths and also the disappearance of Telemachus' father.

3.  Telemachus and others get drugged by Helen of Troy, seriously.

4.  Telemachus and Nestor interrupt a wedding.

4A: Helen of Troy remembers that she ran into Ulysses when the latter was disguised as a beggar and snuck into Troy to do some spying and she did not rat him out.

5.  Menelaus tells them how, to get home from the Trojan War, he had to disguise himself in what I'm about 80% sure was the skin of a whale given to him by a nymph, so that he could capture a sort of lesser god that had trapped him on an island.

All of that happened and was amazing albeit told in boring Homeric style which includes lots of descriptions about how the servants tied up Telemachus' horse but very little description about, say, the battle in which Menelaus, wearing stinky whale skin, captures the god.

Here, for example, is the part where Homer describes the tying up of the horses, beginning with a servant asking Menelaus "Hey, there's two guys here, should we maybe let them in even though we're celebrating the wedding of your daughter?"


Grave Eteoneous saw the pomp appear,
And speeding, thus address'd the royal ear;
"Two youths approach, whose semblant features prove
Their blood devolving from the source of Jove
Is due reception deign'd, or must they bend
Their doubtful course to seek a distant friend?"

"Insensate! (with a sigh the king replies,)
Too long, misjudging, have I thought thee wise
But sure relentless folly steals thy breast,
Obdurate to reject the stranger-guest;
To those dear hospitable rites a foe,
Which in my wanderings oft relieved my woe;
Fed by the bounty of another's board,
Till pitying Jove my native realm restored—
Straight be the coursers from the car released,
Conduct the youths to grace the genial feast."

The seneschal, rebuked, in haste withdrew;
With equal haste a menial train pursue:
Part led the coursers, from the car enlarged,
Each to a crib with choicest grain surcharged;
Part in a portico, profusely graced
With rich magnificence, the chariot placed;
Then to the dome the friendly pair invite,


But here is the battle with the god who had been charged with keeping Menelaus on an island as a rebuke for not offering sufficient sacrifices to Jove before leaving Egypt:



Then Proteus, mounting from the hoary deep, 
Surveys his charge, unknowing of deceit;
 (In order told, we make the sum complete.) 
Pleased with the false review, secure he lies, 
And leaden slumbers press his drooping eyes.
 Rushing impetuous forth, we straight prepare 
A furious onset with the sound of war, 
And shouting seize the god; our force to evade, 
His various arts he soon resumes in aid; 
A lion now, he curls a surgy mane; 
Sudden our hands a spotted paid restrain; 
Then, arm'd with tusks, and lightning in his eyes, 
A boar's obscener shape the god belies; 
On spiry volumes, there a dragon rides; 
Here, from our strict embrace a stream he glides. 
At last, sublime, his stately growth he rears
 A tree, and well-dissembled foliage wears. 
Vain efforts with superior power compress'd, 
Me with reluctance thus the seer address'd;


So if you  ask me, capturing and interrogating a guard deserves a lot more time than "Hey, servants, let those guys in, will you?"  As with Shakespeare, perhaps Homer is a tad overrated.

What really really got me was the palace scene; that's the bulk of what I read for 40 minutes today, and what happens in a nutshell is that Telemachus and Nestor arrive, and are welcomed in, and Menelaus is talking to them and mentions Ulysses, and Telemachus starts to cry, at which point Helen of Troy comes out and mentions how, you know, she started a war and all, and talks about Ulysses, and then this really happens:

Helen realizes Telemachus is Ulysses' son and tells Menelaus, and Menelaus is all "Oh, yeah, that's totally obvious."

Helen press'd, And pleasing thus her sceptred lord address'd: 
"Who grace our palace now, that friendly pair,
 Speak they their lineage, or their names declare? 
Uncertain of the truth, yet uncontroll'd,
 Hear me the bodings of my breast unfold. 
With wonder wrapp'd on yonder check I trace 
The feature of the Ulyssean race: 
Diffused o'er each resembling line appear, 
In just similitude, the grace and air 
Of young Telemachus! the lovely boy, 
Who bless'd Ulysses with a father's joy, 
What time the Greeks combined their social arms,
 To avenge the stain of my ill-fated charms!"

 (Helen had just come into the wedding reception and instantly sees that Telemachus must be Ulysses' son.  And she mentions how the Greeks had to come get her from Troy, because she was so charming, in an ill-fated way.)

Then Menelaus immediately says -- even though he has been talking with Telemachus for a while -- this:

  "Just is thy thought, (the king assenting cries,) 
Methinks Ulysses strikes my wondering eyes;

Right.  Nice try, old man.  Helen totally showed you up. 

A few random thoughts to sum up:

Minerva is mentioned in the part I read today.  According to the dictionary link on my Kindle, Minerva is the goddess of handicrafts, and also war.  Firstly, HOW DO THOSE TWO THINGS GO TOGETHER? 

ZEUS: You, Minerva, shall be in charge of determining the winners and losers in battles between nation-states, ruling over the noble warriors and deciding which shall live in glory and which shall be sent to Hades as ignominious losers of battle.

MINERVA: Okay.

ZEUS: Also, you are going to oversee, um, knitting and stuff.

 And Secondly, WHY DO YOU NEED A GODDESS OF HANDICRAFTS? It seems like that is the kind of thing that would not need divine intervention.

The other random thoughts:

Nestor, Telemachus' traveling buddy this far, is also known as "Picistratus."  Picistratus is considered a tyrant who took on country-dwelling aristocracy and gave their lands to the poor, which is not a bad kind of tyrant if you ask me.  It's not surprising to see Pisistratus make an appearance here, given that he was a real-life guy who tried to compile the Homeric epics into one uniform version, but it does make The Odyssey seem like it's an early version of fan fiction. 

The bad kind of tyrant would be in this case Menelaus, who, upon hearing how those suitors are using up all Telemachus' food and riches, tells Telemachus that had he but known what was going on, he'd have given Telemachus and Penelope their own castle and village and would have done so by moving all of Telemachus' people to his area, and then kicking some people out of the village he was giving them.  I'm not even exaggerating. You would not, it seems, want to be a poor person in ancient Greece.  Or anywhere.  At any time. But it seems like it would have been even worse back then.

Finally: The Greeks had a word to be used specifically when you sacrifice exactly 100 oxen to the gods.  The word was hecatombs, and imagine how often that had to be done before someone said "You know what? It's getting tiresome always saying "exactly 100 oxen." Let's make up a new word for it."

*Confidential to PT Dilloway: It is not hard to fit a McDonald's cheeseburger reference into any subject.  You've just got to really want it.

10 comments:

Liz said...

WHY DO YOU NEED A GODDESS OF HANDICRAFTS? It seems like that is the kind of thing that would not need divine intervention.

Clearly, you've never had to rip out and reknit the same row over and over because it just would not work out right. As with any endeavor, those that partake of it know that sometimes you just need to yell at someone about it. Gods work for that purpose.

As for how war and handicrafts go together...yeah, I don't get that either. Although, consider being crafty in war as a way to win... It doesn't really work, does it?

Andrew Leon said...

The reason that Minerva gets handicrafts is that she needs something to do, you know, to keep her hands busy, when there is no war going on. It makes perfect sense.

You do realize that all that complicated verse is not really Homeric, right? It's just the way that guy translated it, because he felt it needed a lot of weight because it was ancient poetry. That and prose hadn't really come into its own when those translations were being done. Homer could totally be translated into a prose fantasy epic, and, now, I wish I knew Greek.

Briane P said...

Liz: you need to sacrifice more oxen to prevent that. if you're a vegan shape tofu into an oxen.

Andrew: I've been thinking as I read that it would be super simple to rewrite this (public domain) story as a swords & sorcery epic. we should do that, all of us. Seriously.

Andrew Leon said...

I'm almost up for that, but I need to finish Shadow Spinner and Brother's Keeper, first.

Liz said...

Sacrifice oxen you say? I usually console myself with brownies, but I'll try anything when things aren't working. (And for the record, I'm a carnivore.)

Michael Offutt, Tebow Cult Initiate said...

It's funny to see you talk about the Oddysey. I'm about halfway done with the After, and I'm really enjoying it. You have a unique mind to constantly be reminding the reader of things that Saoirise must really "want" but maybe not really but she must want them, or otherwise they wouldn't be in the After. And I must know why the Pizza Lady wants Saoririse to stop Taft from getting the tree. What a strange "Twilight Zone"-ish tale you have spun.

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