Saturday, January 26, 2013
Somehow, this particular Greek God legend never made it into the Disney cartoons. (Sundays With The Classics)
Thus far, The Odyssey has been nothing like what I expected. The story that I knew was Ulysses traveling home from the Trojan War and fighting cyclopses and possibly the Minotaur, I don't know, but it was that: Ulysses had an adventure on the way home from the war.
The Odyssey as it exists is quite different, and thus far has mainly been people partying and sacrificing things to the gods and then more partying, and this installment was not much different.
Odysseus, remember, was at a dinner with the Phaecians, and he'd settled down after showing off how athletic he was, at which point the Phaecians decided to wow him with some dinner theater, and they begin with Riverdance:
Into the middle area, around whom
Stood blooming youths, all skilful in the danc.
With footsteps jointly timed all smot at once
The sacred floor; Ulysses wonder-fixt
The ceaseless play of twinkling feet admired.
And then the famed bard (?) Demodocus comes out and plays, beginning with a fascinating story about the gods Mars and Venus getting caught by the sun having an affair.
Venus, the story says, is married to Vulcan, who apparently is an old and lame and crippled guy and really no match, looks-wise, for Mars, and Vulcan learns that Venus has been cheating on him (because the sun told him) and so he sets a trap, coming up with a hidden net that is too tough to be even broken by the Gods. Vulcan sets the net up around his bed and then loudly says he's off on a journey to Lemnos, "the city that he favors most."
(Lemnos is Vulcan's favorite because that's where he fell when Zeus threw him when he was flung out of Olympus. There is a lot of history I do not know about the gods, including that I didn't know that Vulcan was flung out of Olympus. But he did all right, fathering a race of women who would go on to murder their husbands and live as Amazons, kind of.)
So as soon as Vulcan leaves for Lemnos, Mars and Venus get at it:
Mars, drowsy watch, but seeing that the fames
Artificer of heav'n had left his home,
Flew to the house of Vulcan, hot to enjoy
The Goddess with the wreath-encircled brows.
She, newly from her potent Sire return'd
The son of Saturn, sat. Mars, ent'ring, seiz'd
Her hand, hung on it, and thus urg'd his suit.
To be, my fair, and let us love, for lo!
Thine husband is from home, to Lemnos gone.
And as a side note: I think that apostrophe thing in poetry is cheating, because while technically speaking it might save a syllable, everyone is still saying "entering," not "entring."
Venus and Mars get caught in the net, in flagrante delicto, a phrase that Homer doesn't use. The phrase itself means "in blazing offense," which is to say, a glaring violation, although the phrase (according to Wikipedia) is usually used to indicate sexual indiscretion, which is why I used it here. They get caught, and Vulcan bursts back in and demands that the Gods do something about this, namely, give him back all the dowry he paid to Jove for marrying Venus.
So the Gods get together on Olympus -- but not the Goddesses, Homer notes that they were too modest to attend -- and keep looking down on Mars and Venus and laughing, and debating whether they should do anything about it. At first, Jove isn't going to do anything, after getting Hermes to agree that he (Hermes) would totally have sex with Venus if he could, Vulcan or no Vulcan (I am being 100% serious about this, and it would be incredible if Court worked that way) but then Neptune intercedes and says that Vulcan should let Mars go and Vulcan will make sure Mars pays him, and the moral of the story, no lie, is that the slow (Vulcan) has caught the swift (apparently, Mars?) but that is a way way better way to tell that story than some dumb tortoise-and-hare story. Everyone should teach their kids that "the race is not always to the swift" by beginning "Let me tell you about the time Mars and Venus got trapped doing it in Vulcan's bed."
After that, Odysseus is happy and they ask Demodocus, during yet another feast, to sing the song of the Trojan War, and the king notices that while Odysseus is listening, he's crying, too, so they stop the song and ask him "Hey, who are you, anyway?" and I practically choked when I read that because it was only then that I realized that they've been feasting this guy and letting him sneak in and hug their queen's legs and giving him presents and commandeering 50 men to row him home and offering to let him marry their daughter the princess...
...and they'd never even asked his name.
They even, at this feast, gave him a chest full of gold. All that and they never knew who he was?
Seriously, how is that even possible? Even for narrative purposes? Weren't audiences in Homer's day stopping and doing spit-takes? "They didn't know his name? Come on, Homer. What is this, Three's Company?"
Odysseus 'fesses up that he is Odysseus, and I would have been, if I were the King, a bit suspicious. "Hey, so you're this total stranger that's been missing for twenty years, and who it happens we just sang about? Weird how that worked out. Huh. Let me just check with my seers over here. No, no, you stay sitting there... GUARDS!" but the king and his elders buy this guy's story, luckily for Odysseus, and they ask him to tell him all about how he got here, and so he began telling them, starting with he went to war and then on the way home he started another war, slaughtering a bunch of people for the heck of it.
That's where I left off. But it seems like I'm going to get most of The Odyssey as I thought I knew it, only it's all done in a flashback. As long as it's not 900 pages of feasts interspersed with 10 pages of "Here's some actual adventures" I can live with that, but this new segment is not promising: having just spent most of an entire book telling about the Riverdance feast, Homer brushes over this other war in about two pages.