Sunday, January 13, 2013

"We built this city! We built this city! We built this city on tepid baths!" (Sundays With The Classics)

Somebody needs to tell Homer that instead of re-reciting the entire story so far, he could simply say "Odysseus then told them what happened."

Apart from that minor quibble, this installment of The Odyssey was okay, better than it has been, although it still raises some questions in my mind about, well, everything.

When we last left Odysseus, he'd been really sad and really hungry and was telling the Phaeicians, who were kind enough to feed him after he snuck into their palace invisibly and hugged their queen around the knees, that he was too hungry to tell them what the heck he was doing here.

In this installment, Odysseus recounts, at length everything that has happened to him, for a couple of pages, practically retelling the entire story so far.  Hence, my gripe.

What's interesting though is that Odysseus tells the Phaeicians that Calypso, his captor, had wanted to make him immortal and keep him there forever, which is the first the reader has heard of that.  Penelope must be one heck of a woman, or Odysseus must be superloyal, if he is able to resist the allure of a demigoddess who wants to make him immortal... except, remember, the two slept together anyway before he left.

Upon hearing his story, the king of Phaeicia reacts pretty much exactly the way we all would.  He says to this total stranger interloper who just told a remarkable story about being kidnapped by the gods: "Well, so would you like to marry my daughter, or just go home?"

Seriously: Alcinous, the king of Phaecia, offers his daughter to Odysseus, who he has just met, and whose story he hasn't verified at all, but says that if Odysseus doesn't want that, he can just use "two and fifty" of Antinous' best men to row him home.

Odysseus takes the latter option, and so they all go to bed and the next day is marked by first choosing those 52 guys to row the stranger home, and then there is a feast and a song about the Trojan War that makes Odysseus cry because he is in touch with his feelings, and then the Phaeicians gather to hold a mini-sports competition so that Odysseus will go home and tell everyone how great Phaecia is at everything.

Everything is going fine until one of Alcinous' sons asks Odysseus to join in; Odysseus says he totally would but, you know, he's grieving and all and has been kidnapped by gods, etc. etc., at which point Alcinous' son more or less calls him a wuss:

I well believ'd it, friend! in thee the guise
I see not of a man expert in feats
Athletic, of which various are perform'd
In ev'ry land; thou rather seem'st with ships Familiar.

Which is my new go-to insult.  When someone gets all up in my face, I'm going to tell them: You seem'st with ships Familiar.

(If I am getting beat up, I am getting beat up in style.)

Odysseus doesn't take that well and starts a big lecture about how rude the kid is and how he's the best at pretty much everything except for archery where he was second only to Philoctetes who is now dead which makes Odysseus the best, and he says he's not comparing himself to Hercules or anything

Yet mean I no comparison of myself
With men of antient times, with Hercules... 

but still, Odysseus says, he's no slouch and to prove it he picks up a quoit (which is kind of like a ring used in a horseshoe type game only here it seems more like a discus) and throws it just over the heads of all the Phaeicians but farther than any of them could, and challenges every Phaeician present to a competition of whatever sort they want, at which point Antinous steps in and says, whoa, wait, let's not get out of hand here, actually we Phaecians are more the dramatic arts types, like the drama club, telling Odysseus that instead of an all out fight-fest, they'll have a circus because that's what Phaecia is actually good at:

Now mark me, therefore, that in time to come
While feasting with thy children and thy spouse,
Thou may'st inform the Heroes of thy land
Even of our proficiency in arts...
We boast not much the boxer's skill...
but light-footed in the race are we,
And navigators well-inform'd.
Our pleasures are the feast, the harp, the dance,
Garments for change, the tepid bath; the bed.

At which point I was thinking "Well, why have the competition in the first place if you're just going to send Odysseus home to tell all the heroes of his land, 'Hey, those Phaeician guys? They just like taking warm baths and playing dress up, we should conquer them'? but who am I to judge Homer?

BUT, this: "the tepid bath?" How did that make it onto a list of things you are good at? "I'm really good at getting a bath that isn't really all that hot, but you wouldn't say it was cold, either."  Not really a thing you want to form your civilization around.

That's where I quit for the day: Odysseus and the king were sitting down to listen to more singing before Odysseus left, no doubt after a tepid bath.

UPDATE on the Gods: Minerva was there when Odysseus threw the quoit, but it seems like she didn't help him throw it far.  Her role was to yell out in the crowd that Odysseus had thrown it really far.  I am so not impressed by these Greek gods.

11 comments:

PT Dilloway, Superhero Author said...

I demand we make tepid baths an Olympic event so I can finally win an Olympic gold medal.

Andrew Leon said...

Maybe it wasn't the running of the bath they were so good but the way they bathed? Or they made better tubs than everyone else or something.
I want to know almost enough to look it up but not quite, and I have to take the dog out, so I'm gonna go do that instead.

Michael Offutt, Speculative Fiction Author said...

Are we using Greek or Roman names for the gods and heroes here? Hmm. I get confused.

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