Wednesday, February 20, 2013

So gross. (BUT ALSO VERY COOL) (Sundays With The Classics)

Here is the last part of The Odyssey I read today:

They, seizing the hot stake rasp'd to a point
Bored his eye with it, and myself, advanced
To a superior stand, twirled it about.
So grasping hard the stake pointed with fire,
We twirl'd it in his eye; the bubbling blood
Boil'd round about the brand; his pupil sent
A scalding vapour forth that sing'd his brow,
And all his eye-roots crackled in the flame.
As when the smith an hatchet or large axe
Temp'ring with skill, plunges the hissing blade
Deep in cold water...
So hiss'd his eye around the olive-wood.

It's the part where Odysseus and four of his men take the six-foot long (I know it's six feet long because they say they cut the log to a "fathom" and a "fathom" is six feet) log and spear it into Polypheme's eye while he sleep drunk in a pool of his own vomit, and also that vomit has human parts in it.


Odysseus is still telling his story to the king of whatever wherever he is.  I forget.  But he's got to the part where they go to the Lotus Eaters, which is dealt with in about a paragraph, and fine, because that's boring, but then they get to the Cyclops' island, and Odysseus spies a giant and they want to see what this is all about, so they go and get into his cave.

Everyone knows that part, right?

Maybe not, because here's what was so awesome about this part: Yes, Odysseus and his men are trapped in the cave with a cyclops and the cyclops is eating them, we all know that part, but what got lost when I first heard about The Odyssey whenever that was is this:

They aren't hiding.  The cyclops knows they are there, and lets them wander around all they want, and just whenever he wants he plucks one of them up and eats them.

That, for me, is worse -- way worse -- than the version I somehow learned along the way, which was that Odysseus and his men were hiding whenever Polypheme was around.  That's how I remembered it, anyway.  (As for how I remember it, I don't know.  I suppose I must have read excerpts, or maybe it was on the Superfriends or something.  I just remember the cyclops part, somehow.)

I remember it as "Odysseus and his men were in the cave, hiding," but that's not what it is, at all.  Instead, they talk to Polypheme, who has locked them into his cave and after they say who they are, Polypheme says that he's a cyclops and he's not afraid of stupid old Zeus, and then Odysseus lies and says his ship crashed on the rocks (presumably so that Polypheme won't go and destroy it, Odysseus being pretty smart) and after Odysseus tells him that Polypheme picks up two of his men, cooks them, and eats every single part of them.

Just like that.

And then he goes to sleep, not even worrying about the rest of the tiny humans wandering around.  And why worry? Odysseus plans, while Polypheme is sleeping, to stab him around the liver -- stabbing someone in the stomach and piercing the intestines is probably a way easier, and way surer way of killing someone than going for the heart, which is surrounded by bone.  It'll take longer, but once you cut open an intestine, you'll spill out all the poisonous goop intestines carry and the odds are the person dies of sepsis.  Remember that -- but Odysseus realizes that doing that would doom them because Polypheme had pulled a godawful big rock in front of the cave so they'd be trapped.

Then the next day, Polypheme - -having trapped them in all day -- comes back and eats two more guys, right there -- before Odysseus gets him drunk on wine in order to pull of the 'stab him in the eye with a sharp stick' plan.

(It's while drunk that Polypheme barfs up parts of Odysseus' men.)

I can't get past how creepy that would be, how the real scary part of the story has always been glossed over: imagine, being held in a cave by someone so powerful he's not even worried about you being loose.  He's just keeping you there, ready to eat, like so many living, breathing Cheese Doodles.  That kept bugging me out the entire time I was reading this portion.  It's the best thing Homer's written so far, and it is so heads and shoulders above the Riverdance island from last time, and Telemachus' endless feasting, that I am finally glad I'm reading this.

And to think I was going to give up!  If they taught that opening set of lines in English classes in high school, more kids would be scholars of Greek epic poetry. 


PT Dilloway, Grumpy Bulldog said...

I'm sensing Odysseus' reputation as being clever is somewhat overstated. Has anyone counted how many men he gets eaten along the way? It's like those people who go on about how Eli Manning or Joe Flacco are "elite" because they somehow barely managed to win a Super Bowl.

Andrew Leon said...

Hmm... what if cheese doodles are alive and you've just been letting them roam around your house all this time?

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Liz said...

...or it would have turned them off Greek poetry forever. My high school self would have boycotted Homer forever because of this.

Briane P said...


Well, the boys would have liked it. They could have said "Odysseus is sparkly and looks like Rob Pattinson" and gotten the girls into it.


Now I'm probably going to write a story about THAT.


That might be the first time someone has equated Joe Flacco with Odysseus. At least since Dennis Miller hosted MNF.

Andrew Leon said...

I can't wait to see it!

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Michael Offutt, Speculative Fiction Author said...

That is indeed horrific. I would not want to be a cheese doodle for any creature. I think this is one reason I fear going in the ocean. If I'm paddling around in a wet suit, I'm just a living breathing cheese doodle for any great white shark that wants to come and eat me. My body probably looks like a seal's anyway (very plump and juicy).

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