Thursday, March 21, 2013

Outis gets this joke. (Sundays With The Classics)

I sat down this morning to read The Odyssey, and I got about three sentences into it before I had to pause and think about this because I do not get the joke here.

Here is what happened:: remember, Odysseus stabbed Polypheme in the eye with a log, which maybe is the genesis of our saying that something is "better than getting poked in the eye with a sharp stick."

Let's think about that first: how did that become a saying?

This page, which seems to promise an answer to that question, not only doesn't answer it at all, but makes things worse by suggesting that "poke in the eye with a sharp stick" is indigenous to Australia, so yeah I get that, there's nothing else to do down there except wait until you die from the giant spiders that infest everyone's house to the point where even kids just accept that they will die in a SpiderGeddon:


But beyond that, that site claims that there are similar sayings in Canada and the US (literally, "us"), which it claims are:

Canada:  "Better than a kick in the ass with a frozen boot."

US:  "Better than a slap across the belly with a wet fish."

And now I'm just mad.  Because (A) those three things are in no way comparable. De-eyeing versus getting kicked with a frozen boot or slapped with a fish? No.  And (B) I have lived in the US for 99.9% of my life, and I have never heard anyone say that something was "better than a slap across the belly with a wet fish."  Never.  I sincerely doubt that is a saying, and I think the person who posted it on the Internet it deranged.

That said, I plan on using that saying as often as possible.

Anyway, Polypheme got poked in the eye with a sharp stick, leading to today's installment of The Odyssey in which two lines in I got confused and outraged (literally, "my ordinary state of existence") (or "nonplussed") (Oh, man, I only just realized that my reaction to the differing definitions of nonplussed was itself a definition of being nonplussed.  I AM AWESOME.)

Today's installment begins, and ends, with a few lines, because in those few lines, Polypheme calls for help from all the Cyclops around on the island, bellowing out with his pain and hurt from inside his cave which remember is blocked by a rock and is dark.  And as his friends gather, Polypheme says:

"Oh, friends, I die! and Outis gives the blow."

and the other Cyclops reply:

"If no man harm thee, but thou art alone,
And sickness feel'st, it is the stroke of Jove,
And thou must bear it...."

And Odysseus thinks to himself:

"...in my heart I laugh'd"

Let me pause again to say: okay, why get rid of the "e"?  Laughed is one syllable.  One. Using the apostrophe, which I've previously noted is a poetic dodge because we all pronounce the other syllable:

syllable

syl'ble

but we give the poet credit for fitting into the meter, so it's a poetic TKO, using the apostrophe is not necessary for laughed because nobody pronounces it

laugh-phed

It's just

laft.

So this is not a Homer problem, because I doubt that he apostrophized the original Greek word, which is


γέλασε
gélase



According to Google, which ought to know.  This is a problem on the part of the translator, and I don't know who he is, so let's move on to the original point before you get bored and go home.

The original point is that after Polypheme says "Outis" stabbed him, "Outis" being Odysseus' alias in the cave, the other Cyclops tell him that he was hurt by nobody and Odysseus thinks:

"...I laugh'd [NOTE: ARRRRRRGGGH]
that by the fiction only of a name,
Slight stratagem! I had deceived them all."

And I had to stop and think, because I don't get it.

Outis must mean something that is entirely lost on us, right? Like when my dad makes any joke about anything, the frame of reference isn't there.

DAD:  "So your car isn't working?"

ME:  "Yeah."

DAD:  "Sounds like an Eisenhower thing to me!" [Laughs.]

ME: "This is why I don't visit."

So I paused and determined to look up the Outis reference.

And it turns out it's easy.

And stupid.

"Outis" is Greek for nobody, so Polypheme is literally yelling at his friends that he is dying and "Nobody" did it to him, and so they say "Well, then, that's your problem so maybe pray to Neptune to help you out," which raises several important questions:

1.  Why didn't Polypheme recognize that "Outis" meant "nobody" when Odysseus first claimed that was his name?

2.  Why didn't the Cyclops try to help Polypheme anyway? What is it about Greek culture, or Cyclops culture anyway, that you only help people who have been killed by a third party and not those who are suffering from some internal ailment?  "Did someone do this to you? No? Then I've got to go, Modern Family is starting and it's the one where Cam and Mitch at first seem to fight against gay stereotypes, only to then embrace them." (Literally: Every show.)

3.  Why would Edgar Allan Poe write a denunciation of William Wordsworth and then turn around and write an anonymous defense of him, as Wikipedia claims happened?

Edgar Allan Poe (1809–1849) In the New York Evening Mirror (January 14, 1845), Edgar Allan Poe launched an article denouncing the well-known poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow as a plagiarist. Longfellow remained silent on the matter, but a defender for Longfellow did appear, an anonymous writer who signed his letters only as "Outis," meaning "nobody." A great deal of speculation has centered around the identity of Outis, several scholars agree that he was none other than Poe himself.[citation needed] They believe that Poe himself wrote the defense of Longfellow, so Poe and Outis are the same person.

Poe has done some supercrazy things, in his life.  But that seems weird even for him.

4 comments:

PT Dilloway, Grumpy Bulldog said...

So the gist of this is that Greeks (and Greek monsters) are really gullible. This is the cornerstone of our civilization? No wonder the Asians are beating us.

And Poe was a notorious drunk, so he probably wrote one (or both) while wasted.

Andrew Leon said...

I think the thing about not getting any help is that, as they said, he'd been struck down by Zeus. If no third party did it, it must be the gods doing it, and no one wanted to get in the way of that.

Briane P said...

I didn't have time to mention it, but they DID mention that he should pray to Neptune, instead, so you're probably right, Andrew, except that the larger point is that that sort of thinking would apply anytime someone in Ancient Greece was hurt or sick without apparent outside cause.

And also, apparently it would anger Zeus to step in and get the sharp stick out, but it would not anger Zeus to suggest that perhaps Neptune could do something about this? That doesn't make all too much sense, either, if Zeus is so fragile-ego'd.

PT:

I long ago pointed out that when it comes to Wisdom, Aristotle loses out to Paris Hilton, at least insofar as what it takes to win in Western Society.


Andrew Leon said...

I think all of the gods had fragile egos.
The response to a lot of sickness, etc was to appeal to the appropriate god. If the god healed something caused by another god, the two gods would have to take that up between themselves.
Which, basically, is the idea. "Leave me out of this, because Zeus could squash me. However, he can't squash Poseidon, so ask him.