I could not tell you all the number nor could I name them,
all that make up the exploits of enduring Odysseus…
This my first time reading The Odyssey, and right away I was impressed with how polished it is. This is as finely-crafted story-telling as I’ve ever read, and that’s without being able to read the Greek and appreciate the poetry. The way characters are introduced and scenarios set up is so fluid and yet so well-structured. Never is one left at a loose end, though there is the occasional contradiction, such as how the Achaians made it home when the gods were out to destroy them. Still, the main story moves along as smoothly as the wine-dark sea . . . when Poseidon is busy elsewhere!
The story starts with the scandalous suitors of Penelope, who sponge off Odysseus’ household and pressure his grieving wife to marry one of them without going through proper channels (i.e. by presenting gifts to her father). They want to get her for free, and are quite happy to feast at her husband’s expense until they break her down. They say she encourages them but I suspect that is a self-justifying lie of the “she was asking for it” variety. At the very least she has the loyalty and decency to wait until she has definite news of Odysseus’ fate. It’s to get that news that their son Telemachos sails off, and whenever he tells the story of the suitors, gods and mortals alike are angered and make dire predictions about what will happen when Odysseus gets back. He finally finds out where Odysseus fetched up, and the scene shifts to the island where the nymph Kalypso has Odysseus captive as her own personal boy toy. I had to laugh when the gods asked for him back and she pouts saying it was the gods who shipwrecked him in the first place and she’s the one who rescued him. Finders keepers! But Odysseus is homesick and has some justice to dispense back home (though he doesn’t know it yet), so he must be on his way. Unfortunately he is out of the frying pan and into the fire because the next woman he encounters, Nausikaa of the Phaiakians, takes a fancy to him and I don’t think she will let him out of her clutches too easily either.
But when he had bathed all, and anointed himself with olive oil,
and put on the clothing this unwedded girl had given him,
then Athene, daughter of Zeus, made him seem taller
for the eye to behold, and thicker, and on his head she arranged
the curling locks that hung down like hyacinthine petals.
And as when a master craftsman overlays gold on silver,
and he is one who was taught by Hephaistos and Pallas Athene
in art complete, and grace is on every work he finishes,
so Athene gilded with grace his head and his shoulders,
and he went a little aside and sat by himself on the seashore,
radiant in grace and good looks; and the girl admired him.
Can you blame her? Apart from his physical charms, Odysseus is known for his thoughtfulness, cunning, and patience. He is often described as god-like and praised for his use of reason. At various points were are let into his thought process as he considers various options and chooses the best one. Though Homer far precedes the great Greek philosophers that we know of, it seems that even in his time logic and reason were highly valued and ranked as god-like qualities. Nausikaa may have admired Odysseus’ looks on the beach, but she also notices how thoughtful he is. Brains and beauty, a lethal combination! Trouble is sure to ensue…
Check out more Odyssey Readalong posts at Love, Laughter, and Insanity.