That was the most pitiful scene that these eyes have looked on in my sufferings as I explored the routes over the water.
This part of the Odyssey is thick with gods and monsters, and I am starting to see why Odysseus can’t stop crying. Nowadays we’d say he has post-traumatic stress disorder, and with good reason. First he loses a large number of men in a foolish battle with the Kikonians, then he sees several of his friends eaten by Polyphemos the cyclops, and giants sink all of the ships but his. As if that’s not enough grief, the “evil monster” Skylla eats a few more of his friends (see quote above), and finally the rest are finished off at sea by Zeus’ thunderbolt. Oh, there was also the little matter of being surrounded by the hordes of the dead in Hades. Even the best of us would need some counselling after all that.
Of course it’s not all bad, what with beautiful goddesses throwing themselves at him and plenty of feasting. In the palace of Alkinoös he is entertained by the blind bard Demodokos, who I gather is thought to be a portrait of Homer himself. Many complimentary things are said about the singers of stories by the way.
For with all people upon the earth singers are entitled
to be cherished and to their share of respect, since the Muse has taught them
her own way, and since she loves all the company of singers.
Of course we cannot say who really composed that or any part of this epic. I haven’t made a close study of it but it seems that this section of the story has a different style than the first five or six books. There is more adventure, less psychology, and more mystery about the gods. Several times Odysseus says that a god did such and such but does not specify which. Perhaps that is just a manner of speaking but in the earlier books the gods (mostly Athene) are named when they act. And where is Athene? She does not seem to be a part of this story at all. I get the impression that the story of Odysseus’ perilous voyage originated separately from the more human story of Penelope and the suitors, and the two were grafted together, without a great deal of editing. The episode in Hades also seems like an add-on, and it’s hardly necessary since Circe gives much more detailed advice on the voyage home than Teiresias of Thebes did. However Teiresias does warn Odysseus about potential troubles back home, so perhaps the episode is essential for knitting the two tales together.
I must say I’m looking forward to more of the Penelope-Telemachos story and getting on with Odysseus’ homecoming. I don’t think Odysseus can take much more from gods and monsters!
Find links to other Odyssey Readalong posts at Love, Laughter, and Insanity.