Monday, November 15, 2010

The Odyssey: Books 7-12

In this section of The Odyssey, we get to know our title character a little more.  While it's admirable that he claims to be devoted to his wife and home, I suspect that he might just say this because it's what he's supposed to say, since he does so many IDIOTIC things that delay his return.

Nevertheless, I have formed a special bond with Odysseus.  It seems we have a few things in common:

1.  We both have a problem with emotional eating:

The belly's a shameless dog, there's nothing worse.
Always insisting, pressing, it never let's us forget--
destroyed as I am, my heart racked with sadness,
sick with anguish, still it keeps demanding.
'Eat, drink!' It blots out all memory
of my pain, commanding, 'Fill me up!'

2.  We both cry during an evening's entertainment:

That was the song the famous harper sang
but great Odysseus melted into tears,
running down from his eyes to wet his cheeks . . . 

For Odysseus it's accounts of the battle of Troy that get him going, for me it's Friday Night Lights, among other things. 

3.  Bad things happen when we fall asleep.

'Father Zeus!  The rest of you blissful gods who never die--
you with your fatal sleep, you lulled me into disaster,
Left on their own, look what a monstrous thing
my crew concocted!'

Whether it's his crew letting out the torrential winds or killing the sun god's cattle, you would think that Odysseus would have insomnia.  For me a nap can be a risky thing--when I wake up, I never know what my own little crew has concocted.  It's usually some sort of monstrous mess.  Occasionally, it involves a yummy baked good, so I guess I'll forgive them.

I would love to write more, but I have a mid-term to study for.  Coincidentally, some of the material I will be studying involves Ancient Greece.  Both good and bad timing.  For more thoughts on this section, check out the list of other posts at Love, Laughter, and a Touch of Insanity.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Odyssey: Books 1-6

If I had to come up with a new title for the first four books of The Odyssey, I would go with this:

Eat, Bathe, Cry:
One Young Man's Search For News About His Missing Father

It's been twenty years since Odysseus left for Troy, and no one knows if he is alive or dead. Several suitors, banking on the "dead" option, want to marry Penelope, and will wait for her to choose a candidate, shamelessly mooching off of the estate.  With a little push from Athena, son Telemachus decides he is done playing the victim at the hands of the obnoxious suitors.   He calls an assembly that turns out to be contentious and somewhat unproductive, despite Athena's instant image-enhancing powers.  He nevertheless continues with the next part of the plan--a secret trip to find out if anyone has information concerning the fate of Odysseus.  

First, Telemachus visits King Nestor.  There he listens to Nestor's war stories, sheds some tears, feasts, sleeps, gets bathed and oiled, and feasts again.  Then he takes off with his new buddy Pisistratus to King Menelaus where likewise they feast, bathe, share stories, bawl some more, feast, get drugged by Helen, sleep, shares stories, and feast again.  Where can I sign up for this life?

Meanwhile, "back at the ranch," the suitors and Penelope finally realize that Telemachus is gone.  The suitors sail out to ambush Telemachus,  and we are left at that scene, wondering what will become of Telemachus.

As for Odysseus, he is indeed alive, and has been shacking up with the goddess Calypso, who has offered him immortality if he will be her husband.  Every man's dream, right?  But Odysseus spends his days on the headland crying, "wrenching his heart with sobs and groans and anguish/ gazing out over the barren seas through blinding tears" because he yearns to return to his wife and home.  What a good, good man!  No wonder all the women seem to fall all over themselves to help him: Calypso, who, when forced to let him go by Zeus, gives him help and advice;  Leucothea, who gives him a magic scarf of immortality when Poseidon sends his storms; Athena, helping him out once again; and last of all in this section, Nausicaa, who feeds and helps Odysseus get all gussied up for his introduction to the king and queen of Phaeacia.
For the most part, Telemachus is the star of the show in this first section.  Thanks to Athena, he has realized that it's time to grow up and be a man.  It's hard not to judge him and wonder why he hasn't come of age sooner in life, but I need to remember that he has been raised without a father, babied by his mother, and teased by the suitors.  

I tried not to cringe when his first assertive act was to reprimand his mother, but that's my own modern sensibilities coming into play, I guess.  He does seem to waver a bit throughout these first chapters, which I think is pretty realistic--one minute he's taking control, and the next he's falling apart again.  He seemed to be doing so well with his speech at the assembly, and then all of a sudden, he's bursting into tears, putting himself in the position of one to be pitied, not respected.  But he's trying, and growth is, after all, a process.

Then I wonder, how much of his growth is really him?  His courage never quite seems to come from within--it's mostly imbued by Athena.  Will he get to a point where he has some self-esteem?  Does he even have it in him?  One of the things I liked about Odysseus in The Iliad was that he was a man of action.  A lying, scheming man of action, but at least he was doing something.  I'm not sure yet if Telemachus inherited this quality from his father.  And maybe I'm delving into his character much more than Homer even intended.

I always seem to have a few thoughts that I don't want to put into full-on paragraphs in a post that is getting quite lengthy already.  Here are a few of those, and maybe they will come up in later weeks:
  • I'm interested in the idea of identity, which I know comes up more later.  Athena has appeared as many different people already.  Telemachus is trying to figure out who he is.  Others can see Odysseus' features in his face and body.
  • Women play quite a prominent part in the poem so far.  So far they seem to act as protectors in many cases.  When they're not weaving, that is.  Or braiding their hair.  
  • As with anything with the Greek gods--must they meddle so much?  Zeus says they do mess things up a bit sometimes, but people do things that mess things up even more.  A shared responsibility for hardship?
  • Penelope--does she lead them on, as the suitors claim?  How does she "exploit" the gifts given her?  Does she tease them to exercise power, or are their accusations false?   She does seem to be quite faithful to Odysseus, which is more than can be said for Agamemnon's wife.

*For more thoughts on The Odyssey, Books 1-6, visit this post at Love, Laughter, and a Touch of Insanity
*I am reading the Robert Fagles translation for the readalong. 
*If you actually read this entire post, I think you deserve some sort of an award ;-).

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Group Read or Pipe Dream?

I may have learned to resist signing up for too many reading challenges, but a group-read of a book that I've been wanting to get to is hard to resist.  I'm not sure if I will have the time to read, post, and visit other participants in these read-a-longs, but for now, I'm just going to pretend it's completely doable, and ignore the fact that in the last four days, my reading has been limited to the five minutes before I fall asleep.

Trish from Love, Laughter, and a Touch of Insanity is hosting a group read of The Odyssey this month (six books each week).  I've read it before, a translation by T. E. Lawrence (yep, Lawrence of Arabia) but I've had the Robert Fagles translation on my shelf, and would like to reread it before tackling some presumably good stuff (The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood) and some scary stuff (Ulysses by James Joyce). 

Frances from Nonsuch Book is hosting a group read of this new translation of Dr. Zhivago, with discussion taking place between November 16-30.  I haven't read this since junior year of high school for a book report, and I'm sure this experience will be much different.

I'm also continuing a fabulous readalong of Lonesome Dove, jointly hosted by Amused by Books, My Friend Amy, and Gerbera Daisy Diaries.  Each Wednesday, one of these blogs has a set of questions for a ten-chapter section.  I haven't been posting for each section on my own blog, just commenting on their blogs each week.  Hopefully at the end I'll do one review for the whole thing.  By the way, I was very snobbish about the copy I'm reading.  I had to have the one above, and I am loving the twinkly stars on the cover.  

I'm also looking forward to a traditional book club read of Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis to be held early in December (?).  I read and loved Main Street, so I'm really excited about this one.  Isn't that the greatest cover?