Homer the Bard and Odysseus the Husband

The Odyssey is a beautiful epic written by Homer a long time ago, but it never stops being the subject of modern-day remaking and remixing. The epic details the journey of a man’s homecoming, starting out with Odysseus’ son Telemachus. The first four books of the epic focuse on Telemachus’ journey in search for his father. Who is Odysseus? What did he do? Where is he now? With the help of Athena the goddess in disguise, Telemachus visits King Nestor who directs Telemachus to Menelaus…

The Odyssey certainly resonates with Genesis quite a bit. The relationship humans have with God(s), all the sacrifices, and how much God(s) like to control human life, like Athena who’s put herself in Telemachus’ and Odysseus’ story just because she likes them. There’s also the thing with genealogy and how characters in the Odyssey also call others by “name, son/daughter of this person”.

As for themes in the Odyssey, like Dr. Marshall said, a big chunk of the Odyssey is about hospitality and receiving strangers as guests into one’s household. This was probably an important tradition in Ancient Greece, but it would be cool if people still did that this day and age.

When one of Menelaus’ men commented that they should send Telemachus and his team to someone else’s place, Menelaus was offended, scolding Eteoneus and saying that he’s “babbling like a child” (Homer 4.30-40). He meant to receive Telemachus as kindly as possible.

Once in the house, the host would provide the stranger with a lot of things, and budgets don’t seem to exist here. Hosts like Telemachus who could not be rivalled in riches (Homer 4.90) love to be generous with strangers. Their servants would usher the guests into the house, give them bathes and rub them with oil (oil was a big thing). After the visitors washed and changed, they would be invited to a great feast full of appetizers, platters of meat and golden cups (Homer 4.50-70). So yeah, lots of stuff.

As you can see, the theme of hospitality, or ‘xenos’ is certainly a big deal here, and honestly, it makes me happy…Every time, whether it’s Telemachus receiving Athena or Menelaus receiving Telemachus, people are just so kind to each other. It’s cool.

But then, obviously, there are people like the suitors in the poem, who take advantage of this tradition, and even try to marry the host’s wife while he is absent.  This is why Odysseus plots his revenge on them as shown in the brutal descriptions of book twenty-two.

The theme of recognition is all throughout the poem. Telemachus recognizes that the stranger is a Goddess in book one. Menelaus recognizes Telemachus and was discreet about it. In contrast, Menelaus’ wife Helen spoke out directly on Telemachus’ identity. There’s the dog who recognizes Odysseus, and Penelope whom we’re not sure about–hence the question: is Penelope smarter than a dog?

There’s also a lot of foreshadowing in the poem, a lot of similes and metaphors, and other literary devices. Foreshadowing happens, for example, in book four, when the king and queen of Sparta talk about Odysseus. Helen talks about how Odysseus infiltrated Troy by disguising himself as a beggar. We’ll see something similar to that happening in book 18 when Odysseus comes home disguised as a beggar. The personification of “the young Dawn with her rose-red fingers shone once more” seems to be a refrain in the story, strongly resonating with a much simplified “and then the next day…” And there’s the simile that Dr. Marshall talked about–the fatherlike hug between Telemachus and the loyal swineherd which was perhaps meant to intensify the reader’s emotions and emphasize the fact that Odysseus was right there with Telemachus at the moment.

Things that I’m wondering about are…why Menelaus’ red hair is emphasized so much. Perhaps red hair associates with temper? (I read that in Anne of Green Gables) Or maybe because red hair was a rare thing in ancient Greece?

The story of Agamemnon’s murder gets retold a several times. Athena said that his wife killed him. Nestor said Aegisthus. So both of them?

I’ve been enjoying the Odyssey a lot. The imagery can be breathtaking and the story is full of twists and turns, just like Odysseus. The Odyssey is really a beautiful story and book (of books). I feel really bad about breaking its spine.

“He’s back from abroad at last, from people so removed you might abandon hope of ever returning home, once the winds had driven you that far off course into a sea so vast not even cranes could wing their way in one year’s flight–so vast it is, so awesome…” (Homer 3.359-363)

The Odyssey is pretty awesome.

3 Thoughts.

  1. Hi Danielle, I really liked your connection with the role of the Gods in the Odyssey with the role of God in Genesis. It’s certainly interesting how the interpretation/concept of humankind’s relationship with god(s) manifests in a similar way among so many cultures their literature.

    • Hi Amy, thanks for the comment!
      A contrast between the two works may be that while the gods in the Odyssey are actively involved with human life (Poseidon hurling waves at Odysseus and Athena trying to save Odysseus and such), the God in Genesis involves himself less physically and mostly verbally. For example, in Genesis, God manifested himself in dreams and spoke to humans. However, if God wanted to do anything physical, it was only when humans got corrupted (Adam and Eve, the flood in ‘Noah’s story’). In the Odyssey, the gods make more of an effort to be physically involved in people’s lives on a daily basis, it seems, and verbal communication (in dreams) is also common between humans and gods.

  2. Menelaus’ hair is blond, like Achilles’, not red. In fact, Menelaus is called “blond Menelaus” 16 times in the Iliad alone (the actual greek text, take it from a Greek). There is no significance except rareness: blond Greeks stuck out like sore thumbs. There are no red hair or blue eyes in Homer, except in dodgy translations. Incidentally, modern day Greeks find red hair very exotic and pretty.

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