Open Thread: Myth

(posted by chris the cynic)

So I have basically no time at the moment, trying to do a speed read through the Odyssey followed by the same through Joyce’s Ulysses (and writing assignments on both) and at this point I figure I’m going at about, maybe, 1/6th the speed I’d need to go to not have everything come crashing down around me.  And I haven’t gotten to the Joyce yet.

 

Anyway, open thread.  I was hoping someone else would post one, guess not.  So here, have this:

What’s your favorite myth?  Your least favorite?

Do you have any myths where you prefer one version over another?  (For example, I prefer Hesiod’s version the Ariadne story to Homer’s.  (I like happy endings.))

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16 thoughts on “Open Thread: Myth

  1. Silver Adept January 7, 2013 at 5:43 pm

    Spun up the right way, some of the stories in Torah will keep anyone entertained – although you may have to dune down some of the adult content if there are young kidlets around. Can’t exactly be taking about how King David was a voyeur, potentially bi, and cold-blooded enough to send someone’s husband off to war just so that he could bed her.

    Sir Gawain and the Green Knight could totally be played as a comedy that lives on awkward pauses and advances and a lot of double-entendres.

    One version of the story of Amaterasu in the cave, though, added a detail that I hadn’t heard before that made it much more the kind of story you would tell to a typing male audience – instead of the other gods setting up a mirror and exclaiming about the really beautiful goddess just outside and then getting her to look at her own reflection long enough to close the cave behind her, this version had the gods talking about a striptease supreme supposedly happening outside the cave, and that piques Amaterasu’s curiosity enough to have her step outside.

    I also really like Okami as a reference to / retelling of the Ammy legend.

  2. storiteller January 7, 2013 at 6:07 pm

    I used to love the Anasasi myths as a kid. Many of them aren’t kid-friendly, but many of them are or can be toned down to be kid-friendly. That just made reading Neil Gaiman’s Anasasi Boys even more enjoyable.

    I find the Greek myths fascinating in general, and would highly recommend Edith Hamilton’s Mythology as a good summary if you’re just starting out.

  3. froborr January 7, 2013 at 8:05 pm

    Favorite: Put me down as another who fell in love with Anansi as a kid, most especially the story about him stealing the stories.

    Least Favorite: Job. His friends are jackasses, God’s a bully, and the narrative treats Job’s wife and children as easily replaceable, interchangeable possessions.

    I vastly prefer Grant Morrison’s retelling of Superman’s origin in All-Star Superman #1 to all other versions. (It counts–even if you don’t count superhero comics in general as myths, Morrison has made it clear that All-Star Superman is consciously and intentionally an attempt at a dying/returning Sun God cycle).

  4. cjmr January 7, 2013 at 8:26 pm

    I’m currently slogging through Bullfinch’s mythology as one of the books I’m reading. I think I’d like it better if it were just the myths and not so much annotation.

  5. Lonespark January 8, 2013 at 5:24 am

    I’d have to think more about favorite/least favorite. But I like to keep most of the bits. I put the goat-attached-genitals part back in Skadi’s story after the D’Aulaires took it out, and that made me aware of how much was taken out of the myths I was read as a kid.

  6. Timothy (TRiG) January 8, 2013 at 5:42 am

    Does The Silmarillion count as myth?

    TRiG.

  7. Firedrake January 8, 2013 at 9:44 am

    Read lots of Greek and Norse myth when I was but a small ‘drake, and always felt Ariadne got a raw deal. And as for Medea…

  8. Silver Adept January 8, 2013 at 12:48 pm

    Oh, yes, Anansi! He’s one of my back-pocket stories to tell to young children (sanitized, naturally).

    And Lonespark reminds me of the Norse myth where we get to see a crossdressing Thor. Who is apparently quite beautiful to the frost giants right before the THOR SMASH.

  9. storiteller January 8, 2013 at 5:18 pm

    Does The Silmarillion count as myth?

    Totally. He actually created it to be “England’s creation myth” because he felt like they didn’t have a proper one. I’ll take his word for it.

  10. chris the cynic January 8, 2013 at 5:35 pm

    So about the Odyssey, I’ve read it many times and I don’t think I ever before noticed how dark it is. Sure I noticed people being torn apart and eaten, I noticed that Odysseus left with twelve ships full of people and came back all alone, but how dark something is really has little to do with the bodycount.

    Only a handful of people other than Odysseus (male or female) can even be said to be characters. The people who ate the lotus, and had to be dragged back to the ship wailing because they didn’t care about home anymore they just wanted to stay there and keep on eating lotus, don’t even get names (nor do we learn if they ever recovered.)

    But when it comes to Odysseus, damn.

    Trigger warnings for rape, suicidal thoughts, and forced prostitution.

    When we first meet Odysseus it’s in book five and for seven years (pretty much exactly seven years, the eighth is either about to start or just started) he’s been stranded on Calypso’s island where every night he has sex with her unwillingly. The power differential is this: she’s a god, he’s a mortal, if she wants sex she gets it. Gun to one’s head doesn’t begin to describe the difference in power between god and mortal.

    Now apparently she likes him and is otherwise quite nice to him, but he spends his days crying and his nights being raped. Which kind of makes the “is otherwise quite nice to him” part seem kind of insignificant in comparison. The tears are said to be out of longing for his homeland, but even so by any non-assholic modern definition of rape, he’s a rape victim.

    That’s how we meet him. When he learns he’s finally being set free he assumes a trap, somewhat later when a random goddess, completely uninvolved in the whole affair, takes pity and tries to help him he assumes treachery.

    Then we get to flashback and learn that at one point Odysseus spent a good long while contemplating suicide but finally decided to remain amoung the living, though had apparently lost the will to do much of anything because his life affirming decision not to kill himself was followed by: “So I’m just going to lie down on the deck of this ship and do nothing.”

    Time passes, ninety-one and two thirds percent of his men die and are eaten, meet Circe. She turns just about, but not quite, half of the remaining men into pigs. Odysseus heads off to see what he can do to fix things. Hermes shows up to make Odysseus immune to Circe’s magic and then walks Odysseus through what to do, including, “She’ll […] invite you into bed. Don’t turn her down — that’s how you’ll get your comrades freed…”

    So basically, at this point, Odysseus is being told that all he has to do to save his people is to pay for it in sex. Which is the point at which Odysseus, on the orders of Hermes, becomes a prostitute servicing Circe. He has sex, then gets payment. Circe is the only one involved who doesn’t know that he’s doing it for the payment,

    Of course he stays around for a year after that, and it’s unclear where he’s staying during this time (somewhere in Circe’s house) but the standard assumption is that he’s having sex with her the whole time while only the first time was under orders of Hermes and for payment. There’s nothing about unwilling sex here though, he could leave at any time.

    And, honestly, I don’t remember much of any of this. I do, sort of, remember Odysseus the rape victim, I don’t remember Odysseus the contemplating suicide long and hard, I don’t remember Odysseus the “I’ll have sex with you, but I need payment.” “What payment?” “Turn my men back into human beings.” (Not a direct quote by any stretch of the imagination, but that is the transaction that goes down.)

    Have sex with this person otherwise your friends will be tormented forevermore, is a dark place to be. So is considering suicide, and obviously living seven years with your rapist, however pleasant she might be when not raping you. In a story with a very Odysseus centered way of looking at things, Odysseus does get pretty well tormented.

  11. anamardoll January 8, 2013 at 6:43 pm

    CN: Rape, Murder

    @ Chris, yeah, I noticed that going through back in college and was surprised that it wasn’t talked about more in class.

    (I’ve also always wondered, from a myth standpoint, if the Calypso and Circe bits were originally different versions of the same story, and the compiler kept both versions. They’re very similar in some ways, and that happens a lot in compiled mythic works: see also, The Bible.)

    I have wondered if the Circe/Calypso rape/prostitution is not a male version of a rape fantasy. In some translations I’ve read (I don’t remember which ones, though), there’s been a bit of a hint of “gosh, I would never willingly cheat on my virtuous wife, but alas this sexy goddess/witch is dragging me to her bed, darn.” I don’t know, though, if the translation was trying to bowdlerize the rape out or if the source text has those connotations or if I’m just reading that in from previous experiences with rape fantasies written by women.

    (ETA: Which is not to say that the passages are therefore harmless or that everyone should enjoy them or read them in that way, etc. I am here wondering about the intent behind the stories, but as we all know Intent Is Not Magic, and the final product is not the same thing as the intent behind the final product. YMMV, etc.)

    For me, though, the darkest bit will always be at the end when Odysseus murders all the serving women for sleeping with the suitors. The text tries to portray them as betraying their mistress by doing so, but given the way the suitors are described in the text there’s a HUGE power differential between them and Penelope, let alone between them and the serving women, and the suitors are by definition invested in rape culture given that they’re trying to force Penelope into marriage against her will. UGH.

  12. chris the cynic January 8, 2013 at 8:32 pm

    [More on murder in the Odyssey, and possibly rape.]

    When Odysseus comes back and kills everyone it’s a really big problem and it’s subject to debate as to whether or not that’s why the suitors are made out to be such assholes, and godless assholes in a time when the gods might well show up on your doorstep.

    For a couple of examples:

    In the second book (of 24) one of them does come out and say that if Odysseus comes back they’ll kill him in a way so gruesome his wife will wish he never made it home. (And ignore an obvious sign from the gods telling them to go home.)

    In the fourth they plan to kill Penelope’s son (and ignore an even more obvious sign that he’s only doing what a god wants him to do.)

    If we look at the text as Homer trying to make the murder of the suitors seem justified various things like this jump out. But if one looks for things where Homer tries to make the murder of the 12 serving girls seem justified, not so much.

    In fact, off the top of my head the only thing that comes to mind is that according to the woman who condemns those who die* there are only twelve who deserve it (thus thirty-eight who don’t.) Twelve women; there are nine times that many suitors who have, I believe, been there for years. If we’re thinking that the crime is just serving the suitors (not doing it willingly or being a complicit subject to the suitors’ plots or being more loyal to the suitors than the family of Odysseus or whatnot) then it seems like the 108 suitors, if they’re using the power differential to make the victims do things they otherwise wouldn’t do (which, they are. As evidenced in more or less every interaction they ever have), would have more than 12 victims.

    But, like I said, the epic has reasons why the suitors had to go left and right, if you’re willing to look for them, reasons why the 12 women had to go not so much.

    One last thing. The story of the Odyssey has been called an epic of appetites, not just for food, but for treasure (see the people opening the bag of winds in hopes of finding gold), for song (see the sirens) for bliss (see the lotus-eaters) for all sorts of things.

    Odysseus survives because he is able to control his to an extent. Polyphemus is an example where he failed, but elsewhere he doesn’t eat the lotus, hangs back from the calm water until the land is scouted, leaves Circe, has himself restrained before hearing the Sirens, doesn’t eat the oxen of the sun, leaves the island of the Phaeacians which is basically paradise and which he has a chance to possibly become the next king of (the entire royal family, princess included, seemed pretty interested in him marrying the princess before they learned he was already married and just wanted to go home) on getting home doesn’t go sprinting off to his house to say, “Hey honey, I’m home,” like he wants to, but waits until the opportune moment, and so forth.

    A relatively new and probably not true theory (even the person who came up with it isn’t sold on it) is that the epic is itself a test of appetite. If you’re hungry for the slaughter at the end you fail. If you’re sitting there going, “Isn’t this excessive?” you pass. Homer, in an epic that’s all about people going too far, or not thinking things through enough, is setting things up for you to go too far and/or not think things through enough, and then the ending where Zeus and Athena basically go, “Enough already! Go home,” is supposed to be the wake-up call that your bloodlust got the best of you.

    * Not for sleeping with the suitors, at least not in my closest-at-hand translation, but for dishonoring the house/Odysseus/Penelope which at least allows for the possibility that those who were subject to coercion were spared. Plenty of people were stuck serving the suitors in various ways and didn’t get punished for it, sexual ways might not have earned punishment either. But that’s a thing where it probably makes the most sense to look at the Greek and see exactly what it says.

  13. Lonespark January 9, 2013 at 5:22 am

    Huh. Everything I know about The Oddyssey is second or third hand. This discussion is fascinating.

  14. Firedrake January 9, 2013 at 6:32 am

    I think that part of the problem is that it’s a story about Odysseus, and everyone else is a spear-carrier.

  15. chris the cynic January 9, 2013 at 11:22 pm

    [Warning, more Odyssey and all that entails]

    Huh. Everything I know about The Oddyssey is second or third hand. This discussion is fascinating.

    Quick summary:
    Book 1: Posiedon, who is really pissed off at Odysseus on account of Odysseus poking his son the Cyclops’ eye out, is away in Ethiopia Athena takes the opportunity to say to the remaining God’s, “Hey, isn’t it about time we got Odysseus home ’cause right now he’s stuck on Calypso’s island and has been there for seven years.”

    Zeus says, “Sure, I’ll bet that every god other than Poseidon can come up with a plan to get Odysseus home that even Poseidon can’t screw up.”

    Athena says, “I’ve got it. First you send Hermes to Calypso without delay to tell her to send him home, meanwhile I’ll get to work on manning up Telemachus” (Odysseus’s son) “In preparation for his arrival.”

    That part’s actually relatively short, but it’ll come up again so I figured it was worth getting the details in.

    Athena goes down to put some courage into Telemachus who, at the moment, is just depressed and daydreaming about dad coming home to save the day. She also gives him a plan. We meet pretty much all the main players back home in Ithaca.

    Book 2: Telemachus calls an assembly to point out, “These bastards are ruining everything, violating all custom, and eating me out of house and home. Meanwhile I don’t know if my dad is alive or dead.”

    The suitors have some backtalk. The gods send birdsign. (The entire Iliad, Homer’s other work, is based on people taking birdsign seriously. Ignoring birdsign in Homer is like ignoring wormsign in Dune. Do not do it, no matter how powerful or arrogant you are.) The suitors ignore it and threaten to kill Odysseus.

    Telemachus asks for a ship so he can go to Nestor and Menelaus to see if maybe they have some idea what’s going on. Doesn’t get one. Athena, appearing to Telemachus as Mentor (nice old guy who is loyal) says she’ll get the ship then does so by appearing to the sailors she gets to volunteer and the person she gets to loan the ship as Telemachus. When they leave she’s back in the form of Mentor.

    Book 3: Telemachus meets the long winded Nestor, Athena switches from the form of Mentor to that of a bird right in front of Telemachus and Nestor, thus proving she was a god all along and causing Nestor to correctly guess which one.

    Some storytelling by long winded Nestor, a sacrifice to Athena, and Telemachus makes the rest of the journey over land, with one of Nestor’s sons.

    Book 4: Telemachus shows up at Menelaus’ house, gets a good welcome. Menelaus reveals that of all the people lost or missing he misses Odysseus most before he knows who Telemachus is, as soon as Helen walks in she’s able to correctly guess who Telemachus is, she’s good at that sort of thing. Helen and Menelaus do some verbal sniping in the guise of telling stories about Odysseus (Helen tells how she heroically saved the Odysseus when she could have had him killed, Menelaus tells how she nearly got all of the Greeks in the Trojan Horse to reveal themselves and would have killed the Greeks if not for Odysseus keeping everyone in line.)

    Then Menelaus tells what he knows and how he knows it, which is that Odysseus was stranded on Calypso’s island with no way off, but that was a long time ago. Telemachus says he doesn’t want to stay long.

    Meanwhile back at the ranch in Ithaca:

    People finally notice Telemachus is gone. Not because he hasn’t been around for a while but because the guy who loaned him the ship is wondering when he’ll get it back and so, innocently enough, asks. (Also revealing that some god seems to be involved because he definitely saw Mentor get on the ship and sail away, but Mentor is still around.)

    The suitors plot to kill Telemachus, someone overhears this and tells Penelope, who also didn’t know Telemachus had left the island. She originally plans to send someone to tell Odysseus’ dad in hopes he can come up with a plan, but is convinced instead to pray to Athena, who sends her a soothing dream. But the dream, sent only to deliver news about Telemachus and the fact Athena is protecting him, won’t say anything about Odysseus.

    Book 5: Athena goes back to Olympus and she is pissed. Remember that thing about sending Hermes without delay? Well Hermes is still there. She doesn’t come out and say, “What the fuck people? Hermes was supposed to go at the same time I was,” but instead again points out how much Odysseus has had to suffer and now the suitors are planning to kill his son.

    Zeus focuses entirely on the fact that the plot to kill Telemachus was a result of Athena’s actions and she can keep him safe from the suitors on her own, but then before Athena speaks again finally sends of Hermes.

    This is when we finally get our first glimpse of Odysseus crying on the seashore while Hermes and Calypso talk inside. Calypso is pissed, but like Hermes is not about to disobey an order from Zeus, so she lets Odysseus go (lets him build a raft) and sends him in the right direction with a following breeze but, just as he gets in sight of his destination, Poseidon, on his way back from Ethiopia, sees what’s going on and tries to drive Odysseus off course.

    A once human goddess tries to help Odysseus but Odysseus doesn’t trust goddesses anymore, and clings to his raft. Once Poseidon destroys the raft he takes the goddess’ advice, Poseidon figures his work there is done, and as soon as Poseidon is gone Athena safely gets Odysseus to the island he was aiming for.

    Book 6: With some help from Athena Odysseus meets the nice people of the island paradise.

    Book 7: With some help from Athena Odysseus meets the king and queen of the island paradise and gets their hospitality.

    Book 8: More hospitality, and at the end Odysseus is asked to tell his story.

    Book 9: Odysseus starts to tell his story, flashback time, though all in the present voice of Odysseus.

    He sacked a town, killed the men, took the women (never to be mentioned again) and treasure, and then said the time has come to boldly run away but his men wouldn’t listen and so escapees from the town called on reinforcements and by nightfall men had died from each of Odysseus’ 12 ships. They ran away.

    Lotus-Eaters next, I’m still not sure how many of his men ate the Lotus, was it just the initial reconnaissance party of 3, or was it more? Dragged those effected by the lotus back to the ships and tied them up, bravely ran away.

    Met the Cyclops, Odysseus left 11 of his ships in safety when he went to see the island, then left most of the ship in safety while he took 12 of his best (six would die) with him to check out the cave. The men wanted to bravely run away, this time Odysseus didn’t listen, and they found themselves stuck with a problem. They Cyclops was eating them (two at a time) but locking them in as well. If they killed him they’d be trapped inside, if they didn’t do something they’d be eaten. So Odysseus devised a pun (“Outis” is a name, “ou tis” means “no one”) got the Cyclops very drunk, said his name was Outis, blinded the Cyclops with a mast sized sharpened stake to the eye. When the other Cyclops heard him howling in anguish they asked who was hurting him, when they heard, or thought they heard, that no one was they said, “Well then the affliction must be sent by the Zeus, pray to your father Poseidon to intercede on your behalf.”

    Now blind the Cyclops couldn’t see the men to eat them, but he could guard the cave entrance when he opened it and only let those who he liked out. So the men hid themselves under his sheep and escaped that way. Once free Odysseus bravely ran away, taunted the Cyclops, was nearly killed by a thrown boulder, bravely ran farther away, taunted the Cyclops even more revealing his actual name, and bravely ran the rest of the way away. The Cyclops prayed to daddy that Odysseus would never make it home, if possible, or if he was fated to make it home would do it alone, long delayed, after all his friends had died. Thus Odysseus became cursed.

    Did I mention they stole all of the Cyclops’ beloved sheep and Odysseus himself sacrificed the Cyclops’ favorite?

    Book 10: The isle of the winds. They meet the king of the winds and he seals all the winds but the one Odysseus wants in a bag, that way they can get home. Odysseus is so intent on getting home he won’t let anyone else take the tiller. After 9 days Ithaca is in sight and Odysseus passes out. At which point the men, who apparently were never told that the winds they don’t want were trapped in the bag, assume there must be treasure in there and open it.

    Kersplat.

    They are blown every whichway.

    Odysseus considers (seriously and for a while, though in text not that long because “long and hard” doesn’t take long to write) just jumping in the ocean and drowning. In the end he just lies down on the deck instead. When they wind up all the way back at the isle of the winds the people groan, Odysseus gets up and begs for a second chance. Wind king correctly guesses they’re cursed and tells them to get out.

    They next reach the Laestrygonians. There’s a perfect harbor, 11 of Odysseus’ ships go in but he doesn’t want to put his own ship in until he’s scouted out the land. He sends out a traditional three man scouting party. Turns out the Laestrygonians are giants who eat people. The survivors from the scouting party come back with the news, but it’s too late for those who put into the perfect harbor which is also a perfect killzone. They’re killed and eaten.

    Odysseus, now with only one ship, arrives at Circe’s island. Remembering what happened to previous three man scouting parties, or even 13 man ones, the crew isn’t too keen on scouting, so Odysseus divides the crew in half and draws lots to see which will guard the ship and which will scout the island.

    Of the group that scouts, only one escapes to tell that the rest were turned into pigs. Odysseus heads off alone to see what he can do, gets Hermes help, is told he has to have sex with Circe to get his men back. He does and he does, then Circe offers hospitality and the men and Odysseus spend a year there getting back to full strength and generally being happy.

    At which point someone said, “Hey, don’t you think we should be heading home now?”

    Odysseus said the same, and Circe explained that Odysseus would need to consult with Tiresias to get home, and since Tiresias was dead that mean a trip to the underworld.

    Book 11:

    Odysseus sails past the ends of the earth to the other side of the River Ocean and preforms a ritual to talk to the dead. First up is one of his men who drunkenly died and went unnoticed as they rushed to leave Circe’s island, he asks for a proper burial, then Odysseus’ mom, who he didn’t know was dead, but he talked to Tiresias first who told him that if he could control himself and his men by not eating the cattle of the sun while stuck on their island he could come home, but if he failed to do that then, even if he survived, his men and his ship wouldn’t and it would take him a damn long time to get home. If that happens then by the time he gets home he’ll have to face the suitors and make a long journey after and whatnot.

    We’ve already seen the suitors, guess how well he’s going to do with the cattle of the sun. Guess. Actually, the intro tells you that his men ate them and died as a result.

    Tiresias explains how Odysseus can talk to his mother, and any other dead person around. And Odysseus has a grand old time chatting with the dead.

    Book 12 They go back to Circe’s island, bury the dead guy, and get advice for the road ahead. Circe repeats Tiresias’ warning: don’t eat the damn cows.

    Odysseus still, for whatever reason, doesn’t pass this on to his men.

    Sirens.

    Scylla and Charybdis.

    When the hungry men can hear the cattle and sheep of the sun Odysseus finally gets around to saying, “Oh yeah, don’t go to that island.” Every man on the boat votes that they go to that island anyway. (He doesn’t point out that if they eat them they all die.)

    So Odysseus agrees to go to the island but makes everyone swear not to eat any cattle or sheep they find there. He still doesn’t point out that if they eat these things they all die. I see this as a problem, just like if he’d said, “Hey, the winds are in that bag so don’t open it,” they’d be home by now.

    Anyway, they get stranded there for a full month, run out of food. Odysseus prays to the gods to show him the way, but not all of them are on his side and so they put him to sleep. While he sleeps the men kill the cattle. There is some understanding that this could mean death, but apparently the one who goads the men on prefers death by drowning to death by starvation anyway.

    After the cattle are dead and being roasted, Odysseus wakes up. He then relays what the gods had to say about all this which he heard from Calypso and she heard from Hermes.

    Even after he gets back his men keep feasting on the cattle, but at this point it doesn’t matter anyway because the men’s death had already been planned. Once they got a favorable wind they set out and Zeus destroyed the ship with a lightning bolt. Only Odysseus lived, swept all the way back to Scylla and Charybdis. Odysseus grabbed ahold of what remained of his ship when Charybdis spat it back out, ten days later Calypso fished him out of the water.

    Story ends.

    Book 13: Back in present tense, Odysseus goes home, the people on island paradise with magical ships get screwed over. See Poseidon was always pissed at them for giving safe passage home in their magic ships to any shipwreck survivor that passed their way, but doing it to Odysseus was the last straw. So he destroyed one of their ships, turned it to stone right in front of them, and then planned to surround their city with a mountain. We don’t know if he followed through on that plan because they knew that was what was coming next (there was this prophecy thing you see) and they thought maybe if they swore to never again provide safe escort and sacrificed to Poseidon and such he might leave the whole mountain thing out. Their part of the story ends with them implementing that plan with prayers to Poseidon. No word on if it worked.

    Odysseus and Athena trade lies with one another, cause they’re the bestest of friends. Then they get down some honest talk, Athena points out that Odysseus’ swineherd is quite loyal, and can be found amoungst the swine, so she disguises Odysseus as a wrinkly old man so most won’t notice him, warns him about the suitors (and the plot to kill Telemachus) and goes off to grab Telemachus.

    Book 14: Not sure, but the swineherd might be the only person Homer personally addresses in the Odyssey. I think he pulls out the second person pronouns for a couple of people as they die in the Iliad, but the way he speaks to the swineherd seems pretty unique. This book all about how awesome the swineherd is, and how much Odysseus lies.

    Book 15: Telemachaus heads home, picks up a stranger on the way, Odysseus learns the swineherd’s story.

    I watched a movie with you and it was good.
    I talked with you, and it was good.

    Book 16 Telemachus goes to the swineherd to get the lay of the land, meets Odysseus, still in disguise, and sends the swineherd to tell his mother (and his mother only) that he made it back alive. Homer keeps up the direct address to the swineherd (whose name, incidentally, is Eumaeus) which I think is just Homer telling us that Homer really likes the guy who takes care of pigs.

    With the swineherd away, Athena comes to Odysseus and says, “Tell your son who you are so you can plan your attack, for my part I’ll be along shortly, there will be blood tonight!” No, she doesn’t say that last part, but if you imagine her saying it like Inigo Montoya I think you get the attitude right.

    Disguise lifted Odysseus reveals himself to be Telemachus’ father, Telemachus takes it better than Luke, together they plot bloody vengence.

    The suitors who planed to kill Telemachus at sea come back, having failed, and want to kill him on land, but another of the suitor says they should see what the gods think before killing off royalty and thus the decide not to kill him right away.

    News travels in various directions.

    Book 17: Telemachus goes home and talks to mom, remember that stranger he picked up? Well the stranger’s a soothsayer so he knows that Odysseus is in Ithaca and tells Penelope this.

    Odysseus and the swineherd head up that way, turns out that while the swineherd is noble and loyal, the goatherd is disloyal and an ass.

    Odysseus’ dog, who has waited twenty years to see him again, recognizes him but lacks the energy to get up. He’d been staying alive just to see Odysseus again, and once he does he dies. Poor dog.

    We learn that, even though she has Odysseus check for himself which of the suitors are decent and which are not, Athena intends to spare none.

    Odysseus gets smacked again. Penelope wants to talk with him.

    Book 18: Odysseus is in disguise as a beggar at this point and when a meaner beggar stops by the suitors think it would be great entertainment to see to beggars fight. Odysseus wins, of course. He’s disguised as a wrinkly old beggar, but a strong wrinkly old beggar.

    Penelope comes down to talk to Telemachus amoung the suitors after Athena made her look all pretty again, this is when we find out (I think it’s the first time it gets brought up) that Odysseus told Penelope to marry once Telemachus had a beard, which he apparently does now.

    Book 19: Telemachus starts to prepare for the slaughter by moving the weapons out, turns out that the goatherd’s sister is as much of an ass to the poor as the goatherd. Penelope finally gets a chance to talk to Odysseus who first tries to avoid lying to her by not saying things about himself, but when pressed rather than tell the truth he lies his ass off.

    Odysseus gets a bath, and is recognized by the old woman giving it to him because one of his scars is distinctive, but he swears her to silence. She promises to tell him which of the women are loyal and which deserve death, but he thinks he can figure out for himself (in the end he’ll defer to her judgement) and just wants her to keep her mouth shut.

    Book 20: Athena reassures Odysseus.
    Swineherd: Still good.
    Goatherd: Still an ass.
    Cowherd: Nice guy, haven’t seen him before.

    Amphinomus, the nicest of the suitors, after checking for signs from the gods tells the other not to murder Telemachus but instead just continue eating him out of house and home.

    The suitors are jerks, the seer Telemachus took in leaves because he can see what’s coming and would prefer not to be around for it. He goes to stay with one of Telemachus’ friends.

    Book 21 Penelope sets up a contest to see who can win her hand in marriage, it involves Odysseus’ bow. Odysseus reveals his true identity to the swineherd and the cowherd. Odysseus wins the contest.

    Book 22 Bow in hand Odysseus kills everyone. That’s an exaggeration since he has three allies, but probably more important than the detail of who killed who is that one of the crimes Odysseus lists the suitors as having committed is rape. (“forced the women to sleep with you”)

    Also the herald and bard are spared.

    Odysseus, having come to some not-on-the-page revelation that he might not be the best judge of which women deserve to live and die defers to the woman who recognized him earlier and asks her who deserves to die. Telemachus does the actual killing. Though compared to how they kill the male servant who betrayed the house (the previously mentioned goatherd) their deaths are relatively tame.

    Weirdly, the way the story is told makes it seem like he had fifty female servants and three male ones. That’s clearly not true, but apparently only three of the male ones mattered (the three herders) where all 50 of the women did. On the other hand the three male servants get names, while maybe 2 of the female ones do.

    Anyway, of the people that mattered, the women were more loyal, 12 out of 50 is a 24% disloyalty rate. 1 out of three is a 33 1/3 % disloyalty rate. The women are thus 9 1/3% more likely to be loyal than the men. Not a big difference, but the women are apparently more trustworthy.

    Book 23: Penelope tests Odysseus to make sure he really is her husband come back and not just some lookalike who is good at slaughter. He passes, they have sex.

    Book 24: Meanwhile, back at the ranch in the underworld, Agamemnon notices a huge crowd of new guests. The nicest one (see above) tries to spin their tale as one of woe for them but Agamemnon is totally, “Go Odysseus!” He’s especially impressed by Penelope’s loyalty since his wife killed him.

    Actually I should have saved that meanwhile thing because: meanwhile, back in Ithaca Odysseus goes to see his dad, and initially lies to him because he’s Odysseus but quickly backpedals and says, “You don’t have to feel bad anymore, I’m back.”

    And, hey, there is a fourth male servant, and he’s loyal. That makes the men in the book still slightly less loyal than the women, but within the margin of error.

    All of the suitors had families, so the Ithacans get together and hold a “He murdered my son!” style town meeting.

    Some people point out, “Your son was an attempted murdering jackass who violated every rule we have and had been warned constantly for the past three years that this was coming and all you had to do was say, ‘Hey, son, come home,’ and it would have saved him but you wouldn’t because it was easier to dump your son in Penelope’s lap than deal with him yourself so seriously who’s to blame here? The person who did what the gods wanted, or you who sent your son to his death because it was cheaper and easier than following the rules?”

    More than half of the people at the meeting say, “Screw personal responsibility, we’re off to kill Odysseus.” Odysseus and company get ready for war, Athena asks Zeus, “What now?” Zeus says, “Do whatever you like, but my advice would be to send everyone home without further bloodshed.”

    Some divine intervention prevents a civil war. The end.

    —–

    Yes, that was the quick version, it’s called an epic for a reason.

  16. anamardoll January 10, 2013 at 7:25 am

    Chris, your summary was EPIC. As well as being deeply awesome. (I am not the only one who cracks up at Athena saying “What the fuck, people?”, am I? Because it gets me every time.) Thank you.

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