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Odyssey RAL – Books XVIII–XXII

Odyssey RAL – Books XVIII–XXII

Odyssey read-alongI skipped the previous two Odyssey posts, awful of me, I’m a terrible read-along participant… BUT I have been reading and thoroughly loving the Odyssey so far. We’re now at book XXII, nearing the end, and a lot has happened. But let me just talk about this particular book. It’s what we have been waiting for: Odysseus reveals himself and kills – slaughters – the suitors. I’m just going to share some of my favourite passages from this book (and there are many many more that are worthy of being shared) because I’m lost for words.

Leiodes then caught the knees of Odysseus and said, “Odysseus I beseech you have mercy upon me and spare me. I never wronged any of the women in your house either in word or deed, and I tried to stop the others. I saw them, but they would not listen, and now they are paying for their folly. I was their sacrificing priest; if you kill me, I shall die without having done anything to deserve it, and shall have got no thanks for all the good that I did.”

Odysseus looked sternly at him and answered, “If you were their sacrificing priest, you must have prayed many a time that it might be long before I got home again, and that you might marry my wife and have children by her. Therefore you shall die.”

With these words he picked up the sword that Agelaus had dropped when he was being killed, and which was lying upon the ground. Then he struck Leiodes on the back of his neck, so that his head fell rolling in the dust while he was yet speaking. (Translation: Butler)

The Suitors, by Gustave Moreau. 1852 or 1853
The Suitors, by Gustave Moreau. 1852 or 1853

(I had the pleasure of seeing the above work of art in person at the Musée Gustave-Moreau in Paris and wow, goosebumps. Images online don’t do justice to Moreau’s work…)

I’m not sure what I was expecting, but the way the scene with the suitors was described in book XXII was… I don’t know how to describe it, but oddly moving? There were a lot of layers to this book, and many different emotions. Odysseus’ rage. Suitors begging for their lives. Revenge. But also the final paragraph:

Then she went inside to call the women and tell them what had happened; whereon they came from their apartment with torches in their hands, and pressed round Ulysses to embrace him, kissing his head and shoulders and taking hold of his hands. It made him feel as if he should like to weep, for he remembered every one of them. (Translation: Butler)

And the following scene, which came before. I should explain a little why I want to share this with you. A while ago I read Margaret Atwood’s Penelopiad, so I was preparing for this moment. The Penelopiad was definitely not my favourite book and I had some issues with it, but it did make this passage stand out to me:

Then when they had made the whole place quite clean and orderly, they took the women out and hemmed them in the narrow space between the wall of the domed room and that of the yard, so that they could not get away: and Telemachus said to the other two, “I shall not let these women die a clean death, for they were insolent to me and my mother, and used to sleep with the suitors.”

So saying he made a ship’s cable fast to one of the bearing-posts that supported the roof of the domed room, and secured it all around the building, at a good height, lest any of the women’s feet should touch the ground; and as thrushes or doves beat against a net that has been set for them in a thicket just as they were getting to their nest, and a terrible fate awaits them, even so did the women have to put their heads in nooses one after the other and die most miserably. (Translation: Butler)

Odyssey RAL – Book V-VIII

Odyssey RAL – Book V-VIII

Odyssey read-alongI finished my reading for the past week early but I’ve been too busy to write something proper for the Odyssey Read-along.

The biggest happenings in books V to VIII were Odysseus release from Calypso and his arrival to Phaeacia. In book V what struck me was Calypso accusing the gods of jealousy. The gods ‘hate seeing a goddess take fancy to a mortal man’. And don’t we know it…

Odysseus arrives in Phaeacia, meets Nausicaa, and is aided by both Nausicaa and Athene in entering the city and getting in contact with Nausicaa’s parents Alcinous and Arete. A feast and games are held for him by Alcinous (because what if Odysseus is secretly a god? He does look godly right? Better treat him well just in case).

Odysseus is challenged to join the games. When reading Odysseus’ little speech where he defends himself against Euryalus’ challenge, I realised how different the various translations can be interpreted. In Butler’s prose translation (the main translation I’m reading), Euryalus is rude but Odysses seems even worse and I would have almost expected repercussions:

“For shame, Sir,” answered Odysseus, fiercely, “you are an insolent fellow- so true is it that the gods do not grace all men alike in speech, person, and understanding. One man may be of weak presence, but heaven has adorned this with such a good conversation that he charms every one who sees him; his honeyed moderation carries his hearers with him so that he is leader in all assemblies of his fellows, and wherever he goes he is looked up to. Another may be as handsome as a god, but his good looks are not crowned with discretion. This is your case. No god could make a finer looking fellow than you are, but you are a fool. Your ill-judged remarks have made me exceedingly angry…” (Translation: Butler)

Compare that to Lattimore’s translation:

“Friend, that was not well-spoken; you seem like one who is reckless.
So it is that the gods do not bestow graces in all ways
on men, neither in stature nor yet in brains or eloquence;
for there is a certain kind of man, less noted for beauty,
but the god puts comeliness on his words, and they who look toward him
are filled with joy at the sight, and he speaks to them without faltering
in winning modesty, and shines among those who are gathered,
and people look on him as on a god when he walks in the city.
Another again in his appearance is like the immortals,
but upon his words there is not grace distilled, as in your case
the appearance is conspicuous, and not a god even
would make it otherwise, and yet the mind there is worthless.
Now you have stirred up anger deep in the breast within me
by this disorderly speaking …” (Translation: Lattimore)

Quite a difference in tone if you ask me!

Moving on… Admittedly I had quite some fun looking at art depicting the meeting between Nausicaa and Odysseus. A bit too much fun perhaps. There is some very beautiful art out there, my favourite being:

Odysseus and Nausicaa, by Michele Desubleo c. 1655
Odysseus and Nausicaa, by Michele Desubleo c. 1655

It’s gorgeous! Louis Gauffier’s painting is nice too and perhaps more accurate with the shocked maids…

Ulysses and Nausicaa, by Louis Gauffier, 1798
Ulysses and Nausicaa, by Louis Gauffier, 1798

So far so good, and then there’s beauties like this out there (by my fellow countrymen of centuries ago, no less):

Odysseus en Nausicaa, by Jacob Jordaens between 1630-1635
Odysseus en Nausicaa, by Jacob Jordaens between 1630-1635

“Ohmigawd a naked gentleman!” The shocked maid cracks me up every time… And it gets better:

Odysseus en Nausicaa, by Pieter Lastman 1619
Odysseus en Nausicaa, by Pieter Lastman 1619

“Ohmigawd a naked gentleman at our picknick!”

I couldn’t help myself. Too soon? 😉

Odyssey RAL – Book I-IV

Odyssey RAL – Book I-IV

Odyssey read-along I just now finished books I-IV of the Odyssey. I must say I’m really enjoying it so far! The Odyssey as well as the read-along. In this post I’m a little ahead of Cleo and Plethora who have made posts on books I and II.

As said before, I’m mainly reading Butler’s translation, but I’m now and then comparing fragments to other translations (Lattimore’s and Fitzgerald’s). It’s really fascinating to compare these different translations. The story told, the contents, are pretty much the same. The style and the wording however are completely different (and all delightful in their own way).

Anyway. Books I-IV. I am convinced my fellow RAL participants are doing a far better job at saying something useful. Plethora and Cleo both mentioned the twenty years!! that have passed since Odysseus left. Twenty! We are now talking about a new generation, something we are not made to forget (‘son of…’ ‘son of…’ ‘daugter of…’). So far, in books I-IV, the fathers are the wise informants, the sons are undertaking the journeys. Menelaus has returned home safely and his kingdom is prospering. Odysseus is gone and, as Cleo mentioned, chaos has ensued in Ithaca…

Then the other point: Why does no one know whether Odysseus is alive or not? This is where I am slightly ahead. In book I we are already told about Odysseus situation, stuck on Calypso’s island. By book IV there is still uncertainty among everyone whether Odysseus is alive or not, but the latest update comes from Menelaus’ story of Proteus. But Telemachus is still left uncertain, and Penelope knows no more than she did before Telemachus left…

I am completely inspired by Plethora to share some art, at least one piece, with you.

Helen Recognizing Telemachus, Son of Odysseus by Jean-Jacques Lagrenee, 1795
Helen Recognizing Telemachus, Son of Odysseus by Jean-Jacques Lagrenee, 1795

That’s another reason I’m already glad to finally be properly reading the Odyssey. There is so much, so much wonderful art out there based on the Illiad and the Odyssey. The epics inspire. And by the time I’m finished with the Odyssey (and the Illiad later) I will be able to appreciate art in a different way too 😉

Odyssey RAL – update 1

Odyssey RAL – update 1

Odyssey read-alongPlethora wrote an really good background post for the Odyssey, and particularly about the stories that connect the Illiad and the Odyssey. Go read it!

I haven’t quite started reading the Odyssey yet, but I started with the introduction. The translation I will be reading is by Samuel Butler, and the introduction is his as well. Now, apparently mr. Butler caused quite a stir back in the 20s… by suggesting the Odyssey was in fact written by a young woman. (I can just hear those ‘gasps of shock and horror’ through the time vortex haha)

I went and picked up Butler’s The Authoress of the Odyssey at the library to dig into this idea more. You can also read the book here if you’re interested!

Despite the controversy, Butler’s translation seems to be reasonably well regarded. He translated the Odyssey into prose, but seemed to have kept a poetic vibe in his translation. But definitely not the usual go-to translation, like Fitzgerald or Fagles… We’ll see if I’m going to regret this or not 😉

I can’t wait to get started!


On another note: As I picked up the book, I was wondering: what should I really read first?The Illiad or The Odyssey? Reading them in that order would be chronologically correct, but the Odyssey seems to be the more accessible epic. One way or another, I plan to definitely read the Illiad sometime in the future 🙂

The Odyssey Read-along

The Odyssey Read-along

Odyssey read-along
Admittedly I haven’t been actively participating in any Classics Club events, including the spin… Thankfully, Plethora of Books is, and her result this time is The Odyssey. And even better, she is making it a read-along!

Since I have been wanting to read all of The Odyssey for a long time, I decided to join her. Check out Plethora of Books for more information!

The schedule:
Feb 11 – Feb 15
Background Information Prep
Feb 16 – Feb 22 Books I – IV (pg 27-87: 61) – This section deals primarily with Odysseus’ son Telemachos
Feb 23 – Mar 1 Books V – VIII (pg 88-136: 49) – Odysseus leaving Kalypso island and journeys to Scheria
Mar 2 – Mar 8 Books IX – XII (pg 137-197: 61) – Flashbacks from Odysseus’ from Troy to Kalypso island
Mar 9 – Mar 15 Books XIII – XVII (pg 198-269: 72) – This is start of Odysseus’ narrative home to Ithaka
Mar 16 – Mar 22 Books XVIII – XXII (pg 270-334: 65) – continuation of Odysseus’ narrative
Mar 23 – Mar 29 Books XXIII – XXIV (pg 335-359: 25) – Conclusion and resolutions
Mar 30 – Apr 2 Wrap-up

The Illiad & The Odyssey
(Aahhh it’s so beautiful! I can’t help but love the Barnes & Noble leatherbound classics…)