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13 The Homecoming.pdf

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Simon Fraser University
HUM 102W
David Mirhady

HUM102W (Summer 2013) Unit 13 Cherry Fan The Homecoming The second half of the Odyssey is an extended recognition scene. Odysseus begins by being transported back to Ithaca by the Phaeacians, but he continues to obscure his identity even into the last book, when he finally reveals himself to his father. His disguises and dissimulation are justified by the plot to some extent: he wants to find out who is still loyal to him before exposing himself. But the poet takes this to great lengths, making the revelation (anagnorisis) of Odysseus' identity a key theme of the poem. Books 13-17 see Odysseus acquaint himself cautiously both with his swineherd Eumaeus and his son Telemachus, to whom he finally reveals himself. In book 18 he goes finally to scout his own home and takes the guise of a beggar, a nobody, as he appeared in book 6, 9, and 11. When challenged by another beggar, he reluctantly fights him and wins, at which point he becomes a philosopher: "Nothing feebler does earth nurture than a human (anthropos), of all things that on earth are breathing and moving. For he thinks that he will never suffer evil in time to come, so long as the gods give him prosperity and his knees are quick. But when again the blessed gods decree him sorrow, this too he bears with steadfast heart; for the spirit of men upon the earth is like the day which the father of gods and men brings upon them. For I, too, seemed once to be prosperous among men, but I did many deeds of recklessness (atasthalia), yielding to my might and my strength, and trusting in my father and my brethren. Therefore let no man at all be lawless at any time, but let him keep in silence whatever gifts the gods give." Odyssey 18.130-43 As a statement of the values of the Odyssey, I can see none better than this. (Interestingly, it occurs in book 18, the same book number in which the important programmatic statement of the Iliad appears.) Of course, Odysseus is engaging in dissimulation; he was not himself lawless. But what he has to say is meant to hold true for every human being. Humans must obey the gods' laws and not presume that their good fortune can be assumed, or that it is somehow of their own doing. Specifically, Odysseus is giving a warning to the suitors who have invaded his household and taken advantage of its hospitality, but the point also serves as a commentary on the fortunes of his crew and his own variable fortunes on his return journey. The Suitors You may want to investigate and detail the characteristics of the individual suitors. Ultimately, Odysseus will find them all guilty and execute them. Nevertheless, some quick observation may inform your reading. First, the names: Antinous, "contrary minded", is son of Eupeithes, "good at persuasion"; "Eurymachus" means "wide power". The significance of names cannot be pushed too far, but it's worth observing them from time to time. Homer has the ability to include and name as many suitors as he wishes. It's an area where the individual poet has great control over the traditional story. Page 1 of 4 HUM102W (Summer 2013) Unit 13 Cherry Fan In book 18 the lawless behaviour of the suitors becomes readily apparent, but the poet also chooses to bring Odysseus' wife Penelope out of the women's quarter of the house so that she can be seen by the suitors, and by her husband and son: "Then the goddess, flashing-eyed Athena, put it in the heart of the daughter of Icarius, wise Penelope, to show herself to the suitors, that she might stir their hearts more and win greater honor from her husband and her son than before." Odyssey 18.158-61 Penelope chastises the suitors and demands the proper sort of gifts from men who are seeking to marry a woman. She thus raises the stakes for the suitors, making them more expectant that she will marry one of them (274-80). In book 18 Odysseus overcomes the other beggar in a contest provoked by the suitors. In book 21-2 he overcomes the suitors themselves, first in a contest of archery and then in a contest for their lives. The slaughter of the suitors in book 22 corresponds to the triumph of Achilles over Hector in book 22 of the Iliad. The greater number that Odysseus kills seems to make him a greater hero. Both men seem excessive in their desire for blood. It seems very likely that the poet of the Odyssey is purposely comparing the two heroes. All the suitors must die. That's the logic Odysseues is pursuing. But the issue of clemency arises for three individuals, Leodes the sacrificer, Phemius the bard, and Medon the tutor. In the context of such bloodshed, it's worth observing what reasoning does allow for lives to be preserved. In response to Leodes' plea that he played no active role in the suitors' misdeeds, Odysseus' response is curt. "If you really declare yourself the sacrificer among these men, often, I suppose, you must have prayed in the halls that far from me the goal of a joyous return might be removed, and that it might be with you that my dear wife should go and bear you children; therefore you will not escape grievous death." Odyssey 22.322-5 Odysseus sees through Leodes' plea and executes him. Phemius, on the other hand, is a bard and so akin to Homer himself: "By your knees I beseech you, Odysseus, and respect me and have pity; on yourself shall sorrow come hereafter, if you slay the minstrel, even me, who sing to gods and men. Self-taught am I, and
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