Mean As Custard (calico_pye) wrote,
Mean As Custard

The Odyssey - Book 1-2 Summary

Telemachus and Mentor, the original mentor in Homer's Odyssey. By Pablo E. Fabisch [Public domain],... [+] via Wikimedia Commons
Telemachus and Mentor, the original mentor in Homer's Odyssey. By Pablo E. Fabisch

Well, I promised myself that I would fill the gap in my learning that was largely due to being at a satellite college, that was on a different literary path tha the mothership university. I will discuss this in layman's terms because although I have graduated, I am reading/listening to The Odyssey for research purposes only. I won't look at it with a lit crit head on, but may dip in and out to suit my point of view.


When I started listening to The Odyssey, I was struck how much it sounded like the beginning of Hamlet: For instance, the characters who are as follows: the beloved son (spoilers = Hamlet Jnr/Telemachus); the missing husband (spoilers - Hamlet Snr. = dead; father Odysseus = stranded on the island, imprisoned by a love-struck Calypso); and the mother's welfare/reputation being questioned (spoilers - Gertrude = marries her murderous brother-in-law, Claudius; supposed widow Penelope's would-be suitors eating the Odysseus stronghold out of "house and home"). 

*from a very base point of view, the men are largely complaining that they'd rather be *ahem* eating 'something else', but Penelope promises all, but delivers nothing.

Hamlet Jnr's gig seems to be about revenge, whereas Telemachus' (now a young man) is about avenge.

Book 1

  • All is not well in Ithaca. The goddess Athena manifests as an old friend of Odysseus and addresses Telemachus, assuring the young man that his father is still very much alive and tells of the older man's imminent return to Ithica - this manifestation reminds me a bit of Hamlet Snr's ghost making a visitation in Hamlet Jrs' dream. Telemachus is then told that he must banish the suitors from his father's estate and seek news of Odysseus' return in Pylos and Sparta.

  • This doesn't go according to plan. Penelope is found in the suitors' quarters where she is reprimanded by Telemachus. She has been distressed by a bard, who tells of an early story of Greek suffering - that of their ill-fated return from Troy. Not gifted with emotional intelligence, TM points out that many men perished homeward bound from Troy and if she doesn't like the song, she should retire to her own quarters.  That was a bit a bit harsh - how about 'put another dime in the jukebox, baby'?

  • Of course, there is a lot of male posturing going on - later in assembly, TM rails against the freeloading opportunists, notifying them of their forthcoming banishment; they (specifically Antinous and Eurymachus) in turn resistant to giving up a good thing and ultimately blaming the woman in the equation.

Book 2

  • This impassioned outburst causes things to worsen. The Ithacan elder Aegyptius praises TM's initial step up to the plate, while TM bemoans that instead of draining the estate in hope of courtship and marriage, the suitors (many sons of Ithacan elders) would have, nay should have, sought Penelope's father and ask for her hand in marriage. Oh, the weakness of women in a patriarchal society. It is a sin that Penelope plays for time, and it is not long that it will be implied that she's on the verge of being the madam of a bawdy house.

  • TM attends the meeting of the suitors, where Antinous, the treacherous little sh*t recalls how Penelope previously stalled the remarrying process by promising all that she will resolve issues when she is done constructing a never-to-be completed burial shroud for her father-in-law, Laertes. Likening her to a 'spider' who weaves and unravels both knitting and men is a little unfair.

  • TM is none too pleased at the dig at his mother and calls the Gods to punish the suitors. A well-timed omen rocks up in the shape of two eagles locked in combat above, calling a soothsayer to proclaim the symbol of Odysseus' return and the suitors' impending doom. A lot of mumbling and grumbling ensues, and they all slope off (possibly to put an arrow into the duelling eagles, or indeed, the soothsayer).

  • The ever-resourceful Athena then manifests as Mentor, another supposed friend of TM's father. She/He assures Telemachus that his trip will be fruitful, then manifests herself yet again, this time as Telemachus himself, who then proceeds to recruit a loyal crew to his ship (Athena must have a wardrobe not too dissimilar to the children's TV classic Mr Benn, such is her need to get Telemachus' ass into gear. but I digress). TM himself does not dislose his plans to anyone, except his old retainer, who is in fear of TM's demise, but dutifully helps him gather provisions for his voyage.

Favourite Quotes

1) Athena (disguised): And now have I put in here, as thou seest, with ship and crew, while sailing over the wine-dark sea to men of strange speech...

I loved that image, but it got me wondering. Apparently, there are several mentions of a 'wine dark sea' in both The Odyssey and The Illead, depicting a stormy, rough sea. Yet, I had wondered about the development of language back then. This text was written 8th century BC before people had established names for shades of colour. Across the world, it appears there had not been a word the hue that is blue. A few have mused that Homer (if he indeed existed) was colour blind or indeed totally blind - the narrator is meant to be an old, blind man (I haven't established as yet if the narrator is Homer himself or idealised self-inserted Mary Su).

2) Also how the sunrise is 'fresh and rosy-fingered' - a beautiful image for the cold dawn being dispelled by the golden pink first light.

Enough for now - more listening needs to happen for me to progress.

Tags: homer, odyssey, writing

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