Friday 28 February 2014

The Odyssey Read-Along Book V & VI

The Odyssey Read-Along @ Plethora of Books

Book V

Hermes Argeiphontes is sent to Kalypso's island to inform the nymph that her hold on Odysseus is broken and that she must let him go.  Reluctantly, she agrees but only because she knows resisting the will of Zeus would be fruitless.  Yet when she tells Odysseus that he is a free man, he suspects her of subterfuge but she assures him of her sincerity.  She takes him to a grove of trees where he constructs a raft and loads it full of supplies before he departs.  Eighteen days out on his journey, he is spotted by Poseidon who, angered by the sight of him, causes a great storm to blow up and Odysseus is eventually forced to swim for land.  After swimming for nearly three days, he finally nears a coast, only to find the shoreline rimmed with jutting rock and jagged cliffs.  Poor Odysseus nearly drowns in the surf but, with some help from Athene, he finds a mouth of a river where he finally makes land.  Exhausted with his struggles, he decides to brave the wild animals and finds shelter in the forest to rest and sleep.


It appears that Odysseus initially stayed willingly with Kalypso, living with her as a husband.  Yet as time passed, her charms wore off until he was sorrowfully pining to return home to his wife and country.  In Greek culture, a man who had an affair with a foreigner or slave was not viewed as being unfaithful.

The Assistance of the Gods

Curiously, though the gods choose to help certain mortals, in most cases their assistance is deliberately limited.  They appear to offer just enough help to allow the person to use their ingenuity, strength and perseverance to get themselves out of a dire situation or to learn a specific lesson.


Odysseus has been shipwrecked by Poseidon twice; he has had two monologues; he has had two helpers; and he climbs back into his boat twice.  What does this mean?  I have no idea ….. ;-)

Hermes Ordering Calypso to Release Odysseus
by Gerald de Lairesse (1670)
Wikimedia Commons

Book VI

As Odysseus sleeps on remote Phaiakia, Athene comes to Nausikaa, the daughter of king Alkinoös, in a dream, urging her to carry the washing in her father's wagon down to the river to wash.   When she obeys the next day, Odysseus himself emerges from the bushes, naked but for a branch.  All her handmaidens scatter in terror, yet Nausikaa bravely questions him and finds he is a stranger to their country.  Employing his admirable tact and intelligence, Odysseus charms the girl.  She lends him some garments, waits while he washes and then instructs him to go to the palace of her parents, to grasp her mother's knees in supplication and thus will he get assistance for his journey.  He prays to Athene that the reception of the Phaiakians will be favourable.


There are numerous scenes of feasting throughout the poem.  If a stranger arrives, a feast is prepared, often before his name is learnt or his circumstances; if he stays, there is more feasting; there is feasting upon his departure; when the gods visit each other, they feast, such as the preparations made by Kalypso for Hermes when he arrived with his message.  In the case of mortals, the feasting is accompanied by sacrifices to the gods.


I am beginning to wonder if the hospitality and reverence offered to guests are not necessarily out of the goodness of the heart of the host.  Whenever a stranger appears, they are never completely certain if they are entertaining a mortal or a god.  It seems like good sense to treat everyone like a god and therefore be certain that they haven't offended one and that no dreadful punishment will follow for lack of generosity.

The Meeting of Odysseus and Nausicaa
by Jacob Jordaens
Wikimedia Commons
(How Nausicaa and her handmaidens were able to get
ahold of 19th century clothing is a mystery!)

Saturday 22 February 2014

The Odyssey Read-Along Book III & IV

The Odyssey Read-Along @ Plethora of Books

Book III

Telemachos and Athene arrive at Pylos, the home of Nestor.  After Telemachos asks Nestor for news of his father, Nestor describes their homecoming; how a quarrel between Agamemnon and Menelaos sprang up and how half of the forces left with Menelaos, including Nestor and Odysseus.  However, another quarrel began and Odysseus turned back, while Nestor continued on the windswept ocean and, with many prayers and sacrifices, made it home safely without knowing what happened to the other Achaians.  As Athene showed favour towards Odysseus in Troy, so Nestor hopes she will show favour towards his son by helping him rid his house of the unwanted suitors.  When Telemachos states that even the gods couldn't help him with that problem, he is scolded by Athene whereupon he reveals that he believes his father dead.  Nestor then relates the stories he has learned later of the homecoming of the Achaians who had been with him: Agamemnon was killed by Aigisthos, the lover of his wife, Klytaimestra, upon reaching home, yet 8 years later Aigisthos was killed by Orestes, the son of Agamemnon; Menelaos was blown to Egypt by the gods and there lived many years before recently returning to his kingdom.  Nestor counsels Telemachos to find Menelaos who will speak the truth to him. Offering horses and his sons as guides on the morrow, he gives Telemachos a bed in the palace in which to sleep.  When dawn arrives, another sacrifice is made to the gods and Telemachos departs by chariot for Lakedaimon, the home of Menelaos.

A King and His Kingdom

While the Kings of Greece appear to be well-respected by their people, in Ithaka there is a lack of loyalty and devotion.  Respect comes with a price, and if a king is no longer able to benefit his subjects, they often will look somewhere else for either leadership, or conversely, seek power themselves.


During the short time Telemachos and Athene spend on Pylos, Nestor has two sacrificial feasts to the gods.  The detailed explanation of these offerings shows Nestor's piety and generosity.  His devoted worship of the gods is perhaps one of the reasons he was able to return home from Troy with very few delays, unlike the rest of the Achaians.

Telemachus departing from Nestor
by Henry Howard
source Wikipedia

Book IV

Telemachos and Athene arrive at the house of Menelaos in Lakedaimon. The couple show hospitality to their guests, bringing them into the palace to feast.  Menelaos tells of their 8 year delay in Egypt before returning home and laments the death of his brother, Agamemnon, at the hands of his wife's lover.  When he begins to reminisce about the Trojan War, he brings everyone to tears.  Helen relates how Odysseus came to her from out of the Trojan horse, extracting a promise of silence about their presence, yet Menelaos contradicts her, accusing her of trying to lure the Achaians out of the horse and to their deaths.  The next morning Telemachos shares his troubles with Menelaos, whereupon Menelaos tells him the story of the Old Man of the Sea, Proteus, who revealed the death of two of the Achaians, Aias and Agamemnon, but acknowledged that Odysseus was alive, though a captive of Kalypso (which means "I cover" or "I conceal" in ancient Greek) on her island.  Meanwhile, on Ithaka, the suitors discover that Telemachos has sailed and are stupefied at his daring.  Antinoös recovers and plots to take a ship to set an ambush upon Telemachos' return, to take his life.  Penelope learns of the journey of Telemachos and of the suitors plans, and while initially distraught, she has a dream that all will be well because Athene is with him.  When she asks if Odysseus still lives, she is told: "I will not tell you the whole story whether he still lives and looks upon the sun's shining, or whether he has died and is in the house of Hades."

Fame and Glory

Menelaos states that he would gladly be happy with one-third of the riches he returned with, if only it would bring back the fallen heroes of the war. Spoils and riches are equated with glory in this culture and it is interesting that he would not give up everything for his fallen comrades.  Fame and glory can often be more important than life itself.

Trust and Betrayal

The interaction between Menelaos and Helen seems at once, comfortable and strained.  Each tell a conflicting story about Helen's actions during the end of the war, and it is apparent that her husband does not believe her rendition.  After 10 years, they have learned to live together but trust is certainly lacking.  Is Helen telling the truth?   After such a long time, Helen's character is still elusive.

A King and His Kingdom

Penelope, half pleading with, half scolding the suitors says:

"…….. Nor have you listened to what you heard from your fathers before you, when you were children, what kind of man Odysseus was among your own parents, how he did not act and spoke no word in his own country that was unfair ….."

Odysseus has been gone so long that the suitors have never known him personally, and this is partly from where their disrespectful attitudes stem. Their king is like a myth or dream, and there is nothing to tie their allegiance to him, except stories passed down from their elders.


Menelaos, when recounting his adventures in Egypt, reveals that the reason for his long detour was that he had neglected to render complete hecatombs (offerings) to the gods, angering them.  This is in contrast to Nestor, who made the proper sacrifices and arrives home quickly and safely.

Telemachus in the Palace of Menelaos
source Wikimedia Commons

Friday 21 February 2014

Paradise Lost Read-Along Book IX & X

Paradise Lost Read-Along

Book IX

The poet changes images from scenes of harmony to "tragic, foul distrust, and breach disloyal on the part of man, revolt and disobedience ……" and makes a reference to a "celestial patroness" who visits him at night to inspire him to verse, as he is perhaps too old to have the words come to him without divine help.

Meanwhile Satan rises with the mist in the Garden and finds the perfect creature to inhabit for his deception;  the snake, who is crafty and can easily move around without arousing suspicion.  Again he railing his discontent and spewing evil:

"………. and the more I see
Pleasures about me, so much more I feel
Torment within me, as from the hateful siege
Of contraries; all good to me becomes
Bane, and in Heaven much worse would be my state." (119 - 123)

"For only in destroying do I find ease
To my relentless thoughts…….." (129 - 130)

Still he wishes to best God in any way possible, boasting that he will tarnish creation in less time than it took the Almighty to create it:

"In woe then, that destruction wide may range:
To me shall be the glory sole among
The Infernal Powers, in one day to have marred
What he, Almighty styled, six nights and days
Continued making, and who knows how long 
Before had been contriving? ……."  (134 - 139)

Then "in at his mouth The Devil entered" the serpent and waited until morning.

Adam and Eve wake, but when it is time to perform their duties in the garden, curiously Eve suggests that they part and each work separately, thus accomplishing more work.

"For, while so near each other thus all day
Our task we choose, what wonder if so near
Looks intervene and smiles, or object new
Casual discourse draw on, which intermits
Our day's work, brought to little, though begun
Early, and the hour of supper comes unearned." (220 - 225)

Adam cautions his spouse that they have been warned that there is evil lurking in the Garden and they would be safer if they remained united, but Eve relates her hurt at his mistrust of her judgement.  Yet still Adam persists:

"But God left free the Will; for what obeys,
Reason is free, and Reason he made right,
But bid her well beware, and still erect,
Lest, by some fair appearing good surprised,
She dictate false, and misinform the Will
To do what God expressly hath forbid.
Not then mistrust, but tender love, enjoins
That I should mind thee oft; and mind thou me." (351 - 358)

Stubbornly resistant, Eve states that she is going alone with his permission and warning, confident that a proud foe would not seek the weaker victim, and "thus saying, from her husband's hand her hand soft she withdrew ….."

Satan in the guise of the Serpent, finds Eve and is initially disarmed:

"Her graceful innocence, her every air
Of gesture or least action, overawed
His malice, and with rapine sweet bereaved
His fierceness of the fierce intent is brought.
That pace the Evil One abstracted stood
From his own evil, and for the time remained
Stupidly good, of enmity disarmed,
Of guile, of hate, of envy, of revenge." (459 - 466)

But not for long:

"But the hot hell that always in him burns,
Though in mid Heaven, soon ended his delight,
And tortures him now more the more he sees
Of pleasure not for him ordained: then soon
Fierce hate he recollects, and all this thoughts
Of mischief, gratulating, thus excites: ……." (467 - 472)

Astounded at the Serpent's ability of speech, Eve ponders what this could mean, but when Satan commends her beauty and appeals to her vanity, she readily accepts his story that he gained speech and wisdom by eating from the Forbidden Tree.  Immediately she sees herself gaining stature until she is above Adam.  Of course, she would not actually die, but simply die to being Human, while becoming a god herself.  And the Serpent ate of the tree and he still retains life.  And so:

"Forth-reaching to the fruit, she plucked, she eat;
Earth felt the wound, and Nature from her seat;
Sighing through all her works, gave signs of woe
That all was lost …………"  (781 - 784)

Immediately she wonders if she should share the knowledge/fruit with Adam or keep it all to herself.  But thinking that she may actually die for her transgression and jealous of the possibility of Adam marrying again, she chooses to take it to her partner so he will share her same fate, whatever that might be.

Adam, when she tells him of her actions, is horrified:

"………. Adam, soon as he heard
The fatal trespass done by Eve, amazed
Astonied, stood and blank, while horror chill
Ran through his veins, and all his joints relaxed.
From his slack hand the garland wreathed for Eve
Down dropped, and all the faded roses shed."  (888 - 893)

What an effective image!  Adam had brought a wreath of flowers to Eve, expecting to crown his Queen and he is met by a creature "defaced, deflowered and now to death devote!". Distraught, he contemplates the implications of obeying God's command, but decides he cannot live without his partner.  With Eve's coaxing, he eats of the fruit.  Immediately inflamed and drunk with lustful desire, they retire into the woods for sexual play and later sleep overcomes them.  Yet they wake:

"As from unrest, and, each the other viewing,
Soon found their eyes how opened, and their minds
How darkened; innocence, that as a veil
Had shadowed them from knowing ill, was gone;
Just confidence, and native righteousness,
And honour, from about them, naked left
To guilty shame ……" (1051 - 1057)

They have gained knowledge, but it is the knowledge of the good they have lost and the evil that they have gained.  Each blames the other for their transgression, bickering for hours on end as to who is culpable.

Satan finds snake to inhabit
by Gustave Doré (1866)

Book X

The Angels hear of Adam and Eve's grievous sin, and are filled with sorrow and compassion.  Returning to Heaven, God holds them blameless:

"I told ye then he should prevail, and speed
On his bad errand ---- Man should be seduced
And flattered out of all, believing lies
Against his Maker, no decree of mine
Concurring to necessitate his fall,
Or touch with lightest moment of impulse
His free will, to her own inclining left
In even scale………"  (40 - 47)

God visits Adam and Eve in the Garden, where they confess their sin and he asks Adam, "was she thy God, that her thou didst obey before his voice?"  He pronounces judgement on the pair, yet with judgement comes mercy as the Son:

" …… pitying how they stood 
Before him naked to the air, that now
Must suffer change, disdained not to begin
Thenceforth the form of servant to assume,
As when he washed his servants' feet so now,
As father of his family, he clad
Their nakedness  ………." (211 - 217)

Meanwhile, Sin and Death are at the gates of Hell and "found a path over this main from Hell to that new World where Satan now prevails ….".  Meeting Satan on their way their congratulate him on his victory, and he tells them:

"All yours, right down to Paradise descend;
There dwell, and reign in bliss; thence on the Earth
Dominion exercise and in the air
Chiefly on Man, sole lord of all declared;
Him first make sure your thrall, and lastly kill …." (398 - 403)

When Satan arrives in Pandemonium and relates his Triumph, he expects "their universal shout and high applause to fill his ear, when contrary, he hears, on all sides, from innumerable tongues a dismal universal hiss, the sound of public scorn ……", then "His visage drawn he felt to sharp and spare, his arms clung to his ribs, his legs entwining each other, till supplanted, down he fell, a monstrous serpent on his belly prone ….."  His followers experience the same phenomenon and, "thus was the applause they meant turned to exploding hiss, triumph to shame…"  A tree grows in Hell similar to the Tree of Knowledge but when they try to eat the fruit, it turns to ash in their mouths.

Sin and Death begin to move through the world.  In Heaven, God instructs the angels to change the universe, causing cold and hot climates, producing winds, thunder and snow and various other effects that alter the paradisiacal conditions of the Earth.  Adam, hiding in the gloomy shade, laments his miseries and when Eve comes to comfort him he replies:

"Out of my sight, thou serpent; that name best
Befits thee with him leagued thyself as false 
And hateful: nothing wants, but that thy shape
Like his, and colour serpentine, may show
Thy inward fraud, to warn all creatures from thee."  (866 - 871)

He berates her, laying all the blame for their condition at her feet but, instead of acting with like animosity, she responds with a wonderful contriteness, asking for his forgiveness and fully accepting blame.  She suggests that if Death does not find them, they should seek him out themselves.  Her humbleness and lack of pride have a surprising affect on Adam. Claiming God's punishment just, he encourages her to accept their fate and go forward with hope.  Some of the punishments they have so far experienced (ie. childbirth) have brought forth joy as well as pain and that is a comfort.

"No more mentioned, then, of violence 
Against ourselves, and wilful barrenness,
That cuts us off from hope, and savours only
Rancour and pride, impatience and despite,
Reluctance against God and his just yoke
Laid on our necks…….."  (1041 - 1046)

"What better can we do than, to place 
Repairing where he judged us, prostrate fall
Before him reverent, and there confess
Humbly our faults, and pardon beg, with tears
Watering the ground, and with our sighs the air
Frequenting, sent from hearts contrite, in sign
Of sorrow unfeigned and humiliation meek?
Undoubtedly he will relent, and turn
From his displeasure, in whose look serene
When angry most he seemed and most severe
What else but favour, grace, and mercy shone?" (1086 - 1096)


Wow!  There was so much information, action and images packed into these two books, particularly book IX.

At the beginning of book IX, Milton mentions his celestial patroness or Muse, telling of her impartations of inspired verse and that he is not skilled enough on his own to create such poetic display.  There are certain scholars who feel that Milton's brilliance is not as apparent in the latter parts of the poem as the beginning (I am not noticing this, but, of course, I'm not a scholar), so I wondered if he is setting up this humble claim as a reason for a decrease in poetical ability……??

Again Satan's torment is palpable and his personification of deception alarming.  Occasionally he still feels joy, peace, happiness and knows what they mean, yet with any positive emotion felt, his rage, self-loathing and malice return at even greater strength.

I had to wonder while I was reading this, whether Adam and Eve were familiar with deception.  They would have had no exposure to it, but God did mention that they were completely equipped to meet their deceiver.  I imagine, that while Adam and Eve had a certain sense of wonder and innocence, that they were not created as children.  They were created as full-grown beings with sense and reason.  It was their free-will that gave them the right to choose, and they made an horrendous mistake.

I had to shudder at the speech Satan gave his minions.  Once again, he is only concerned with power and prestige: "Thrones, Dominations, Princedoms, Virtues, Powers ---".  He gives the image of an army: "a broad way is now paved, to expedite your glorious march" and says that man's disgrace is "worth their laughter".  Chilling.

The most poignant lines of the poem:

"O much deceived, much failing, hapless Eve,
Of thy presumed return!  event perverse!
Thou never from that hour in Paradise
Found'st either sweet repast or sound repose;
Such ambush, hid among sweet flowers and shades,
Waited, with hellish rancour imminent,
To intercept thy way, or send thee back
Despoiled of innocence, of faith, of bliss."  (404 - 411)

And whomever has read through this whole post, deserves some type of award!!! :-)

Wednesday 19 February 2014

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis

First Edition Dustjacket
source Wikipedia
"There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb and he almost deserved it."

Another year has passed.  Peter and Susan Pevensie are able to travel with their parents to America, while Edmund and Lucy are sent to live with their cousin, Eustace Scrubb.  Eustace is a spoiled pest, a child who has been raised by "very up-to-date and advanced" parents and who attends a "modern school."  When the three children pass through a picture of a sailing ship and back into the land of Narnia, they are tossed into another wild adventure.

The Dawn Treader is the pride of the Narnian fleet and is carrying Prince Caspian on a journey to find the seven lost lords of Narnia, friends of his father who sailed east and went missing long ago.  As they explore both uncharted land and water, the children find themselves in situations of danger and moments of decision that will change their lives forever.

This book is the third book published of the Narnia chronicles and with each book, Lewis weaves more gems of wisdom into the story and does it with a genuineness that is particularly appealing.  Lucy once again has an encounter with Aslan: Lucy is instructed to look for a particular spell in a book of Magic but decides, against her conscience, to read a spell that will stroke her vanity and make her more beautiful than her sister.  Immediately she spies Aslan on the page, growling and showing his teeth, which stops her selfish action.  Instead she chooses to read a spell that allows her to eavesdrop on two girls from her school, and what she hears about herself is not pleasant, especially since she had viewed one of the girls as her friend.  Aslan gently admonishes her about listening to their conversation and says that her relationship with her friend will now never be the same.  When Lucy wishes to know what would have happened if she hadn't eavesdropped, Aslan tells her, as he told her in Prince Caspian, "Child, did I not explain to you once before that no one is ever told what would have happened?"  Actions have consequences and we need to weigh the repercussions before we act, instead of being guided by impulse.

Wikimedia Commons

Eustace Scrubb is certainly a wonderful character and Lewis' development of him is extraordinary.  Going from a petulant, spoiled, impertient child, he is transformed by a frightening experience, yet Lewis does not make him perfect in his transformation.  As we see by his reactions, he still holds some of the same prejudices, assumptions, and, at times, behaviour as he originally did.  Eustace's encounter with Aslan fundementally changed his soul, yet he is like an Everyman, struggling with life's circumstances while trying to live a life of integrity, and still making mistakes along the way.

Lewis makes a point in this book of examining the views of an exclusively scientific mentality and what results from this kind of worldview.  Eustace is initially presented as boy who goes to a model, or progressive school, and is only exposed to factual experience.  Because of his sterile formation, he is unable to enjoy or even recognize, the magic and joy in Narnia.  He has straightforward knowledge, but when situations do not fit into his technical understanding, he is handicapped by his lack of wonder and curiosity, and is unable to accept, understand or cope with them.  What is particularly telling, is that he doesn't recognize what lies right in front of his face:  in spite of being on the Dawn Treader and being able to see that it is a ship, he tries to tell Caspian what a real ship is like; when they land on Droon, it is reasonably obvious (and he has been told) that they are in another world, yet Eustace insists they should find the British consul; and even after Eustace's transformation, when they land in the country of the Dufflepuds, he makes an impulsive judgement about the area and its people based on his first sight of technology: "Machinery!  I do believe we've come to a civilized country at last!"  By living solely by "the facts", Eustace can recognize what makes us physically human, yet misses the wonder, enjoyment, and recognition, of what makes us spiritually human.

Detail of Dawn Treader port stern porthole
photo courtesy of David Jackmanson
Creative Commons License

Living during the Second World War and being exposed to the Nazi's views of racial superiority and social-Darwinism,  Lewis' was unavoidably confronted with certain aspects of science and was forced to ponder their eventual outcomes:

"Again, the oligarchy must more and more base its claim to plan us on its claim of knowledge …….  This means they must increasingly rely on the advice of scientists …… Now I dread specialists in power because they are specialists speaking outside their special subjects.  Let scientists tell us about science.  But government involves questions about the good of man, and justice, and what things are worth having at what price; and on these a scientific training gives a man's opinion no added value …… On just the same ground I dread government in the name of science.  That is how tyrannies come in.  In every age the men who want us under their thumb, if they have any sense, will put forward the particular pretension, which the hopes and fears of that age render most potent.  They 'cash in'.  It has been magic, it has been Christianity.  Now it will certainly be science."

Lewis was not concerned about science itself, but the importance placed on it and for what means it could be used.

Once again, Lewis weaves a wonderful adventure for children, but leaves questions and ideas that relate to an adult world.

C.S. Lewis Project 2014

Other Narnia Books

Tuesday 18 February 2014

Chronicles of Barsetshire Read-Along

Yes, another read-along, and this time hosted by Melissa at Avid Reader and Amanda of Fig and Thistle.  We will be reading through the Barsetshire Chronicles by Anthony Trollope.

The novels are scheduled as follows:

March:  The Warden
April:  Barchester Towers
May:  Doctor Thorne
June:  Framely Parsonage
July:  The Small House at Allington
August:  The Last Chronicle of Barset  

Now before everyone thinks that I've lost my mind, I had already planned to read all these novels beginning in May along with some friends in my Dead Writers Society group, so while I will participate in the read-along, I will be two months behind schedule.

If anyone else cares to join in the fun, please pop over to Avid Reader or Fig and Thistle to sign up!

Monday 17 February 2014

The Odyssey Read-Along Book I & II

The Odyssey Read-Along @ Plethora of Books

And so we start our journey with Odysseus in his quest to find his way home after the long Trojan War, to be reunited with his wife and son, and to re-establish his reputation as the king of Ithaka.  Plethora of Books is kindly hosting this read-along and has done a wonderful introductory post overflowing with important background information to better understand and enjoy The Odyssey, so please check it out!

I'm going to be posting two books at a time, in spite of the four-books-a-week pace, because I have a strong feeling that my posts will get too long, trying to fit four books into one post.

Greek text of The Odyssey's opening passage
source Wikipedia

Book I

Homer invokes his Muse to tell the story of "a man of many ways" who after the sack of Troy, spends much time fighting for his life and those of his companions to accomplish their homecoming.  Yet Homer quite handily and conveniently makes Odysseus a lone hero by relating the story of his companions' fateful actions as they foolishly abuse the hospitality of Helios the Sun God by eating his cattle and, therefore, meet their death.

On Olympus, Athene pleads with Zeus to remember the struggles of Odysseus, in spite of the anger of Poseidon, kindled after Odysseus blinded his son, Polyphemus, the Cyclops.  Zeus agrees to send Hermes to him and Athene departs for Ithaka, the home of Odysseus, where his wife is being beseiged by suitors and his son, Telemachos, stands helpless.  Announcing herself as a man named Mentes, Athene counsels Telemachos to take a ship and search for his father, who is being held captive on a sea-washed island.  Her instructions will send him first to visit Nestor on Pylos and then Menelaos at Sparta.  Before leaving, she reprimands him for his childish acceptance of the raucous disrespectful behaviour in his household.  A transformed Telemachos returns home to lightly scold his mother, Penelope, and admonish the suitors for their behaviour, astonishing both parties with his newly acquired forcefulness and strength of mind.  We find later that Telemachos has ascertained that it was Athene in the form of Mentes, then he retires to bed, deliberating the upcoming voyage.



The guest-host relationship is an important aspect of Greek culture.  In The Iliad, we get an example of how complex this social ritual is when we see Diomedes of the Achaean (Greek) warriors and Glaukos of the Trojan warriors, not only refusing to fight each other, but exchanging armour simply because the grandfather of Diomedes had hosted Glaukos in the past and they had exchanged gifts.  Their actions demonstrate that the guest-host relationship is sacred.  Perhaps this example makes it easier to understand why the Sun God would slaughter all of Odysseus's men, and it also makes the behaviour of the suitors in the home of Odysseus that much more appalling.  Odysseus was/is the king of Ithaka, yet it is obvious by his absence, the island is completely lacking leadership and the societal rules and traditions have degraded into a type of anarchy.

Fame & Glory

It appears that if Odysseus would have died the death of a warrior during the Trojan War, his namesake would have been respected and the problems with the suitors would probably have not existed.  The glory he would have won in death would have been passed to Telemachos:

"…….. I should not have sorrowed over his dying
if he had gone down among his companions in the land of the Trojans,
or in the arms of his friends, after he had wound up the fighting.
So all the Achaians would have heaped a grave mound over him,
And he would have won great fame for himself and his son hereafter." (236 - 240)


When we first meet him, he is a boy, without any power or prestige.  The suitors have taken over his house and, in fact, his inheritance, as they make free use of his goods.  While he complains to third parties about the mens' insolence and discourtesy, he does not seem to have made any resistance against them in word or deed.  Yet after his conversation with Mentes (Athene), she imbues him with courage and spirit, which he immediately puts to use and attempts to establish himself as the power in the household, first by demonstrating control over his mother, and then by threatening the suitors with consequences if they don't return to their own homes.

Telemachos & Mentor
source Wikipedia

Book II

Telemachos calls a meeting of the men of Ithaka, where he castigates them for abusing his home and provisions, and for pressuring his mother to marry yet not being willing to take the proper steps of asking her father for her hand.  Yet Antinoös contests his views, agreeing to allow Penelope and her father to choose one of them, and accuses her of the ultimate deception: conceiving of a ploy to delay her marriage, she begins weaving a shroud, agreeing she will marry one of the suitors when it is finished, yet she unravels the shroud each night.  Countering the charge by avoiding the issue, Telemachos states he cannot make his mother marry against her will without invoking the rage of the furies and the displeasure of the people.  Hmmmm ……. some of his father's wiliness seems to be springing up in his character …..

As they are speaking, two eagles overhead tear at each other, and wise Halitherses, reading the omen, warns the suitors that Odysseus will return and that they will suffer great pains.  Scorning his words, Eurymachos states that they will continue their harassment, whereupon Telemachos requests a ship and men to journey to find his father, promising that if he learns of his death, he will return and give his mother in marriage.  Mentor, the steward of Odysseus, then accused the people of Ithaka of not speaking up against the suitors' ignoble actions.  Leokritos, scoffing, dares anyone to go against them, even Odysseus himself, and the meeting breaks up accordingly.

In response to Telemachos' prayer, Athene appears in the form of Mentor and promises him a ship.  When Telemachos arrives home, Antinoös attempts to persuade him to feast with them, but he replies that he will work towards their destruction and, as he leaves, the suitors ponder if he is going to seek a way to bring about their murders, or if perhaps, he may perish on his upcoming voyage.

Meanwhile, Athene secures men and a ship, returns to place a "sweet slumber over the suitors", which allows them to leave unseen.


Ithaka Without A King

It's apparent that without a king, the island kingdom has fallen into a sorry state of disorder and rebellion.  The suitors, by abusing the code of hospitality, are acting in a way that they would never act if there had been proper leadership.  Aigyptios mentioned that the meeting called by Telemachos was the first since Odysseus had gone away (nearly 20 years before!), more evidence of a lack of government which allows the suitors free license in their conduct.


He still needs to rely on leadership from Athene, but if she gives him a task, he is ready to complete it.  The suitors still aren't taking him seriously …… yet …..

Men Crying

"So he (Telemachos) spoke in anger, and dashed to the ground the scepter
in a stormburst of tears; and pity held all the people
Now all the rest were stricken to silence, none was so hardy
As to answer, angry word against word, the speech of Telemachos." (80 - 83)

This scene occurred in the middle of Telemachos' speech to the suitors at the meeting.  Is this a childish tantrum?  I'm not sure.  The corresponding emotions felt by the people were pity and restraint.  I know from reading The Iliad, that tears from a Greek warrior are not unusual, and a crying man was not viewed by the ancient Greeks in the negative light that we would view one today.  Yet hurling the sceptre to the ground with tears perhaps shows a youthful frustration and petulance …?  What does everyone else think?

Penelope & the Suitors
by John William Waterhouse (1912)
Public Domain

Friday 14 February 2014

Paradise Lost Read-Along Book VII & VIII

Paradise Lost Read-Along

Book VII

The poet invokes the Muse of astronomy, Urania, as he recalls "evil days" into which he fell (I assume this refers to his blindness), after which Adam requests Raphael to describe the creation of the world after the fall of the rebel angels.   Raphael agrees but notes "to recount almightly works what words or tongue of Seraph can suffice, or heart of man suffice to comprehend."  He also cautions Adam as to his pursuit of knowledge:

"But Knowledge is as food, and needs no less
Her temperance over appetite to know
In measure what the mind may well contain,
Oppresses else with surfeit, and soon turns
Wisdom to folly, as nourishment to wind." (126 - 130)

The account of Genesis is then recounted by the angel.  Such music and singing, sweet and soft, "choral and unison", that greeted creation in a symphony of praise to the Creator.

Creation of the Birds
by Gustave Doré (1866)
source Wikipaintings


Again, this part was difficult to understand but I believe Adam questions Raphael as to why Earth is so small compared to the rest of the universe.  Eve, listening thus far, decides to leave at this point.  Raphael then goes into copious detail about Heaven, Earth, the Cosmos, the Sun, etc.

"And for the Heaven's wide circuit, let it speak
The Maker's high magnificence, who built
So spacious, and his line stretched out so far,
That Man may know he dwells not in his own ---
An edifice too large for him to fill,
Lodged in a small partition, and the rest 
Ordained for uses to his Lord best known." (100-106)

Yet he ends with another caution about he curiosity of man:

"Solicit not thy thoughts with matters hid:
Leave them to God above; him serve and fear.
Think only what concerns thee and thy being;
Dream not of other worlds, what creatures there
Live, in what state, condition or degree,
Contented that thus far hath been revealed
Not of Earth only, but of highest Heaven."  (167-178)

Grateful for the chance to learn from Raphael, Adam reciprocates by relating the story of his creation to the angel.  Milton's verse is enchanting as he describes Adam waking from a sound sleep in the garden, his discovery of himself and the world around him and the creation of a companion, Eve.  Leading her to their "nuptial bower", there he first feels a passion that transports him beyond power and even beyond reason.  Raphael reminds him that he shares the carnal nature of beasts and not to get carried away with sexual pleasure:

"But, if the sense of touch, whereby mankind 
Is propagated, seems such dear delight
Beyond all other, think the same vouchsafed
To cattle and each beast; which would not be
To them made common and divulged if aught
Therein enjoyed were worthy to subdue
The soul of man and passion in him move." (579 - 585)

This carnal pleasure is not in itself true love.  True love elevates, whereas passion lowers the soul.

"What higher in her society thou find'st
Attractive, human, rational, love still:
In loving thou dost well, in passion not,
Wherein true love consists not.  Love refines
The thoughts, and heart enlarges, hath his seat
In Reason, and is judicious, is the scale
By which to heavenly love thou may'st ascend,
Not sunk in carnal pleasure, for which cause
Among the beasts no mate for thee was found." (586-594)

Adam assures the angel there is a union of minds between them, "in us both one soul," then he prods on tender ground, inquiring if angels share love by "looks only."  Blushing a "celestial rosy hue", Raphael reveals that when angels embrace there is no need for "flesh to mix with flesh," and with one last warning for our curious first man, he ascends back to Heaven.


Well, the reading is certainly getting harder and I am having to re-read in parts to get the gist of what is happening, especially when Raphael begins to talk about the universe, mixing Ptolemaic and Copernican theories.  Whew!

I'm not sure yet how I feel about Milton's portrayal of Adam and Eve.  Their literary creation must have been a difficult task to accomplish.  On one hand it's necessary to make them appear innocent and pure before the Fall, yet they also need to be capable of being tempted, so in reality he needs to give them some sort of flaw (is that the word I'm searching for?).  Perfect and yet not perfect.  I'm not sure if it's possible to do this task well.

Honestly, I don't have much to add with regard to these books.  Once again, very enjoyable, yet not as easy to assimilate as at the beginning of the poem, on more levels than just understanding.  I'm interested to see how Milton will handle the temptation of Eve and the Fall, because we all know who is still watching the Garden!

Satan Views Eden
by Gustave Doré 

Tuesday 11 February 2014

The Odyssey Read-Along

Plethora of Books is hosting an Odyssey Read-Along beginning now, and since she begged and grovelled and cajoled me to join, how could I say no?

Ulysses and the Sirens
by John William Waterhouse (1891)

Here is 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

I haven't decided on the translation I'm going to read yet.  Lattimore is apparently the closest to the original, yet in spite of complaints that Fitzgerald tends to embellish (more Fitzgerald than Homer), I might just choose to read his, as I read Lattimore's the first time round.  The Fagles translation I would tend to avoid on principle, but I'll probably do a comparison between all three before I start.

In spite of feeling a wee bit overloaded with my reading, I'm really looking forward to reacquainting myself with The Odyssey.  After reading The Iliad, I fell in love with Greek literature and it will be a joy to visit some old companions again!

If you are interested in joining, pop over to Plethora's blog to sign up!

Monday 10 February 2014

Candide Read-Along

Fariba from Exploring Classics is doing a read-along of Candide by Voltaire in March and I have decided to join.  My schedule should have eased somewhat by then and I should be able to fit it in relatively easily.

Here is the outline:

The event will be from March 1 - 31, 2014.

Fariba will be reading the work in the original language, but all posts will be in English.  Here is the posting schedule:

Monday, March 10:  chapters 1 - 8

Monday, March 17:  chapters 9 - 16

Monday March 24:  chapters 17 - 24

Monday, March 31:  chapters 25 - 30 (last post)

After she posts about a series of chapters, you have a whole week to comment on those chapters.

Depending on if I have enough time, I may tried to read the novel in the original French, or at the very least read some of it in French.  I don't quite know what to expect from this novel but I'm looking forward to it!

Classics Club Spin #5 …………. And The Winner Is …………..!

My excitement has turned to a cold sweat.  I am reading:

No, I haven't spent the morning breathing into a paper bag, but nearly.  I do want to read this book, just not now.  I have read a number of chunksters lately (War & Peace, David Copperfield, Once & Future King, Ovid, etc.), my reading schedule is on overload and I have been and will be reading so many books on faith this year (my Lewis Project, Paradise Lost, the Pilgrim's Progress ….) that I was really hoping to get something else.  Is that bad?  In any case, it is what it is.

Okay, I am going to grab my book, get myself a hot cup of tea and a better attitude!  :-)

photo courtesy of
Serge Bertasius Photography
source Free Photos

Best of luck to everyone on their attempts to complete their Spin!

Sunday 9 February 2014

Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin

"My uncle, man of firm convictions …
By falling gravely ill, he's won
A due respect for his afflictions ---
The only clever thing he's done.

I was so happy to get the chance to participate in Marian at Tanglewood's Read-Along for my second read of Eugene Onegin in six months.  My first time I read the translation by Charles Johnston and this time chose to read James A. Falen's translation.  But more comparisons on the two later.

It was such a joy to read such a lively and often tongue-in-cheek poem, yet Pushkin weaves his jaunty remarks throughout a tale of serious love, serious death and serious coming-of-age, crafting a remarkable masterpiece.

Since I already reviewed Eugene Onegin the first time I read it,  I will simply cover a couple of areas that stood out for me from a second read, that were not initially apparent.

First Edition of the novel
(source Wikipedia)
Comparing the two translations, I must say I enjoyed Falen more than Johnston.  Johnston's words have a loftier tone and are perhaps more beautiful, but I think Falen captures the spirit of the poem more accurately.  A couple of times, his choice of words appeared awkward, yet he communicated the grave situations in balance with the bouncy, cheekiness of the narrator, with flair and apparent ease.  I would recommend him for a first-time reader.

This second read I noticed numerous instances of juxtaposition ………. Tatyana reading books that lead her to form a romantic infatuation with a man she's barely spoken to vs. Tatyana reading books that lead her to a more mature and formed view of Onegin's character; Tatyana's love of the country and woods vs. her marital residence being in the city; Tatyana's letter vs. Onegin's letter; Onegin's rejection of Tatyana, and then Tatyana's rejection of Onegin; Onegin's volatile response to a friend's challenge that leads to that friend's death vs. Onegin's wish to seduce a friend's wife which could have led to a similar circumstance.  It really became apparent to me this time that Onegin hadn't learned anything.  It was clear to Tatyana, too.  She asks him pointedly, why he is suddenly pursuing her, and her harsh words demonstrate her mistrust of his motives:

" Why mark me out for your attention?
Is it perhaps my new ascension
To circles that you find more swank;
Or that I now have wealth and rank;
Or that my husband, maimed in battle,
Is held in high esteem at Court?
Or would my fall perhaps be sport,
A cause for all the monde to tattle ---
Which might in turn bring you some claim
To social scandal's kind of fame?"

Until he saw Tatyana the second time, he was the same foppish young man, sinking in ennui.  She revived him briefly, yet even in the ardent fog of love, his actions are not the actions of a man who has gone through a self-examination from the tragedy that had come from his initial conduct (the duel).  If he had managed to convince Tatyana to begin a relationship with him, it would have ended in another duel and another possible death of a friend.  I think Tatyana was wise enough to ascertain the baseness of his behaviour and foresaw the consequences.  She loved him as a man, yet rejected his ignoble character.

Statue of Alexander Pushkin
photo courtesy of Cliff (Flickr)
Creative Commons License

This quote by Onegin sums up his character throughout the poem:

"Yet I in futile dullness squander
These days allotted me by fate ….."

There is a pathos in his words and actions with which the reader can sympathize, hoping for a reversal in his chosen path, but at the end he is still walking the road of self-gratification and boredom, and we can only watch him disappear into the thickening mist …..