Saturday, 17 December 2011

Blogging the Odyssey - Book 10

Here is the Sparknotes summary:

The Achaeans sail from the land of the Cyclopes to the home of Aeolus, ruler of the winds. Aeolus presents Odysseus with a bag containing all of the winds, and he stirs up a westerly wind to guide Odysseus and his crew home. Within ten days, they are in sight of Ithaca, but Odysseus’s shipmates, who think that Aeolus has secretly given Odysseus a fortune in gold and silver, tear the bag open. The winds escape and stir up a storm that brings Odysseus and his men back to Aeolia. This time, however, Aeolus refuses to help them, certain that the gods hate Odysseus and wish to do him harm.

Lacking wind, the Achaeans row to the land of the Laestrygonians, a race of powerful giants whose king, Antiphates, and unnamed queen turn Odysseus’s scouts into dinner. Odysseus and his remaining men flee toward their ships, but the Laestrygonians pelt the ships with boulders and sink them as they sit in the harbor. Only Odysseus’s ship escapes.

From there, Odysseus and his men travel to Aeaea, home of the beautiful witch-goddess Circe. Circe drugs a band of Odysseus’s men and turns them into pigs. When Odysseus goes to rescue them, Hermes approaches him in the form of a young man. He tells Odysseus to eat an herb called moly to protect himself from Circe’s drug and then lunge at her when she tries to strike him with her sword. Odysseus follows Hermes’ instructions, overpowering Circe and forcing her to change his men back to their human forms. Odysseus soon becomes Circe’s lover, and he and his men live with her in luxury for a year. When his men finally persuade him to continue the voyage homeward, Odysseus asks Circe for the way back to Ithaca. She replies he must sail to Hades, the realm of the dead, to speak with the spirit of Tiresias, a blind prophet who will tell him how to get home.

The next morning, Odysseus rouses his men for the imminent departure. He discovers, however, that the youngest man in his crew, Elpenor, had gotten drunk the previous night, slept on the roof, and, when he heard the men shouting and marching in the morning, fell from the roof and broke his neck. Odysseus explains to his men the course that they must take, which they are displeased to learn is rather meandering.


The folktales continue in this Book, with the well-known stories of Aiolos and Kirké, as well as the somewhat enigmatic account of the barbarous Laistrygonians, which I suspect comes from a longer and more detailed original story.

There is a famous passage in which Homer appears to be describing the land of the midnight sun:
For six days, we sailed for day and night alike;
on the seventh, we came to Lamos' steep citadel,
to Laistrygonian Telepylos, where the incoming
shepherd calls out and the outgoing shepherd answers him.
There, a man who does not sleep could have earned a double wage,
one by herding cattle, one by pasturing silver sheep,
for the paths of the night and the day run close.
The themes of identity and attachment to one's home continue to recur.  When Kirké asks Odysseus to identify himself, she asks him where he is from and who his parents are: those are the components of his public identity.  When Odysseus comes back to the remainder of his men after evading Kirké's magic, his men are described as being as happy as if they had come home to Ithaka.

Odysseus likes Kirké's place so much that he has to be reminded by his men to resume his journey home:
"...remember now your native land [patridos gaiés],
if it is the gods' will that you will be saved and come
to your high-roofed house [oikos] and to your native land [patrida gaian]."
But resume it he must.  He can't stay with Kirké for ever: it's not the place for him.  Like Kalypso's island and the land of the Phaiakians, it's a bit too perfect and un-human.

In order to press on with his journey, Odysseus is now going to have to make the furthest and most extreme trip of all, and commune with the spirits of the dead.