Thursday, 1 March 2012

Blogging the Odyssey - Book 14

First, the Sparknotes summary:

Odysseus finds Eumaeus outside his hut. Although Eumaeus doesn’t recognize the withered traveler as his master, he invites him inside. There Odysseus has a hearty meal of pork and listens as Eumaeus heaps praise upon the memory of his former master, whom he fears is lost for good, and scorn upon the behavior of his new masters, the vile suitors. Odysseus predicts that Eumaeus will see his master again quite soon, but Eumaeus will hear none of it—he has encountered too many vagabonds looking for a handout from Penelope in return for fabricated news of Odysseus. Still, Eumaeus takes a liking to his guest. He puts him up for the night and even lets him borrow a cloak to keep out the cold. When Eumaeus asks Odysseus about his origins, Odysseus lies that he is from Crete. He fought with Odysseus at Troy and made it home safely, he claims, but a trip that he made later to Egypt went awry, and he was reduced to poverty. It was during this trip, he says, that he heard that Odysseus was still alive.

Eumaios is one of the good characters of the epic: loyal, hospitable and god-fearing.  Remember that hospitality and piety are key indices of civilised behaviour in the Homeric world.

He portrays the suitors as impious and expresses some views about the gods' intervention in human affairs:
The blessed gods do not love wicked conduct,
but they honour justice and rightful deeds of men....

....The god gives one thing and withholds another,
as he wishes in his heart; for he can do all things.
There is something of a tension here between a view of the gods as just and a view of them as self-willed, as well as a perhaps incongruous expression of something resembling monotheism.  These points can be linked with broader tensions in the Odyssey over the nature of the gods and their actions, and whether or not they are really in charge.

Odysseus spends a large chunk of the Book telling Eumaios tall tales about what he's been up to.  He did something similar with Athene in Book 13.  Odysseus' "Cretan Lies", which he will go on to repeat later in the epic, have been the subject of some comment from scholars.  To my mind, their most obvious implication is that Odysseus' narration of his wanderings in the first half of of the epic may be equally unreliable - but I'm not convinced that that's what we're supposed to think.

Yet again, we are alerted to the importance of kleos, renown, this time in one of Eumaios' references to Odysseus:
....He was hated by all the gods,
greatly, in that they did not fell him among the Trojans
or in the hands of his friends, when he had finished with war.
All the Akhaians would have made a tomb for him
and he would have won great fame [kleos] for his son thereafter.
Of course, we know from Book 11 that the promise of kleos after death is an empty one.

The Book ends on the slightly dubious note of Odysseus manipulating Eumaios into giving him a cloak.