October 20: Odysseus: God's gift to goddesses

On his fists he has tattooed "αγάπη" and "μίσος"


This prose translation of the Odyssey isn't bad. People do things like "spake," and it's lousy with "thines," but, in a generous mood, I just treat it like the hisses and pops on an old record.

For example, this passage (which is even more skippable than the passages usually are) I found affecting in kind of a French movie kind of way. Calypso has gotten orders from Zeus: let Odysseus go. Think Charlotte Rampling as Calypso, and I don't know who as Odysseus, I'm still thinking about Charlotte Rampling:
Therewith the fair goddess led the way quickly, and he followed hard in the steps of the goddess. And they reached the hollow cave, the goddess and the man; so he sat him down upon the chair whence Hermes had arisen, and the nymph placed by him all manner of food to eat and drink, such as is meat for men. As for her she sat over against divine Odysseus, and the handmaids placed by her ambrosia and nectar. So they put forth their hands upon the good cheer set before them. But after they had taken their fill of meat and drink, Calypso, the fair goddess, spake first and said:

‘Son of Laertes, of the seed of Zeus, Odysseus of many devices, so it is indeed thy wish to get thee home to thine own dear country even in this hour? Good fortune go with thee even so! Yet didst thou know in thine heart what a measure of suffering thou art ordained to fulfil, or ever thou reach thine own country, here, even here, thou wouldst abide with me and keep this house, and wouldst never taste of death, though thou longest to see thy wife, for whom thou hast ever a desire day by day. Not in sooth that I avow me to be less noble than she in form or fashion, for it is in no wise meet that mortal women should match them with immortals, in shape and comeliness.’

And Odysseus of many counsels answered, and spake unto her: ‘Be not wroth with me hereat, goddess and queen. Myself I know it well, how wise Penelope is meaner to look upon than thou, in comeliness and stature. But she is mortal and thou knowest not age nor death. Yet even so, I wish and long day by day to fare homeward and see the day of my returning. Yea, and if some god shall wreck me in the wine-dark deep, even so I will endure, with a heart within me patient of affliction. For already have I suffered full much, and much have I toiled in perils of waves and war; let this be added to the tale of those.’

So spake he, and the sun sank and darkness came on. Then they twain went into the chamber of the hollow rock, and had their delight of love, abiding each by other.
It has kind of a King James-y ring to it: "Yea, and if some god shall wreck me in the wine-dark deep, even so I will endure, with a heart within me patient of affliction." "And they reached the hollow cave, the goddess and the man."

Which brings me to one of the striking things about today's reading -- immortal women are constantly falling for Odysseus. The dude must have some kind of heavy Greek mojo; like a shipping magnate's son, but also smart. This excerpt features Calypso, who is stone in love with Odysseus despite the fact that he spends every day weeping over the fact that he's trapped with her. He's not above sexing her every night regardless, but still, you'd think she could better. There's plenty of fish in the sea (almost literally; she fished Odysseus out). But hey -- divine women, foolish choices, am I right?

Then there's Ino, "of the fair ankles." Is that the best Homer can do, epithet-wise? The ankles? Why doesn 't he just say "of the winning personality" and get it over with? She loans him a magic veil to help him with his shipwreck, just out of pity; maybe she hopes she can bribe him into overlooking the non-ankle parts of her body. (It says that she was a mortal who now lived "in the depths of the salt sea" -- maybe she's all wrinkly.) But then, and I think this is a fatal mistake in terms of the romance talk, she immediately goes on to tell him how he should return it: "But when thou hast laid hold of the mainland with thy hands, loose it from off thee and cast it into the wine-dark deep far from the land, and thyself turn away." Geez, Ino -- not even "Call me and I'll come by to pick it up"? One thing could lead to another that way.

Athena also helps out Odysseus, but they are tight from way back, and, anyway, she's more like a coach, always making sure about his rest and stuff: "And Athene shed sleep upon his eyes, that so it might soon release him from his weary travail, overshadowing his eyelids." And then, she doesn't ravish him. I'm glad someone paid attention during the Olympian/favored mortal harassment seminar!

2 comments:

Lisa Simeone said...

Though it's so poetic, I've always found "wine-dark sea" to be kind of puzzling. But now I'm reading a book called A Natural History of Seeing by Simon Ings, and it turns out the Ancient Greeks not only didn't have familiarity with a lot of colors (only a handful of pigments were available to them), but they also used words of colors to describe other visual properties, such as texture, consistency, reflectivity, brightness. So maybe "wine-dark sea" isn't so strange after all.

Lisa Simeone said...

P.S. Though I love "had their delight of love, abiding each by other." Very beautiful!

(I'd like to see that used on Mad Men -- one character lustily saying to another, "let's go into the bedroom to have our delight of love and abide by each other!")