Week 3 : Odysseus


Odysseus men being given wine and turned into pigs by Circe

Week 3:  Books 9 to 12: The Adventures of Odysseus :

1 The Cyclops – I have writen notes on this in other parts of my notes.  Books 9 to 12.  Odysseus has been reinvigorated on Scheria and at the palace of King Alcinous.  Now he is going to tell the tales of his journey.  He invokes the Muse who will speak through Odysseus.

2: Ilis, The Laestrogonians, and Circe.  On Ilis the king has control of all the winds, he gives a bag of winds to O, apart from the Westerly wind so he can use this wind to go on with his homeward journey. They get blown to a place where the Ls eat some of O’s men.

Next – Circe – Washed up on an unknown shore, search party goes off, strange things happening, O sets out to see what is going on.  O’s men get turned into pigs, food.  Circe gives the men to drink, however, Odysseus is imune to this drink, he has a special magical potion that he got from Hermes, he can work against Circe’s magic.

Circe fills him in with some special knowledge to get home;  he is going to need to find Tiresius, who is dead, so he has to go to Hades, she gives him a formula how to lay out an attractive bait for the shades to come out in the underworld to find his way to T.  At the end of this book Elpenor falls off a roof and they leave him behind but he reappears in later books.

Book 11:  The Underworld – here they dig a trench and put things in and up out of the earch come the Shades.  It’s not under the ground as is in The Divine Comedy.  The first to appear is that of Elpenor, the crewman who broke his neck falling from Circe’s roof. He begs Odysseus to return to Circe’s island and give his body a proper burial. Odysseus then speaks with the Theban prophet Tiresias, who reveals that Poseidon is punishing the Achaeans for blinding his son Polyphemus.

The after life is not a place where scores are settled;  nor judged; etc.  all they do is float around


The journey to the Land of the Dead — where the dead (“souls”) receive reciprocity (“Justice”) — is not so much a test for Odysseus as it is an epiphany. His mortality is put in context as he watches the shades of warrior comrades, legendary figures, and even his own mother. Following instructions, he must speak with Tiresias, the blind seer from Thebes, before he can allow his mother or any others to approach. Drinking the blood temporarily revitalizes the dead; briefly they can communicate with Odysseus and speak only truth.

Tiresias observes that one of the gods, the earth shaker (Poseidon), is angry with Odysseus for blinding his son (Polyphemus, the Cyclops) and will cause Odysseus and his men many problems. However, Tiresias reports, the Greeks can get home alive if they use proper judgment and control. Above all, they must not harm the cattle of Helios, the Sungod, no matter the temptation. If they do, Odysseus’ men will die. Echoing the curse of the Cyclops (9.590-95), Tiresias warns that Odysseus himself might eventually arrive home, but he will be “a broken man — all shipmates lost” (11.130) and find his household in disarray.

Furthermore, the prophet instructs Odysseus that he must eventually pursue yet another quest, carrying his oar inland until he meets a race of men who know so little about the sea that they think the oar is “a fan to winnow grain” (11.146). At that place, Odysseus is to make certain sacrifices to Poseidon. If he follows these and other instructions, Odysseus can live out his life and die in peace. (The journey inland, however, takes place after the events told of in The Odyssey.)

Odysseus’ own mother, who died of grief and longing for him, is allowed to approach only after his audience with the seer. Until seeing her among the dead, Odysseus was unaware of his mother’s death. She tells him of his father, Laertes, who still lives but similarly grieves and has lost his will. In one of the most moving scenes in the epic, Odysseus tries three times to hold his mother but cannot because she is no longer flesh and blood.

Agamemnon and Achilles, comrades of Odysseus at Troy, are among the many other dead who approach. Agamemnon tells the story of his murder by his wife, Clytemnestra, and her paramour, Aegisthus, a story referred to repeatedly throughout the epic, effectively contrasting the murderous infidelity of Clytemnestra with the dedicated loyalty of Penelope.

More controversial is Achilles’ appearance because it contradicts the heroic ideal of death with honor, resulting in some form of glorious immortality. Here, Achilles’ attitude is that death is death; he would rather be a living slave to a tenant farmer than king of the dead. His only solace is to hear that his son fares well in life.

The dead flock toward Odysseus. He is overwhelmed and welcomes his departure, feeling that, whatever his struggles in life might be, he prefers them to residence in the Land of the Dead.

Notes on Functionalism and Elpinor’s comments:

And what Elpenor gets to do is give us a full-throated endorsement of the idea that you should be buried. Elpenor tells Odysseus and his men, please, bury me, it’s what we dead want. And a functionalist would come along again and read this story and say clearly what Homer is doing here is providing a sense of legitimacy to the social, cultural, religious custom of burying dead bodies.


Odysseus and Elpinor

A seer sees past, present and future, when O goes to T for help, T answers that there has been a problem that O has run foul of Poseidon and he must apologise.  He gets his orders from T, the punishment is to take an oar and bring it so far inland that people don’t recognise it any more and then build a temple on the shore to Poseidon.  He is spreading the fame of P with this temple.  A winnowing fan was an oar.

We also hear from Alcinous in the underword – why – remember this is O telling a story and is not actually happening in real time, he is on Scheria.

O gets to see Agamemnon, whose message is be careful when you go home, youve been gone a long time and look at me, my wife killed me!  We also meet Achilles, who got killed in the Iliad, at Troy.

I would rather be a slave on earth than be grand down here with the dead, says Achilles.

Book 12: Scylla and Charybdis, The Sirens, The Cattle of the Sun


Odysseus strapped to the mast trying not to hear the Sirens


Book 12 the Sirens song

The song of the Sirens as they try to lure Odysseus from his ship.  He was however given protection by Circe, Book 12, page 277.  Everything is being sung to him, a man thirsty for knowledge.  He has now achieved knowledge of it all! 

Come closer Odysseus …..The sirens know all

Next: Scylla and Charybdis (a break in the lectures to introduct structuralism). The movie shows this scene very monstrously!  Odysseus knows he will lose some men if he gets too class to the Scylla, a leaderhsip position. Between S and C Odysseus relies on the advice from Circe, but he faces such an awful situation he will lose some men, that is his leadership dilemma.  He gets too close to the Scylla and he loses some men.  O’s final adventure is the next one :

The Cattle of the Sun – they are stuck without food and then we need to look at the whole aspect of sacrifice, cattle, food and not food ….

They land on the cattle of the sun and they are stuck with no winds and without food.  What is the role of cattle in ancient Greece – sacrifice – they are the most luscious and most appropriate gift one can give.  How beautifully and realistically the bulls are depicted in these designs.


Mycenean Vaphio Cup, 1500 BCE, in Crete and Minoan Periods too Bulls were a central subject matter, also see the jumping of the bulls in Crete


Greece, 1932 , 500 Drachmae with the Vaphio Cup

Drawing of the reliefs

The designs in repousse work are evidently pendants to one another. The first represents a hunt of wild bulls. One bull, whose appearance indicates the highest pitch of fury, has dashed a would-be captor to earth and is now tossing another on his horns.

A second bull, entangled in a stout net, writhes and bellows in the vain effort to escape. A third gallops at full speed from the scene of his comrade’s captivity. The other design shows us four tame bulls. The first submits with evident impatience to his master. The next two stand quietly, with an almost comical effect of good nature and contentment. The fourth advances slowly, browsing.

In each composition the ground is indicated, not only beneath the men and animals, but above them, wherever the design affords room. It is an example of the same naive perspective which seems to have been employed in the Tirynthian bull-fresco ….. Evidently we have here the work of an artist who drew his inspiration directly from nature. A History Of Greek Art, by F. B. Tarbell

Lecture:  The cultural significance of meat, cattle meat is important.  When Telemachus goes to see Nestor there are eighty one bulls being sacrificed on the beach!  another proof of the way these animals are held in regsrd.  Delphi requied 13 ks of land to keep cattle, so land was important for the rituals of sacrifice.

Helio says that cattle are important to him and are not food.  So O’s men have crossed a line.  O’s men are punished, they will starve even though there is food in front of them.  Homer says o, I can’t believe that they did that – they have been reckless.  We have taboos about food – certain things are either not allowed or too disgusting to be contemplated.  This aspect of culture belongs to societal norms and is culturally determined.


Claude Levi Strauss..1908 to 2009.  All of culture is a product of the mind.  How does the mind work?  it works according to binaries.  A binary language can encode lots of information.  It can carry very subtle messages.

Myths are in some way binary, books 9 to 12 are structured around what is an what is not food.  A structuralist is not interested in the temporal aspect of myths.  Diachronic.  The structural pieces, atoms that make up the narrative, which of these is one aspect of a binary.  The order is not important.  It’s ust which aspect of a narrative reflect one theme and which reflect the opposite theme.

A myth will have a meaning, not in details, but in the relationships among the items in the story is what is important.

Universals – not a single item having  meaning but that humans put the same pairs in opposition from culture to culture.  Whar kinds of pairs will be find here.  What is a structuralist binary pair?  Well, basic fundamental human experience.  Things like food and not food; habitats, reproduction, kinships, These do not reconcile though. No happy ending.  Anxiety and conflict are the imp aspects.  Truth and Lies.  The anxiety is what is behind the myth, e .g. the sand, the pearl and the oyster.

Odysseus lands on the shores of Ithaca.  He is now in a different world.  It’s his home but he is a stranger, he cannot walk into his home, he has to fight for his way back to the bed of Penelope.  Be careful when you get home – he was warned.  P is also characterised by the same verb to weave – plots as well as tapestries which P is doing!  She is a master weaver.  He needs all his wits here.  We stay on Ithaca in the final twelve books.  

We have taken half of the book to get to Ithaca but it will take O another half of the book to get from the shore to the bed of his wife.  There is a town centre, next is an Aule the outer courtyard of O’s house where a conversation will take place, the are welcomed and spoken to.  The interior, the Oikos, of the house, this is where P is in charge.  To get here is not so easy – one needs an invitation from P.

He next needs some guidance – Athena is his first guide, as did Nausicaa on Scheria.  O tells a lie!  When A asks him who he is.  She loves this!  They make a connection, A says it’s time to get down to business, tells him to go to E to make an anchor, beachhead, from where to gain strength etc.

3.8 Extracting Knowledge. The next building block is with his little dog.  He is entering society from its lowest point, xenia is practised even from such a humble man.  Eu is referred to in the second person, why?  Homer does this with important people to O, his inner household.  He wants information.  He has to tell E info about his journey as he did with Alcinous. They are weaving the fabric of their social interaction.  O lies a lot which takes up ten pages!

Odysseus and Eumaeus – E asks O where he comes from which brings us to Universal law no. 5, when lying include a little truth.O tells a story rife with Troy, heroes, which maps onto what he had really experienced.  Gives him a way to avoid being caught out.  Why did he need to lie?  He is checking out E’s responses. E says lots of people lie here, but I will be a good host. 

3.9.  Telemachus is travelling and Athene tells him it’s time to move on.  Dreams – H says dreams come when a good takes a form, hover and wake them up, worry about stuff!  Back from Menaulaus palace he meets T, who is a dodgy character,  Theoclymadus, listens to, and hears and a god, Theo has a relationship with the gods and can read signs.  What is the sig of this man?

What signs unfold in the coming books?  human to human and gods to humans.

A stranger from the outside world.: Simile:


Books 13 to 16

People acting as others usually act, see above, where we think it is O who runs, but it is actually Telemachus hugging Eumaeus.  Eumaeus is the father figure while O keeps his distance.  It is as though T becomes Odysseus.  Each character steps into the shoes of the other and show the connections.  O is alone with his son,  Athene nods to O. 

The narrator plays tricks with the characters.  E goes off on his mission.  O and T are alone, A leaves and nods to O, now is the time!  And O reveals himself to his son.

P appears and then goes to sleep, she comes down, makes a noise and disappears – oftentimes something has gone wrong.

Week 4:  Video 1 : T tells E to take O to his house to give him some food.  T says he needs to go and see his friend.