Friday, January 11, 2013

A quick summing up of the Odyssey

[Originally posted at the Slacktiverse (as a comment. Just because I post articles there now sometimes doesn't mean I never comment.)]

So no zombie vocalization discussion this post, or probably next post either, that would take time.  I have no time.

Anyway, book by book, and in a hurry, this is a summary of the Odyssey I wrote up in response to "Huh. Everything I know about The Oddyssey is second or third hand. This discussion is fascinating."


Quick summary:
Book 1: Poseidon, who is really pissed off at Odysseus on account of Odysseus poking his son the Cyclops’ eye out, is away in Ethiopia. Athena takes the opportunity to say to the remaining gods, “Hey, isn’t it about time we got Odysseus home ’cause right now he’s stuck on Calypso’s island and has been there for seven years.”
Zeus says, “Sure, I’ll bet that every god other than Poseidon can come up with a plan to get Odysseus home that even Poseidon can’t screw up.”
Athena says, “I’ve got it. First you send Hermes to Calypso without delay to tell her to send him home, meanwhile I’ll get to work on manning up Telemachus,” (Odysseus’s son), “in preparation for his arrival.”
That part’s actually relatively short, but it’ll come up again so I figured it was worth getting the details in.
Athena goes down to put some courage into Telemachus who, at the moment, is just depressed and daydreaming about dad coming home to save the day. She also gives him a plan. We meet pretty much all the main players back home in Ithaca.
Book 2: Telemachus calls an assembly to point out, “These bastards are ruining everything, violating all custom, and eating me out of house and home. Meanwhile I don’t know if my dad is alive or dead.”
The suitors have some backtalk. The gods send birdsign. (The entire Iliad, Homer’s other work, is based on people taking birdsign seriously. Ignoring birdsign in Homer is like ignoring wormsign in Dune. Do not do it, no matter how powerful or arrogant you are.) The suitors ignore it and threaten to kill Odysseus.
Telemachus asks for a ship so he can go to Nestor and Menelaus to see if maybe they have some idea what’s going on. Doesn’t get one. Athena, appearing to Telemachus as Mentor (nice old guy who is loyal) says she’ll get the ship then does so by appearing to the sailors she gets to volunteer and the person she gets to loan the ship as Telemachus. When they leave she’s back in the form of Mentor.
Book 3: Telemachus meets the long winded Nestor, Athena switches from the form of Mentor to that of a bird right in front of Telemachus and Nestor, thus proving she was a god all along and causing Nestor to correctly guess which one.
Some storytelling by long winded Nestor, a sacrifice to Athena, and Telemachus makes the rest of the journey over land, with one of Nestor’s sons.
Book 4: Telemachus shows up at Menelaus’ house, gets a good welcome. Menelaus reveals that of all the people lost or missing he misses Odysseus most before he knows who Telemachus is, as soon as Helen walks in she’s able to correctly guess who Telemachus is, she’s good at that sort of thing. Helen and Menelaus do some verbal sniping in the guise of telling stories about Odysseus (Helen tells how she heroically saved Odysseus when she could have had him killed, Menelaus tells how she nearly got all of the Greeks in the Trojan Horse to reveal themselves and would have killed the Greeks if not for Odysseus keeping everyone in line.)
Then Menelaus tells what he knows and how he knows it, which is that Odysseus was stranded on Calypso’s island with no way off, but that was a long time ago. Telemachus says he doesn’t want to stay long.
Meanwhile back at the ranch in Ithaca:
People finally notice Telemachus is gone. Not because he hasn’t been around for a while but because the guy who loaned him the ship is wondering when he’ll get it back and so, innocently enough, asks. (Also revealing that some god seems to be involved because he definitely saw Mentor get on the ship and sail away, but Mentor is still around.)
The suitors plot to kill Telemachus, someone overhears this and tells Penelope, who also didn’t know Telemachus had left the island. She originally plans to send someone to tell Odysseus’ dad in hopes he can come up with a plan, but is convinced instead to pray to Athena, who sends her a soothing dream. But the dream, sent only to deliver news about Telemachus and the fact Athena is protecting him, won’t say anything about Odysseus.
Book 5: Athena goes back to Olympus and she is pissed. Remember that thing about sending Hermes without delay? Well Hermes is still there. She doesn’t come out and say, “What the fuck people? Hermes was supposed to go at the same time I was,” but instead again points out how much Odysseus has had to suffer and now the suitors are planning to kill his son.
Zeus focuses entirely on the fact that the plot to kill Telemachus was a result of Athena’s actions and she can keep him safe from the suitors on her own, but then before Athena speaks again finally sends of Hermes.
This is when we finally get our first glimpse of Odysseus crying on the seashore while Hermes and Calypso talk inside. Calypso is pissed, but like Hermes, is not about to disobey an order from Zeus, so she lets Odysseus go (lets him build a raft) and sends him in the right direction with a following breeze but, just as he gets in sight of his destination, Poseidon, on his way back from Ethiopia, sees what’s going on and tries to drive Odysseus off course.
A once human goddess tries to help Odysseus but Odysseus doesn’t trust goddesses anymore, and clings to his raft. Once Poseidon destroys the raft he takes the goddess’ advice, Poseidon figures his work there is done, and as soon as Poseidon is gone Athena safely gets Odysseus to the island he was aiming for.
Book 6: With some help from Athena Odysseus meets the nice people of the island paradise.
Book 7: With some help from Athena Odysseus meets the king and queen of the island paradise and gets their hospitality.
Book 8: More hospitality, and at the end Odysseus is asked to tell his story.
Book 9: Odysseus starts to tell his story, flashback time, though all in the present voice of Odysseus.
He sacked a town, killed the men, took the women (never to be mentioned again) and treasure, and then said the time has come to boldly run away but his men wouldn’t listen and so escapees from the town called on reinforcements and by nightfall men had died from each of Odysseus’ 12 ships. They ran away.
Lotus-Eaters next, I’m still not sure how many of his men ate the Lotus, was it just the initial reconnaissance party of 3, or was it more? Anyway, Odysseus dragged those affected by the lotus back to the ships and tied them up, bravely ran away.
Meet the Cyclops, Odysseus left 11 of his ships in safety when he went to see the island, then left most of the ship in safety while he took 12 of his best (six would die) with him to check out the cave. This time the men wanted to bravely run away and Odysseus didn’t listen, and they found themselves stuck with a problem. The Cyclops was eating them (two at a time) but locking them in as well. If they killed him they’d be trapped inside, if they didn’t do something they’d be eaten. So Odysseus devised a pun (“Outis” is a name, “ou tis” means “no one”) got the Cyclops very drunk, said his name was Outis, blinded the Cyclops with a mast sized sharpened stake to the eye. When the other Cyclopes heard him howling in anguish they asked who was hurting him, when they heard, or thought they heard, that no one was they said, “Well then the affliction must be sent by the Zeus, pray to your father Poseidon to intercede on your behalf.”
Now blind, the Cyclops couldn’t see the men to eat them, but he could guard the cave entrance when he opened it and only let those who he liked out. So the men hid themselves under his sheep and escaped that way. Once free Odysseus bravely ran away, taunted the Cyclops, was nearly killed by a thrown boulder, bravely ran farther away, taunted the Cyclops even more revealing his actual name in the process, and bravely ran the rest of the way away. The Cyclops prayed to daddy that Odysseus would never make it home if possible, or, if he was fated to make it home, would do it alone, long delayed, after all his friends had died. Thus Odysseus became cursed.
Did I mention they stole all of the Cyclops’ beloved sheep and Odysseus himself sacrificed the Cyclops’ favorite?
Book 10: The isle of the winds. They meet the king of the winds and he seals all the winds but the one Odysseus wants in a bag, that way they can get home. Odysseus is so intent on getting home he won’t let anyone else take the tiller. After 9 days Ithaca is in sight and Odysseus passes out.  (Nine days is a long time to stay awake.) At which point the men, who apparently were never told that the winds they don’t want were trapped in the bag, assume there must be treasure in there and open it.
They are blown every whichway.
Odysseus considers (seriously and for a while, though in text not that long because “long and hard” doesn’t take long to write) just jumping in the ocean and drowning. In the end he just lies down on the deck instead. When they wind up all the way back at the isle of the winds the people groan, Odysseus gets up and begs for a second chance. Wind king correctly guesses they’re cursed and tells them to get out.
They next reach the Laestrygonians. There’s a perfect harbor, 11 of Odysseus’ ships go in but he doesn’t want to put his own ship in until he’s scouted out the land. He sends out a traditional three man scouting party. Turns out the Laestrygonians are giants who eat people. The survivors from the scouting party come back with the news, but it’s too late for those who put into the perfect harbor which is also a perfect killzone. They’re killed and eaten.
Odysseus, now with only one ship, arrives at Circe’s island. Remembering what happened to previous three man scouting parties, or even 13 man ones, the crew isn’t too keen on scouting, so Odysseus divides the crew in half and draws lots to see which will guard the ship and which will scout the island.
Of the group that scouts, only one escapes to tell that the rest were turned into pigs. Odysseus heads off alone to see what he can do, gets Hermes help, is told he has to have sex with Circe to get his men back. He does and he does, then Circe offers hospitality and the men and Odysseus spend a year there getting back to full strength and generally being happy.
At which point someone said, “Hey, don’t you think we should be heading home now?”
Odysseus say the same thing to Circe, and Circe explains that Odysseus would need to consult with Tiresias to get home, and since Tiresias was dead that meant a trip to the underworld.
Book 11:
Odysseus sails past the ends of the earth to the other side of the River Ocean and preforms a ritual to talk to the dead. First up is one of his men who drunkenly died and went unnoticed as they rushed to leave Circe’s island, he asks for a proper burial, then Odysseus’ mom, who he didn’t know was dead, but he talked to Tiresias first who told him that if he could control himself and his men by not eating the cattle of the sun while stuck on their island he could come home, but if he failed to do that then, even if he survived, his men and his ship wouldn’t and it would take him a damn long time to get home. If that happens, then by the time he gets home he’ll have to face the suitors and make a long journey after and whatnot.
We’ve already seen the suitors, guess how well he’s going to do with the cattle of the sun. Guess. Actually, the intro tells you that his men ate them and died as a result.
Tiresias explains how Odysseus can talk to his mother, and any other dead person around. And Odysseus has a grand old time chatting with the dead.
Book 12 They go back to Circe’s island, bury the dead guy, and get advice for the road ahead. Circe repeats Tiresias’ warning: don’t eat the damn cows.
Odysseus still, for whatever reason, doesn’t pass this on to his men.
Scylla and Charybdis.
When the hungry men can hear the cattle and sheep of the sun Odysseus finally gets around to saying, “Oh yeah, don’t go to that island.” Every man on the boat votes that they go to that island anyway. (He doesn’t point out that if they eat them they all die.)
So Odysseus agrees to go to the island but makes everyone swear not to eat any cattle or sheep they find there. He still doesn’t point out that if they eat these things they all die. I see this as a problem, just like if he’d said, “Hey, the winds are in that bag so don’t open it,” they’d be home by now.
Anyway, they get stranded there for a full month, run out of food. Odysseus prays to the gods to show him the way, but not all of them are on his side and so they put him to sleep. While he sleeps the men kill the cattle. There is some understanding that this could mean death, but apparently the one who goads the men on prefers death by drowning to death by starvation anyway.
After the cattle are dead and being roasted, Odysseus wakes up. He then relays what the gods had to say about all this which he heard from Calypso and she heard from Hermes.
Even after he gets back his men keep feasting on the cattle, but at this point it doesn’t matter anyway because the men’s death had already been planned. Once they got a favorable wind they set out and Zeus destroyed the ship with a lightning bolt. Only Odysseus lived, swept all the way back to Scylla and Charybdis. Odysseus grabbed ahold of what remained of his ship when Charybdis spat it back out, ten days later Calypso fished him out of the water.
Story ends.
Book 13: Back in present tense, Odysseus goes home, the people on island paradise with magical ships get screwed over. See Poseidon was always pissed at them for giving safe passage home in their magic ships to any shipwreck survivor that passed their way, but doing it to Odysseus was the last straw. So he destroyed one of their ships, turned it to stone right in front of them, and then planned to surround their city with a mountain. We don’t know if he followed through on that plan because they knew that was what was coming next (there was this prophecy thing you see) and they thought maybe if they swore to never again provide safe escort and sacrificed to Poseidon and such he might leave the whole mountain thing out. Their part of the story ends with them implementing that plan with prayers to Poseidon. No word on if it worked.
Odysseus and Athena trade lies with one another, cause they’re the bestest of friends. Then they get down some honest talk, Athena points out that Odysseus’ swineherd is quite loyal, and can be found amoungst the swine, so she disguises Odysseus as a wrinkly old man so most won’t notice him, warns him about the suitors (and the plot to kill Telemachus) and goes off to grab Telemachus.
Book 14: Not sure, but the swineherd might be the only person Homer personally addresses in the Odyssey. I think he pulls out the second person pronouns for a couple of people as they die in the Iliad, but the way he speaks to the swineherd seems pretty unique. This book all about how awesome the swineherd is, and how much Odysseus lies.
Book 15: Telemachaus heads home, picks up a stranger on the way, Odysseus learns the swineherd’s story.
Book 16 Telemachus goes to the swineherd to get the lay of the land, meets Odysseus, still in disguise, and sends the swineherd to tell his mother (and his mother only) that he made it back alive. Homer keeps up the direct address to the swineherd (whose name, incidentally, is Eumaeus) which I think is just Homer telling us that Homer really likes the guy who takes care of pigs.
With the swineherd away, Athena comes to Odysseus and says, “Tell your son who you are so you can plan your attack, for my part I’ll be along shortly, there will be blood tonight!” No, she doesn’t say that last part, but if you imagine her saying it like Inigo Montoya I think you get the attitude right.
Disguise lifted Odysseus reveals himself to be Telemachus’ father, Telemachus takes it better than Luke, together they plot bloody vengeance.
The suitors who planed to kill Telemachus at sea come back, having failed, and want to kill him on land, but another of the suitor says they should see what the gods think before killing off royalty and thus the decide not to kill him right away.
News travels in various directions.
Book 17: Telemachus goes home and talks to mom, remember that stranger he picked up? Well the stranger’s a soothsayer so he knows that Odysseus is in Ithaca and tells Penelope this.
Odysseus and the swineherd head up that way, turns out that while the swineherd is noble and loyal, the goatherd is disloyal and an ass.
Odysseus’ dog, who has waited twenty years to see him again, recognizes him but lacks the energy to get up. He’d been staying alive just to see Odysseus again, and once he does he dies. Poor dog.
We learn that, even though she has Odysseus check for himself which of the suitors are decent and which are not, Athena intends to spare none.
Odysseus gets smacked again. Penelope wants to talk with him.
Book 18: Odysseus is in disguise as a beggar at this point and when a meaner beggar stops by the suitors think it would be great entertainment to see to beggars fight. Odysseus wins, of course. He’s disguised as a wrinkly old beggar, but a strong wrinkly old beggar.
Penelope comes down to talk to Telemachus amoung the suitors after Athena made her look all pretty again, this is when we find out (I think it’s the first time it gets brought up) that Odysseus told Penelope to marry once Telemachus had a beard, which he apparently does now.
Book 19: Telemachus starts to prepare for the slaughter by moving the weapons out, turns out that the goatherd’s sister is as much of an ass to the poor as the goatherd. Penelope finally gets a chance to talk to Odysseus who first tries to avoid lying to her by not saying things about himself, but when pressed rather than tell the truth he lies his ass off.
Odysseus gets a bath, and is recognized by the old woman giving it to him because one of his scars is distinctive, but he swears her to silence. She promises to tell him which of the women are loyal and which deserve death, but he thinks he can figure out for himself (in the end he’ll defer to her judgement) and just wants her to keep her mouth shut.
Book 20: Athena reassures Odysseus.
Swineherd: Still good.
Goatherd: Still an ass.
Cowherd: Nice guy, haven’t seen him before.
Amphinomus, the nicest of the suitors, after checking for signs from the gods tells the others not to murder Telemachus but instead just continue eating him out of house and home.
The suitors are jerks, the seer Telemachus took in leaves because he can see what’s coming and would prefer not to be around for it. He goes to stay with one of Telemachus’ friends.
Book 21 Penelope sets up a contest to see who can win her hand in marriage, it involves Odysseus’ bow. Odysseus reveals his true identity to the swineherd and the cowherd. Odysseus wins the contest.
Book 22 Bow in hand Odysseus kills everyone. That’s an exaggeration since he has three allies, but probably more important than the detail of who killed who is that one of the crimes Odysseus lists the suitors as having committed is rape. (“forced the women to sleep with you”)
Also the herald and bard are spared.
Odysseus, having come to some not-on-the-page revelation that he might not be the best judge of which women deserve to live and die defers to the woman who recognized him earlier and asks her who deserves to die. Telemachus does the actual killing. Though compared to how they kill the male servant who betrayed the house (the previously mentioned goatherd) their deaths are relatively tame.
Weirdly, the way the story is told makes it seem like he had fifty female servants and only three male ones. That’s clearly not true, but apparently only three of the male ones mattered (the three herders) where all 50 of the women did. On the other hand the three male servants get names, while maybe 2 of the female ones do.
Anyway, of the people that mattered, the women were more loyal, 12 out of 50 is a 24% disloyalty rate. 1 out of three is a 33 1/3 % disloyalty rate. The women are thus 9 1/3% more likely to be loyal than the men. Not a big difference, but the women are apparently more trustworthy.
Book 23: Penelope tests Odysseus to make sure he really is her husband come back and not just some lookalike who is good at slaughter. He passes, they have sex.
Book 24: Meanwhile, back at the ranch in the underworld, Agamemnon notices a huge crowd of new guests. The nicest one (see above) [nevermind, different guy with a similar name] tries to spin their tale as one of woe for them but Agamemnon is totally, “Go Odysseus!” He’s especially impressed by Penelope’s loyalty since his wife killed him.
Actually I should have saved that meanwhile thing because: meanwhile, back in Ithaca Odysseus goes to see his dad, and initially lies to him because he’s Odysseus but quickly backpedals and says, “You don’t have to feel bad anymore, I’m back.”
And, hey, there is a fourth male servant, and he’s loyal. That makes the men in the book still slightly less loyal than the women, but within the margin of error.
All of the suitors had families, so the Ithacans get together and hold a “He murdered my son!” style town meeting.
Some people point out, “Your son was an attempted murdering jackass who violated every rule we have and had been warned constantly for the past three years that this was coming and all you had to do was say, ‘Hey, son, come home,’ and it would have saved him but you wouldn’t because it was easier to dump your son in Penelope’s lap than deal with him yourself so seriously who’s to blame here? The person who did what the gods wanted, or you who sent your son to his death because it was cheaper and easier than following the rules?”
More than half of the people at the meeting say, “Screw personal responsibility, we’re off to kill Odysseus.” Odysseus and company get ready for war, Athena asks Zeus, “What now?” Zeus says, “Do whatever you like, but my advice would be to send everyone home without further bloodshed.”
Some divine intervention prevents a civil war. The end.
Yes, that was the quick version, it’s called an epic for a reason.


I don't actually have a paraphrase index.

1 comment:

  1. I know the "order-keeping senior woman" is a stereotype, but I have always rather tended to picture Athene looking at what the other gods get up to and saying "ahem, we do have a world to run here"...