My Odyssey Journal
The Odyssey Part One: Books One-Eight
Informal Reflections and Questions
copyright 1998 by Tracy Marks
Torrey Philemon of Ancient Sites
Fate, Free Will and Responsibility The Gods in Disguise
The Character of Penelope Unraveling the Web
Odysseus and Calypso Calypso's Change of Mind
Telemachus' Maturation Poseidon's Hatred of Odysseus
Holding onto Proteus Helen's Near Betrayal
Hephaestus, Ares, Aphrodite Odysseus' Dishonesty
Nausicaa's Caution Odysseus Hiding His Identity
Odysseus Weeping Creative Ideas: Odyssey Study
NOTE: Ancient Sites online community folded in 1999, but I have preserved most of the transcripts
of our online chats on the Greek classics (The Odyssey, the Iliad, the Metamorphoses by Ovid,
the Oresteia and more) as well as ancient Greek and Roman literature and history on my
Greek mythology site, which also includes my own articles from my Ancient Sites pages. This page
is the beginning of my online journal on the Odyssey I created for the Odyssey chats at Ancient Sites.
Tracy Marks (Torrey Philemon in the Athens community of Ancient Sites)
Fate, Free Will and Responsibility
In book one, Zeus says:
"Men are so quick to blame the gods:
they say that we devise their misery.
But they themselves - in their depravity -
design grief greater than
the griefs the fates assign."
This makes me wonder about how much men take responsibility in the Odyssey,
and how much they blame the gods...and if there are any differences
in this regard in comparison to the Iliad.
The Gods in Disguise
Why do the gods disguise themselves when they appear to humans? My impression is that they appear disguised to those they honor, but without disguise to those they honor the most.
The Maturation of TELEMACHUS
Suddenly Telemachus decides to be a man rather than a boy. Athena's appearance to him is the triggering incident. But are there any other factors that influence his decision to start taking action? Perhaps he has been feeling frustrated and helpless for many years, and slowly building up the desire and determination to find the resources necessary to stand up to the suitors and start looking for his father. Or perhaps he has given up hope that his father is alive, and resigned himself to his mother's eventual remarriage, and Athena has given him hope. Or perhaps, as an adolescent, he has the spirit of adventure, and is eager to escape the situation at home and take off on the road.
The Character of Penelope
As a feminist, I struggle with my own judgment of Penelope. When Antinoos blames her and says that she has led the suitors on, I find myself wondering if there's some truth in what he says, and if the suitors are not entirely to blame.
Telemachus also says of Penelope in book one: "She neither rejects a marriage she despises nor can she bear to bring the courting to an end."
If she is not at all interested in the suitors, why doesn't she tell them so directly? Why does she lead them on, and promise to to wed one of them when the shroud is complete, while unraveling it at night? Does she not have the authority to make her own decisions in regard to eventual remarriage? Is she indeed aware that Odysseus might be dead, and not wanting to close off her options in regard to taking another husband in the future? Is she indeed flattered - while also angered - by the suitors' attention? Does she, like Odysseus with Calypso, Circe etc. - perhaps hold ambivalent feelings in regard to being wooed by those she doesn't desire?
Or is she simply stalling for time, hoping for Odysseus' return and
waiting for Telemachus to come of age and perhaps find allies to help him
exert authority against the suitors? But if so, why couldn't have said
directly that she would not remarry, whether Odysseus was alive or dead?
Or was it her duty to remarry, and thereby reinstute another king to Ithaca?
(If she didn't remarry, would Telemachus be king?)
Unraveling the Web
I'm curious about the symbolism of Penelope's unravelling her web. Today, how is this analogy used? To indicate tasks that never get done because we're always starting over? To indicate devious means of taking a step forward then a step backward in order to prevent something from being done? As a means of pretending to ourselves and others that we're committed to an action, when we indeed are not and are secretly sabotaging everything we do?
One of the online Odyssey study guides says: "What does this weaving and unraveling symbolize? It parallels the conditions in the Ithacan state. It holds together precariously and yet is falling apart."
It also occurs to me that the Web as the Internet is capturing many
of us, and that we spend endless hours here, sometimes very actively, but
without really getting much done in our real lives. For some, lives become
unravelled as a result of our "weaving" on the Web.
Odysseus and Calypso
I find myself wondering if Odysseus indeed, despite grieving for years, always wanted to leave Calypso. He implies that he nearly loved her once - or at least desired her. Perhaps he expeerienced a conflict between the desires of his body and the desires of his heart. Perhaps he was also tempted by her promises of immortality.
In any case, he clearly gets bored with this indulgent, entrapped life
and wishes to leave. But why isn't he determined earlier to build a raft
and escape her clutches? Or did she prevent him from doing so?
Despite holding onto Odysseus so tenuously, she is quick to obey Zeus' order via Hermes and let him go...indeed even help him return to Ithaca. This clearly reveals her devotion to Zeus - as Achilles was devoted to Zeus and willing to return Hector's body to Priam at Zeus' command.
But I also have the impression that Calypso has a sudden personality change. What happens to her seductive, possessive and controlling tendencies? Does she suddenly just shift out of it into another self, at a reminder of Zeus' power? And what about her grief? If she was so deeply attached to Odysseus for seven years, letting him go must have been difficult for her.
(LATER RESEARCH: From the Encyclopedia Encarta
NEW: Go to Calypso's Isle for More on Calypso!
POSEIDON'S Hatred of Odysseus
Why does Poseidon hate Odysseus so much? Just because he is a Greek?
What has Odysseus done personally to alienate Poseidon? (A later note:
Perhaps the primary answer to this is revealed later, when Odysseus maims
Poseidon's son, the Cyclops). And a related question: Why is Zeus also
opposed to Odysseus?
The Meaning of PROTEUS
I'm intrigued by the meaning of Proteus, the old man of the sea who continually changes shape. I find myself looking for deeper meanings in this story. My own conclusion is that is has to do with perseverance and tenacity in the face of circumstances that are ambiguous and changing, and can't be pinned down.
One of the study guides online says:
Also, throughout the Odyssey, the sea is the realm where Odysseus has
many encounters with females - usually portrayed as seductive and dangerous.
The sea is the realm of the feminine energies, which cannot be controlled
- Her Near Betrayal
When Menelaus is telling Telemachus about the end of the Trojan War, he reveals that Helen tried to betray the Greeks when theywere hiding in the Trojan horse. She at that time had walked around the horse calling out the names of the Greek men hidden inside. She had even pretended to be their wives when she called
to them. What is her motive for doing this? At this point, has she decided to align with Troy after all, even though she misses Greece and now longs to return?
Also, she drugs the men when they start to get angry and experience
grief, so that they don't get carried away with their emotions. This gives
the impression of Helen as a woman who does not want to face reality, or
the consequences of her actions. Or perhaps she herself does not want to
feel her own grief, anger and shame, because it overwhelms her.
Hephaestus, Ares and Aphrodite
I've always loved the Hephaestus myths, and am intrigued by the telling of the Hephaestus, Aphrodite, Ares story at this point in the Odyssey. What is the point?
Hephaestus is crippled, feels spurned by his parents, abandoned by the gods, and is now betrayed by his wife, Aphrodite. His entrapment of Aphrodite and Ares is indeed a means of gaining power and recognition, as well as humiliating those who have done him wrong. Maybe this indirectly is related to Odysseus, feeling abandoned by the gods during his recent captivity, and attempting to regain his power....also in indirect ways, "craftily" snaring others in order to meet his ends.
Likewise, there is a contrast between Hephaestus' "net" and Penelope's "web". The net or web is a means of attempting to regain power lost and to experience whatever triumph one can when in a subordinate role.
This Hephaestus story also calls attention again to the theme of adultery. Odysseus has just committed adultery with Calypso, and Penelope is courted by eager suitors. Will she succumb to them? The audience however knows in advance that she will not.
Ironically, however, in the story, the adulterer is the female, Aphrodite,
and thus doubts are cast upon female fidelity. Yet in the Odyssey, Penelope
is faithful, whereas Odysseus succumbs to affairs with both Calypso and
Nausicaa - Her Caution
Nausicaa is very attracted to Odysseus, especially after he has cleaned himself up (as she just recently cleaned herself up) and has fantasies about him as a future husband. Yet she cautiously suggests that he enter the city apart from her, which means she will have less time with him and also safeguard her reputation.
I wonder if she made this decision only because she was concerned about her reputation and Odysseus' safety, or if she indeed is afraid of her own fantasies, and not quite ready yet for courtship.
I think of the movie Broadcast News, and how near the end Holly Hunter refused to go away with William Hurt because of moral reasons. I was left me wondering if there were other reasons for her refusal, related to her fear of intimacy. The same with Nausicaa.
And I wonder if Nausicaa later regrets that she distanced herself
from Odysseus - whom she did not know was married - and did not have more
time with him while he was there. Or does perhaps her interest in Odysseus
awaken her longing for a man, and thus the process leading to her eventually
marrying a more appropriate
(And what about her comment, to the effect of "Remember, you owe your
life to me." Is this just a desire to more acknowledgement and validation?)
Odysseus is blatantly dishonest when he takes credit for not entering the city accompanied by Nausicaa, even though it's her idea to be cautious, not his. I'm just curious about other times so far Odysseus is dishonest - or stretches the truth - for his own purrposes.
In this introduction to the Fagles' translation, Bernard Knox contrasts the character of Achilles to Odysseus. Achilles says to Odysseus in the Iliad, in both books 9 and 14: "I hate that man like the very Gates of Death, who says one thing in his heart...who stoops to peddling lies."
Odysseus Hiding His Identity
This puzzles me. Why does Odysseus hide his identity so long from the Phaeacians, who indeed would have been impressed from the start if they knew who he was? At first, perhaps, he is consciously trying to win over Nausicaa and her parents, and interest them in him as a possible worthy husband for their daughter. They were not known to be hospitable to strangers, but clearly they revered Odysseus as a hero, and would probably have been hospitable to him if he had revealed his identity earlier.
Granted, they would have then known he was not a possible husband for
their daughter....but given that the bard sang stories of Odysseus' heroism,
wouldn't they have been likely to have viewed him as worthy of respect,
and help him nonethless? In fact, they freely do give him the choice to
go or stay, once they know who he is.
2) Would the Odysseus of 7-10 years earlier been so swept away by tears? Has he softened during his journey, and his multitude of encounters with women?
3) Men openly crying, and especially expressing grief, appears to have
been acceptable in ancient Greek times. And yet these were times of idealism
in regard to the heroic male. What influenced the change since then....the
taming of the male ideal on one hand, and yet the suppression of "feminine"
feeling on the other?
for teaching and studying the ODYSSEY:
Find a place for emotional resonance for you in one of the stories or characters and:
a) write a poem as (or about) a particular character in a particular incident from the Odyssey
b) write a journal entry from the viewpoint of one of the characters
c) write a dialogue between two characters
d) write a contemporary news story based on that story
e) write a contemporary retelling of an episode
f) write a make-believe story of a missing episode
Go to: Calypso's Isle by Torrey Philemon
Go to: The Odyssey Chat transcripts
Go to: The Odyssey Journal: Books 9-10
Go to: The Odyssey Journal: Odysseus in Hades
Torrey's (Tracy's) Greek Mythology Web Page Index
copyright 1998 by Tracy Marks, Torrey Philemon (alias)
Graphics from Ancient Greek Graphics