The Odyssey JournalThese pages are my informal questions and reflections, as posted
by Torrey Philemon (Tracy Marks)
on the Odyssey message board at Ancient Sites.
Books 13-16 Books 17-20 Books 21-23 Book 24
1) In book 13, Zeus says to Odysseus "Just pay him back. The power is always yours. Do what you like. Whatever warms your heart." He also suggests turning the Phaecian ship into a mountain. Does this give you the impression that Zeus is angry with Odysseus, or merely oriented toward making peace with Poseidon? And what grievance is he likely to have had personally against the Phaecaians?
2) In book 13, 13:350, Athena tells Odysseus: "Endure them all. You must...No in silence you must bear a wrold of pain, subject yourself to the cruel abuse of men." Later Odysseus tells Telemachuse when to dissimulate - to hide and withhold what he knows and bear pain and outrage.
3) Athena says in 13:433 "But she, forever broken-hearted for your return, builds up each men's hopes - Dangling promises, dropping hints to each - but all the while with something else in my mind." What is the "something else" that Athena is referring to. What do you surmise that Penelope's plan is now?
4) At 15:420, the swineherd Eumaeus says that he has received no winning word or gesture from Penelope since the suitors arrive. Doesn't that sound out of characters in regard to Penelope? Why do you think this is so? Does Penelope feel restrained in her actions because of the suitors, or has she given up caring for the friends of Odysseus?
5) Odysseus trusts Athena although she has not been there for him for many years.
6) Is there some symbolic significance to Athena transforming Odysseus into an old beggar? He has always been a dissimulator; now his disguise is physical as well as intellectual. But he's also had to let go of a lot of the values and ways of being he previously held, and now he must let go of his attachment to his younger body and the pride he had previously which might not have allowed him to play the role of the beggar.
7) In book 16:84, Telemachus says: "My mother's wavering, always torn two ways, wheterh tos tay with me and care for the household, true to her husband's bed, the people's voice as well, or leave at long last with the best man in Achaea" AND ALSO 16:140, "And mother...she neither rejects a marriage she despises nor can she bear to bring the courting to an end." (And later, Penelope says in 19:170, "And now I cannot escape a marriage, nor can I contrive a deft way out."
8) What impels Penelope to finally decide to marry? She does say that she wishes the suitors would die...and that herself would prefer to die rather than marry. Is her reason for deciding mostly social responsibility - obedience to her husband's wishes (when T came of age) and concern for Telemachus' wellbeing, and the preservation of what remains of her home?
9) Why doesn't Penelope CHOOSE a suitor rather than create the archery test? There are several indications that Amphinomos is the one that pleases Penelope most (16:440) and he is also the most courteous to the beggar, and tries to
restore order among the suitors.
What is her motivation in contriving the test? Is it because she doubts that anyone will meet the challenge, and then she can prolong a marriage choice further? Or because if a suitor succeeded, he would have proven himself to have at least a
few of Odysseus' qualities? Or because she has prayed to Apollo, and the next day is Apollo's festival, and such a challenge is therefore most appropriate? Or all of the above?
What would Telemachus' situation be if Penelope had married one of the suitors (we could write an alternate scenario too). I mean, would he still have been a threat...inheritor of the royal house or something like that?
1) If Odysseus is at war for ten years and on his odyssey for ten years, and Telemachus has now just grown a beard (book 18:305 "But once you see the beard on the boys cheek, you wed the man you like"), don't we have a time discrepancy to deal with? Telemachus must be at least 20. Was puberty really late in ancient times? Is it likely that Telemachus could not grow a beard until he was 20? How do you explain this?
2) Why does Odysseus disguise his identity from Penelope? Primarily because he wishes to test her loyalty, and find out what's really going on? Are there other reasons?
3) Why does Athena (book 18:182) inspire Penelope "to display herself to her suitors, inflame them more?" Is this mostly a ploy of Homer to build the drama, as the suitors get their hopes up (and that's not all that gets up when they see her, either!). Symbolically, perhaps this is also symbolizes Penelope's own rebirth, her own starting to come alive again after years of grieving.
4) What about Penelope's emotional state in regard to ten years of prolonged grieving (which would be viewed as pathological by today's standards) as well her very apparent despair and distrust in regard to Odysseus' return? (19:360 "Odysseus, I tell you, is never coming back"). Has she abandoned hope, and retreated to despair to keep herself from being continually disappointed?
5)Penelope's dream of the geese and the eagle is intriguing and puzzling. At first, she says that she loves to watch the geese, and that the eagle then kills them. This could lead the reader to believe that the geese symbolize something she treasures...like her family or home, and that perhaps then the eagle represents the suitors.
But then (?) the eagle or the voice of Odysseus in her dream tells her that the geese are the suitors and the eagle is her husband returning. Odysseus himself confirms this interpretation. But if this is the accurate interpretation, then why does Penelope present a dream about geese she LOVED to watch. She obviously didn't love watching the suitors!
6) BOOK 19, Does she know or suspect?19:406-410
"Up with you now, my good old Eurycleia,
come and wash your master's...equal in years.
Odysseus must have feet and hands like his by now -
hardship can age a person overnight."
The text doesn't say anything about the beggar's feet, except that they remind her of Odysseus. Would Eurycleia really recognize him twenty years later entirely on the basis of his feet - when Athena has disguised him as an old man?
In Greek the text says "wash of your master the equal in years".
(1) One of Penelope's test of Odysseus is to refer to their bed as moveable, which it indeed is not (for it as strong and enduring as their marriage). Here again we have another reference ot the olive tree - the bed was made from an olive tree; Odysseus buries himself in olive leaves before meeting Nausicaa; he uses an olive stake to put out the eye of the Cyclops (and he also clings to a tree, fig not olive, when he saves himself from Charybdis). What significance do you see in this olive tree symbolism?
(2) 22:20 Telemachus "took up four shields, eight spears, four bronze helmets ridged with horsehair crests and loaded with these, ran back to this father's side." How big and strong is this guy anyway?
(3) 22:49 "So the women's heads were trapped in a line, nooses yanging their necks up one by one, so all might die a pitiful, ghastly death...Melanthius?...lopped his nose and ears with a ruthless knife, tore his genitals out for the dogs to eat raw and in manic fury hacked off his hands and feet." Is such brutal revenge really viewed as heroic, in these times? What is your reaction to this kind of surrender to such "manic fury?"
(4) Does Penelope's caution and skepticism in regard to Odysseus seem reasonable to you? 23:98 "Should she keep her distance, probe her husband? Or rush up to the man at once and kiss his head and cling to both his hands?". Again, her reasons, "I always cringed with fear, some fraud might come and beguile me with his talk."
(5) I'm amused by all the talking that Odysseus and Penelope did the first night of their reunion - at how verbal and mentally oriented they both are: (23:350) "And great Odysseus told his wife of all the pains..and all the hardships...and she listened on, enngaged...Sleep never sealed her eyes till all was told." Homer only indirectly alludes to their physical connection. This leads me to speculate on the personality type of Odysseus and Penelope.....
The online Keirsey test at http://www.keirsey.com/ , and the DDLI test at
are both versions of the Meyers Briggs personality profile.
All are based on characteristics which occur in relation to four polarities, each which has to do not so much with how a person is (a person who scores higher in thinking than feeling still has feelings) but how he/she approaches experiences. They are: introvert/extrovert intuitive/sensory feeling/thinking perceptive/judgment
I'd rate Odysseus close to the middle on the first two variables, but leaning toward introvert and sensory, and very high in thinking and also in judgment (approaching a situation in an organized, planned way rather than going with the flow). Penelope's personality type appears to be very similar.
(1) Does the conversation between Achilles and Agamenon serve some useful purpose, or does it appear to you to be an unnecessary diversion - and perhaps an addition included after Homer's times? If purposeful, what purpose does it serve? To reveal that those who have been enemies can have a relatively friendly conversation...a foreshadowing of the peace to be declared between Odysseus and the suitors' families? To reconnect the Odyssey with the Iliad and the greater context? To foreshadow Odysseus' meeting with Laertes, who has himself been little but a shade during the past years?
(2) Why is Laertes clad in filthy rags? Is this his own choice, due to his grief at the loss of his son and the state of affairs in Ithaca? Is it partly due to Penelope's neglect of him? And if so, why has Penelope neglected him?
(3) Why does Odysseus test Laertes? Is such a test really necessary? (23:283 "And I will put my father to the test, See if the old man knows me now, on sight." AND 23:260 "Debating, head and heart, what should he do now? Kiss and embrace his father, pour out the long tale...or probe him first and test him every way?") Perhaps Odysseus is simply expressing his character, which is prone to test people and to hide his identity, whether or not the circumstances demand it. Or is he expressing a conscious intent here.....to find out how his father really feels about him in a way which he wouldn't find out if he revealed himself directly? Or to find out how in touch with reality and his own life force Laertes his? Or to call forth the memories of Laertes, and begin to bring him back from the "waking dead?"
Consider 24:277: "But look how squalid you are, those shabby rags. Surely it's not for sloth your master lets you go to seed....whose slave are you?". Is the purpose of this question to remind Laertes of his true identity?
And why does Odysseus then tell another false story about his own identity. Could he not at that point have revealed himself? Do you think that such a test and deception is necessary?
(4) At the end of book 23 (24:532), Zeus says to Athena, "Do as your heart desires - But let me tell you how it should be done...let both sides seal their pacts that he shall reign for life." I found this amusing - the father gods says he gives his daughter freedom while at the same time telling her how to use her freedom. What does this tell you about Zeus?
And what about this concluding demonstration of how mankind is capable of bending to the god's will, even when it means learning to control intense grief and rage. Athena says "Make peace at once!" and they obey...for centuries. (Isn't that a little hard to believe....that even future generations would be able to overcome resentments of the past, and make peace?)
Finally, what is your impression of those time periods when Athena chooses to intervene, versus those in which she doesn't? She is silent for years because of her own fear of catalyzing Poseidon's wrath. But then when she does appear, does it seem to be only at those times when the hero she is helping can not resolve the situation at hand by his resources alone? Does she wisely stay away when the hero (Odysseus or Telemachus) has the resources he needs to deal with a situation, and only appear to help when he doesnt?
(5) The ending chapter of Odysseus' reunion with his father Laertes, following his reunion with his son Telemachus neatly wraps up the father/son theme so central to the book. Especially significant is Laertes' line 24:568 "What a day for me, dear gods! What joy - my son and my grandson vying over courage!" What is your interpretation of the father/son lessons and father/son cycle as it so aptly ends the Odyssey?
(6) I found the last book unsatisfying. It seemed to be wrapped up too neatly - deux ex machina. Laertes was grieved....and powerless alone to stop the suitors. But what I don't understand is why he was clad in filthy rags, as if Penelope neglected him. Also, Athena suddenly arrived and told everyone to make peace, and immediately they gave up their anger and held hands. But people don't give up hostilities so easily, especially when their loved ones are killed and the murderer hasn't been brought to justice. Or perhaps I underestimate the power of a visitation by a goddess?