Odysseus is fun to read about, but Beowulf is the hero you’d actually date and marry.

Remember my study of gender in medieval epics and Arthurian romance?
Yeeaah, it’s been a while so here’s an easy refresher:

  1.  Intro post: https://letteredmadness.wordpress.com/2018/08/29/men-dont-cry-unless-theyre-as-manly-as-gilgamesh-sir-roland-or-odysseus/
  2.  Gilgamesh: https://letteredmadness.wordpress.com/2018/09/05/166/
  3.  Intro to The Odyssey: https://letteredmadness.wordpress.com/2018/09/19/lets-get-down-to-busi-ness/
  4.  Odyssey Part 1 (Women): https://letteredmadness.wordpress.com/2018/09/25/ladies-first-part-one-of-gender-in-the-odyssey/
  5.  Odyssey Part 2 (Men): https://letteredmadness.wordpress.com/2018/10/14/the-hero-you-thought-you-knew-odysseus/

And now? It’s time for Beowulf. I’m using the Signet Classics version of Beowulf, translated by Burton Raffel. A term I will use in this is wergild, which was a Germanic law at this time, the payment for damage to property and injury. If someone, or many someones, had been killed, it was a life that was paid (originally started in order to prevent blood feuds).

We are told about Hrothgar’s lineage and his history, and then how Grendel came to be the terror of Herot. And we’re told that when they first discovered Gredel’s crime at daybreak:

How well he had worked, and in that gray morning
Broke their long feast with tears and laments
For the dead. Hrothgar, their lord, sat joyless
In Herot, a mighty prince mourning
The fate of his lost friends and companions,
Knowing by its tracks that some demon had torn
His followers apart. He wept, fearing

Just like in the Odyssey, we see that it is normal for men to display their grief in public, and to cry for lost companions and followers.

Beowulf is first described as “Higlac’s follower and the strongest of the Geats.” Interesting, isn’t it, being known as a follower? Anyway, Beowulf

Heard how Grendel filled nights with horror
And quickly commanded a boat fitted out,
Proclaiming that he’d go to that famous king,
Would sail across the sea to Hrothgar,
Now when help was needed

Note, it doesn’t say he went for glory or adventure but says Beowelf went when needed. This is a trait of manliness: helping both friends and people you’ve never met but only heard of, and going immediately.

Beowulf and his crew reach the Danish shore, and are met by a Danish watcher who asks “Exactly who you are, and from where, and why.” Hmm, how would Odysseus answer that challenge? He might tell the watcher where he’s from, but he would certainly lie about why he’s there, and probably make up a false name. Remember, the first thing we learned about Odysseus is that he doesn’t trust others and he lies throughout his journey. How does Beowulf respond?

“We are Geats,
Men who follow Higlac. My father
Was a famous soldier, known far and wide
As a leader of men. His name was Edgetho.
[. . .]
And we have come seeking
Your prince, Healfdane’s son, protector
Of this people, only in friendship: instruct us,
Watchman, help us with your words! Our errand
Is a great one, our business with the glorious king
Of the Danes is no secret; there’s nothing dark
Or hidden in our coming. You know (if we’ve heard
The truth, and been told honestly) that your country
Is cursed with some strange, vicious creature”

Beowulf has given the watchman the truth (we know these are truths because they are never contradicted in the story) to all three of his questions. True, he did not say his name directly, but presumably he’d be known by his father’s name. He also acknowledges that maybe what they heard was wrong, and there is no creature, giving the watchman the opportunity to correct them, at which point they’d presumably leave peacefully. Further, he asks the watchman for advice. True, Beowulf does have motivations for doing so, but this also shows a respect for the watchman’s role that Odysseus so commonly lacks. When Odysseus is first given advice? He doesn’t follow it, but assumes it’s untrustworthy. Beowulf, however, displays some trust in the watchman, especially considering how he listens to the man and does what he says.

And what is the result?

“A soldier should know the difference between
words
And deeds, and keep that knowledge clear
In his brain. I believe your words, I trust in
Your friendship”

The same result Odysseus gets: what he wants. But Beowulf accomplishes his aim quicker. The watchman’s words struck me as almost being aimed at Odysseus, as I had just read the Odyssey. Odysseus’ words and deeds often contradict each other, and people let him get away with it, even praise him for it. But the watchman is making it clear that such behavior is not acceptable, and that soldiers should be aware of it. He also is telling them that their actions in the country are not tied to his trust and belief in them.

The watchman tells them that he will guide them to Hrothgar, and to leave their boat as it’ll be protected by his men. I highly doubt Odysseus would be ok with this. There would be at least some mention of misgivings. But Beowulf? All we’re told is “Then they moved on. Their boat lay moored, tied tight to its anchor.” Beowulf and his men simply do what the watchman advised, and no one makes it a huge deal.

When Beowulf meets with Hrothgar we see that he does have something in common with Odysseus: he’s boastful. However, he keeps his boasting short and gives himself credibility, referencing how his people have seen his strength and know of his journey to Hrothgar. Note that: his people know where he is and what he’s doing. Vastly different from Odysseus or Telemachus.

Another trait Beowulf shares with Odysseus is that he can be well, over-the-top as he declares he will use no weapons or shield in his fight against Grendel, though he gives his reasoning that: Grendel does not use such things (a desire for equaling the field) and Higlac might think less of him if he doesn’t (reputation is important in this epic just as it was in The Odyssey). He also is sure to ask for the opportunity to fight Grendel (“A single request!”), showing respect for Hrothgar and acknowledging his authority as king, and asks them to send his armor to his people if he fails, so that they know what happened to him.

In line 613, we are introduced to the story’s first female character: Welthow, Hrothgar’s queen, who greets the warriors and brings the communal cup, which goes to Hrothgar first; she then brings it from warrior to warrior. When she meets Beowulf she salutes him and is thankful to serve him.

Alright. That’s the classic “female.”

However, Beowulf responds and acknowledges he may fail but he and his comrades came here knowing that. We’re told Welthow is pleased, and carries the words back to her husband, the king. Thus, we see how women are involved in more subtle ways.

When Hrothgar leaves, he embraces Beowulf and wishes him well. Kings hug warriors. Beowulf has connections and an illustrious family history, but he himself is just a warrior at this point in time, and a warrior of the Geats, not the Danes. And yet, it is normal for the king to hug him. It’s again normal for men to display emotion.

Interestingly, in lines 710–790 the story follows Grendel as he ventures from the marshes into the hall, a monster narrative that we never have in The Odyssey. Of course, Grendel isn’t humanized much, or redeemed at all.

Beowulf defeats Grendel, tearing off “Arm, claw and shoulder and all,” and Hrothgar comes to the hall, sees the night’s result, and praises not only Beowulf, but his mother:

“The woman who bore him, whoever, wherever,
Alive now, or dead, knew the grace of the God
Of our fathers, was granted a son for her glory and His.”

Thus, a mother’s reputation can be tied to her child. There can be negative connotations to that of course, but it is interesting that the mother, not the father, is praised for how Beowulf is as an adult.

Hrothgar continues:

“Beowulf, best of soldiers,
Let me take you to my heart, make you my son, too,
And love you”

Family can be made through oath, not just blood or marriage. Further, men should praise other men, and the women who birthed them.

The celebration continues, and in it we get a significant moment of the female. Many famous figures from epics have been mentioned in Beowulf already, such as Siegmund, and in lines 1066 through 1159, a version of the tale of Hnaf’s betrayal is told. Though she is only named here only as “Hnaf’s sister,” Hildeburh’s tale is one of a violation of marriage, as her husband Finn attacks and kills her brother and one of her sons. Another theme of this story is also about the wergild being withheld, prompting Hengest to later take revenge. The story foreshadows Grendel’s mother’s appearance. However, while Hildeburh is a figure of an epic and someone to empathize with, Grendel’s mother is not. She also is denied the wergild, and also resorts to revenge, though hers goes unfulfilled.

The song finishes and is Welthow who once again brings a communal cup, and tells her husband to praise the Geats and give them treasures freely. Then she puts Beowulf in charge of taking care of her sons, should their father die, as their nephew. She then sits with her two sons and Beowulf. She gives Beowulf Brosings’ necklace, telling him to “Wear these bright jewels,” for it was not uncommon for men to wear necklaces. A man wearing a necklace with gemstones on it nowadays is an unusual sight. Again, she asks Beowulf to take care of her sons, and she praises him further. Perhaps the telling of Hideburh’s story reminded her that enemies can come from unexpected quarters, and that her sons may need someone to turn to should she and Hrothgar perish.

A lot has been said about Grendel’s mother. I will note that we are told she was sad, thus she is attributed something humane though that was withheld from Grendel. She takes her wergild, “She’d taken Hrothgar’s closest friend, The man he loved most of all men on earth.” She takes someone who is close to Hrothgar, likely on purpose, someone whose death will really hurt the king, but a man, not his wife. Again, men are allowed to love each other, and because whether it is meant romantically or not is unclear, men are thus allowed many types of love.

Hrothgar grieves and asks Beowulf for his help. Beowulf says “Let your sorrow end! It is better for us all to avenge our friends, not mourn them forever,” evidence of the popular idea that men don’t grieve but instead go obtain revenge.

While Beowulf fought Grendel with neither weapon nor armor, he uses both when fighting the monsters in the lake and Grendel’s mother. Thus, while Beowulf is confident, he doesn’t underestimate his foes, displaying common sense. Something that is sometimes lacking in our male heroes.

Beowulf defeats Grendal’s mother, and the “monsters’ hall was full of Rich treasures, but all that Beowulf took Was Grendel’s head and the hilt of the giants’ Jeweled sword.” Looting the place, satisfying his greed? Not manly. He only takes the weapon he fought with and the skull of Hrothgar’s enemy. Beowulf promises Hrothgar that

“whoever sleeps in Herot
You, your brave soldiers, anyone
Of all the people in Denmark, old
Or youngthey, and you, may now sleep
Without fear of either monster, mother
Or son.”

Unlike Odysseus, who trailed chaos and death, Beowulf brings peace and security. Odysseus’ aim was only ever to get himself safely home. Beowulf seeks to bring safety to others, those who are in danger. Like in Gilgamesh’s period, safety in Beowulf’s period is gained only by a strong leader who protects his people. Hrothgar praises Beowulf, and then tells him to go home and use his strength on behalf of his own people now, and to not be as Hermod

“once was to my people, too proud
To care what their hearts hid, bringing them
Only destruction and slaughter. In his mad
Rages he killed them himself, comrades
And followers who ate at his table.”

Odysseus’ rages, his killing or desiring to kill the men who followed him, who he was responsible for? Not cool. Not acceptable. Hrothgar also tells Beowulf to push aside pride, reminding him that strength will someday fail. He then tells Beowulf to feast tonight and tomorrow they’d send him off with gifts and “Beowulf obeyed him.” I mean, sure, Beowulf was probably down with that plan, but still. He once again demonstrates respect for Hrothgar’s title.

When Beowulf leaves, we are told Hrothgar “kissed him Held that best of all warriors by the shoulder And wept.” In Beowulf’s time, kisses between men were therefore still acceptable.

Beowulf returns home and we are introduced to Higlac’s wife, Higd “wise and knowing beyond her years.” Females? Are once again associated with wisdom. A good woman is also generous give “gifts with open hands.” The daughter Thrith however, is too proud, has a vicious tongue, and her “hands would shape a noose.” This is noted as a great sin, for any woman

“Whether fair or black, to create fear
And destruction, for a woman, who should walk in
the ways
Of peace, to kill with pretended insults.”

Women are supposed to be gracious and wise, they should create a welcoming atmosphere. This perhaps is where we start getting the idea that women are in charge of the emotional atmosphere and should be happy and cheerful. Thrith does change when she marries, and maybe this is where the idea of men “taming” women through marriage came from. Thrith is praised now, as she is generous, good, and full of love for her husband. Evil or cruel women are therefore redeemable, an idea that we don’t always see in epics, or indeed any stories.

Beowulf reports to his lord not just about his defeat of Grendel, but also of Hrothgar’s plan and hope that “his quarrel with the Hathobards can be settled by a woman.” Beowulf predicts that this will not happen, and not because the woman wasn’t good enough or wasn’t loyal to her husband, but because after a short peace the wedding is ended and sons once more remember “their fathers who once wore them, fell with those helmets on their heads, those swords in their hands.”

Hrothgar is noted to be “a good king” who gave gifts Beowulf could not gain with strength, and riches to “prove his friendship, and my love.” In warrior tribes, it was a warrior’s duty to give his leader treasures he had gained and for that leader to divide the gifts among his people; this relationship was supposed to be one of love as well.

Curiously, during Beowul’s giving of treasure, the story seems to point the finger at Odysseus as it says

Beowulf had brought his king
Horses and treasureas a man must,
Not weaving nets of malice for his comrades,
Preparing their death in the dark, with secret
Cunning tricks

Warrior tribes were built on trust. The warriors trusted their leader to provide for them and keep them safe, and the leader trusted his warriors to stay loyal to him. A distrustful person such as Odysseus would not be a hero in this kind of society. Further, the text again says Beowulf does not seek “killing his comrades in drunken rages” but in using his strength and “using it only in war, and then using it bravely.” Ouch, that must hurt Odysseus.

We also get a quick mention of how Beowulf as a boy “was scorned; the Geats considered him worthless.” Here is our “rags to riches” theme, though only touched upon briefly. We’re also told that Beowulf turned down the throne once (“Refused to rule when his lord’s own son was alive”) but later took it. “He was old with years and wisdom, fifty winters a king.” So Beowulf is over 50. Assuming he was 25 when he became king, he’s 75 when the dragon awakens!

And Beowulf’s immediate reaction? Is to blame himself. (Though it is argued whether the original story was Christian and this may have been written in later.)

he accused
Himself of breaking God’s law, of bringing
The Almighty’s anger down upon his people.

Odysseus would have blamed the gods, and it’s unlikely his first thought would be about people other than himself.

Beowulf goes to fight the dragon, saying “I’ve never known fear.” And with some final boasts, he says goodbye to each of his followers, and goes off to fight the dragon alone. But he falls,

And he suffered, wrapped around in swirling
Flamesa king, before, but now
A beaten warrior. None of his comrades
Came to him, helped him, his brave and noble
Followers; they ran for their lives […]
And only one of them
Remained, stood there, miserable, remembering,
As a good man must, what kinship should mean.

Kinship means a lot in The Odyssey as well . . . just not much to Odysseus, who is willing to kill his kin. The man who stays is named Wiglaf, and he draws his sword and joins the fight, remembering what Beowulf had done for them and how they “swore to repay him, When the came, kindness for kindness.” Instead of just fighting the dragon by himself, he makes his way to Beowulf. Beowulf makes a final strike, but his sword breaks on impact and the dragon pierces his neck. And then Wiglaf pierces further down with his sword, showing “his courage, his strength, And skill, and the boldness he was born with,” and then Beowulf draws his knife:

the bloodstained old king
Still knew what he was doing. Quickly, he cut
The beast in half, slit it apart.
It fell, their courage had killed it

Yeah. Beowulf slices a dragon in half with a dagger. Old man’s still got it. Unfortunately, the dragon’s fangs have venom, not something we generally see attributed to them anymore, and Beowulf knows he’s dying. He gives Wiglaf his last words, says he dies happy, and also wants to see all the treasure the dragon had and sends Wiglaf to bring him some. Can’t really call that selfish or greedy when Beowulf is literally teetering on the edge of death. He gets to see the treasure and dies. Wiglaf sits vigil, and when those who had fled returned, he admonishes them and tells them what happened, but he says Beowulf

“Alone, won his own revenge.
The help I gave him was nothing, but all
I was able to give; I went to him. knowing
That nothing but Beowulf’s strength could save us”

Wow. Sure he didn’t cut the beast in half with a dagger, but I would say he still helped a noteworthy amount, and he could have taken credit—who but him would ever know? But nope. Being humble appears again as a trait of manliness, folks. And acknowledging when someone is better or stronger than you, without feeling shame. Something that doesn’t seem to be a trait of manliness now.

Women play an important part in Beowulf’s funeral:

A gnarled old woman, hair wound
Tight and gray on her head, groaned
A song of misery, of infinite sadness,
And days of mourning, of fear and sorrow
to come, terror and slaughter and captivity

All of the warriors mourn as well, of course. But a difference between a death in war and a proper funeral seems to be the role of women. You may think she might be overdoing it, but Beowulf was well-known and had brought them peace. Without him, they are vulnerable. None of those things are an exaggeration, but likely events to happen without their king. Beowulf is cremated, given treasure and armor, which are buried in the ground, and his men ride around grieving and telling stories (an official funeral practice: the telling of stories about the person and their deeds).

Beowulf is arguably your more traditional hero. Unlike his depiction in that atrocious movie, Beowulf is a good man. Odysseus is not so clearly cut, which makes him a fascinating hero, but not one you’d necessarily want to emulate or date. Beowulf though? Beowulf I, at least, would date.

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I resolve to not resolve.

So it’s a new year and we’re back to the usual slog, though of course, we are armed with our handy dandy new year resolutions! Ready to become a new, better us.

Or, we could not.

Controversial opinion: don’t do a new year’s resolution.

I once heard someone say they didn’t like the new year’s resolution because if there’s something you need or want to change, you should do it at any time of the year. That if we really want to make a resolution and follow through, we should do it at any other time of the year, because we’ll take it more seriously.

I personally feel there’s some truth in that.

Resolutions become . . . less. Small talk begins to include questions such as “Hey, make a new year’s resolution? Mine was to workout more.” Just like how none of us really want to talk about the weather (unless you’re a farmer or from farming country), it’s not really something we’re listening to. It’s just filler.

Personally, to me a “resolution” is something, something important. Not a popular trend or throwout question to break awkward silences.

The other thing is, in all honesty, new year’s resolutions give me anxiety.

Part of the problem is when I do a new year’s resolution, it isn’t something easily attainable, but some grand statement like “I will become a better person.” But how do I gauge this? How do I know when I’ve obtained my goal? Cue: anxiety.

I also get anxiety because of all the other people I know who made new year’s resolutions and then drop the idea after a week or month. It makes me question how important resolutions are and if any of us really mean them, it makes me question my ability to continue with my own resolution.

For another thing, everyone starts asking about each other’s resolutions, and mine are usually not something I want to share. So then I’m scrambling to remember my alter-resolution, the stand-in.

Personally, the resolutions I make on insignificant days of the year tend to be the only resolutions I hold onto.

The idea of a new year’s resolutions is a great idea, and it makes sense. After all, it is a new year and who knows what it will bring?

But if you’re the type of person who always tries making a new year’s resolution, and then can never stick to it, perhaps it’s time to do what I did: stop making your big resolution on new year’s. Make the resolution in the moment of pure emotion. If you’re horrified at your lack of health when you can’t keep up with a friend, make the resolution then. I’ve found it to be much more effective. And no one asks about your resolutions on, say, April 17th.

 

Does a Merry Christmas Have To Be Merry?

So it’s Christmas. That time of year when you’re supposed to be thankful and joyful. But what if you’re not?

Maybe you’re the type of person who can find what you’re grateful for, even in the midst of utter ingratitude. If you can do that, good, do it. If you can feel thankful for the time you had with someone, even amidst your grief and anger that that was all the time you got, then you’re in good shape.

Then again, maybe you can’t.

And I think that’s ok.

It’s ok if you’re not filled with joy and good cheer, but if you let yourself drown in the negative emotions, it’s not going to help (in my experience at least). There are, of course, different things you can do. Focus on the present during festivities, and set aside time before and after to grieve. Or just hold onto the good memories and your knowledge. How would so-and-so have responded to your aunt’s tirade just now? Or your uncle’s joke?

If you can’t force yourself into joy, don’t. It will make the wounds fester and stew, bubbling underneath the lid until it can no longer be contained, at which point it bursts and burns everyone around it, including you. If you’re not happy, admit it to yourself. And then remember when you were happy, what made you happy. Allow yourself to step back and look around yourself with clarity. Remember what made you happy and look for the seeds of happiness around you. Acknowledge the potential for happiness, both lost and present.

Remember that you and they were happy once. Remember what made them happy and what they would have been like during the festivities around you.

Aim for acceptance and peace, or melancholy happiness. Be true to the grief and even the anger you feel. But don’t be consumed by it.

There’s a lot out there about how to find something to be grateful for. As far as I can tell, there’s nothing out there that addresses what to do when you simply can’t be grateful, even for the small things. Before you can feel grateful, you need to be open to the possibility. You need to see your situation clearly and work through the negative emotions before you can fertilize the seeds of gratefulness.

Everyone grieves differently, everyone celebrates differently. Instead of focusing on what people are telling you to do and how you should feel, and how you may not be able to do or feel those things, focus on how you feel and want to feel. Figure out what you need to be able to find light in the darkness. For some people it’s as simple as flipping the switch; for others wax for a candle must be made first, then something for the wick must be found, and finally they need a way to light it.

If you need some alone time, find a way to have it, without being disturbed by family or disturbing them.

If you need to think about them, do so. If you need to talk about them but have no one to talk to, have a running commentary in your head. “That would have made her laugh. That would have made him wink.” Focus on them as they were when they were alive and happy and full of potential.

Don’t let your anger at circumstance seep into how you feel about your family and friends, who may be happy. It’s not their fault they’re happy. They’re allowed to have their joy just as you’re allowed your grief. Use the positivity around you to remind yourself that it is not a betrayal for you to be happy, and to remember their joy and love.

Being part of the festivities doesn’t mean you need to act as you normally would. It means you have to be present. If you usually talk a lot and you’re quieter this time around, then just make sure you’re listening and watching and sitting there with everyone. Feel connected to them even as you feel you are distant. In my experience, family likes to talk. Don’t force yourself to tell jokes and stories, leave that to them and laugh when something is funny, or just smile. If you can’t bring yourself to talk to them, pour them some more wine or juice, pat their shoulder. Verbal messages certainly aren’t everything.

If you need to cry or scream, excuse yourself to the bathroom or sneak into your room and bury your face in your pillow. Let it out. And then, let it go. Wash your face and smooth your clothes and recall their smiles and how alive they were. Would they want you in here grieving alone? From what I know, the answer is no. They don’t. So hold onto that. Use your love for them and their love for you to be the ruling voice. Go back to your family and just be there. Allow those you have lost to be there with you.

You miss them, and keeping them away may just widen their absence. So embrace them, bring them in and let them take part not in the grieving, but in the joyous festivities.

There are more types of happiness than elation, just as there are more types of love than the carnal. Don’t pretend to feel what you don’t, be what you’re not. Find what you can be and search for the love and happiness and thankfulness that are in your capacity. And then, just exist. Allow peace, if only for now.

In this society, I often feel there’s no place for grief. And so we don’t know how to deal with it as a society, or family. Grief is not just tears and anger, it’s also love and even joy. Yes, joy. You grieve because you felt joy with them, love with them, anger with and at them. We can’t just weep and then stop thinking about them. That’s not how you begin to heal.

You heal by remembering how much you loved them and how much they loved you. You accept that they’d want you to be happy. You confront who they were and what they did in the time, however short or long, that they had.

They were so much more than tears, so don’t limit them to anguish and fury. Don’t portray them to yourself only as lost, and don’t make them perfect. They weren’t. They made you angry or made you cry. That doesn’t diminish them. It only allows them to occupy the space they held in life, instead of some single-dimension illusion.

Forgiving does not mean that the situation was right. It does not mean accepting someone’s sins or crimes as “okay.” It means moving on. Grief is the same. It’s not ok that they died, it’s not ok when people tell you “it was God’s plan” or “meant to be.”

“Life’s not fair.” We hear that all the time, and to me I’ve always felt it was said to excuse something. Life’s not fair, that’s the fact, so you can’t get worked up about murder and racism and everything that’s unfair about our world. But that’s not true. It’s not an excuse or a reason. It’s a fact. If life’s not fair then we should change what we can about this reality of ours where things are not fair. Life’s not fair doesn’t make it ok that some people die absurd, meaningless, arbitrary deaths. Life’s not fair does not equal acceptance and complacency.

It’s not fair, and it’s not ok. But it is fact. And sometimes there’s no changing that fact. You can’t bring back the dead, nor should you. That is a fact that you need to learn to live with, just as we learn to live with facts like a debilitating injury and that the world’s not perfect, that no one, not even your parents and idols, are perfect.

It’s Christmas and they’re gone and not coming back, and you need to face that. You need to live with that.

But it’s ok to be sad. It’s ok to not be able to fake it through.
It’s also ok for you to be happy or at peace.

Whatever holiday you practice, I hope it is a time of healing for you. I hope you manage to have some degree of joy and peace and rest.

A Zombie Writer Hungers For Words, Note Brains

 

(I have been informed that some people had trouble accessing this post, so I’m reposting to try to solve that problem.)

 

I’m back from the dead,

arisen at last.

clawed my way up

dug myself out

and vandalized the tombstone.

took the flowers home

put them in a vase

gave them water

then sat down to write,

this my return,

and stared at a blank page

for hours

or days

(who knows? who cares)

and then this came out

to announce my return.

You may not have missed me,

dear reader,

but I missed you,

and me,

and this.

So now it’s with joy

that I can declare

to you, my dear reader,

I’m back!

Back at last!

zombiewriter_crop.jpg

The Tale of a Computer’s Death (disclaimer: not in dactylic hexameter)

Hear ye a tale of struggle against the immense tyranny of that foe, technical failure:

There I sat, unaware of the doom that was to come upon me, working upon that most accessible of crafts known as typing. Suddenly that worthy tool of my craft was in peril, caught so all its actions froze no matter how it struggled. The spell that had been wrought made itself clear in the colored bars that danced across my worthy companion’s surface. Desperate and afeared, I put my dear friend to sleep, grasped him about the case, and made my escape.

But lo! upon every waking, my dear instrument of wisdom was again afflicted.

I embarked on a journey across that wide swath of space known as the Internet, searching for a way to break this foul enchantment. Indeed, I even met with a person learned in that arcane art, one of those known as “techies.” Wise words were shared with me and I strove to relieve my friend of its heavy burden—documents and files, each of considerable size—and prayed to that high lord, Techisies, god of technology.

Alas! ‘Twas in vain! My fine and worthy companion lies cold and silent, its screen forever blackened by the cold embrace of death. Oh, woe is to me! Left in despair, alone.

I tell ye, ‘twas this sad and dark occurrence that prevented me from posting in timely manner, as is the fashion of those of Blooggs.

I beseech ye to give me your forgiveness in this my time of grief and trial. Pray for me, dear friends!, as I search for such a companion as can aid me in my worthy work, setting its hardware upon the lifeless keyboard of that my best of companions!

The Hero You Thought You Knew: Odysseus

Odysseus! That man of men makes his appearance on our stage today, as we continue with gender in epics and Arthurian romances. This is our last segment of the Odyssey, and much text must be covered very quickly.

Let me summarize some points we learn about manliness before Odysseus takes over the story:

Manliness: finding out what happened to your father, killing rude and destructive suitors who shun rules of hospitality, order women if your words are sensible, respect your mother, don’t waste time arguing when no one is listening, let suitors talk while you prepare, ask for help/the proper way (Telemachus asks multiple people for help, including that old fond nurse mentioned previously), tell a true confident what you’re doing and address their fears, don’t leave household long, give gifts and hospitality to strangers, listen to your wife when she has something to say, and ask after the fate of your fellow countrymen. Finally, listen to women who are goddesses or closely related to the gods. Menelaus listens to the advice of Eidothee.

Un-Manly (courtesy of the suitors, and Telemachus to a much smaller extent): being rude, wasting wealth, ignoring rules of hospitality and gift-giving, whining, arguing with people who aren’t going to change, being rude and violent to those who house you.

Enter Odysseus.

What is one of the first things we learn about him? He is untrusting:

‘Goddess, it is surely not my safety you are thinking about but something else, when you tell me to cross this formidable sea in such a craft.’

Forgivable I suppose. Calypso and Athena certainly always think so, and in fact, praise him. . . . or flirt.

‘Odysseus,’ she protested, ‘what a rogue you are to say such a thing! It shows the crafty way your mind works.’

Odysseus leaves the island. Ino appears, as we discussed briefly before. He, of course, doesn’t listen to her . . . until he realizes what a bad idea not listening to her advice is.

Curiously, Odysseus is rather cowardly. Before leaving, he claimed to Calypso:

‘. . . to reach home and see the day of my return. It is my never-failing wish. And what if one of the gods does wreck me out on the wine-dark sea? I have a heart that is inured to suffering and I shall steel it to endure that too.’

But in actuality?

‘Three and four times blessed are those countrymen of mine who fell long ago on the broad plains of Troy in loyal service to the sons of Arteus. If only I too could have met my fate and died the day the Trojan hordes let fly at me . . .

And:

‘O misery!’ he groaned. ‘Against all hope Zeus let me see land . . . only to find there is no escape from the foaming shore, and all my efforts will have been in vain. . . If I try to land, I may be lifted by a roller, dashed against the solid rockand I’d have had my trouble for nothing. If I swim further down the coast . . . I’m afraid another squall will snatch me . . . Or some demon may let loose against me . . .’

The good: manly men can be afraid and admit.
The questionable: This man is our hero? What happened to your never-failing wish? And he’s shooting down options without even trying them, and he’s complaining after just starting his journey!

And when he does land?

‘Oh, what will happen to me now?’ he groaned. ‘What will become of me after all? If I stay by the river and keep awake through the wretched night, bitter frost and drenching dew together may do for me. I’m already at my last gasp. And a cold wind can blow up from the river just before dawn. But if I climb up the slope . . . I’m afraid that I may make a meal for beasts of prey.’

Realistic? Perhaps. (Though each new fear seems more extreme than the last in each of these dialogues.) A bit frustrating? Definitely. A bit annoying? Yes. This is our hero? Apparently so.

But wait! There’s more when he wakes:

‘What country have I come to this time?’ he said with a groan. ‘What people are there here? Hostile and uncivilized savages, or kindly and god-fearing people? . . . am I by any chance among human beings who can talk as I do? Well, I must go and use my own eyes to find out.’

Ok, so he does go to explore. He has some bravery. You could say this dialogue makes sense after his journeys, but after all the colonization that our world has witnessed, that is, frankly, an outdated and disrespectful claim to make. How many cultures have we deemed “savages” and treated inhumanely? Odysseus’ opinion of other peoples is a precursor to colonizers’ beliefs. Plus, if you enter a land expecting to find savages, you’re probably not going to encounter people who are very happy to see you.

Ah, but an interesting aspect of manliness that Odysseus presents is in his humility.

Then the good Odysseus said to them, ‘Ladies, stand back over there and leave me to wash the brine from my shoulders . . . I am not going to take my bath with you looking on. I should be ashamed to stand naked in the presence of elegant ladies.’

Being manly? Retain your pride by being chaste, don’t take advantage.

I’m skipping ahead to his story now, and this brings us to perhaps the most important element in this story: the literary device “the unreliable narrator.”

UNRELIABLE NARRATOR: A narrator that is not trustworthy, whose rendition of events must be taken with a grain of salt. We tend to see such narrators especially in first-person narration, since that form of narration tends to underline the motives behind the transmission of a given story. There are numerous famous examples in literature (James’ “Turn of a Screw” is a superb example) and a few notable examples in film (Citizen Kane perhaps most famously among them).

source: https://www.cla.purdue.edu/english/theory/narratology/terms/unreliable.html

We’ve had stories in first person, true. But for the most part, we’ve had an omniscient narrator up till now, who told us the inner workings of the characters’ minds. And now? Now we only have Odysseus’ words to depend on. Odysseus, who we already know doesn’t trust anyone and has lied about who he is. He is perhaps the classic example of an unreliable narrator. This isn’t an accident, either. The original storytellers did this for a reason; I would argue that that reason is to make us think for ourselves—something many of us don’t necessarily do with books such as the classics, when so many experts seem to have said everything worth saying about the text.

Odysseus begins his story and we come to the Cyclops, who attacks Odysseus’ men. Odysseus of course leaps into action! . . . or not.

‘On first thoughts I planned to summon my courage, draw my sharp sword from the scabbard at my side, creep up to him, feel for the right place with my hand and stab him in the breast where the liver is supported by the midriff. But on second thoughts I refrained, realizing that we would seal our own fate as well as his.’

Manliness really isn’t as simple as “charge into action instantly when anything happens.” There’s thought involved. Whether Odysseus is cowardly or wise is completely up to the reader’s own opinion. Since Odysseus is telling us this, it seems he regards it as the latter. Interestingly, when describing the Cyclops’ attack, the text says “‘We felt completely helpless.'” Helplessness is something that the Odyssey normalizes.

Moving on, Odysseus, of course, tricks the Cyclops and makes him seem a fool. But take another look at how Odysseus acts as they make their escape:

‘But before we were out of earshot, I shouted out derisive words at Polyphemus. . . . My words so enraged the Cyclops that he tore the topp off a great pinnacle of rock and hurled it at us. . . . I was about to shout something else to the Cyclops, but from all parts of he ship, my men called out, trying to restrain and pacify me.’

Odysseus, apparently is quite proud of his display of manliness: lost temper and foolish, not to mention dangerous, taunting. But, is this really how a leader responsible for all of the men on his ship should act? Based on the regard the other characters seem to hold on their companions’ lives, no, I would argue Odysseus is not being a good leader, and therefore is not being “manly.” His men’s lives should rate above his temper and desire to jeer. In fact, it’s quite clear Odysseus is not a good leader by the way his men don’t trust him. How do we know they don’t trust him? Turn your attention to Circe.

At the beginning of this chapter, Odysseus says they “came to grief, through our own senseless stupidity” for his men “began to discuss matters among themselves, and word went round that I was bringing home a fortune in gold and silver” and they thus undid the bag of winds, which carried them headlong out to sea. Odysseus is supposed to be a hero, a man of men. Rather than look at the crew as untrustworthy and greedy, let’s look at what that suggests about Odysseus, which is that he is the one who is untrustworthy and greedy. On a ship that spends months at sea, it is vital for a crew to trust its captain. One could say the captain’s number one responsibility is to keep order and justice and therefore head off mutiny. Odysseus fails in these regards. Why? Men don’t rebel for no reason. Whether the bag contained winds doesn’t matter, what matters is that they felt they couldn’t trust their leader. And if he was using the wind to help them, wouldn’t the crew have witnessed what the bag held?

And how does Odysseus react to this?

‘I debated within myself whether to jump overboard and drown or stay among the living and quietly endure.’

His initial reaction is to consider drowning himself rather than deal with the fallout. That just screams mature, responsible leader, doesn’t it?

Then they encounter Circe. Now, just before Circe, Odysseus abandoned some of his men in order to save the ship and the men that were on it, and could reach it in time. But Eurylochus urges him to do the same thing here? Odysseus would rather go find the beautiful Enchantress. Hmm. Interesting.

‘Nothing, goddess, would induce me to come into your bed unless you can bring yourself to swear a solemn oath that you have no other mischief in store for me.’

Remember these words, this moment, for when we move on to Arthurian Romance. Remember that Odysseus does not see a problem with sleeping with this goddess, even though he’s married, he just doesn’t trust her. Remember he does sleep with her.

Now, Odysseus and his men have been tricked several times, and have just been tricked by Circe. So Odysseus isn’t the only one with trust issues. But Odysseus doesn’t have time for Eurylochus’ fears.

‘Now when Eurylochus said that, I considered drawing the long sword from my sturdy side and lopping his head off to roll in the dust, even though he was a close kinsman of mine. But my men held me back and calmed me down.’

Again, the men have to take care of their leader. He proves untrustworthy once more. And after all the other male characters’ talk of what they would do, or did, for their kinsmen, Odysseus is ready to slay a close kinsman just because the guy doubts Circe. The crew has no reason to trust Odysseus’ judgement after the Cyclops and other failings.

Circe ends up telling Odysseus he has to go to “the Halls of Hades” and Odysseus reacts by:

“sitting there on the bed I wept. I had no further use for life, no wish to see the sunshine any more.”

It’s great that men can cry in The Odyssey, but really? Every time Odysseus meets with misfortune or a challenge, he weeps and says how he would rather die. Talk about dramatic!

During the adventure to Hades’ domain, there are a couple things that I would like to briefly note.

One of them is that not everyone lets Odysseus get away with his paranoia and suspicion. When he doubts his own wife to his mother, she admonishes him for his doubt of his wife. Then when he blames Persephone for sending a mere phantom of his mother when he finds he cannot hug her, she tells him it’s no trick. Women can call out men when they’re being unfair to other women. And the dead, at least, are not having any of Odysseus’ paranoia.

The second thing is Odysseus’ meeting with Achilles, when Odysseus tells the guy, “Do not grieve at your death, Achilles.” Achilles, needless to say, doesn’t appreciate this much. This is one moment where Odysseus completely fails to read the atmosphere around him, and the person in front of him.

Odysseus learns of Scylla and Charybdis. His initial reaction?

‘Could I not somehow steer clear of the deadly Charybdis, yet ward off Scylla when she attacks my crew?’

Again, he considers endangering his crew, all for the sake of a fight. Here he is admonished by Circe.

Rejoining his crew, Odysseus decides

‘It is not right that only one or two of us should know the prophecies that divine Circe has made to me, and I am going to pass them on to you, so that we may all be forewarned.’

Finally, a show of trust! Fairness! . . . or not. For when Odysseus tells them to hug the cliffs where Scylla lives,

‘The crew obeyed me immediately. I did not mention the inescapable horror of Scylla, fearing that in their panic my men might stop rowing and huddle below decks.’

So much for trust, or honesty. If Odysseus is owning up to these moments of deceit and these lapses in judgment, it begs the question, what isn’t he owning up to? What failings and lies has he committed that he isn’t telling us?

And then when they’re on the land where Hyperion keeps his sheep, again the crew doesn’t trust Odysseus and ends up breaking their word. Odysseus’ word to them is empty, and thus they reciprocate: their oaths to him are empty. He is captain of a crew he can’t control.

Eventually, Odysseus returns home. At last! And his reaction upon reaching home?

‘Oh no! Whose country have I come to this time? Are they some brutal of uncivilized savages, or a kindly and god-fearing people? . . . And what a blow to find that those Phaenacian lords and chieftains were not exactly wise and honest men! They said they would put me down in my own sunny Ithaca, and then they carry me off to this outlandish place. A broken promisefor which I pray they may be punished by Zeus.’

Yeah, he immediately suspects the Phaenacians, who have done nothing but good for him, to have played a malicious trick on him.

And how does Odysseus react when someone, the dear nurse Eurycleia, recognizes him with “delight and anguish” for who he is before he reveals himself?

Odysseus’ right hand sought and gripped the old woman’s throat, while with the other he pulled her closer to him. . . . ‘But, since a god has revealed it to you, keep your mouth shut and let not a soul in the house learn the truth. Otherwise I tell you plainlyand you know I make no idle threatsthat if the gods deliver these fine Suitors into my own hands I won’t spare you though you’re my own nurse.’

The nurse who Telemachus and Penelope trust and confide in, who has stayed loyal to Odysseus, is threatened by Odysseus. This act of violence seems out of proportion, why? Because Odysseus does not like others to see through his ploys, it threatens him, no matter who it is. Odysseus is a man who values no one above his own self interest. He is a dangerous man to serve under and to trust. Odysseus is a much more complicated hero than we often give him credit for.

Odysseus is a fascinating character because of his moral ambiguity, and he is not meant to be a character whom we emulate and praise blindly. Besides the literary technique of the unreliable narrator, we have moments like his threatening the nurse or of his complaining to make us pause and reevaluate. There are still traits in Odysseus to praise, but there is much in him also to question, and even to condemn. The other male characters in The Odyssey are there as foils to Odysseus, and highlight the differences and contradictions in “manliness.” Over time, it seems we have lost this full complexity and have taken Odysseus’ hero status for granted. We have stopped questioning this story, and have gone along with what the majority’s perspective is. But this is a classic novel. It has held up over time because of its complexity, and because different people can have different views of it and find different elements in the story to identify with.

Reevaluate how you read, and how you think. Your opinions and thoughts, no matter how amateur, are worthwhile. Literature is not an escape, but a way for us to figure out the world and people around us. If a book makes you question something, never ignore that in lieu of what others say. Because usually? The authors or tellers of the story want you to stop and question that moment or theme.

This concludes this segment of our gender studies. I’m going to change our schedule a bit, and cover Beowulf next because there are moments in Beowulf that seem almost to comment directly on The Odyssey and Odysseus as a hero. By examining the similarities and differences between these two great men of men, perhaps it’ll also be more clear how The Ulster Cycle laid the ground for the transition from Odysseus to Beowulf.

Interlude: Live Free

Taking a pause from the Gender in Epics and Romances series, let’s talk about music.

I love music. I listen to pretty much everything, from Japanese metal to rap to classic rock to Renaissance to opera. I also listen to music from around the world. My last count of the number of languages on my ipod was 22.
(As a mini challenge: Go find out on your musical library how many languages you listen to! Then try to find a song in a language you don’t have to add to your inventory.)

Recently, I added music from Maysa Daw, a Palestinian indie musician.

This morning her English song (other songs are in her native tongue) “Live Free” came up. And these lyrics caught my attention:

“Live free, but don’t use your freedom as a coverup for evil.”

In the USA, we have freedom of speech, but that doesn’t mean that it’s ok to say anything you want, do anything you want. One definition of evil is to “cause harm.” Harm comes in all forms and can be hard to pinpoint, but some words and actions are pretty clear. Catcalling makes women feel unsafe, generalizing an entire culture as terrorists makes members of that identity feel unsafe, referring to desperate refugees fleeing to another country as “illegal aliens” makes them feel less than human. And these words? Eventually lead to physical action, against women, a certain culture, refugees, etc.

There are things that I have said that, looking back, could be defined as evil. But I have identified those things, and can do something to fix them now.

Right now I think the USA is really struggling with this concept: don’t use your freedom as a coverup for evil. The amount of violence is appalling. Yes, bad news sells and the media may be skewed, but that doesn’t mean that all this violence is admissable.

Words can be evil, language can be evil. That’s why we don’t compare people to monkeys or aliens. How we speak is how we communicate, and this kind of communication? Is evil because it causes harm.

When watching the news or scrolling on Twitter, just ask yourself once in a while: is this freedom, or is this using freedom as a coverup of evil?


For your listening pleasure:

Ladies first! Part One of Gender in The Odyssey.

Herein we begin the first installment of the two-part examination of The Odyssey!

As stated in my introduction to this segment (“Let’s. Get Down. To Busi-ness. . . .”), I will not be talking about Athene/Athena. However, I would like to note that often, we talk about how she shape-shifts into a man to get stuff done, but really, she appears as a woman just as often to get stuff done. Thus, Athene truly occupies the male and female role equally, and even when appearing as a male, the narrator always reminds us she is a woman. Her role as female is never subservient to her role as male. Just remember that the next time someone starts arguing how Athene gets stuff done only because she can shape-shift into a man (an argument I, at least, hear a l o t)!

Now, ignoring the illustrious goddess, and also beautiful Penelope, let’s talk about the regular mortal nurse Eurycleia. This humble lady comes in at “the Debate in Ithaca” when Telemachus makes ready for his journey. Our first description of this woman, besides her lineage, is “who had all her wits about her.” Once again, we see women introduced in terms of wisdom. And Telemachus does count on her knowledge, as he asks her to get provisions together for his journey. He doesn’t confide in his mother, no, but he does confide in a woman. In fact he addresses her as “nurse dear” and tells her where he is going and why.

True, dear Eurycleia does burst into tears and ask why he is doing this, bringing up the very real and immediate concern of the suitors, who she knows are plotting something. Instead of dismissing her, Telemachus takes the time to reassure her, and have her swear not to tell Penelope. Even while asking her to swear, Telemachus takes the time to tell her why he doesn’t want his mother to know.

Besides the necessary roles that a goddess and Penelope play, it is clear that other, more ordinary women are important to the success of the plot. Time is spent characterizing them and vocalizing their fears, and acknowledging those fears. Without this conversation, Telemachus could be seen as very, very irresponsible. Yes, Athene told him what to do, but if he just took off without telling anyone where he was going? Without addressing what problems might arise in his absence? Yeah, that’s not taking very good care of the household.

When Helen appears in “Menelaus and Helen,” she fulfills a couple roles. One of these is in hospitality, specifically gift-giving. Her husband gives Telemachus gifts, then she does as well. If only one of them gave gifts? There would be discord and tension. She also plays the role of pointing out the similarities between Odysseus and Telemachus:

“For never in man or woman have I seen such a likeness before . . . Surely this must be great-hearted Odysseus’ son.”

Only after she says this does Menelaus say he sees a similarity. Helen lends both Telemachus and Menelaus credibility.

Plus, Menelaus is not the only one allowed to talk about Odysseus or the war; Helen shares her side of the story as well, and at the end of it, Menelaus comments “your tale was well and truly told.”

Also note how the men and women both cry!

“Menelaus’ words stirred in them all a longing for tears. Helen of Argos, child of Zeus, broke down and wept. Telemachus and Menelaus, son of Atreus, did the same.”

Nowhere in the Odyssey is anyone condemned for crying. Both men and women are allowed to cry and no one looks down on anyone for it. Tell me, when and why did this change? When did a public expression of true grief become inadmissible to half of society?

Moving on, another woman worth noting in this chapter is Eidothee, daughter of Proteus, whom Menelaus tells us “came to my rescue.” And how did she come to him?

“She approached me and said, ‘Sir, are you an utter fool? Are you completely stupid?'”

That’s right. She straight up insults him. Does he get mad? Does he call her a “whore” or “bitch”? Nope. He responds with respect. In fact, he essentially admits that he’s still where he is because he has no clue how to leave. Hmm. You know, I can’t think of a time that a man admitted to me that he doesn’t know what he’s doing. And you know what happens when Menelaus admits his lack of knowledge? Does he lose his manliness? Does she make fun of him? No, she just tells him how to get off the island, in a very detailed plan. He does what she says and gets off the island and away. Now, wasn’t that easy?

Meanwhile, the nurse Eurycleia does tell Penelope the truth. Is she called untrustworthy for it? No, the narrator calls her “the fond old nurse.” Is she showing a lack of courage by telling? No, she’s showing more.

“whether you kill me with the cruel knife or let me live on in the palace, I cannot hold my tongue.”

Yeah, the nurse? She can literally be killed or thrown out of the palace for speaking up.

Also, she doesn’t tell on Telemachus. She tells Penelope why Telemachus didn’t want her to know about his journey. She also tells Penelope so that “an old man [Laertes] who has troubles enough already” is not troubled. The nurse shows compassion for Penelope, Telemachus, and Laertes. She also tells Penelope what to do!

“Come, go and wash and put on some fresh clothes. Then go to your room upstairs with your waiting-women and pray to Athene.”

And what happens? Penelope stops crying and does as advised! Look, it’s an instance of female friendship and companionship! It is healthy female relationship! And in fact, we get two. Athene then appears to Penelope as her sister, Ipthime, and they have a supportive conversation. Imagine that!

Since I’m referencing modern conventions, Calypso comments on one herself: how when women (goddesses) choose a man and sleep with him openly, the other gods become angry and end up killing the mortal. Yes, this is still modern convention. There are harsh consequences for women who are open about their sex life compared to the male standard.

Anyway, so when Calypso agrees to let Odysseus go, Poseidon is, of course, angry. And who helps out? A woman: Ino of the slim ankles. Ah, here we go, a woman who is associated with beauty, though not before being called “witness of Odysseus’ plight.” She helps him hide from Poseidon, telling him:

“Do what I say, like the sensible man you seem to be.”

Odysseus! The cunning, the powerful, the sensible! Knows when he should listen to a woman . . . not. He doesn’t do what she says but makes a different plan, at least until Poseidon almost drowns him in a huge wave, then he thinks better of things and does what he was told to do. And long behold! He gets to land safely. The moral here? Listen to women.

So naked, salt-covered Odysseus (“a gruesome sight”) wakes and approaches Nausicaa and the women with her, though he does cover himself as well as he can, “breaking off with his great hand a leafy bough from the thicket to conceal his naked manhood.” Of course the girls freak out and run away, except for Nausicaa “the only one to stand firm.” She listens to Odysseus, then admonishes her companions

“Stop, girls. Where are you flying to at the sight of a man? . . . give him food and drink, girls, and bathe him in the river.”

Nausicaa tells Odysseus where to go and how to get her father, the king’s, help, but doesn’t escort him herself because she knows what rumors would arise. Hm. Another modern convention. Woman seen with handsome man? Suddenly all the tabloids feature this new, juicy gossip! This centuries’ old text is pointing out the flaws with many of our behaviors, and yet, we still have these behaviors hundreds of years later. Tell me, doesn’t that bother you?

Anyway when Alcinous, the king, hears about how Odysseus came to him, he says

“in one respect my daughter’s judgment is faulty. She should have brought you home with her maids. After all, she was the first person you begged for help.”

Wow. Just, wow. If Nausicaa takes Odysseus home, she has to deal with other people’s assumptions and gossip, but if she doesn’t, her father is critical of her decision. But! Odysseus actually defends her, this man of men!

“do not rebuke your peerless daughter. She did tell me to follow along with the servants. But in my modesty I shrank from doing so, fearing that you might be indignant at the sight. We men are naturally suspicious.”

Ok, he does defend her. But he also lies about what she told him to do. Notice how he also makes it about himself and his own actions? Odysseus talks about modesty, and it’s shown as a good thing for men here. He covered himself earlier as well before appearing in front of the girls. Modesty isn’t really something that is in the code of “manliness” now. Plus, he takes responsibility, and makes all men do so. Since men are naturally suspicious, he as a man needs to be aware of how society might see him with Nausicaa. This is not really something I see men doing today: “She shouldn’t have worn that outfit then,” “why was she even there?” The woman’s behavior is condemned, but the men “are just being men.” Obviously, that’s not an excuse that would fly here.

Before Odysseus leaves, Nausicaa tells him:

“Good luck be with you, my friend,” she said, “so that when you are in your own country you will remember me sometimes, since it is chiefly to me that you owe your life.”

Does Odysseus get mad at her for stating the truth? Nope.

“I will pray to you as a divinity all the rest of my days. For it was you, lady, who gave me back my life.”

She is elevated! Odysseus doesn’t say “ok, yeah, but” or “weeeellll.” He accepts it because it is the truth, and then he raises her rank to the highest rank he can: divinity.

Odysseus tells his saviors about his travels and how he had to go to “the Halls of Hades and dread Persephone” to

“consult the soul of Teiresias, the blind Theban prophet. His faculties are unimpaired, for dead though he is, Persephone has granted him, and him alone, continuing wisdom.”

Persephone, not Hades. Persephone’s role as Queen of the Underworld is not as a figurehead, but as an active role. There is no mention of “Persephone asked Hades,” no, Persephone, and she alone, made this decision and acted on it. From what I’ve seen, Athena is often talked about as an exception, but she is not. The goddesses in the Odyssey all have power and are to be reckoned with.

Finally, returning to the nurse, let’s end with her.

Throughout the text, Odysseus calls himself many names, and in the entire text, the nurse Eurycleia is the only one to recognize Odysseus by his physical appearance. Penelope also recognizes him as himself, though she needs to test his behavior. Not a single man figured it out before he revealed himself, not even Odysseus’ own son.

Preparing for the suitors’ downfall in “Prelude to the Crisis,” Telemachus blames Penelope at one point, but Eurycleia is quick to respond. Note what the narrator describes her as when she does so:

“Come, my child,” said the level-headed Eurycleia, “I wish you wouldn’t blame your mother when there is no cause.”

The implication is that Telemachus is not level-headed when he blames his mom. And again, does he talk back to the nurse? No. Preparing for bloodshed is often shown as a time when men have their heads on straight and women are frantic and not thinking. This is not the case here. In fact, throughout the Odyssey, we see it’s not the case. The women are generally more level-headed than the men during times of crisis.

I could go on forever but,

here ends our read through.

I hope this examination of some of the minor women has you looking at the Odyssey in a new light! The Odyssey is an epic and “for men,” but really, there’s plenty of good things said and shown about women. Ultimately, it’s very clear that Odysseus would never have been successful without all the women helping him. He can’t even get to men who would help him without encountering a woman who directs him to them first!

There will be one more post on The Odyssey, concentrating on Odysseus, and then we’ll move on to our next text. Please join me in examining that complex man of men, Odysseus!

 

Note: I am using the Penguin Classics edition translated by E.V. Rieu and then D.C.H. Rieu with an introduction by Peter Jones.

“Let’s. Get Down. To Busi-ness. . . .”

And here we are, back on track with our tour on this glorious day, yes!, here we are, at this most famous of destinations . . . THE ODYSSEY.

Obviously, this one comes with a lot: a lot of words, a lot of history, a lot of opinions. . . .
So we’re going to break this down into two posts (not including this one)!
The first section will focus on the women in The Odyssey. Obviously Athena will be mentioned here, but a  l o t  has been said about Athena, so, as fascinating as her role is, I am more interested in examining other women.
The second section will focus on Odysseus, who also has had a  l o t  said about him, however! My viewpoint may be somewhat controversial. Indeed, even fraught with it. That’s right. I am challenging the idea of Odysseus as “the man to be,” through examination of Nobody himself, what the Odyssey’s other men say or reveal about manliness, and through certain literary techniques employed in the text.

Things to note:
I will at NO point attribute The Odyssey to “Homer.” First off, most scholars agree that the version most of us read was NOT written by one person. Secondly, the story is from the tradition of oral literature. In oral literature, the story does not and can not belong to one person. It belongs to everyone. Someone may be regarded as the best teller of the story, but it is understood by everyone that the story itself does not belong to one person. Thus, I will respect this tradition.
Also, there will be whole sections of the story that I skip. I may skip perfectly good examples of gender. This is because the Odyssey is long and I cannot address everything. I apologize if I do not address a quote or section you wish specifically to see addressed. If that is the case, please send me a message. I would love to talk to you, or post an additional post covering more details!

A Love Letter, A Memorial, A Thank You

So. Today is your birthday, Ben. I talked about both you and Lisa for Lisa’s birthday,
so it’s only right to talk to both of you on yours.

I watched a zombie movie with some friends called Train to Busan.
Spoiler: it’s not a very happy one; the heroes don’t all survive.

I came to the realization while watching it that there are two kinds of people (well, not really, humanity is too complex to divide into two categories): those who help others during a zombie outbreak even at the expense of endangering their own lives and the lives of their loved ones, and those who sacrifice anyone and anything for their own sake and the sake of their loved ones. 

And I grieved.

I grieved because both of you were the former type.

However,

September 11 is still a day that is full of so much grief for many in the U.S.
Yet, it is the day of your birth.

So I will try my best to make it a day of celebration.

 


 

It hurts not to have gotten more time with you both,
but the time I did have is precious.

Memories may distort over time,
but the effect you had on me will not twist or curdle.

For you were sunshine and moonlight,
in your mirrored smiles

adrenaline and fun and mischief
as we chased each other across the mat during judo

coffee and late night conversations
ranging from the most ridiculous to cringeworthy to healing to learning

swimming in the pool,
and the hiding and showing of scars

rolling around in snow,
wrestling until we were numb (and my cheeks hurt from smiling)

dancing in the rain at college,
and massages for sore muscles and tired hearts

understanding and acceptance,
and always someone who listened to listen

horror movies and vocaloid,
videogames and Miyazaki

cemeteries,
and a stuffed animal affectionately dubbed “Coraline”

hope,
joy

you both pointed out the happy ending
in a movie where I could only fixate on the anger and grief

how?

how did you do it?

I know you were no strangers to grief and pain.

Neither of you perfect,
we all misread each other at times,

but still so brilliant.

Lights in the darkness,
reminders always of the beauty that is.

Reminders, always, of the beauty that is.


 

The people we grieve for, perhaps we grieve for because they were our lights. Our reminders. Our call to action and drive to be more. Our evidence for beauty, or God, or the universal mind, truth, etc.

For me, they still are.


 

I think I know why Blake was the only poet that I admired of the “Romantics.”
Blake wrote about people, humanity. He wrote about what is, in its full spectrum.

Coleridge, Wordsworth, Keats, Shelley . . . they spent too much time on idealism and “nature” and the fantastical for me.

All of them wrote about nature and were heavy users of imagination,
but Blake’s imagination was inseparable from reality,
while the others were trying to be above reality.


 

Nature may be beauty, but it is in people that I place my hope.