Friday, 4 May 2012

Homer – The Odyssey

I can’t believe it took me more than 30 years to read this. For me, the most interesting theme is that of hospitality – the quality of men is revealed in how they treat stranges. Great men welcome even complete strangers welcomed with gifts. And the preciousness of the gifts shows the status of the host. This is very reminiscent of Mauss’ gift theory.

“This stranger, whoever he may be – setting forth from the East, it may be, or from the West – has come in his wanderings to my house. He asks for help to return home and implores us to ensure him this. Let us hasten, then to prepare his voyage, just as in times past, for no one who once has come to my house lingers here long, fretting for convoy home.” (Homer, 1980, p.85).

“Sir, I beg you to reverence the gods. We are suppliants, and Zeus himself is the champion of suppliants and of guests; ‘god of guests’ is a name of his.” (Homer, 1980, p.105).

“I gathered much wealth among the men of Egypt, because they all made me gifts.” (Homer, 1980, p.171).

“if a man is gracious in thought and gracious in deed, his guests carry good report of him far and wide over the world, and he finds many to call him noble.” (Homer, 1980, p.235).

And people who aren’t visited are not very high regarded “whose land have I come to now? Are the people barbarous, arrogant and lawless, or are they hospitable and godfearing?” (Homer, 1980, p.158).  “Merciless one, who of all men in all the world will choose to visit you after this?” (Homer, 1980, p.107).

But this gift giving is not as innocent as Mauss describes it: “But now let us give him also, each man of us, a massive tripod and a cauldron; later we will repay ourselvesby gathering from among the people, because all giving and no receiving would bear very hard on us man by man.” (Homer, 1980, p.154).

The second interesting theme is that of phrases: I think there are plenty of very colourful phrases. Such as:

“Leaving the lovely lake of Ocean, the sun leapt upwards into the brazen sky, bringing the light of the Deathless Ones, bringing it to for mortal men who live on the earth that gives them grain.” (Homer, 1980, p.23).

“Dawn comes early, with rosy fingers.” (Homer, 1980, p.32).

“There is nothing more devoid of shame than the accursed belly; it thrusts itself upon a man’s mind in spite of his afflictions, in spite of his inward grief. That is true of me; my heart is sad, but my belly keeps urging me to have food and drink, tries to blot out all the past from me; it says imperiously: “Eat and be filled.”” (Homer, 1980, p.81).

“Then the sun sank, and light thickened on every pathway.” (Homer, 1980, p.188).

“let him sleep warm till he sees before him the golden robes of Dawn.” (Homer, 1980, p.235).

“spear tipped with keen bronze.” (Homer, 1980, p.246).

“O Father Zeus, no god is ruthless as you are ruthless. You bring men into the world yourself, yet you have no more compassion for them than to plunge them into suffering and bitter tribulations.” (Homer, 1980, p.248).

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