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Decribing the epic hero in homers the odyssey

The last of these meanings is mystical, having to do with ideas about immortalization after death. Our first impression is that such ideas are foreign to Homeric poetry. When we take a second look, however, we will see that immortalization is a subtext, as it were, even in Homeric decribing the epic hero in homers the odyssey. Immortalization is a matter of eschatology. I will have more to say in Hour 11 about such paradisiacal places.

For now, however, I concentrate on the concept of nostos, and how it can express the idea of immortalization after death. As we will see, this idea is embedded in the plot of the Odyssey, but only indirectly, as a metaphor. Let us begin with the very first occurrences of the word nostos in the Odyssey, in verses 5 and 9 and 13 at the very beginning of the epic: Hour 9 Text A see also Hour 0 Text B 1 That man, tell me O Muse the song of that man, that versatile [polu-tropos] man, who in very many ways 2 veered from his path and wandered off far and wide, after he had destroyed the sacred citadel of Troy.

The story will have to recommence, and such a recommencement is about to happen. But even before the recommencement, the story already refers to the many different adventures of the hero in the course of his upcoming story. The plot of this story and its main character, once the Odyssey is fully told, will be a fusion of many different sub-plots and even of many different sub-characters. Of course there is only one Odysseus in the macro-Narrative of the Homeric Odyssey, but there are many different kinds of Odysseus and many different kinds of odysseys in the decribing the epic hero in homers the odyssey that add up to the macro-Narrative.

These different kinds of character and plot fit perfectly the hero who is called polu-tropos in the first verse of the Odyssey. There are many different roles that fit the versatile character of Odysseus in the Homeric Odyssey, and here I list these roles in the format of five headlines: The soldier of fortune comes back home to Ithaca after the adventures he experiences both during the Trojan War and afterwards during his many travels, and then he reclaims his wife, whose faithfulness in his absence determines his true identity.

The returning king reclaims his kingdom by becoming reintegrated with his society. The king, as king, is the embodiment of this society, of this body politic; thus the society, as re-embodied by the king, is correspondingly reintegrated. The pilot lost at sea finally finds his bearings and reaches home. The seer or shaman returns home from his vision quest. The polytropic character of Odysseus, central epic hero of the Odyssey, stands in sharp contrast to the monolithic character of Achilles, the commensurately central epic hero of the Iliad.

Whereas Achilles achieves his epic centrality by way of his role as a warrior, Odysseus achieves his own kind of epic centrality in an alternative way - as a master of crafty stratagems and cunning intelligence. There are of course many other heroes in Homeric poetry, but Achilles and Odysseus have become the two central points of reference.

Just as the central heroes of the Iliad and Odyssey are complementary, so too are the epics that centralize them. The complementarity extends even further: It also manages to retell the entire Tale of Troy.

A central theme unites the Homeric Iliad and Odyssey: After all, Achilles failed to capture Troy with his heroic strength. Rather, Odysseus earned that title by becoming the main hero of the Odyssey, just as Achilles earned the same title by becoming the main hero of the Iliad. Underlying the complementarity of the Iliad and Odyssey and of the main heroes of these two epics is an element of competition.

The kleos or epic glory of Achilles in the Iliad is competitively contrasted with the kleos of Odysseus in the Odyssey. Ironically, as I argue, Odysseus achieves the kleos or epic glory of the Odyssey not because he destroyed Troy, a feat heralded at the very start of his epic, at verse 2 of the Odyssey as we saw in Text A of this hourbut because he also achieves a nostos in both senses of the word: There are further related ironies.

As we saw in Text A of Hour 1, Achilles has to choose between kleos and nostos, forfeiting nostos in order to achieve his kleos as the central hero of the Iliad IX 413. But Odysseus must have both kleos and nostos in order to merit his own heroic status decribing the epic hero in homers the odyssey the Odyssey.

So, Odysseus cannot afford to dwell on his success at Troy, because the kleos he may get for that success will become permanent only if it extends into the kleos that he gets for achieving a successful homecoming.

As we see from the wording of the Song of the Sirens in the Odyssey xii 189-191which I will quote in Hour 10, the sheer pleasure of listening to a song about the destruction of Troy will be in vain if there is no nostos, no safe return home from the faraway world of epic heroes; and, by extension, the Iliad itself will become a Song of the Sirens without a successful narration of the Odyssey.

There is a final irony, developed in the narrative of the Odyssey xi 489-491: The quest of Telemachus is initiated by the goddess Athena, who specializes in mental power. For now, however, the point is simply this: At a council of the gods, the goddess declares her intention to go to Ithaca to become a mentor to the young epic hero: These two names are both related to the noun menos.

The Epic Hero

To have heroic power or strength, you have to have a heroic mentality. And what results from such a mental connection? We find an answer in Text B, as I quoted it a few minutes ago. What the goddess says in the next-to-last verse there, in Odyssey i 94, is not that Telemachus will learn about the nostos of Odysseus if he is fortunate enough to hear about it.

Rather, Telemachus will learn the actual song of the homecoming, the song of nostos. He will actually hear the song from the hero Nestor in Odyssey iii and from the hero Menelaos along with his divine consort Helen in Odyssey iv. This equivalence of nostos and kleos for Odysseus is evident throughout the story of Telemachus. This equivalence extends further. But Odysseus ultimately prevails, and a key to his successful nostos is the steadfast faithfulness of his wife Penelope, who in her own right ultimately shares with Odysseus the kleos that marks the hero by the time we reach the end of the Odyssey xxiv 196.

In this connection, I find it pertinent to come back to the wording of the goddess Athena in the last verse of Text B, Odyssey i 95: And I now highlight a striking fact about the use of the word kleos in that verse. The wording there does not say that the hero will possess kleos: Although it is not spelled out in that verse whether the hero is Telemachus or Odysseus himself, the point of reference is obvious: So far, then, we have seen that Athena is preparing Telemachus to connect mentally with the nostos of his father, which is an epic in the making, and that this epic of Odysseus, this Odyssey, is a fusion of nostos and kleos.

Of course such a claim about the attractions of a new song cannot be denied, but the newness of the song in this situation has a deeper meaning. Now we will see that there are many things to lament in the song about the homecoming of the Achaeans as reported in the Odyssey. In the next paragraph, I offer a summary of the lamentable subtexts, as it were, of the nostos song by Phemios. From the retrospective standpoint of the Odyssey, the suffering of the Achaeans in the course of their homecoming from Troy was caused by Athena because she was angry at them for their immoral behavior in the course of their destroying the city of Troy.

In this micro-narrative, we see the outlines of the whole story, but we see no details about the Achaean heroes involved. But a detailed narrative about the immoral behavior of the Achaeans at the end of the Trojan War can be found elsewhere in epic.

I will now quote the text of the relevant plot summary, where we will see a series of atrocities committed by the Achaean warriors while they are putting an end to the city of Troy. I will concentrate on two parts of the story: With regard to the things concerning the Horse, the 18 Trojans, suspicious about the horse, stand around wondering what they should 19 do. Some think it should be pushed off a cliff, while others 20 think it should be burned decribing the epic hero in homers the odyssey, and still others say that it should be dedicated as sacred [hieros] to Athena.

They turn 22 to merriment, feasting as if they had been freed from the war. At the sight of 25 this marvel, Decribing the epic hero in homers the odyssey and his followers get upset and withdraw 26 to Mount Ida.

Sinon lights signal fires for the Achaeans. They kill many, and the city 30 is taken by force. Neoptolemos kills 31 Priam, who has taken refuge at the altar of Zeus Herkeios. Ajax son of Oileus takes Kassandra by 3 force, dragging her away from the wooden statue [xoanon] of Athena. At the sight 4 of this, the Achaeans get angry and decide to stone 5 Ajax to death, but he takes refuge at the altar of Athena, and so 6 is preserved from his impending destruction.

Then 7 the Achaeans put the city to the torch. They slaughter Polyxena on the 8 tomb [taphos] of Achilles. Odysseus kills Astyanax, 9 and Neoptolemos takes Andromache as his prize. The rest 10 of the spoils are distributed. Demophon and Akamas find Aithra 11 and take her with them.

Then the Greeks sail off [from Troy], 12 and Athena begins to plan destruction for them at sea. This narrative about the Trojan War as transmitted in the epic Cycle corresponds closely to a narrative we see in Odyssey viii. In fact, that epic is the third of three songs that he performs in Odyssey viii.

The audience attending the performance of Demodokos includes Odysseus himself, who has not yet revealed his identity to the Phaeacians: But others of them were in the company of Odysseus most famed, and they were already 503 sitting hidden inside the Horse, which was now in the meeting place of the Trojans. There were three different plans: But there are men behind her, 528 prodding her with their spears, hurting her back and shoulders, 529 and they bring for her a life of bondage, which will give her pain and sorrow.

As Odysseus weeps, he is compared here to an unnamed captive woman who is weeping klaiein, Odyssey viii 523 over the dead body of her warrior husband. This woman, within the framework of the plot outline of the Iliou Persis that I quoted earlier, would be Andromache. At the point where the retelling is about to happen, it is blocked. This sequence of narration in the Odyssey achieves an effect of screen memory: An essential phase in the sequence is being screened out by the memory of that narrative.

The audience, as foregrounded by Odysseus, is expected to know the sequence, and the sequence is already a reality because the audience already knows where the singer had started. But the climax of the action, that is, the capturing of the woman who is yet to be identified as Andromache, has decribing the epic hero in homers the odyssey screened out by a simile about the capturing of a woman who will never be identified.

The second is the screening-out of that image in the overall narrative of the Odyssey. It is pertinent that Odysseus is not only the foregrounded audience of the third song of Demodokos: I quote here the most telling verses, where Hector reveals to Andromache his forebodings about his own violent death and about its dire consequences for his wife and child: And just hearing it will give you a new sorrow 463 as the widow of this kind of man, the kind that is able to prevent those days of slavery.

With these sad images in mind, I return to the last verse of Text G, Odyssey viii 533: In his perceptiveness, Alkinoos infers that his weeping guest, who is at this point still unidentified, must have participated in the Trojan War; and he infers also that the guest must have been on the winning side, not the losing side.

  • A typological comparandum for the notion of epic as a comprehensive totality is the case of heroic epics and dramas at festivals in latter-day India;
  • Let us turn, then, to the genealogical and historical comparanda, starting with the genealogical;
  • For Plato and Aristotle, the Homeric Iliad and Odyssey measured up to the standards of tragedy, whereas the epics of the Cycle did not;
  • But the bitter fact remains that Peleus is a mortal;
  • Although it is not spelled out in that verse whether the hero is Telemachus or Odysseus himself, the point of reference is obvious;
  • These different kinds of character and plot fit perfectly the hero who is called polu-tropos in the first verse of the Odyssey.

So, why is Odysseus weeping, then?