Friday, May 20, 2011

Allusions in Ithaka

The poem "Ithaka" (printed below) by Cavafy, a modern Greek poet, makes several references to the Odyssey. What are some of those allusions and how do they help us understand the poem?

As you set out for Ithaka
hope your road is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
angry Poseidon-don't be afraid of them:
you'll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
wild Poseidon-you won't encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope your road is a long one.
May there be many summer mornings when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you enter harbors you're seeing for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind-
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to learn and go on learning from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you're destined for.
But don't hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you're old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you've gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.
Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you wouldn't have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won't have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you'll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.


Odysseus vs. Rama

Both the Odyssey and the Ramayana feature a hero who suffers a series of misfortunes. They both are separated from their wives and risk losing them to another man. Both heroes also undertake a journey. How are Odysseus and Rama similar? How are they different? In what ways are their journeys similar or different? How does Gilgamesh and his journey fit into this picture?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Is the Slaughter Justified?

In Book 22 Odysseus with the aid of his son and loyal servants slaughters all the suitors (despite the pleas of mercy from some of them), all the maids, and even the priest Leodes. Are these killings justified? Could he have punished them without killing them? Could he have driven them from the house. Are some of the killings justified, but others not? What about the people they spared (Phemius and Medon) -- what was Telemachus' reasoning? Was it wise or prudent to kill them all?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

She Love Me, She Loves Me Not . . .

In Book 19, Penelope shares an intimate moment with her guest, Odysseus disguised as a beggar. From the things they discuss is there any hint that Penelope suspects the beggar is her long lost husband? Does Odysseus think she may suspect him? Why doesn't he openly reveal his identity? Does he still doubt her fidelity, her loyalty or her love?

Monday, May 16, 2011

What Has Odysseus Learned?

In Book 18, Odysseus, still disguised as a beggar, “[a]nd the one who knew the world” (144), comments to one of the kinder suitors:

So I will tell you something. Listen. Listen closely.
Of all that breathes and crawls across the earth,
our mother earth breeds nothing feebler than a man.
So long as the gods grant him power, spring in his knees,
he thinks he will never suffer affliction down the years.
But then, when the happy gods bring on the long hard times,
bear them he must, against his will, and steel his heart.
Our lives, our mood and mind as we pass across the earth
turn as the days turn . .
as the father or men and gods makes each day dawn.
I, too, seemed destined to be a man of fortune once
and a wild wicked swath I cut, indulged my lust for violence,
staking all on my father and my brothers.
Look at me now.
And so, I say, let no man be lawless all his life,
just take in peace what gifts the gods will send (18.149-63)

What do the lines above reveal about the impact of Odysseus own journey on him? What has he learned? What insights has he gained? What values does he advocate? What other episodes in the poem up to this point contribute to the viewpoint expressed by Odysseus in these lines? Is Odysseus' journey similar or different to Telemachus' journey to manhood? Has Odysseus changed (has he renounced any of his former values or beliefs)?


In Book 17 Odysseus, disguised as a beggar, encounters his faithful dog Argos, flea-infested and laying on a pile of dung. At the moment the dog recognizes his master he dies. What is the significance of this incident? Another chink in the emotional armor of Odysseus? Another example of the abuse that loyal servants of Odysseus must endure under the suitors? An example of the subservient status of animals in the world of the Odyssey? Are animals the play things, pawns, and victims of humans in the same way that we humans are the playthings of the gods? Is Argos a symbol for Odysseus himself?

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Is Telemachus Ready?

Upon hearing his father's plan to gain revenge upon the suitors, Telemachus boasts, "Soon enough, father, . . . /you'll sense the courage inside me that I know-- / I'm hardly a flighty, weak-willed boy these days." (16.342-4). Is he correct? What reason do we have that he is prepared for this confrontation? What have we seen regarding his courage? His cunning? His ability to fight?