Saturday, January 3, 2009

Why they named an epic after this guy I can't imagine.

I have actually read the Odyssey before. How did I forget that Odysseus is a terrible human being? I remember the bit with the maids, but I figured if that's the bit of injustice everyone fixates on that it must be the worst of it. Ha. Ha.

Maybe the best is when, at the very end of the book, he goes to visit his father, Laertes. Not only did Odysseus' mother die because she missed him so much, Laertes refuses to eat and basically tends his garden wearing rags because he grieves so much for his lost son. So Odysseus has reclaimed his palace and his wife and he decides to go visit his dad. And when he gets there...
Long enduring Odysseus, catching sight of him now --
a man worn down with years, his heart racked with sorrow --
halted under a branching pear-tree, paused and wept.
Debating, head and heart, what should he do now?
Kiss and embrace his father, pour out the long tale --
how he had made the journey home to native land --
or probe him first and test him every way?
Torn, mulling it over, this seemed better:
test the old man first,
reproach him with words that cut him to the core. (24.257-266)

Dick move, Odysseus. I know when my father is old and infirm and dying of grief because he thinks I'm dead, I'll LIE TO HIM a little bit just to see if he's plotting against me.

And that's after Odysseus slaughters everyone who ever opposed him in the grisliest possible ways. One guy, Melanthius, who tried to help the suitors, meets this fate:
They hauled him out through the doorway, into the court,
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 hands and feet. (22.501-504)

It's not enough to kill your enemies. You have to do it in the most disgusting way you can think of.

I didn't remember any of this from the last time I read it. Maybe it was phrased more delicately in whatever translation that was? So yes, children, eat your beets and you can grow up like Odysseus, man of twists and turns and hideous revenge fantasies.

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