Sunday, February 24, 2008


I think she knew him
in spite of the rags
in spite of the salt spray
that carved that deep cleft
between his eyes

Twenty years
is a long time
to be away.

her breasts soft
and slack
now pay attention
to his approach

Twenty years.

the rivals?
all hundred of them
soon to be slain

what woman wouldn’t want
for that kind of attention
her husband gone

Twenty years.

what woman would want
even one of the bunch
when the one she chose

Homer tells of the weaving
undone in the dark
to keep the hundred rivals at bay

I say it was to keep the
widow at play

disappointed in love
but never wanting
for something to do

and then he comes.

the old dog knows him
and dies
from what -- gratitude?

the nurse knows him too.

of course his wife knows
but she’s no dog

and she will teach Odysseus
what all travelers know
the price of the road
is to win your way back in again
is to win your way back home

That said, Book 23 of the Odyssey, aka "The Great Rooted Bed", (preferably the Robert Fagles translation) has gotta be one of the sweetest, sexiest reads in epic poetry.


narthex said...

Wow. I'll put this on my reading list just as soon as I finish Herodotus' Histories. :p

Anonymous said...

bmthat's a nice poetry..

suttonhoo said...

hey thanks, guys. :D

and yeah, narthex: hope you and herodotus have yerselves a good ol' time. ;)

mrtn said...

Kinda harshed my mellow when Odysseus killed Penelope's servants for sleeping with the suitors just before the reconciliation scene. Nowadays, we'd call Odysseus a war criminal. Remember the stories of Serbs forcing their victims to dig their own mass graves?

I cut and pasted this from someplace, and corrected a few lines. It's not a very good translation, but it'll do:

"Don't wake her up.
Not yet. Those servants who before all this
behaved so badly, tell them to come here."

Once he'd said this, the old woman went through the house
to tell the women the news and urge them to appear.
Odysseus then called Telemachus to him,
together with Eumaeus and Philoetius. 540
He spoke to them—his words had wings:

"Start carrying those corpses outside now,
and then take charge of the servant women.
Have these splendid chairs and tables cleaned,
wiped with porous sponges soaked in water.
Once you've put the entire house in order, [440]
then take those servants from the well-built hall
to a spot outside between the round house
and the sturdy courtyard wall and kill them.
Slash them with long swords, until the life is gone 550
from all of them, and they've forgotten
the sweet embrace of Aphrodite in their suitors arms,
when they slept with them in secret."

Odysseus spoke. Then the crowd of women came,
wailing plaintively and shedding many tears.
First they gathered up the corpses of the dead
and laid them out underneath the portico,
leaning them against each other in the well-fenced yard. [450]
Odysseus himself gave them their instructions
and hurried on the work. The women were compelled 560
to carry out the dead. After that, they cleaned
the splendid chairs and tables, wiping them down
with water and porous sponges. Telemachus,
along with Philoetius and Eumaeus,
with shovels scraped the floor inside the well-built hall,
and women took the dirt and threw it in the yard.
When they'd put the entire hall in order,
they led the women out of the sturdy house
to a place between the round house and fine wall
round the courtyard, herding them into a narrow space 570 [460]
where there was no way to escape. Shrewd Telemachus
began by speaking to the other two:

"I don't want
to take these women's lives with a clean death.
They've poured insults on my head, on my mother,
and were always sleeping with the suitors."

He spoke, then tied the cable of a dark-prowed ship
to a large pillar, threw one end above the round house,
then pulled it taut and high, so no woman's foot
could reach the ground. Just as doves or long-winged thrushes
charge into a snare set in a thicket, as they seek out 580
their roosting place, and find out they've been welcomed [470]
by a dreadful bed, that's how those women held their heads
all in a row, with nooses fixed around their necks,
so they'd have a pitiful death. Short was their struggle,
twitched did their feet - but for a little while."

So basically we have women being forced to make graves for their lovers, and then killed in a disgraceful mass execution, because they slept with the people they wanted to sleep with.

The funny thing is, I *loved* the Odyssey up until this scene. After I read it, I realised Odysseus and Telemachus were the kind of persons I worked against when I was in Amnesty International.

mrtn said...

Oh, and actually, I was just rereading the Odyssey today - funny coincidence.

suttonhoo said...

yeah. I think we can safely say that odysseus was not an honorable man.

and when you think about it, he got out of most of his scrapes those many some years that he was sailing around and around through cunning -- not through honorable soldiering. he was nothing like achilles.

but you know how the girls love the bad boys. ;)

mrtn said...

Yes I do. I actually liked that he was so cunning. Also, he had lots of emotions. Achilles was mostly just angry. If only he wasn't a war criminal, I'd be right there with him.

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