Outline of Session
Lesson 10: Post-Lecture Interview with Dr. Hannah Hintze
(0:01) HH: I hadn’t thought of the connection between “drop by drop” and “island by island.” Homer may have a very good reason for slowing Odysseus’s progress toward Ithaca. In fact, it can’t be done overnight because Odysseus is a creature of the day. He’s ephemeral. Whatever activities, actions, or responsibilities we have as mortal beings, we attend to those episodically, day by day.
(0:47) HH: The question of the significance of drowning in The Odyssey: The last adventure of Odysseus (the prophesied adventure) is that he will have to make an inland journey and he will have to travel to a place where the inhabitants don’t even recognize oars of a ship. It’s as far away as you can get from the dramatic drowning deaths of The Iliad or deaths at sea.
In a certain sense, Ithaca is a place that’s relatively wild, but not too wild, comfortable but not too comfortable. It’s not the kind of place where you’ll find giants or monsters. Dramatic death may not come in that place, especially once Odysseus has come home and reestablished his kingship. In fact, the last dramatic deaths take place as he cleanses his household.
But Ithaca is not the venue for dramatic death. Odysseus knows that when he retakes his place at home and commits to living there.
(2:45) HH: The portions: How do you keep your hands off the portions of others? In fact, that’s the beginning of the Trojan War, when Paris absconds with a wife that’s not his own.
I haven’t thought too much about this, but it’s significant that all of these events are somehow fated or planned ahead of time. It’s up to the very, very ancient goddesses to allot the time of someone’s life and sometimes even the events contained in it. The thread of life is determined long before any character begins acting or suffering. To try to take hold of someone else’s portion is somehow to go against goddesses who have deeper authority than even Zeus.
The question of portion comes up in lots of small ways. Every time they sit down to dinner, there’s a portion set aside for the guest or for the leader, and there’s a lot of talk about getting the portions even. There are deep questions of justice.
(4:33) HH: One thing I really enjoyed about preparing for this last lecture was just discovering how often Helios comes up. Someone said to me, “Helios is kind of a minor god. Why does he get such a crucial role?” Then it was interesting to see that something that I thought was small or quirky or strange turned out to be central. And there’s a lot more to it that I haven’t discovered yet.
How can you help a student to have that kind of discovery? You don’t want to push it—“Has anyone seen Helios anywhere else before?” But you could go with your hunches. If you notice something small and you have a sense that this might go somewhere…then let’s try to talk about this small thing. It’s possible that a teacher and a student together could have a discovery like that. And it would be much more exciting for it to be a real discovery than like a treasure hunt where the answer is buried someplace.
But on the other hand, you might have a hunch about a moment in the text, and maybe it won’t go anywhere. And it might turn out to be a small thing whose significance will still be hidden at the end of the conversation. But that’s not a bad thing either. Not all reading will be full of fireworks. But it’s really important for students not to lose hope and to keep testing themselves and looking for those amazing discoveries.
(6:36) HH: The way in which Penelope is a perfect foil for Achilles: I don’t talk about Penelope too much in these lectures. Her part of the story is central and I don’t want to give her short shrift, but I’ll say a couple of things.
She is young for her age. She is wise, wily, and battle worn. I find it so amazing that she’s capable of imagining herself as a young woman. She imagines dying tragically, which is something young people think about. So in that way, she is a lot like Achilles. They both see how painful it would be to drag out the experience of mortality, and they both are concerned with their honor. When she says she’d rather be drowned than to try to figure out the situation with the suitors, she’s contradicting Achilles’s speech in hell, in which he says it’s much better to be above the earth than to be down here ruling.
There’s sympathy between the two characters and Penelope shares that tragic imagination with Achilles. In the long run, she wants to live, but Odysseus has to do a lot of work to convince her of that.