Outline of Session
Lesson 11: Seminar #3 on The Odyssey with Dr. Hannah Hintze
(0:01) HH: Why this homecoming for Odysseus? And so why arrive sleeping? Why arrive confused? Why arrive to a divine conversation for the first time? Why Eumaeus? Why disguised?
(1:29) Student 1: Of those details, the one that struck me most is that he arrives sleeping. I think this is partially because it reminds me of Aeneas, who never gets to sleep, and every time he does, it’s interrupted. But Odysseus is so peaceful—before he arrives, the emphasis is that he is sleeping so deeply and the boat is going so quickly. That was shocking to me that after all those years of longing for home that he’d be able to sleep so deeply. I don’t know if that means he’s confident or assured in his homecoming or the act of going home gave him the ability to rest.
(2:30) Student 2: I’m wondering if it was a restful sleep though. The other time we’ve seen Odysseus sleeping was when he was also headed home and it seemed a sure thing, and the bag of winds was opened and his homecoming was stolen. How could you fall asleep heading home again? And then his waking is so disturbed. He’s mistrustful of who’s brought him here, even though they’ve suffered for this very thing. He’s confused; he’s cursing them.
I’m wondering at the state of his sleep. It seems more confused, like another dream. He’s in a place where Poseidon would say Odysseus has not yet earned or is not supposed to be there.
(3:32) Student 3: I wonder how much emphasis we should put on Odysseus having peaceful sleep. The confusion after he arrives home is something I don’t really understand. But right before that, when he was about to depart and head for home, there was a sentence saying that hour of departure brings the fulfillment of the longing of his heart. It seems like just the act of going home is already enough for him. I wonder what that means.
(4:15) HH: I love that line at the beginning of 13: “Odysseus turned his head again and again to look at the sun to hasten its going down.” He is eager to go.
(4:45) Student 2: It seems like a question in the background. What this homecoming means to him is probably multilayered and complex and I’m keeping that in mind. Yes, this homecoming is long sought after, but there’s also the fear he’s going to be Agamemnon: his wife’s going to have a trap prepared for him and that she’s been unfaithful. That’s the wish several times over, that they send him off with. Even with the goddess’s assurances, that’s not enough.
(5:33) HH: Do any of the details of this homecoming prevent a return like Agamemnon’s?
(5:51) Student 4: I think so because Agamemnon steps out of his carriage and steps onto the purple carpet that leads to his house. Purple is a royal color and is ostentatious. Agamemnon did not for a second disguise his identity. He swaggers into the house and into the trap.
(6:40) Student 1: This seems as far from that as possible. He’s in a cove, hidden away, and then even when he appears like who he is, he lies about his identity to Athena before he knew she was Athena. She encourages him too. Both of them believe he’ll be protected in some way if he’s using deception: somehow it wouldn’t be good to appear the way he’d be expected to as a returning king.
(7:44) Student 5: The disguise of going to the palace is somehow met with the disguise of Ithaca itself. They don’t know him but he doesn’t know his own island at first—it has to be revealed to him.
Somebody said something about the sleep being like a dream. It’s almost like the island appears in a dream—the fog is kind of pulled back…
(8:35) HH: He doesn’t know it until he sees the mountain that he’s boasted of.
(8:54) Student 1: Is Athena afraid he’s changed or will change upon homecoming? She causes him to be confused when he wakes up so that she can speak to him before he can recognize Ithaca. She seems pleased with his response—immediately lying about who he is. But somehow with a different man, or someone who is really clever, there would have been a stronger urge to arrive with all of his riches.
(10:26) Student 5: It seems now there are a lot of ways Odysseus would change from when he was king before. The first thing Athena says is “Even in your own country, you would still connive.” That may not be a good thing, to never stop deceiving people.
Maybe seeing the island disguised is a way of indicating to him that he could just keep coming across new islands. It’s possible he could not even recognize his own home, and that’s a danger to him.
(11:23) Student 1: The Fitzgerald translation has these little added titles, and this book has “One More Strange Island.” It could just be a continuation of what he’s been going through over and over again!
(11:49) Student 4: Odysseus, even when he meets Penelope, still puts up a guard first and tests her and then reunites with her. In every encounter he has with anyone on his island, he doesn’t take at face value. He has to probe and test it and afterwards decide. It’s consistent and I wouldn’t expect him to do that with the island if he wouldn’t do that with his own wife.
(12:45) HH: Why does he have to do that? I know it’s in his nature. Eumaeus is really suspicious too. Maybe as suspicious as Odysseus. Why can’t Odysseus trust his own eyes?
(13:23) Student 3: We already know that Odysseus wants to go back to his homeland—does this confusion that he has give him more meaning about what going home means? As we were talking, I was reminded of the part when Odysseus tells his story again to Eumaeus, and he was saying as that character he doesn’t really desire life at home or fathering children. I was wondering while reading that part how much actually speaks to Odysseus’s own character. And whether directly going home and finding out he’s already in Ithaca makes that excitement go away. Having come out of this confusion, would it make it so he would cherish it somehow?
(14:28) Student 1: Maybe that’s another way to look at it being another strange island. In making it a challenge for him, it makes it meaningful for him. I’m a little afraid of this idea that he can never emerge from this habit of deceiving everyone. But it does seem that upon returning, immediately he’s given a purpose: you can’t just return, you have to return with vengeance. You have to deceive. Athena says she wants the blood of the suitors, so there’s something about him being given a mission that seems that it has to play into how he’s now seeing his home. Maybe in a similar way he’s thinking about his previous travels. His mindset seems to be “I’ll do what needs to be done. I’ll do anything along the way.”
(15:42) Student 3: I wonder how important it is for Odysseus to always have a goal in front of him. Even if it’s not geographically, going from one physical element to another, but just this idea that there’s something ahead of him that he has to accomplish that gives meaning to his journey before he returns home.
He keeps testing the people around him—that’s always the part that I’m wondering about. He already saw their loyalty. Why does he want to keep testing them?
(16:25) Student 2: As much as it’s been built up after being deceived and held captive so many times, I’ve never seen him this deceitful on any other island but his own home. Maybe he holds back his identity, crying into his cloak, but usually we’ve seen it revealed quite a few times. He even refers to Odysseus in his stories. It makes me think there’s got to be a split identity. This mission of iron patience—is it giving him time to decide who is he, who does he need to be at home? What relation does all that bear to who he was before all this?
(17:27) Student 4: In the part right after the exchange between Zeus and Poseidon, there’s a depiction of Odysseus’s inner thoughts: “[Athena] would not have Odysseus’s wife know him, nor his townsmen, nor his friends, till the suitors have discharged their forwardness.” If Odysseus didn’t have this ultimate task of killing the suitors before him, would he still choose to disguise himself? Or is it part of the mission to deal with the suitors?
Why wouldn’t he want to team up with his son, his wife, and everyone he knows and do it together rather than picking a different identity and rallying people he trusts? What is the difference between fighting the suitors as father and son versus fighting them as a stranger and the indignant son? Is he trying to prepare Telemachus for doing something without knowing his father is beside him? In some ways, it’s Athena’s will for this to happen. She doesn’t want Penelope to know him, but I don’t know what Odysseus’s wish would be.
(20:15) HH: Odysseus doesn’t argue with any of Athena’s advice. That’s the kind of thing he would have done on his own. That’s another strange part of this conversation. Athena has been in the background, interfering with the ship, doing this and that on his behalf, without letting him know. Many of the choices he’s made seem to be his own, but are related to her protection and care. I don’t know what to make of that. The two of them are of one mind, in a way Telemachus and Athena were not in the beginning.
(21:14) Student 1: I think one of the really striking things about his disguise is how pointedly weak and sick and dirty he’s made to look. He’s put in the lowest position possible. I wonder how much Zeus Athena has in her. But I’m wondering about the recurring host-guest dynamic that’s present, which is very significant for Odysseus as he’s traveling, and how Telemachus immediately responds at the very beginning when Athena arrives. He leaps up and is so ashamed that a guest might have been standing for even a minute without having been welcomed in. I was really struck because it’s really telling about his character, having grown up in such a violent atmosphere. With all of those things together, I’m thinking about how significant it is that Odysseus is able to test these people that he used to know, but in this particular way—as a weak person who needs their help. He never would be such a needy person as Odysseus himself. The plan with Athena is to make himself weak.
(23:06) Student 2: It’s almost setting up a scenario where it would be easiest to show, if not through Odysseus’s travels, a common law during that time period—to take care of him, to allow him in. Obviously if he comes in as a warrior king, that’s going to step on people’s pride and being fear into the mix. This is a time when they can exult over him yet still, and not even share scraps from the table. It’s the meanest test of any type of virtue in them.
(23:54) Student 5: Like the goatherd. You can imagine if Odysseus had come back like Agamemnon, the goatherd would immediately have bowed down. You realize what a base person is, to be so cruel to someone like Odysseus is disguised as.
The way he comes home…it’s like he’s come back as a ghost. He gets to see the Odysseus that was. In the story he gets to hear the things Eumaeus remembers about him, he gets to see himself being wept over by Penelope. It’s so hard to characterize why he needs to tell the stories, why he needs to do it this way. But it’s like he’s in a place and not in a place simultaneously.
(25:09) Student 4: To be disguised as a lowly man disrupts the current situation on the island the least. It allows him to keep in the dark while everyone else is in the spotlight and he gets to simply observe without raising suspicion or disturbing the suitors. This new identity allows him to simply bring his eyes with him and absorb information discreetly instead of carrying with him the burden of being king and being the enemy of the suitors.
(26:06) Student 2: Yes, I think that’s right, but I wonder if it’s more active than that. It seems there are huge long speeches he makes. It seems like he’s trying to provoke certain very specific responses. And not even just responses. The whole bit about the cloak. He could have said, “I’m cold. Will you give me your cloak?” But no, he has to tell a long story about generals doing it, hoping he’ll pick up on it. It makes me wonder if there’s something in telling stories about Odysseus–if there’s something about telling that story or having it told, or just having it heard.
(27:05) Student 3: The storytelling part always confuses me because on the one hand, Odysseus is coming back and trying to learn other people’s true identities. But the way he’s doing that is through deception. I wonder what does it mean that he’s trying to learn who he can trust, but the way he’s doing that is not trustworthy at all.
(27:36) Student 2: Yes, it’s not just by omission, holding back who he is, letting the beggar disguise speak for itself. He has a whole history behind him that they need to know.
(27:48) Student 5: They have to live with him after this. They have to know that their king is capable of doing this. I guess that’s partly what everyone knows now about Penelope—she’s extremely cunning and has held off the suitors for years and years and years. Now they know Odysseus could be anyone. I don’t know what that would be like—to assent to that person being the king.
(28:31) Student 1: Yeah, I’m wondering about the relational aspect of it as well. For Odysseus, is there some trade-off here between being safe or testing these people and having joy in his homecoming, or any kind of pleasant experience in coming back? Not only for the people on the other side, but for him. It seems like he’s marking all these relationships with deception and mistrust on his side. There’s something that seems like a really solid barrier between him and engaging with them and enjoying his homecoming. I don’t know if it’s worthwhile, or it it’s maybe something he wouldn’t have experienced so much anyway. Like the immediacy of joy is not something Odysseus wants or has access to.
(29:44) Student 4: But this false identity that he took on kind of corresponds to his own experience—first being the son of a rich man, brought up as an aristocrat, but then there is a falling down in the social hierarchy and the experience of hardship. I think his twisted and difficult journey must have changed him somehow. He is not just the kingly man he was before. In some ways, he might be thinking to himself, “I could just as easily be a beggar. Just think of all the other islands I’ve been on. And I’ve been treated absolutely not as a king.” And that could really be who he is—he could just as well be a beggar. I think of it as a shedding of his previous “skin.” Somehow the experience of hardship made him not content with being treated with honor and goodwill all the time.
And in some ways, he wants to see people’s response to that side of him instead of seeing him singularly as a king.
(31:45) Student 2: Yeah, from the moment he declares himself as nobody to the cyclops, it seemed like that was a fateful moment. He’s cursed. It seems like his identity is something that’s going to have to be re-earned or regained. I think even Athena when he comes back and he spouts out his lies… There are two options: you must be from nowhere or you’re an idiot. And those aren’t good options either way to him. He keeps repeating, “I’m not a fool, I’m not a fool!”
(32:30) Student 4: To me it seems analogous that Odysseus declares to the cyclops, “I’m no one,” and here when he returns to Ithaca, choosing an identity like this. Because when he left the cyclops, he told them his name, and look what happened to him because of that. In the same way, when he returned to Ithaca, he might suffer a cruel fate if he just told everyone he’s Odysseus. It’s always extremely important to think of oneself as nobody in order to be someone.
(33:28) HH: When he tells the cyclops, “I’m not nobody, I’m Odysseus, the son of Laertes, and I come from Ithaca,” in some sense he’s saying “I’m not a nobody, because I have a father and a land and there are these limits that give me my identity.” But the first part maybe is true—maybe everybody is a nobody without those things. Your identity depends on others recognizing you, claiming you.
(34:12) Student 2: And not just “others”—father, homeland. When he tells his entire story from Troy and whatnot, I’m wondering if after recounting all that, he felt that was him.
(34:38) Student 5: I always think about it as he’s testing them, but the way we’ve just put it, it seems he was testing himself. Is he still son? Is he still husband? Is he still king? He’s willing to test himself to see if those relationships still exist.
(35:05) Student 1: That’s actually really helpful for me. That’s been one of my big questions about Odysseus: It always seemed to me that he was assuming that they did exist or they ought to in some way, but that he was going to test them and that these people would be found at fault if they had turned away from him. But if he’s also testing himself, it seems significant that if he’s willing to entertain the possibility of these relationships needing to be restored or not being maintained because he’d been gone for so long on both sides… I like the idea of it being more balanced.
(36:05) Student 3: So are we suggesting that the strategies Odysseus used on his return home are in some way looking for his own identity? I think that makes sense to me, but on the other hand, it still feels weird because he seems to know who he is. And I just wonder how to put those two things together.
(36:35) Student 2: Maybe we can look at the details of those lies. I’m very confused by it. In a way, it seems reminiscent of his adventures and whatnot, but on the other hand, his father treats him as a true-born son, but he’s not really: he’s the son of a concubine. He’s a murderer. There are these details he’s creating, whether it’s the beggar’s persona or the Odysseus persona—they don’t need to be there.
Are they crucial to his identity, or is he testing out what the variety is of who he can be that will be accepted?
(33:25) Student 3: Yes, he could just be a beggar and nothing else, someone in need of food and shelter. He doesn’t have to have that story. A lot of what he’s told matches his own experience, who he is. I feel like deep down, he knows what he’s looking for. He could be nobody, but he’s also Odysseus.
(37:54) Student 1: I’m also really struck by Odysseus’s disguise. It doesn’t change him significantly. It takes away his hair and withers his skin, but it’s not like Athena becoming a young shepherd boy. He’s still Odysseus in some way. It’s not just that he could be some beggar, but that he could be returning in this state. Nineteen years later, he could be this old, withered man who comes back with no riches or pomp at all. He could have been beaten and robbed—all of the things that happened to his character in the story that he tells. That’s a very real possibility for his homecoming. Not just as some beggar, but as himself, returning in that state.
(39:04) Student 2: I find myself particularly struck with what he says: “Farming I never cared for, nor life at home, nor fathering fair children.” Later he says he stayed a while with his family and then was off again. That lust for action, that love of the sea, being at the oars. It seems this could have been Odysseus—just another battle, another explorer, his identity, what he lives for. If he is that person, none of these things here will be satisfying to him. Maybe he’s wondering if he won’t find home, maybe he doesn’t belong here anymore.
(39:58) Student 6: It’s somewhat interesting that the first story that he tells, to Athena, is not at all connected to anything that has happened in Odysseus’s life. It’s completely made up. And that’s when he looks like Odysseus. But when he doesn’t look like Odysseus, there’s a conversation that happens and then the story becomes somewhat more Odyssean, as if he has to hold on to something.
What you just said helps me because if Odysseus returned and found out Telemachus was king and everything was going smoothly, I don’t know what would be left for him, other than, “Great, I made it home,” and he probably would only stay with his family for a little while and then leave. He would become the person the beggar was talking about.
(40:58) HH: He’d become like Laertes.
(41:01) Student 6: There’d be no role for him to fill. He would have met what he was trying to do and found nothing else to be living for, as opposed to the fleshing out that he does that there is still a need for an Odysseus.
(41:25) Student 5: He is frighteningly effective in the end. Within an hour everything has been solved.
And it’s as if he remarries Penelope—they have that wedding, and everyone thinks there must be some kind of festival inside.
(42:00) HH: I was thinking about the hasty story he tells at first. It’s sort of awful when you think that he’s come up with it in the moment. It’s not the kind of story he would tell over dinner with some elegance. He says, “I was a murderer, lying in wait in the darkness. That’s the kind of person I was.” That, along with all the other ways he presents himself in the second story: he doesn’t really love his family. He’s a great warrior. He’s weak. He’s strong. He’s making all these confessions, and I’m sort of wondering about guest friendship. Is this right? Is he saying, “Whatever I’ve done, whatever kind of person I am, justice owes me a welcome. Justice owes me a guest gift.”
I’m not sure how to put this all together. Guest friendship is a very strange thing. It’s meant to be awarded to anyone, apart from justice.
(43:18) Student 1: I love that they eat first. Over and over again. “We won’t ask you any questions, just eat with us first.” There’s something that seems so significant to me about sharing your food with somebody no matter if they’re a murderer or a castaway or have nothing to give you in return. But opening your home and giving food to someone, it does seem it must be such a strong sense that it’s owed to people. There are always references to Zeus. “Zeus has ordained this.” It’s like its own kind of justice, outside of human justice.
(44:26) Student 6: It might even extend beyond oaths. Eumaeus, when he still doesn’t believe anything Odysseus is saying—which is fine—Odysseus says to him, “Let’s make an oath. If what I say doesn’t come true and Odysseus doesn’t come back, you can throw me off a cliff.” And Eumaeus says, “I’m not going to do that. How could I expect anything good from Zeus if I just started throwing my guests off of cliffs?” It’s Odysseus trying to make a life oath, but the guest friendship principle extends beyond the time he spends as a guest. It’s a strong bond.
(45:28) HH: Yes, if you’ve ever eaten in someone’s house, you have a bond. That’s the Paris problem.
(45:37) Student 1: But at the same time, we had this really strange little side note where Poseidon turned the ship into stone. It’s like there are limits to what you can or should do for a guest. And then Zeus permits Poseidon to do this. “Okay, it’s all right that they’ve treated him as a guest friend and you can’t punish them for that. But they’ve gone too far in giving him passage.” This was beyond what they needed to do for a guest.
(46:18) Student 4: Poseidon adores the cyclops, who have no regard for the rules of guest friendship. Yet Zeus still treats the island of the cyclops very nicely. Poseidon is just such a strange character.
(46:43) Student 2: I was wondering about that scene of turning the ship to stone. On what grounds was this fair? It seems in my Lattimore, several times they’re referred to as “the haughty Phaeacians.” It’s a subtle distinction. The idea is that Zeus empowers the hosts to take care of the guests, and the guests should also not murder the hosts kind of thing. But I wonder if they feel they’re not doing this by the power of the gods—they’re doing it by their own power. They’re kind of godlike people themselves, and they’ve been blessed so much with bountiful food and it seems the ability to speed these ships across anything. Semi-immortal, maybe? So it seems it could be a lesson against pride. I could make more of this point if it was within sight of Ithaca that the ship was turned to stone, but Odysseus doesn’t know of this.
(47:57) HH: It’s not a lesson to Odysseus. It’s a strange lesson to the Phaeacians.
(48:02) Student 4: It reminds me of the nation that first tried to send Odysseus home but the bag of winds was opened and they returned. And after they’d told their story, the king was so mad and said, “Get out of my palace.” And the Phaeacians are the ones that finally send Odysseus home, after hearing everything that had happened to him. The reactions of the two kings of the islands are in sharp contrast, and what happened to them also.
(48:48) Student 2: And Eumaeus too if we’re contrasting hosts. He seems very gracious and even going to sleep without a cloak among the pigs. There’s a humbling of himself in giving these gifts, not something that raises himself up by any means.
I’m curious about what kind of loyalty is being show. Again and again he praises his master and obviously is also friends with Penelope and Telemachus. But he doesn’t buy any of the story and he’s so against hearing any word, and there’s no hope in him that Odysseus is coming home. So what kind of loyalty is that? What perspective does he have on his master that yes, he was a good man, but there’s no chance he’s ever coming back. He’s utterly convinced. Even the life oath…
(49:52) Student 6: It’s probably good that he doesn’t want people abusing Odysseus’s name, but it is a bit troubling that he doesn’t think he could come back. The first part is pretty loyal. But the people just come there all the time and use Odysseus’s name to get food and a nice place to stay and he doesn’t like the disrespect.
It is kind of funny. He says that’s not what he wants. But if Odysseus had actually said, “Can I have one of your cloaks?” I’m not sure that he would have said yes. Instead Odysseus does the exact thing Eumaeus has been telling him that people abuse—he evokes the name of Odysseus and says, “Yeah, I remember this one time that Odysseus got someone to give me a cloak.” I think even Eumaeus knows but he just says, “Okay, stop bringing Odysseus up. Here, you can have a cloak.” He does exactly what Eumaeus has told him not to do. He kind of wants to be told these stories, I guess? I don’t know. It’s very strange that it worked.
(51:20) Student 3: Odysseus knows what Eumaeus’s character is—that he has this kind of piety and loyalty not only to the gods, but also to his master. So telling that story will appeal to his loyalty and that makes it easier for Odysseus to get what he wants. Right before he tells that part of the story, it says he was trying to test him again. So I wonder if Odysseus had some other goal than just getting the cloak, to see maybe how far Eumaeus was willing to go. I feel like that’s connected to Eumaeus’s rejection of hearing more stories of Odysseus coming home. It’s more than he just doesn’t want to hear those stories anymore. I feel like it speaks to his despair. He talks about how Penelope’s tears keep coming down her face. That kind of rejection seems more like “I really want my master to come home and I have been wanting that for a really long time, but I just feel like it’s not going to happen.” That in a way is even more sad than not believing the stories. At this point he’s believed so many stories that didn’t work out, that it doesn’t work for him anymore.
(53:01) Student 1: Yeah, the fact that he says he’s been tricked before by these stories seems to really complicate things. I’m thinking about the points mentioned awhile ago that these people have to live with knowing Odysseus tricked them. So in a way Eumaeus is going to have to deal with the fact that even his master comes and lies to him about himself. But there’s something about his loyalty to Odysseus that transcends that kind of deception. There’s something more important about Odysseus coming home than about Odysseus being honest with him. So I don’t know if that speaks to the way Odysseus can have relationships even while being deceitful. There’s something about him, or where he finds his identity or where other people see it that is more significant than the fact that he lies to them.
Which is hard, but it seems like in the way that Eumaeus will have to respond to him once he reveals himself—it’s okay that he’s lied because of who he is, because he’s back.
(54:31) Student 4: On the other hand, if Odysseus walks into Eumaeus’s house and says, “I am Odysseus,” on what grounds would Eumaeus have the ability to judge whether he is Odysseus or not?
I’m thinking of when Odysseus truly reveals himself to the swineherd, would he be dressed in kingly clothes? Accompanied by servants? Are these external customary things that surround a king, rather than the person himself—is that what allows an ordinary citizen to recognize the king? It reminds me of when Odysseus is reunited with his nurse. the only way to really tell if it’s him or not is this scar, which is a very intimate, not obvious mark that very few people know about. So I think it’s really difficult to recognize someone as he is. In some ways Eumaeus may recognize Odysseus as a king, but he might not recognize him as a person.
(56:10) HH: It’s an impossible situation if your actions can’t reveal your identity and your stories can’t reveal your identity, where do you go?
(56:30) Student 5: It’s so tenuous. Different people are willing to accept different evidence of whether he is Odysseus or not. The most astonishing one to me, and I guess to most in the story, Odysseus included, is Penelope. She says to the nurse, “It’s a god. A god did it. You’ve been deceived.” And there’s nothing that could contradict that premise. Maybe Odysseus is some kind of figment of her imagination or something. What’s going to convince her?
I love that for Laertes, it’s that he lists the trees. Ithaca itself is witness to who he is, but that’s not even as deep as what Penelope wants.
(57:44) Student 1: That makes me think about belief and the hope that they have. Telemachus and Eumaeus both have this kind of attitude. You sort of get the impression that they hope Odysseus is alive and will come back, but they’re trying to be adamant that he’s dead and they don’t want to hear that he’s coming back. The flip side of that is that in the realization of that hope and Odysseus actually returning, having thought for so long that it was impossible or a forlorn hope, and then having him return…how do you accept that it’s been realized? Even though they had sort of been able to hold on to the hope, how do you let go of the hope in exchange for the thing itself? It becomes a new challenge.