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K ing Nestor
The Wine Red Sea: Journeys of Odysseus
© Copyright 2014 -2024 by Peter J Ponzio

Background Information

Eva Brann on the Odyssey Brann, Eva. Homeric Moments. Philadelphia: Paul Dry Books, 2002. Print. Brann comments on the plan of Zeus: And the plan of Zeus was fulfilled,’ says the fifth line of the Iliad, but it does not say what it was. There is a long-range plan, the fall of Troy, accomplished beyond the Iliad, a grand Olympian marital concordat, by which Zeus gives up Troy to Hera for the option of destroying her three cities: ‘Argos and Sparta and broadwayed Mycenae.’ We know that in Homer’s time Zeus had taken up the option (or history had been at work, an equally elusive agency) and that the great Argive palaces were in ruins and the kingships gone. . . . But Zeus also devises a plan within the poem, and it is truly a Homeric plan: We cannot definitively assign responsibility for its accomplishment. When Agamemnon had seized Briseis, Achilles appealed to his mother for redress from Olympus. In that assembly on the twelfth day of Achilles’ withdrawal Zeus, having heard Thetis, pauses to ponder—an ominous, time-stopping silence—and then nods in confirmation of the wish of Achilles, the swift-fated. Zeus will show him honor by giving the Trojans the victory until the Greeks honor and magnify him properly. This seems to be the plan of Zeus that is fulfilled, but at what a price! It is Zeus’ specific ‘ordinance,’ enacted early in the poem, that Hector will press the Greeks into retreat until Achilles returns, and Achilles will return when Patroclus has died. (Brann 98) Commenting on the character of Odysseus, Brann states: Homer’s Odysseus is the equal of his poet in artfulness as a teller of tales, a cunning mixer of truth and invention—I say ‘invention’ because Odysseus is not under the guidance of the Muses. He never appeals to them. He experiences adventures, invents lies, tells truths on his own. His tales are as multifarious, as versatile as he is, and some of them will bring news of an Odysseus quite otherwise engaged than in fantasies. . . . The triplicity of authorship—Muse, Homer, Odysseus—together with the duplicity of the chief actor, makes the Odyssey the most complexly told tale I know. It is complicated though not bottomless, but rather clear and decodable. The abyssal infiniteness of romantic irony are not the Muses’ way. (Brann 120) On the poet Homer, Brann has this to say: Homer was probably blind. He composed epic poetry which, by its very name, is a work of the word, the uttered, verbal word, epos. The singer, who must often have been the maker of the poem, intoned the words and accompanied himself with plangent strokes of a small, hand-held lyre and perhaps occasional licks. It is hard to imagine that the musical aspects of the performance, the intricate sounding of length, pitch, and stress, would mean much to us now, for the pleasures of the ear are, generally, somewhat more time bound than the significations of language. But the music seems to have been an integral part of professional recitation; it made the poet a ‘singer,’ aoidos. Yet right within the epic people do also tell tales that hold the audience rapt, in meter of course, because they live in the poet’s world, but without the benefit of singsong or lyre—Odysseus above all. So epic is words first, music—and sometimes beat-setting dance—second. (Brann 128) On Homer’s use of epithets, Brann remarks: The names of Homer’s entities—people, animals, artifacts, places—usually have a tag attached, and identifying adjective, the so-called epithet. It is quite often metric filler, put in to make the hexameter come out right. The best example is dios, meaning ‘divine,’ a word made pallid by routine use. But at important junctures the epithets are clearly, almost provably, used with most conscious intention—especially where they seem to be most egregiously misapplied. Then they are a heads-up signal; they effect a name connotation that we are expected to notice. They make a point, often poignantly. The case of swift-footed Achilles, sessile by his tent, yet essentially swift of foot and fate, has been mentioned, as has that of horse-taming Hector who, although taming no horses, embodies the spirit of Troy at peace. So too Odysseus, who has not in fact sacked a city in a decade, is given by Homer the epithet ‘city sacker’ just as a jeering young nonveteran, one of the wooers, offer him employment as a farm hand. The epithet reminds us that Odysseus is the victor of Troy, then and now, and intensifies the impertinence under which he has to labor and control himself. . . . The most frequent of Odysseus’ epithets are the poly-adjectives that fit him like a skin: ‘of many designs’ (polymetis), ‘of many devices’ (polymechanos). ‘much-enduring’ (polytlas). But one of these, the one given him in the first line of the Odyssey, ‘of many turns’ (polytropos), is used only once again, by Circe, the witch, the ’Encircler.’ When she sees that she cannot turn him, the man of many turns, the multifarious, the versatile, into anything he chooses not to be, she exclaims: ‘Surely you are Odysseus the multifarious!” His steadfastness and his flexibility are two aspects of one nature.”