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The Wine Red Sea:  Journeys of Odysseus
© Copyright 2014 - 2018 by Peter J Ponzio

Background Information

Moses I Finley on the Odyssey Finley, M.I.,  The World of Odysseus.  London:  The Folio Society, 2002.  Print. According to Finley, in both poems, the author and the heroes talk not in abstracts, but in concrete terms:  "What tends to confuse us is the fact that the heroic world was unable to visualise any achievement or relationship except in concrete terms.  The gods were anthropomorphised , the emotions and feelings were located in specific organs of the body, even the soul was materialised.  Every quality or state had to be translated into some specific symbol, honour into a trophy, friendship into treasure, marriage into gifts of cattle" (Finley 115). Finley discusses the importance of the feast to the Greeks of Homer’s time:  "Just as there could be no ceremonial occasion without gifts of treasure, so there could be none without a feast. . . . The meaning of this ceremonial eating together becomes clearest in still another context.  Without exception, whenever a visitor arrived, whether kin or guest-friend, emissary or stranger, the first order of business was the sharing of a meal" (Finley 117). Continuing on the theme of feast, Finley notes the connection of the feast with the worship of the gods:  "Hence the meal was shared not merely by host and guest and their retainers, but also by the gods. . . . Through the sharing of food—in substantial quantities, it should be noted, not just symbolically—a bond was instituted, or renewed, in ceremonial fashion, tying men and gods, the living and the dead, into an ordered universe of existence" (Finley 118). On the nature of the creation of a world view by the Greeks:  "One element which deserves particular notice is the complete anthropomorphism.  God was created in man's image with a skill and a genius that must be ranked with man's greatest intellectual feats.  The whole of heroic society was reproduced on Olympus in its complexities and its shadings.  The world of the gods was a social world in every respect, with a past and a present, with a history, so to speak.  The gods came to power on Olympus as men came to power in Ithaca or Sparta or Troy, through struggle or family inheritance" (Finley 125). On the nature of the Greek gods:  "Although he [Zeus] was not perfect, neither omnipotent nor omniscient—that must be underscored—his power was overwhelming, beyond the dreams of even the greatest king" (Finley 126). Finley discusses the transition from animalistic gods to gods made in the shape of man, writing:  "The humanisation of the gods was a step of astonishing boldness.  To picture supernatural beings not as vague, formless spirits, or as monstrous shapes, half bird, half animal, for instance, but as men and women, with human organs and human passions, demanded the greatest audacity and pride in one's own humanity" (Finley 128). The ethics of Odysseus and his world are very different than modern day ethics.  Finley notes this difference in the following quotation:  "The ethics of the world of Odysseus were man-made and man-sanctioned.  Man turned to the gods for help in his manifold activities, for the gifts it was in their power to offer or to withhold.  He could not turn to them for moral guidance; that was not in their power.  The Olympian gods had not created the world, and they were therefore not responsible for it" (Finley 131). "Chance, not merit, determined how the gifts [of life] fell to man.  And since it was not in his power to influence the choice, man could neither sin nor atone" (Finley 132).