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


The Odyssey is a tale of journeys, but it is much more than that. It is an adventure, a coming of age tale, a love story, a war story, a tale of reconciliation, a tale about fate, and a tale about an indomitable spirit; it is the tale of mankind. The Odyssey has survived through the ages because it tells mankind’s story in a way that captures the spirit and determination of its hero and heroine. Yet, the poem incorporates elements of the divine in its narrative. It is fitting that the poem begins and ends with Athena: goddess of wisdom and of war. The poem makes clear that Athena is not the same kind of warrior as Ares: she is a thinking warrior, knowing when to fight, and when to compromise. Athena’s actions at the end of the poem save further bloodshed and retribution; she finds a solution to the problem of internecine warfare in Ithaca, a solution men cannot find by themselves. Later, the goddess will resolve a similar problem faced by Orestes in the Oresteia: she will establish the Areopagus court, a place where justice will prevail in Athens. The Iliad celebrated Achilles and the war between the Greeks and the Trojans, and while Achilles was recognized as the preeminent fighter among the Greeks, he was not considered the best man of the Greeks. That distinction belonged to Odysseus. Odysseus was the human embodiment of the goddess Athena: skilled in warfare, but also possessed of a brilliant mind. The goddess acknowledges Odysseus as the human embodiment of her attributes at several places in the text, and the affection she felt for the man of tactics is expressed over and over again. If Odysseus is the embodiment of what it means to be a man, then his wife, Penelope, is the embodiment of what it means to be a woman. She is resourceful, brilliant, beautiful and faithful. Agamemnon’s praise of her in Book XXIV is merited: “The fame of her great virtue will never die./ The immortal gods will lift a song for all mankind,/a glorious song in praise of self-possessed Penelope” (XXIV 216-219). Penelope, long-suffering, is true to her husband for twenty years, and manages to keep the suitors at bay during his absence. A truly remarkable woman. At the end of the poem, Odysseus tells Penelope of his final quest, a journey to a land where people do not know the ocean, and have not tasted salt. Where is this land? Nowhere and everywhere. Odysseus continues his journey; the man who died once still lives. Where? The answer can be found in the clue that Homer gives his readers in Book XXIII: “When another traveler falls in with me and calls/that weight across my shoulder a fan to winnow grain” (XXIII 313-314). And who is that traveler who will call the oar a fan to winnow grain? Pick up the poem and read, fellow traveler, for Odysseus lives in you.