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

You, Eumaeus - Book XIV

Odysseus’ story was as follows:  he claimed that he was born in Crete, the son of a rich man and his concubine.  After his father’s death, the man’s legitimate sons inherited all the wealth and he (Odysseus disguised as the Cretan) was given a small pittance.  He was adept in warfare as well as in seafaring, and became wealthy.  Just as the threat of the Trojan War was bruited about, he and Idomeneus were sent to Troy to fight alongside the Greeks against the Trojans.  After ten years, he went home to Crete, but was there for no longer than a month when the seafaring spirit took hold of him, and he sailed for Egypt.  He and his men sailed for five days and arrived at the Nile.  His crew decided to plunder the lands near the place where they made landfall taking the women and killing the men.  Soon, however, the entire town was alerted and routed the plunderers.  Odysseus (as the Cretan man) claimed that he begged the Egyptian King to have mercy on him, and he was pardoned and taken in.  He stayed in Egypt for seven years amassing a great fortune. Then, in the eighth year he booked passage with a Phoenician merchant who sailed with him to Phoenicia.  The Phoenician merchant then proposed that they sail to Libya, where he planned to kill Odysseus (as the Cretan man) and take his treasure.  Departing Phoenicia, the ship was ponded by a gale; the ship capsized and the crew was lost.  Odysseus claimed that he was saved by holding on to the mast of the ship and that he drifted for nine days.  On the tenth day, he was washed ashore on Thesprotia, where the King took him in and provided him with news of Odysseus, and the wanderings of the man of sorrow.  The King of Thesprotia sent him, via ship, to Dulichion to be the guest of King Acastus.  But the crew decided to make the Cretan man a slave, and plotted a course for Ithaca.  Odysseus, as the Cretan man, escaped and made his way to shore, and aided by the gods, made his way to Eumaeus’ hut. Why would Odysseus go to such great lengths to develop this far-fetched tale?  There are several reasons.  As Athena and Agamemnon warned him, he should not come home and make himself instantly known.  Rather, he should come home in disguise so that he would not be killed.  Secondly, he wanted to test the loyalty of his servants; after being away for twenty years, they could have forgotten him, or befriended the suitors.  Finally, it is in character the Odysseus would wish to disguise himself; he was, after all, the man of many twists and turns.  What is surprising about Odysseus’ tale s how much truth it contains.  Like the real Odysseus, the invented man from Crete was good in warfare as in seafaring.  Like the real Odysseus, the invented man of Crete fought in the Trojan War and fought alongside Idomeneus.  Like the invented Cretan, the real Odysseus was a long time in getting home from his travels.  In addition, the real Odysseus incorporated a portion of Menelaus’ tale into that of the invented man of Crete:   for Menelaus journeyed to Egypt, and recovered Helen in Egypt.  It is also interesting that Odysseus, as the Cretan man, works himself into his narrative, saying that he heard about his own travails. Eumaeus, for his part, was moved by Odysseus’ false tale, but questioned whether the stranger really knew the fate of Odysseus, saying: I know-you’ll never persuade me- what you say about Odysseus.  A man in your condition, who are you, I ask you, to lie for no good reason? Well I know the truth of my good lord’s return, how the gods detested him, with a vengeance- never letting him go under, fighting Trojans, or die int he arms of loved ones, once he’d wound down the long coil of war.  (XIV 412-418) Poor Eumaeus, if only he’d known how close he came to the truth; but the revelation of the stranger’s identity, and Eumaeus’ ultimate reward would have to wait a little longer.  Of course, Eumaeus’ skepticism is fueled, in part, by the many tales offered by travelers; tales that they had seen Odysseus somewhere.  Eumaeus confirms that he will not believe the stranger regarding his tales about Odysseus, but will continue to offer him aid, since Zeus commands that hosts offer service to guests.