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

Home - Book XIII

The first twelve books of the Odyssey deal with the journeys of Odysseus; the second twelve books deal with his homecoming at Ithaca. Odysseus has been given a number of warnings about the state of affairs on Ithaca. Since he is the man of plots and stratagems, he takes these warnings seriously and takes precautions so that he does not suffer the fate of Agamemnon. But first, he must leave the land of the Phaeacians. King Alcinous, at the end of Odysseus’ tale, exhorted the nobles of the land to be generous in their gifts to the hero: The robes and hammered gold and a haul of other gifts/you lords of our island council brought our guest-/all lie packed in his polished sea-chest now. Come/each of us add a sumptuous tripod, add a cauldron!” (XII 11- 14). Before he set out for his journey home, Odysseus thanked Alcinous and the nobles and offered a prayer on their behalf: “May the gods/rain down all kinds of fortune on your lives,/misfortune never harbor in your homeland!” (XIII 51-53). With that, then men of many sorrows departed from the island as the Phaeacian mariners launched their craft. As luck would have it, Odysseus fell into a deep sleep. This is the third time that Odysseus slept at a critical juncture in his tale: the first was after he and his men departed the land of Aeolus. The second time occurred on the island of the cattle of the sun. In both cases, his sleep proved disastrous. The third time would prove equally disastrous. Does Odysseus sleep have something to do with the interaction of gods and men? Is he dreaming? The ship and crew arrived at Ithaca, but Odysseus remained asleep. The crew, rather than wake the hero “laid him,/down on the sand asleep, still dead to the world,/then hoisted out the treasures proud Phaeacians/urged by open-hearted Pallas, had lavished on him,/setting out for home. They heaped them all/by the olive’s trunk, in a neat pile . . “ (XIII 133-138). In the middle of the narrative, just as Odysseus is placed on his native shore, Homer inserts a dialogue between Poseidon, lord of the sea and tamer of horses, and Zeus, wielder of thunder and the lightning bolt. Poseidon, upset that Odysseus has been aided by the Phaeacians, complains to Zeus that he will be thought a laughing stock if his honor is not avenged. Zeus replies as follows: ‘Incredible,’ Zeus who marshals the thunderheads replied. ‘Earth-shaker, you with your massive power, why moaning so? The gods don’t disrespect you. What a stir there’d be if they flung abuse at the oldest, noblest of them all. Those mortals? If any man, so lost in his strength and prowess, pays you no respect-just pay him back. The power is always yours. Do what you like. Whatever warms your heart.’ (XIII 158-165) Free to do as he likes, Poseidon vows to avenge himself against the Phaeacians, and plans to crush their ship on the return trip home. Zeus, on the other hand, counsels Poseidon to make a more lasting impression on the Phaeacians by turning their ship into a rock, and then pile a huge mountain on the inlet to their harbor. And so, the prophecy that King Alcinous mentioned in Book VIII is brought to conclusion: True, there's an old tale I heard my father telling once. Nausithous sued to say that lord Poseidon was vexed with us because we escorted all mankind and never came to grief. He said that one day, as a well-built ship of ours sailed home on the misty sea from such a convoy, the god would crush it, yes, and pile a huge mountain round about our port. So the old king foretold. . . And as for the god, well, he can do his worst or leave it quite undone, whatever warms his heart. (VIII, 631-641)