Saturday, October 06, 2007

Poem of the Week 9/10/2007: from The Odyssey, Book VI

from The Odyssey, Book VI

But when the girl was ready to go home--
about to yoke the mules and fold the clothes--
gray-eyed Athena set her mind on still
another stratagem, so that Odysseus
might come to see the gracious girl who then
could lead him down to the town of the Phaecians.
The daughter of the king, as she was tossing
the ball to one of her companions, missed
her throw; the ball fell into a deep pool.
The girls cried out. Their shout was loud. They woke
Odysseus. And as he sat up, he thought:

"What misery is mine? What mortals must
I meet in this new land that I now touch?
Are they unfeeling beings--wild, unjust?
Or do they welcome strangers--does their thought
include fear of the gods? That cry I heard,
the cry that captured me, was tender--like
the voice of young girls--voice of nymphs who haunt
the steepest mountain peaks, the springs that feed
the rivers, and teh green of grazing lands.
Can men with human speech be here--close by?
But I must try--must see with my own eyes."

And now he burst out of the underbrush;
with his stout hand he bore a leafy branch
from that thick wood, to hide his nakedness.
He moved out as a mountain lion would
when--sure of his own strength, his eyes ablaze--
through driving wind and rain, he stalks his prey,
wild deer or sheep or oxen; he'll attack
a cattle-fold, however tight the fence
that pens the herd--the hunger's so intense.
So did Odysseus seem as he prepared
to burst into the band of fair-haired girls,
though he was naked, he was ravenous.
But he-his form was filthy, fouled with brine--
struck them as horrible; and terrified,
they scattered on the shore, one here, one there,
among the sandpits jutting out to sea.
The daghter of Alcinous was left
alone: her spirit had recieved the gift
of courage from Athena, who had freed
the limbs of the young girl from fear and trembling.

She did not flinch or flee. She faced him firmly.


It took me all four years of college to see why people have loved the Odyssey for thousands of years; these are strong, noble people living real lives. In a real way. I guess it is hard now to think of what it might mean to be a strong person, but the Odyssey presents us with situation after situation wherein Odysseus resists. Like Nausicaa, Odysseus is capable of standing still, restraining himself from pleasurable situations in favor of experience, of life.

This passage raises the question for me: how much strength does it take to face whatever situation you are faced with? Though Odysseus's willingness to experience is especially evident in his thoughts as he wakes up--I remember the line, "I must try--must see with my own eyes" from paper prompts about Odysseus and experience freshman year--I think who is really admirable is Nausicaa. As Odysseus enters, he is animal-liike, and presumably frightening. Homer emphasizes his disgusting, ravenous, fierce aspects, from the brine encrusting his skin to his starved body. He "stalks" towards the girls (a literary critic might say that his sexual starvation

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