Tell me, O Muse, of the man of many devices, who wandered full many ways after he had sacked the sacred citadel of Troy. Many were the men whose cities he saw and whose mind he learned, aye, and many the woes he suffered in his heart upon the sea, seeking to win his own life and the return of his comrades. Yet even so he saved not his comrades, though he desired it sore, for through their own blind folly they perished—fools, who devoured the kine of Helios Hyperion; but he took from them the day of their returning. Of these things, goddess, daughter of Zeus, beginning where thou wilt, tell thou even unto us.
Homer The Oddessy Book 1 Lines 1-10
I have started the 10 week Coursera qualification in Greek and Roman Mythology and after the usual pre course bumph we started to nibble around the edges of Homers Oddessy (that would be Ancient Geek Homer, not Modern American Homer as I distressingly had to explain to a friend yesterday).
In contrast to the Iliad, which focuses on the anger of the hero Achillies, the theme of the Oddessy is the journey (nostos) of Odysseus from the shores of Troy to his home in Ithyca. In addition to the tribulations faced by Odysseus the nostoi of the other Heros of Troy are examined in brief. The focus is on what it means to be a man, or more specifically a hero, in ancient Greece and whilst we see the example of a true hero within Odysseus it is in his son, Telemachus we see the evolution of the Heroic Soul.
In the first 10 lines of Book 1 we meet Homer at his grandest. “Tell me, O Muse…” he commands, of a being he goes on to identifies as a divine daughter of Zeus. In alternative translations the 10th line is taken as an entreat to the Divine Muse to use the speaker (Homer) as a transmitter of the tale about to be told. Simultaneously Homer is both Priest of the Divine Muse and Her Oracle, moved to speak divine words in the retelling of the nostos of Odysseuse. The final 10 lines of Book 1 are equally as telling of Homer as a writer.
As the scene comes to an end we see Homer deal with a much more prosaic scene as Telemachus leaves the company of the suitors and Pallas Athena to retire for the night. Homer not only addresses the care and love of Telemachus’ nurse but ends with the soft sound of a door closing. The contrast between the opening and close of book one shows the breadth of Homers tones and makes for an interesting, if complex, read.
Its some time since I read the Oddessy and never with the benifit of the insight of a university professor and online community. I am looking forward to reaching those particularly Hekatean scenes that take place on Circe’s Island so watch this space as I’m sure that it will prompt a post.