Odyssey Funmaries #1: Telemachus (Books I-II)

By JERRY GRIT

So how does an epic poem begin? With an invocation to the muse, of course. The writer (or more properly, the singer) asks for the strength to tell the story of “the man of twists and turns”…i.e., Odysseus. I wonder how Ulysses will begin?

The singer catches us up on how things are. Things are crappy. After defeating Hector and conquering Troy with his Trojan horse trick (seriously, how do you fall for that one?), Odysseus is still not home since leaving Ithaca 20 years ago. The singer tells us King Odysseus’ crew is dead, he’s the only survivor, and he’s homesick on some  island, where the bewitching nymph Calypso spends all day trying to get in his draws.

On top of that, a bunch of freeloaders (calling themselves “suitors”) have overrun his palace in Ithaca, drinking and eating his wealth, threatening his kid Telemachus, and trying to sleep with his ever-faithful wife Penelope.

Also, the sea god Poseidon has it in for him. Because Odysseus blinded his one-eyed son (ha!). 

However, Poseidon is now “worlds away.” Which means, what, Saturn? Nope, Ethiopia, which is only like a couple hundred miles from Greece. Couldn’t Fagles have revised this thing to give us a more appropriately distant place…like Indiana?

With Poseidon away, Athena (Zeus’ sparkling-eyed daughter and goddess of wisdom, war, the arts, industry, justice, and skill…a real Type A goddess) recognizes an opportunity.  As the rest of the gods are complaining that mortals wrongfully blame them for miseries in the wake of the Clytemnestra fiasco, Athena tactfully points out Poseidon has been serving up a shit sandwich to Odysseus. The gods (recognizing an opportunity for damage control?) agree to support her helping out. Athena, also the goddess of PR? 

So she teleports Odysseus home to Ithaca and slaughters all the suitors.

Of course not. Instead, she goes to his son, Telemachus, in some gender-bending disguise (which doesn’t fool anymone) and encourages him to sail off to Pylos and Sparta where he *might* learn something about a dad that he doesn’t know.

Way to lend a hand, war god.

We also learn that Penelope has been successful putting off the suitors who are spend all day at her house, eating her food, drinking her wine, while trying to marry her (what kind of courtship is this?). She tells them she’ll marry whoever after she finishes sewing a shroud, which she begins everyday and secretly undoes everynight. She gets away with this FOR THREE YEARS. Holy moly, the detachable thumb trick would have these people on the floor.

No wonder Penelope is holding out for Odysseus. It’s been a lonely 2 decades, but that’s no reason to slum it with one of these numbskulls.

Telemachus announces his travel plans to an assembly of Ithaca elders, who are all pretty disgusted by what’s happening at Chez Odysseus. And they support him, but he still gets beef from the freeloaders. They demand if Telemachus is unsuccessful in finding any information, he has to give up his moms to one of the couch-surfing slobs.

And then (and I think this comes up in Ulysses), two eagles “wing to wingtip” fly over the assembled crowd and then start fighting each other. Old man Halitherses recognizes this as a symbol that Odysseus will be coming home and that he will kill the slobs.

The slobs respond, “flocks of birds go fluttering under the sun’s rays / not all are fraught with meaning” [2.204-205]…i.e., a cigar’s just a cigar…meaning they’ll die horrible deaths.

Telemachus once more announces his plans to leave. If he finds out that his dad is dead, he’ll give Odysseus the proper funeral rites and gives his mom away to one of the douchebags. If not, he’ll wait *another* year.  

Why does it take this guy 20 years and divine intervention to get the rocks to simply find out what happened to pops?  

Athena secretly puts together a crew and fully supplies a ship so Telemachus can sneak off to Pylos. Maybe she should have told Telemachus that it was going to be a secret trip before he announced it to the entire kingdom?

Great job, Athena.

Countdown to Bloomsday…

We read page 1 of Ulysses in 18 days.

Join THE FUN!

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9 Responses

  1. So THAT’S how the detachable thumb trick works!

    I can’t believe it’s only rated at 2 stars. That should be a *minimum* eight stars.

  2. […] today over at Wandering Rocks. Jerry Grit kicks things off with his piercing textual analysis of Books I and II (Telemachus). Tomorrow Ben tackles Book III (Nestor). Read along for fun! And in preparation for the ultimate […]

  3. […] proceed according to Athena’s most ridiculous plan ever (Athena, *not* the goddess of efficiency optimization).  Telemachus and Nestor’s son […]

  4. […] Odyssey Funmaries #1: Telemachus (Books I-II) […]

  5. […] So, let’s take stock of what happens on page 1. Buck comes to the top of the tower, where he’s living with Stephen. He brings a bowl of lather, a razor, and a mirror, supposedly to shave. He’s still in his yellow(ed?) pajamas. Before he begins to shave, Buck makes fun of Catholic ritual and Stephen (with a bunch of weird, not-funny jokes) while posing as a loud-mouthed, decadent authority figure. He intonation to God parallels to invocation to the muse at the beginning of the Odyssey. […]

  6. […] P13. Irish folklore inside jokes. Old milkmaid comes in. BM makes fun of her reverence. SD recalls Athena’s milkmaid disguise, Odyssey I-II. […]

  7. […] a few more notes. I want to call attention to the subtle parallels to the Odyssey’s 1st books. We start with absent fathers (there are no dads here, but possibly for […]

  8. I never thought I’d have this problem, but…

    I can’t decide which translation of The Odyssey to read. The more I search the internet for my answer, the more confused I become (Google “definitive odyssey”– it’s hilarious).

    Which translation(s) did Joyce read?

    • Patito, I’m pretty sure Joyce read it in the (close-to-original) ancient Greek in the oldest edition they had available then. Unless you want to learn an ancient and extinct language, I suggest the recent Fagles edition for its sheer readability (Fitzgerald is also highly recommended… it’s older, but a little more poetic).

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