Odyssey Funmaries #2: Nestor (Book III)


First off, let’s dispel some misconceptions that have been passed down through the ages concerning King Nestor:

  • Though described (in the Fagles translation) as a “breaker of horses,” Nestor was not — as has been widely rumored — the Greek equivalent of Luca Brasi. (Consider.) “Breaker of horses” can be roughly translated as an accolade meaning “Marlboro man who engages in cowpunching and/or battle in a better fashion than all the others.” (I consulted David Stanley and Elaine Thatcher’s indispensable Cowboy Poets & Cowboy Poetry for this bit of scholarship.) In Richard Lattimore’s translation of Homer’s The Iliad, the final line of the poem is, “Such was their burial of Hektor, breaker of horses.” In summary, “breaker of horses” = the shit.
  • The Greek Nestor was not the inspiration for the animated Christmas special “Nestor, the Long-Eared Donkey.” (Shelly Hines voiced Nestor.) The Greek Nestor did, however, have Spock-like ears which frequently drew the jibes of his junior high classmates.
  • Finally, to find yet another way to bring up “Lost” as it may or may not relate to Wandering Rocks, the mythological Nestor is not in fact the inspiration for “Lost’s” Richard Alpert … but that character is played by the eyeliner-loving Nestor Carbonell! Possibly true fact: Carbonell was doomed to a forgotten Hollywood career until ear-reduction surgery made him palatable to behold with mortal eyes.


Now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s cut to the chase: Nestor is a good-natured windbag. Nestor is basically that war veteran you had to interview for a fourth grade English assignment, the one where your teacher told you to pick someone from your church or community who had Valuable Life Experience and Wisdom to impart. Your parents knew Nestor from the nursing home where your grandmother stayed, so they arranged the interview. You went into it thinking, “This might be all right if this guy was in combat and is going to recount for me thrilling tales of heroism.” But once the interview begins, you realize that this whole assignment is merely an exercise better described as “Listening To Old People Ramble And Impart Unsolicited Advice” and could go on for as long as three hours. Because once Nestor has an audience, all he wants to do is talk it to death. (Lucky you!)

This is what garrulous Nestor does to poor Telemachus, who just wants to track down his dad. A simple “Go talk to Menelaus” from Nestor would have sufficed. Instead, he winds himself up with ominous, throat-clearing lines like, “Ah dear boy, since you call back such memories,” and “Gladly, my boy, I’ll tell you the story first to last.” In a bit of dramatic irony, Nestor tells Telemachus

“But so many things we suffered, past that count–

what mortal in this wide world could tell it all?

Not if you sat and probed his memory, five, six years,

delving for all the pains our brave Achaeans bore there.

Your patience would fray, you’d soon head for home…” [3.125-130]


Frayed patience, indeed. There are so many red flags in Nestor’s preambles that it’s hard to keep track. Nestor addressing Telemachus as “boy” (a sure sign that the elder has long-winded wisdom to impart); repeated acknowledgments of “such memories,” a black hole of nostalgia the hearer will soon vanish in; and Fagles translating Nestor’s first words with this preface: “Nestor the noble charioteer replied at length.” Indeed.

Telemachus is shrewd enough to know that flattering Nestor is better than saying, “Enough, old man, I’m out like the fat kid in dodgeball.” He eggs Nestor on with lines like, “Nestor excels all men for sense and justice/his knowledge of the world.” Like many old people who ramble on and on, though, Nestor works up an appetite and rewards Telemachus’s patience with a whole bunch of food. Say this much for Nestor: He knows hospitality. He invites Telemachus back to his “regal palace” and mixes a bowl of eleven-year-old wine (no Two Buck Chuck, these spirits). The next morning he gets his son Thrasymedes to chop up a heifer ( “the ax chopped/the neck tendons through,” translates Fagles), tells his youngest daughter Polycaste to rub Telemachus down with oil (awkward), then serves up prime cuts and more wine before giving Telemachus “a good full-maned team” of horses. So all-in-all he’s a pretty swell guy. You’d just better be comfortable once he starts talking.

Countdown to Bloomsday…

We read page 1 of Ulysses in 17 days!

Don’t get caught unawares!


3 Responses

  1. All due respect to Roger Miller, but that Nestor donkey thing is a complete rip. It’s just a blatantly prosteletizing Rudolph.

    And I’m finding there’s a lot of bathing in olive oil throughout antiquity. Is this at all hygienic? Has anyone tried this?

  2. […] About Wandering Rocks ← Odyssey Funmaries #2: Nestor (Book III) […]

  3. […] is a pompous windbag. He’s Joyce’s Nestor. (In all fairness, Homer’s Nestor seemed far less pompous.) The first physical trait we see […]

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