Odyssey Funmaries #3: Proteus (Book IV)


Let me start this funmary by saying … and this probably doesn’t have much to do with our Ulysses reading (but a helluva more relevant than Ben’s Nestor, the Long-Eared Donkey reference) … that this Helen of Troy person is one piece of work.

Picture 20This lady…yeesh.

Events proceed according to Athena’s most ridiculous plan ever (Athena, *not* the goddess of efficiency optimization).  Telemachus and Nestor’s son Pisistratus (who was probably itching to get away from the old windbag) arrive in Sparta to visit with Menelaus and *maybe* learn about Odysseus.

If we apply the Rat Pack schema to the Trojan War Archaean military leadership, it goes something like this…

Picture 1


  • Menelaus is like the Nat Benchley of the crew (dupe and historian) 
  • Agamemnon is Sinatra (conniving and greasy pack leader)
  • Achilles, Peter Lawford (whiney pretty boy)
  • Odysseus, Humphrey Bogart (wit and PR guy) … or maybe Sammy Davis, Jr.? (clown, wily dancer)
  • Ajax … Dean Martin … maybe? (self-destructive dope).  

Picture 29

Achilles, Agamemnon, Odysseus, and Ajax…Live at the Sands!

So Telemachus and Pisistratus show up at Menelaus’ palace while he’s hosting a double wedding feast for both his son “hardy” Megapenthes (quite a name)  and his daughter. And in ancient Greece, when you have uninvited guests, you’re pretty much expected to drop everything. Double wedding feast plans be damned.

Picture 31The film reputedly inspired by the road trip Telemachus and Pisistratus take to the kingdom of Sparta.

So Telemachus and Pisistratus derail this double wedding, and instead of celebrating the the brides and grooms, Menelaus throws a dinner honoring the wedding crashers. Athena is still with them, and still dressed like a dude.

At the dinner, Helen comes prancing in from her “scented, lofty chamber.” This lady ran off with Orlando Bloom to Troy, which was used as a pretext to start the largest war in all antiquity, with countless lives, years, and resources wasted, and who is basically the reason Odysseus is stranded on some island with a horny nymph and Ithaca is without its king. 

How does she act, now that’s she back with Menelaus? 

Like a piece of work.

At first, she seems to show the appropriate shame for all the death and destruction, by denouncing herself  a “shameless whore.” But before they can really grasp the scope of loss she is responsible for (just as Pisistratus breaks down in tears while retelling the story of his brother’s death at Troy), she loads them all up on “magic to make us all forget our pains” (valium?). More appropriately, it’s magic to make them forget all the pains she caused.

With everyone strung out on valium, Helen tells everyone that at Troy she knew all about Odysseus’ horse trick, but decided not to tell the Trojans or her lover because, “my heart had changed by now…I yearned to sail back home again!” And then she blames Aphrodite for luring her out to Troy.

Whatever, lady.

And Menelaus, good sport that he is, seems to call her b.s. (well-acquainted with it as he must be by now), telling another story about how when the Archaeans were hiding in the wood horse after it was brought into Troy, Helen paraded around it calling their names out, putting at risk the entire mission.

What do you want, lady?

The night ends, the guests are oiled up and bedded.

The next dawn (which is invariably rose-red fingered I’m finding) Telemachus and Menelaus get some alone time. Telemachus asks if Menelaus knows anything about his dad (like does he really have to ask?). Here, Menelaus tells him the story of Proteus, which is of essential significance to Ulysses.

On the trip back from Troy, Menelaus says that his ship was stranded by a calm sea and everyone was starving (I’m sure old Helen was doing fine). They go onshore to a nearby rocky island Pharos, where Menelaus runs into, and starts complaining to, Eidothea, daughter of Proteus (some sort of sea God that sleeps with seals). She tells him if he’s able to hold down Proteus when he comes out of the sea (to go sleep with his seals), Proteus will tell him why he’s stranded and anything else he wants.

So Menelaus dresses like a seal and and gets the drop seal-loving Proteus.

Proteus begins turning into things: a lion, serpent, panther, torrent of water (huh?). Exhausted, Proteus finally gives in. (Note: The notions of a mutable identity and shape-shifting through time characterize chapter 3 in Ulysses.)  

Proteus starts spilling the beans on the post-Trojan War deaths of Ajax and Brian Cox…er, Agamemnon (i.e., the Clytemnestra fiasco), and tells him about Odysseus stranded with the nymph.

Picture 19Doomed Agamemnon (Brian Cox) and cuckolded Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson) give each other face time in 2004’s “Troy” (which was not that bad, btw).

Proteus also tells Menelaus that his own future is secured. Since he has Helen now (who is a daughter of Zeus), the gods will make sure he lives on easy street. No wonder Menelaus puts up with Miss Thang. 

Telemachus is grateful for the story and announces he needs to get back to Ithaca. Menelaus gives him a bowl.

Back at Ithaca, the couch-surfing slobs realize Telemachus has been away. (Why this is a surprise after Telemachus announced that he was going away is further evidence of their doomed ineptitude.) They decide to get a ship together and kill him on his return. 

Penelope finds out and is worried. But Athena has the message delivered that Telemachus will be fine.

Are we allowed to feel any suspense reading this thing?

Countdown to Bloomsday…

We read page 1 of Ulysses in 16 days!

Be a good person and join Wandering Rocks!


3 Responses

  1. […] up his chores, he sees the hiding freeloaders. Odysseus announces they’re Agamemnon’s men (the Sinatra of the Achaeans) and that they were hoping they would get a warm welcome and gifts … he even threatens […]

  2. […] also a reunion of the Archaean Rat Pack. Agamemnon-Sinatra, who understandably has a touch of the old mysogyny after getting betrayed by […]

  3. […] we recall from the Odyssey, Proteus was a smelly, shape-shifting god who would tell you stuff only if you were able to pin him […]

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