Tag Archives: Greek myth

The Odyssey in one sentence

Odysseus had himself tied to the mast so he could listen to the Sirens without jumping overboard (of course there’s a link to the song below).

If you read The Iliad, you may remember Odysseus, one of the Greek commanders in the Trojan War. That was 20 years before this story, The Odyssey, which is about Odysseus trying to get back home to Ithaca where he left his wife and son. Homer, the blind poet who wrote it, starts the story in the middle—or, say it with me, in medias res (you need to know this or they won’t let you graduate from college).  Okay, here we go—

Polyphemus the cyclops

We join our hero Odysseus wasting time on the island Ogygia with the demigoddess Calypso who is a real cutie while his wife and kid patiently wait for Odysseus to come home where a bunch of guys hang around Penelope (his wife) hoping she’ll marry one of them she tells them to get lost but they won’t go away and every night they throw loud parties at Odysseus’ house and eat all the food the goddess Athena says this is not good so she sends the messenger-god Hermes to tell Odysseus to quit stepping out on Mrs Odysseus and go home Athena gives Telemachus (Odysseus’ son) courage to stand up to the creeps pestering Penelope so they start thinking about how to murder him Odysseus finally waves goodbye to Calypso and sails until he lands at Phaeacia and falls asleep on the beach Princess Nausicaa finds Odysseus who looks like a beach bum she introduces him to mom and dad Odysseus tells them about his adventures like how the Cicones punished Odysseus’ men for being greedy and how the Lotus Eaters got everybody high on flowers and how Odysseus blinded the one-eyed Cyclops Polyphemus which wasn’t such a hot idea because Polyphemus’ dad is the sea-god Poseidon Odysseus tells them about that old bag of wind Aeolus and the Laestrygonians who eat people and the witch Circe who turned his men into pigs and the irresistible Sirens who sing to sailors until their ships crash and the monsters Scylla and Charybdis and how finally Odysseus and his crew landed on the Island of the Sun the crew were really hungry so they barbecued the Sun-god’s cows which cheesed off Zeus who killed every man except Odysseus with a bolt of lightning so Odysseus floated on a raft to Calypso’s island and stayed put for seven years Odysseus finally wraps up his story and the king gives him a ship so Odysseus sails home to Ithaca he dresses like a beggar so nobody will recognize him and meets up with Telemachus and a pig-farmer they all go to Odysseus’ house to beat up the creeps Odysseus’ old dog Argos recognizes him so does his old nurse but not Penelope the creeps give Odysseus some flack because they think he’s just some beggar now after 20 years Penelope figures Odysseus ain’t coming back so I’ll marry one of these idiots whoever can win an archery contest but you have to use my husband’s bow and shoot an arrow through a row of axes that have holes in them none of the creeps can even get a string on Odysseus’ bow so then the old beggar comes up strings the bow and shoots an arrow through the axes now everybody knows who he is Odysseus and Telemachus kill all the creeps Odysseus and Penelope are together again and everything in Ithaca is back to good ol’ normal.

Odysseus disguised as a beggar

Thanks to LitCharts https://www.litcharts.com/lit/the-odyssey/summary
https://video.search.yahoo.com/yhs/search?fr=yhs-trp-001&hsimp=yhs-001&hspart=trp&p=ray+harryhausen+cyclops#id=5&vid=71e2e8a5a17758c3b7fce1801e453164&action=click
The irresistible Annette Hanshaw—
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ao1LoDCr_4


Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

Cyclical time

Hades taking Persephone to the Underworld

There are two ways to think about time: as a circle and as a line.

The ancient Greeks—like other cultures that relied on farming for food—saw time as a circle, as cyclical. They planted in the Spring;, they weeded and pruned in the Summer; they harvested in the Autumn; they waited through the Winter for the cycle to start over again.

Let me tell you the Greek myth of Persephone. Persephone was the beautiful daughter of Demeter, the goddess of fertility and harvest. Demeter made the seeds take root, the flowers blossom & the fruit ripen. Demeter loved Persephone and everything was literally sunshine and daffodils all year long. At least it was until Hades, the dark god of the Underworld, saw the beautiful Persephone and decided to steal her away to be his wife. Demeter was heartbroken—and while Persephone was gone, Demeter neglected her goddess-duties until the world became cold and barren. Frosty wind killed all the crops; fruit withered on the vine. No grain to harvest meant no pita bread for gyros. No cucumbers for tzatziki sauce. No falafel. The situation became desperate! Finally Zeus stepped in and made them strike a deal: Hades would keep Persephone only half of each year and let Persephone spend the other half with her mom. So while Persephone lives in the Underworld, it’s winter. When Persephone is reunited above-ground with Demeter, there is planting and growth and harvest.

This is an example of thinking of time as a cycle.

My big beautiful Greek goddess wedding

Mr. Good Judgement Skills

Whoops!

Literally hundreds of alert readers have pointed out that I really made a boo-boo with that last post, The Judgement of Parrots. Turns out, it should have been The Judgement of Paris! Is my face red!

Maybe I should start over.

The Greek gods were different from regular humans—they were immortal and ruled over parts of the physical or mental/emotional world. Kind of like having a super power. The more you read about Greek gods, the more they sound like characters the Marvel guys Jack Kirby and Stan Lee would’ve invented.

For instance, Zeus ruled over the sky (and the other gods); Poseidon ruled over the seas. Ares was the god of war. Athena was the goddess of wisdom; Aphrodite the goddess of love & beauty.

On the other hand, the gods had the same character flaws that mortal humans do. They weren’t necessarily virtuous. They could be petty and vain and selfish and sometimes interfered in mortals’ affairs to further their own interests.

Homer was a blind poet who wrote epic poems, like the Iliad and the Odyssey. They are stories that are set against the Greeks’ wars with the Trojans around 1200 bc. Troy was a city in Turkey. Homer’s poems tell about historical events and include the Greek gods as characters.

According to the myth, the Trojan War started when the mortal Peleus and his sea-goddess sweetheart Thetis got married and invited all the gods to their wedding. Well, all the gods except Eris, goddess of discord. When Eris showed up at the reception the bouncers kept her out. Eris was ticked off, but she knew how to get back at the other goddesses. She tossed a golden apple marked, “To the Most Beautiful” into the crowd. Three goddesses—Aphrodite, Hera and Athena—each said she deserved the apple and started throwing wedding cake and chairs at each other. Zeus stopped the argument by setting up a beauty contest. Paris (a Trojan shepherd known for his good judgment) would pick the most beautiful. The three goddesses agreed. They weren’t above a little bribery, just to be on the safe side. Hera offered Paris power to rule the world and Athena offered him wisdom. But Paris chose Aphrodite, who offered him the love of Helen, the most beautiful mortal woman in the whole world. The only catch was that Helen was already married to Menelaus, king of the Greek city of Sparta. With Aphrodite’s help, Paris stole Helen away from Sparta. This cheesed off Menelaus and he (with the kings of other Greek cities) declared war on Troy—leading to years of slaughter, destruction and the eventual fall of Troy.

Homer’s poems pick up the story from there.

By the way, does any of this remind you of The Sleeping Beauty—and the evil fairy Maleficent who wasn’t invited to a christening?

The Judgement of Parrots

In Homer’s epic poem, the Iliad, the Trojan War got started because of a beauty contest, known as The Judgement of Parrots. The contest was between the three most beautiful goddesses of Mount Olympus—Aphrodite, Hera and Athena—and the winner got a golden apple. As best as I can tell, the goddesses must have asked some parrots to declare who was the most beautiful of them. I found many paintings of this scene, but all the great masters forgot to include the parrots, so I drew it myself. If you want something done right, do it yourself, as they say.