Tag Archives: Greeks

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
The irresistible Annette Hanshaw—

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

The Hebrew alphabet

Phoenician trade routes

The Phoenician cities were located where Israel, Lebanon and Syria are now. Their alphabet was adopted by the Greeks to the west and, on the eastern side of the Mediterranean, by Canaanites, Moabites, Arameans, Amonites and Hebrews. Through them the Phoenician alphabet evolved into the Hebrew alphabet.

There are similarities between the Phoenician alphabet and the Hebrew alphabet. Both have 22 letters; neither have vowels; the names of many letters are similar; aleph (A) and ayin (O) are glottal stops; you read both alphabets from right to left.

Phoenician, the corresponding Latin, and Hebrew letters. The Latin column shows A and O as ‘ to indicate glottal stops—they hadn’t become vowels yet.

It’s fascinating to see how the alphabet developed in the Near East and Middle East compared to the West. I drew you a chart with Phoenician, Latin (our alphabet), and Hebrew letters. My Hebrew letterforms are less-than-spectacular. If only there were someone I could call who is good at Hebrew calligraphy, but who? Who?


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A plumb line or plumb bob.

Last post I rattled on about how the well at Syene was plumb.

‘Plumb’ means straight up-and-down. Builders used to use a plumb line—a string with a weight tied onto it—to check that their walls were straight up-and-down. A plumb line will always point to the center of the Earth. Nowadays they use a spirit level. Builders who dug wells made sure that the hole they dug was plumb—pointing directly toward the Earth’s center.

Why was it so important to Eratosthenes that the well at Syene (a town located on the Tropic of Cancer) was pointing directly at the Earth’s center at noon on June 21st—the Summer solstice?

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Time & Space


Head-Librarian Eratosthenes explains to a student how to laminate a dust jacket.

In an earlier post, I hinted about how over 2,000 years ago somebody calculated the circumference (how big around) of the Earth. This guy did it using only a well, a protractor and a stick (okay, maybe instead of a stick he used a column, but you could use a stick and get the same result).

I’m talking about Eratosthenes, the head librarian at the Great Library of Alexandria. Alexandria is an ancient city in Egypt, located where the Nile River flows into the Mediterranean Sea. Many scholars lived in Alexandria—like Ctesibius, who perfected the water-clock.

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Time & Space

It’s about cyclical time

I told you the story of Persephone so you’d remember one thing: for the ancient Greeks, time was a cycle. The seasons followed each other over and over again. The Greeks didn’t think of time as a progression of numbered years, as we do. They named the years after whomever was the archon (ruler or king) at the time. Later on the Greeks numbered years by a 4-year cycle, called an olympiad. The Olympic games were held every fourth year, then the cycle started over.

The Greeks weren’t the only ones who think of time as a cycle.

Disney’s African tale The Lion King opens with the song The Circle of Life and its theme is cyclical time.

People who follow Indian and Asian religions—Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists—think of time as a cycle. The problem of ‘which came first, the chicken or the egg?’ is a puzzler to us because we think in linear time. How can you have an egg without a chicken first? Or a chicken without an egg first? It’s not puzzling to someone who thinks of time as a cycle. Imagine a chicken and an egg riding a merry-go-round. The chicken follows the egg, which follows the chicken, which follows the egg, and so on and so on. It’s a continuous loop.


Siege of Troy—tight sketch