Tuesday, March 15, 2011
I am reading once more Homer's Odysseus and trying to understand the story. Penelope is the wife of the main character, the "King" of Ithaca, a 120 sq km mini-island in the Eastern Mediterranean. The people of Ithaca are Mycenians and live from goat herding. Her husband joined the expedition to sack Troy, but ten years after the end of the war, he still has not returned. Penelope is in a bad dilemma: She is still young (about 32 - 35) and needs a man, because in Bronze-age Greece unmarried women had no rights (or were considered minors) and had to be under the protection of a man, but should she marry and her lawful husband returns, then it is a royal mess. So she tries to play her hand maintaining open both options: (1) waiting for her husband to return from war, as a faithful wife should do, and/or (2) attracting and flirting with no less than nine suitable candidates with promises of lands, houses, servants, goat and swine herds and the inheritance of Icarius, her wealthy father. Penelope invites the suitors to her mansion and entertains them with banquet after banquet.
Homer presents the suitors in a very negative light, and in the end they suffer abject humiliation by the returning Odysseus who kills them. Are the odious suitors Antinous, Agelaus, Amphinomus, Ctessippus, Demoptolemus, Elatus, Euryades, Eurymachus and Peisandros insolent parasytes who impose themselves on the powerless "widow", or are they victims of her feminine calculation and duplicity?
The bard leaves no doubt because the paying public wanted "good" Odysseus to thriumph over the "evil" suitors trying to get into his conyugal bed with his faithful and devoted wife. Yet Odysseus himself is no PC hero: he is a pre-viking pirate, proudly telling his adventures of sacking and burning peaceful villages, killing the men and selling young females into slavery in the next port.