I am now getting to the stage where I’m expected to actually know things. Eesh. For instance, I’m meant to be reading the Odyssey critically (which I don’t know if I understand) so I can talk about it in a lecture (which is terrifying). To me, Classical Civilisation has always seemed a good subject. It just seemed great that while you have things like maths (my personal downfall), you also have a lesson where you read stories about cyclopes, and the right answer to a question might be something like “a flying goat”. Plus, Ancient Greek stuff doesn’t appear too daunting when you remember that basically all they did was get incredibly drunk, get into fights and scramble to invade each others houses and swap wives before they become sober, like some bizarre version of musical chairs. Then they write an epic poem about these events and, way down the line, we study them and pretend like we know what’s going on. For this reason, I like the Odyssey. However, I don’t read it in the intellectual way that I think they’re after; to me it’s just funny. Like the way that the characters split into 4 categories, so if you’re not a god, a warrior/royalty, or a promiscuous nymph, your only other option is to be a swineherd. Plus, the gods are great. They’re meant to be majestic and terrifying and all that, but overall, there is no other word for them other than ‘sassy’. Most of the catastrophic events that take place on the mortal plane is the result of a cat fight, usually between Athena, Aphrodite, and Juno (who everyone gangs up on). Odysseus, too, can’t be taken seriously- one of the best quotes is when Odysseus, after “muttering to himself in the bushes” eventually “sallies out of his lair”, causing everyone in the vicinity to scuttle off. He’s also a master of meaningful looks- his way of signalling his friends is to “waggle his eyebrows darkly”. Odysseus and his son are huge fans of moody soul searching, and refuse to actually get up, stop staring wistfully into the distance, and get on with things unless some divinity zooms down and makes them. The Odyssey is amusing, but it’s also a hefty read. What makes it even lengthier is that Odysseus and co. cant go anywhere on their travels without people insisting that he be dunked in a bath of oil (why?!), and once sufficiently slimy, be placed like a prized ornament at the head of the table on a chair which can often take pages to describe, be stuffed full of mutton at an inevitable feast, and have random potential gifts of shiny plates and such being paraded past him. This is because the Greeks are big on the idea of ‘guest friendship’- in general, making almost aggressive gestures of friendship to anyone who comes their way, because of a slight nagging fear that the one old goatherd they fling out of their house might just be Zeus in disguise. Zeus can’t actually leave Mount Olympus as he is so godlike that if he comes to Earth, he’d explode or dissolve like the Wicked Witch or something. Therefore this guest friendship idea sees to be his way of amusing himself- he can watch from the comfort of his own home, with a bowl of whatever the ancient Greek version of popcorn is, and judge everybody. If they slip up, he can amuse himself for a while by flinging down thunder and lightning, chucking people into hell and in general mess about with life on earth. Once that’s over, his life pretty much consists of floating about in the crowds, and, forgetting he’s all powerful, trying have as many affairs as possible without his wife finding out. Down in the mortal world, guests have obligations too; you’re viewed as incredibly rude if you don’t compliment your host on everything from his sheep to his children in a slightly sickeningly “you’re amazing”, “no, you’re amazing” fashion. The Greeks also seem to have weirdly selective sight- birds regularly transform into divinities right next to them and nobody takes any notice. Meanwhile, Odysseus, despite being admired for his stoic nature, does actually burst into tears at the dinner table at one point, and does nothing about it except to pull his own cloak over his head as if that would make him invisible, causing everyone to be highly uncomfortable. Plus, nothing in the general Greek/Roman mythology makes sense due to the weirdly incestuous nature of it, and the fact that somebody like Hercules might pop up early on as somebody’s genius child, do all of his Herculean business, die, and then reappear way down the line as the father of triplets consisting of a human girl, a cyclops, and a goose (human and god relationships produce very weird results). As is probably clear, I prefer the magical/mythical elements of books, and therefore am not entirely sure how to discuss this book in a lecture. Unfortunately, we are marked partly on our participation, and for someone who’s first instinct is to stay completely still and try to look like an oddly shaped chair, this is not so great. At least the majority of people are in the same boat- everyone has witnessed that moment when a teacher states “I’m just going to ask a few questions” and everybody immediately avoids eye contact and attempts to make their body as small and inconspicuous as possible. As much as I try not to I always judge that one person who until that moment has been so loudly irritating, and now goes unhelpfully silent. As is my luck, I’ll be the one to get called upon and answer wrongly, ensuring everybody else is relieved and comfortable enough to judge me. Odysseus didn’t really have it so bad.


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