- Nov 2021
from the river and lay down again in the rushes and kissed the grain-givingsoil.
Odysseus staggered from the river and lay down again in the rushes and kissed the grain-giving soil.
This reference to "grain-giving soil" reminds me of this quote:
History celebrates the battlefields whereon we meet our death, but scorns to speak of the ploughed fields whereby we thrive; it knows the names of king's bastards, but cannot tell us the origin of wheat. That is the way of human folly.<br/>—Les Merveilles de l'Instinct Chez les Insectes: Morceaux Choisis (The Wonders of Instinct in Insects: Selected Pieces) by Jean-Henri FabreJean-Henri Fabre (Librairie Ch. Delagrave (1913), page 242)
Culturally we often see people kneeling down and kissing the ground after long travels, but we miss the prior references and images and the underlying gratitude for why these things have become commonplace.
"Grain-giving" = "life giving" here specifically. Compare this to modern audiences see the kissing of the ground more as a psychological "homecoming" action and the link to the grain is missing.
It's possible that the phrase grain-giving was included for orality's sake to make the meter, but I would suggest that given the value of grain within the culture the poet would have figured out how to include this in any case.
By my count "grain-giving" as a modifier variously to farmland, soil, earth, land, ground, and corn land appears eight times in the text. All these final words have similar meanings. I wonder if Lattimore used poetic license to change the translation of these final words or if they were all slightly different in the Greek, but kept the meter?
This is an example of a phrase which may have been given an underlying common phrasing in daily life to highlight gratitude for the life giving qualities, but also served the bard's needs for maintaining meter. Perhaps comparing with other contemporaneous texts for this will reveal an answer?
long-suffering great Odysseus
this epithet appears 19 times by my search/count
It's use here underlines his situation as he contemplates his potential death in simply going to sleep after war and travels to return home.
Was there a Greek idea for "complaining"? The bard here is impinging on complaining on behalf of Odysseus with the description of how hard he's got it, but seems to be glorifying it and Odysseus' grit at the same time. Feels almost akin to the modern idea of the "humble brag", but with "complaining" as the root, thus suggesting "humble complaint".
Seeing this, long-suffering great Odysseus was happy,and lay down in the middle, and made a pile of leaves over him.
What was the Greek for "happy" here? Despite all of the foregoing descriptions of exhaustion and his history of "long-suffering" Odysseus is "happy" for a rest in the least of possibly dangerous and lethal surroundings.
Even the idea of sleep on travel is life-threatening to Odysseus here.
As when a man buries a burning log in a black ash heapon the island of the Phaiakiansin a remote place in the country, where none live near as neighbors, 490and saves the seed of fire, having no other place to get a light from, soOdysseus buried himself in the leaves, and Athene shed a sleep on his eyesso as most quickly to quit him,by veiling his eyes, from the exhaustion of his hard labors.
Wonderful analogy, particularly given the value of storing the heat and spark of fire in the wilderness at the time of the poem's composition.
This is an interesting use of the verb "to quit". I'm curious what the sense of the original Greek was. Who/what is quitting who/what?
Also interesting given his weakened state that he would need the help of Athene to fall asleep.
Hopkins at Home The Odyssey of Homer: a Close Reading
Sample close reading passage: 5.475 - 5.493 (end of chapter 5)
This moment occurs at the end of book five, just after Odysseus has escaped the rage of Poseidon by dragging himself ashore on the island of Scheria (likely Corfu), land of the Phaiakians/Phaeacians. Odysseus has just decided to look for shelter in the nearby forest, which despite the danger of wild animals offers somewhat more warmth than the wet shore of the river from which he has crawled. To help with our discussion I’ve divided the text into three parts.
I’d suggest printing this out and jotting your thoughts down—circle words that strike you as significant, as having multiple meanings, etc. Enjoy! You can send your thoughts to me or just keep your notes handy for our next class.
For if I wait out the uncomfortable night by the river,I fear that the female dew and the evil frost togetherwill be too much for my damaged strength, I am so exhausted, and in themorning a chilly wind will blow from the river; 470 but if I go up the slopeand into the shadowy forest,and lie down to sleep among the dense bushes, even if the chill andweariness let me be, and a sweet sleep comes upon me,I fear I may become spoil and prey to the wild animals.’
There's something about the description here that reminds me of the closing paragraph of Charles Darwin's On The Origin of the Species (p 489):
It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, [...]
Both authors are writing about riverbanks, life, and uncertainty.
But when he got his breath back and the spirit regathered into his heart, heat last unbound the veil of the goddess from him, 460 and let it go, to driftin the seaward course of the river, and the great wave carried it out on thecurrent, and presently Ino took it back into her hands.
In Greek mythology, Ino (/ˈaɪnoʊ/ EYE-noh; Ancient Greek: Ἰνώ [iːnɔ̌ː]) was a mortal queen of Boeotia, who after her death and transfiguration was worshiped as a goddess under her epithet Leucothea, the "white goddess." Alcman called her "Queen of the Sea" (θαλασσομέδουσα thalassomédousa), which, if not hyperbole, would make her a doublet of Amphitrite.—Ino (Greek mythology)—Wikipedia)
<small>Leucothea (1862), by Jean Jules Allasseur (1818-1903). South façade of the Cour Carrée in the Palais du Louvre.</small>
his very heart was sick with salt water,
I love the phrasing here as poetry. When one's heart is sick with salt water, it's an indicator that one has been away at sea for far too long.
e spoke, and the river stayed his current, stopped the waves breaking,and made all quiet in front of him and let him get safelyinto the outlet of the river.
An example of a figure calming waters in myth.
cross reference: Moses and the parting of the Red Sea
To what dates might we attribute these two texts? Which preceded the other? What sort of potential cultural influences would the original had on the subsequent?
Also cross reference the many deluge/flood stories in ancient literatures including Genesis 6-9, The Epic of Gilgamesh, etc.
- On the Origin of the Species
- epic of Gilgamesh
- comparative literature
- Greek mythology
- cultural anthropology
- close reading
- kissing the ground
- Charles Darwin
- Hopkins at Home
- historical linguistics
- sea sickness
- humble brag
- open questions
- human control of nature