Odyssey XIII

I’ve decided to start sharing my notes and reading questions on the Odyssey. For context, I teach a 7th grade Ancient Humanities class, so I tried to write questions that can be answered at a middle school level and also function as springboards into more complex discussions.

(Btw, we are using Stanley Lombardo’s translation, even though it’s not my favorite. Someday I’ll take a leaf from this guy’s book and write a comparison between it, Fitzgerald, and Lattimore.)

What blessing does Odysseus give Arete right before he leaves?

Odysseus wishes that the Queen would be well “all of your days, until age / And death come to you, as they come to all” (XIII.61-62) He wishes her enjoyment of her house and family (ie, a good life). Ironically, Odysseus is the reason Poseidon turns one of the Phaeacian ships to stone (see below).

How does Poseidon punish the Phaeacians for helping Odysseus? How do they react to the punishment?

The Phaeacians take Odysseus home in one of their ships, and on their return, Poseidon turns the ship into stone in the middle of the harbor. Alcinous immediately recognizes this as the fulfillment of a prophecy* and resolves to never provide safe passage to any traveler ever again. Odysseus’s visit causes the Phaeacians to repudiate the law of hospitality. The last we see of them, they are huddled around Poseidon’s altar, begging him not to surround their city with a mountain, as the prophecy foretold.

Apparently, it’s unclear whether Poseidon actually fulfills this part of the prophecy. Lattimore translates Zeus’s response as, “But do not hide their city under a mountain,” which Lombardo has, “And then hem their city in with a mountain.” Obviously, it can’t be both. Peter Jones remarks that the first reading is based on the ancient commentator Aristophanes of Byzantium, while the second relies on the testimony of another ancient commentator, Aristarchos of Samothrace, both of whom wrote around the same time. So… we don’t know. Seventh graders love that kind of answer.

*This isn’t the first prophecy mentioned after its fulfillment. See Polyphemus’s lament in IX.505-519 (Lombardo).

Why does Athena prevent Odysseus from recognizing Ithaca?

My best guess is that she wanted to do the big reveal herself (XIII.197) and maybe mess with him a little. The two have that kind of relationship. As Athena says,

Here we are
The two shrewdest minds in the universe,
You far and away the best man on earth
In plotting strategies, and I famed among gods
For my clever schemes. (XIII.306-310)

Yep, two peas in a pod.

Jones also suggests that the whole scene is designed to maximize pathos by delaying Odysseus’s reunion with his home. We definitely see the same technique writ large throughout Books XIV-XXII.

Summarize Odysseus’s lie to Athena. Why does he make up a backstory?

See XIII.265ff. Odysseus claims to have killed a man who wanted to steal the gold he plundered from Troy. He mixes fact (he was at Troy, he knows Idomeneus, he came to Ithaca by ship and was left on the beach) and fiction (he is Cretan, he killed Idomeneus’s son, he traveled on a Phoenician ship). He lies to give himself an advantage, buying time and examining the stranger before revealing anything. He continues to hone this strategy as his encounters grow more and more dangerous, preparing himself for the final challenge of facing the suitors.

How does Athena disguise Odysseus? Be specific.

See XIII.447: “She shriveled the flesh on his gnarled limbs, / And withered his tawny hair. She wrinkled the skin / All over his body so he looked like an old man, / And she made his beautiful eyes bleary and dim. / Then she turned his clothes into tattered rags, / Dirty and smoke-grimed, and cast about him / A great deerskin cloak with the fur worn off. / And she gave him a staff and a ratty pouch / All full of holes, slung by a twisted cord.”

What reason does Athena give for not telling Telemachus that his father is still alive?

See XIII.437: “I wanted him / To make a name for himself by traveling there.” It’s interesting to consider what kind of reputation she expected him to earn. He still hasn’t done anything particularly heroic. Yet he has gained the respect of Nestor and Menelaus, if only for his politeness.

A Man is Fit to Burst

Rachel Jankovic’s second book on raising kids, Fit to Burst, had some really good sections that I, as a part-time stay-at-home dad, want to remember. And, as the wise man said, blogging something is the best way to remember it.

In Christian circles there is constant talk about free salvation. It is free, thank God. But it is only free to us. God paid a great price for it. Jesus paid with His blood. It is free to us because someone else paid a great deal. And this is why we do not work out our salvation by never doing anything that might be hard or difficult to us. We imitate Christ, and we make sacrifices for others. We do things that are hard, that cost us much, because we want our gifts to be free to others.

It can be tricky to walk the line between “by grace you have been saved” and “work out your own salvation.” Why try to do good works when salvation is given freely? Rachel gets right at the heart of it here. Salvation is given freely, but that’s only possibly because Jesus paid for it dearly. Rachel ties this to parenting by making the point that the gifts your children receive may be free to them, but they most likely came at a heavy cost to you (straining the budget, staying up late, long days at work). Like God, we joyfully pay the price so that others can receive freely.

Lord willing, your kids pay it forward.

You would like to see your kids taking what they were freely given and turning it into still more free giving. This is because God’s story is never little. He works in generations, in lifetimes, and He wants us to do the same.

I love how Rachel emphasizes the generational scope of God’s promises. Good stuff.


Good leadership is engaged and involved the whole time. It is clear about expectations and consistent about consequences. But good leadership always starts with the leader. It always starts with what you expect of yourself. If you are engaged in disciplining yourself, your children will know.

One way children learn self-discipline is by seeing their parents act it out. Someone (I forget who) used the analogy of the new recruits who think the drill sergeant is being harsh when he drags them out of bed at five in the morning. The recruits forget that the sergeant had to drag himself out of bed at 4:30 in order to give them their unwelcome wake-up call. Leaders are held to a higher standard. That’s as it should be.

One more:

In our house, we make a point to discipline only when we have a biblical name for the offense, because we want our children to know that what we are doing is enforcing God’s law. So they would know they are being disciplined for disobeying their parents, not splashing in the sink.

Just a good rule of thumb: if you can’t name the sin, don’t discipline for it. You can make a rule against splashing in the sink if you want to, but then the kids will be disciplined for breaking the rule, not for their overexuberance.

A Man is a Confused Citizen of the Ever-Changing Web

Every time the Google updates Gmail, I spend about a week like a sleepless traveler in an unfamiliar airport. Blinking lights and new shapes, all the wrong colors.

My dad recently passed an observation on to me that he got from some smart person: the airport is the quintessential 21st-century place. The airport combines consumerism, boredom, loneliness, distraction, entertainment, convenience, surveillance, and a sense of dislocated time and space. An airport is full of strangers, often miles from home, mindlessly shopping for disposable entertainment and gadgets they don’t need. They have the freedom to travel almost anywhere in the world, but at the same time, they are under constant surveillance. In an airport, be ready to part with your privacy at a moment’s notice. In most airports, every gate looks the same, so traveling to Omaha is an almost identical experience as traveling to Tahiti. You lose your sense of place. (Pilot Mark Vanhoenecker calls this “place lag.” Get his book if you like flying.) In an airport, you’re usually tired, harried, and confused, but all of your needs can be taken care of in a bland, generic, Band-aid sort of way. In an airport, the world is at your fingertips – and you just want to go home.

Sounds exactly like spending time on the internet.