Rocketman on November 25, 2008, 05:53:37 am
I'm starting to like Odysseus as a individual less and less.   First the episode with his mother and then poor Achilles.  All the guy did was ask if he had been remembered for his deeds while alive.  How hard would it have been for Odysseus to say a little white lie and say "Yes, you were" ?   It appears to me that he has no compassion or honor.  Maybe that's part of the point of this story but it sure doesn't make for a very sympathetic character.

Corydon on November 25, 2008, 09:26:46 am
The thing is, here's a case where Homer's version of the story gets the same point across better, and in a way that's more sympathetic to both Odysseus and Achilles.

There, Odysseus asks Achilles, hey, you're the greatest warrior of all time!  It must be pretty sweet to be down here and be remembered for your heroic deeds, right?  And Achilles responds that, no, it sucks.  I'd rather be a hired hand for the lowliest dirt farmer in the most godforsaken corner of  Lower Eyesocket, WV than the jack, queen, king and ace of all the dead.

In Homer, Odysseus learns something: he realizes that the promises of immortality offered by the heroic code are bunk (and implicitly, that the hero of the Odyssey is greater than the hero of the Iliad).  And it strengthens his resolve to get back to Ithaca so he can enjoy his human life with Penelope.  It's an episode, in other words, that would fit neatly with the message of OTR.

So the problem here, IMO, isn't that Odysseus is a jerk-- you can have unsympathetic characters who are worth reading about-- but that he's boring.  There's no sign that he's learning anything, changing at all, or that he's anything other than a single-minded hyper-competent Randian rugged individualist type.

Rocketman on November 25, 2008, 06:57:42 pm

So the problem here, IMO, isn't that Odysseus is a jerk-- you can have unsympathetic characters who are worth reading about-- but that he's boring.  There's no sign that he's learning anything, changing at all, or that he's anything other than a single-minded hyper-competent Randian rugged individualist type.
  I think I see where your coming from, but their has to be more to a life than "a single-minded hyper-competent Randian rugged individualist type." as you described.  Where's the joy, the sorrow, the anger, the humility?  He looked right at the people that he knew, including his own mother, realizing that they were in hell and it looked to me that he felt nothing.  People IMHO who feel the way that he does usually end up as serial killers.

wdg3rd on November 26, 2008, 06:14:12 am

  I think I see where your coming from, but their has to be more to a life than "a single-minded hyper-competent Randian rugged individualist type." as you described.  Where's the joy, the sorrow, the anger, the humility?  He looked right at the people that he knew, including his own mother, realizing that they were in hell and it looked to me that he felt nothing.  People IMHO who feel the way that he does usually end up as serial killers.


I can't really think of a notable male character in the Illiad (aside from the reportedly blind narrator) who wasn't a serial killer.  (The females mostly just did one-offs).

The term you might need is "sociopath".  The psychological equivalent to philosphy's "solipsism".  Other people aren't real, so it doesn't matter what happens to them even if you do it.  That reminds me to put "serial killing" into my schedule, even though my calendar is already pretty full, and I no longer hang out at the sort of bars where serial killers usually pick up victims.  (I'm not a social drinker, I buy my beer at a store, take it home and drink it there, it's a lot cheaper that way).
Ward Griffiths        wdg3rd@aol.com

Men will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.  --  Denis Diderot

Rocketman on November 26, 2008, 12:04:15 pm

  I think I see where your coming from, but their has to be more to a life than "a single-minded hyper-competent Randian rugged individualist type." as you described.  Where's the joy, the sorrow, the anger, the humility?  He looked right at the people that he knew, including his own mother, realizing that they were in hell and it looked to me that he felt nothing.  People IMHO who feel the way that he does usually end up as serial killers.


I can't really think of a notable male character in the Illiad (aside from the reportedly blind narrator) who wasn't a serial killer.  (The females mostly just did one-offs).

The term you might need is "sociopath".  The psychological equivalent to philosphy's "solipsism".  Other people aren't real, so it doesn't matter what happens to them even if you do it.  That reminds me to put "serial killing" into my schedule, even though my calendar is already pretty full, and I no longer hang out at the sort of bars where serial killers usually pick up victims.  (I'm not a social drinker, I buy my beer at a store, take it home and drink it there, it's a lot cheaper that way).

I think that your right, a more precise definition probably would be "Sociopath".  I never spent much time in my youth as a reader of the Greek classics but it that's how their heads were wired then it's no suprise to me that they grew up so weird.

Scott on November 27, 2008, 01:13:23 am
Quote
He looked right at the people that he knew, including his own mother, realizing that they were in hell and it looked to me that he felt nothing.

In Greek mythology, everyone who dies ends up in Hell, the virtuous and the malevolent, the wise and the foolish, the brave and the cowardly. It was the closest thing to egalitarianism in their worldview. So there would be no reason for Odysseus to be saddened to see his mother or "friends" there.

(Agamemnon and the other kings were not really his friends. They were allies in war, but they had also compelled him to leave his home and young family to go fight that war.)

Rocketman on November 27, 2008, 04:43:33 am
Scott:  Maybe I'm wrong about this but what about Elysian Fields?  That may not be spelled right.  Or am I messing up my Greek and Roman ideas of heaven?  If your right about everythihg then I'm not surprised that everyone in Greek mythology was screwed up.  Think about it.  They're telling you that you will automatically go to hell in the afterlife no matter what you do, which gives you no incentive at all to do good.

Sean Roach on November 27, 2008, 09:21:16 am
Wasn't it Hades?  Not Hell?  I thought Hel was Nordic.  I only mention this because we automatically associate the word Hell with a place of punishment or suffering, and although the dead seem to suffer, they don't appear to be there out of punishment.

wdg3rd on November 27, 2008, 09:37:52 am
Scott:  Maybe I'm wrong about this but what about Elysian Fields?  That may not be spelled right.  Or am I messing up my Greek and Roman ideas of heaven?  If your right about everythihg then I'm not surprised that everyone in Greek mythology was screwed up.  Think about it.  They're telling you that you will automatically go to hell in the afterlife no matter what you do, which gives you no incentive at all to do good.

Elysium was the posh side of Hell.  You didn't suffer there (aside from the simple fact that you were still dead).  It's the First Circle in Dante's Inferno, where the virtuous pagans hang out.

There was no after-death heaven in greek (or for that matter jewish or roman) mythology.  (Sheol means "grave", it's where you go after you die).  Olympus belonged only to the gods and selected demi-gods (none of whom I would willingly let eat at my table, except perhaps Our Lady of Discord, and that's just for hot dogs on Fridays).  (If you haven't read the Principia Discordia, I highly recommend it, it will help with a lot of anarchist in-jokes, and follow up reading Shea and Wilson's Illuminatus! at first convenience).  (There was a B&N hardcover of the trilogy a few years back on the remainder shelves, but it's best to track down the Dell originals, since the B&N book didn't have the (to my mind essential) recaps of the first two volumes before those after -- Bob Wilson told me about a third of the total text was cut before Dell published it, and those recaps were the only remnants -- I'd love to see the original manuscripts).

I really do recommend The Last Hero by Terry Pratchett.  
Ward Griffiths        wdg3rd@aol.com

Men will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.  --  Denis Diderot

Corydon on November 27, 2008, 12:10:44 pm
I wouldn't call Homeric heroes serial killers, much less sociopaths.  They're not psychotic; they're warriors.  And while they come from a society that couldn't be more different than ours (and in which I wouldn't want to live), they aren't anti-social, any more than a modern soldier is.  For that matter, read the end of the Iliad, where Priam begs Achilles to return his son's body.  They weep together, Priam thinking of Hector and Achilles thinking of his own father.  It's a moment of shared humanity and recognition of mortality: the very opposite of sociopathy.

As to Hades/hell/Elysian fields: remember, there's no canon for ancient mythology.  Every author has his own take on it.  Vergil (who's coming after a pretty long tradition of describing and elaborating the underworld) makes it a pretty complex place, with a nice area for the blessed, a place of punishment for the wicked, a whole parade of future Roman heroes, and at the end, a promise of reincarnation or rebirth for souls there.  Dante really goes to town on the idea, of course.  But for Homer, things are simpler: the underworld just sucks.  It's not a place of punishment, but it's a place drained of vitality.  The dead are voiceless and practically mindless, it's dark, chilly and basically unpleasant.

I actually like the idea that Agamemnon in OTR suggests, of the underworld as being the outskirts of our own world, and the ancient heroes as ghosts who are at the margins of our perception.  I imagine them as like the homeless: they're there, all around us, but nobody quite notices them.  It strikes me as an oddly Homeric take on death, actually.

Rocketman on December 09, 2008, 10:17:58 pm
Corydon: Your description strikes me as the most likely scene of what Hell truly is.
As to Hades/hell/Elysian fields: remember, there's no canon for ancient mythology.  Every author has his own take on it.  Vergil (who's coming after a pretty long tradition of describing and elaborating the underworld) makes it a pretty complex place, with a nice area for the blessed, a place of punishment for the wicked, a whole parade of future Roman heroes, and at the end, a promise of reincarnation or rebirth for souls there.  Dante really goes to town on the idea, of course.  But for Homer, things are simpler: the underworld just sucks.  It's not a place of punishment, but it's a place drained of vitality.  The dead are voiceless and practically mindless, it's dark, chilly and basically unpleasant.

  I long time ago I theorized that "Hell" is actually of your own making.  If energy can't be destroyed then when you die what's left in your consicious is memories of past events in your life.  Helping your mother bake cookies, your wedding day, the birth of your child and so on.  Those are the memories that you carry with you into the afterlife throughout eternity, like an actor on a stage with a set of never changing props.  The memories comfort you like a warm blanket,  But think about what happens if you don't have those kinds of memories?  Only fighting, violence and so on?  Then where you choose to spend eternity will be a cold, barren and lonely place.  And it's entirely of your own making, no one else's because that's the life that you choose to live.  Not very comforting for some people who think that all that they have to do to be forgiven by God is to confess their sins on their deathbed is it?
« Last Edit: December 09, 2008, 10:21:47 pm by Rocketman »

John DeWitt on December 10, 2008, 07:20:10 am
Well, but it's true what Rocketman says.  If Odysseus is going to have a character arc, he'd better get to it.  He's hostile to the gods and Agamemnon - fine, got it.  I would be, too.  But he's also at best indifferent to his men, his dead allies, and his own mother.  He's an all-around dick, and doesn't seem to be learning from his experiences at all.  The way he is now, who in Ithaka (sp?) would want him back?

Rocketman on December 10, 2008, 11:35:43 am
John:  It's spelled Ithaca.  Like the city in the state of New York or the shotgun manufacturer.  About the only thing that I find appealing about Odysseus is that he doesn't take any nonsense from the Gods and he's trying to get back to his wife and son.  Otherwise IMHO he's not a particularly likable character.  Of course the story isn't over yet.

Corydon on December 10, 2008, 02:06:44 pm
"Ithaca" and "Ithaka" are both legitimate.  Since the English "k" and hard "c" are pronounced the same, the pronunciations are equivalent, so the issue is just whether you want your transliteration to be more Latinate or more Greek.

Lun-Sei on December 12, 2008, 10:43:40 am
Well, but it's true what Rocketman says.  If Odysseus is going to have a character arc, he'd better get to it.  He's hostile to the gods and Agamemnon - fine, got it.  I would be, too.  But he's also at best indifferent to his men, his dead allies, and his own mother.  He's an all-around dick, and doesn't seem to be learning from his experiences at all.  The way he is now, who in Ithaka (sp?) would want him back?



Not that the other greek heroes are any different. Characters from ancient greek mythology are pretty much always all-around dicks. Odysseus isn't particularly nasty or heartless; he just fills in the canon type of characters for those legends.