There be dragons!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Odysseus and the Reunion of the Marriage Bed


Odysseus is described as "one man alone" - τὸν δ᾽ οἶον in the first book of the epic. Because of his mask he must constantly endure solitude, never letting anyone in, constantly on the isolated outskirts of human civilization. He is like the polytropic snake on the periphery of the garden.

When at last he returns home to the marriage bed and union with Penelope, his equal and trusted partner, he at last he can remove the mask which he has held against the world and which keeps him separate and isolated from everyone else. Only she knows the true man and only she is allowed into that inner world of his heart. To her alone he gives the prophecy of his death, a death that promises to be "gentle, painless" and "far from the sea" which is the emblem of chaos and uncertainty. Poseidon's realm after all, his nemesis.

Moreover his death promises to be surrounded by others;

...borne down with the years in ripe old age
with all my people here in blessed peace around me.
All this, the prophet said, will come to pass.

(Fitzgerald)

or in Greek

θάνατος δέ μοι ἐξ ἁλὸς αὐτῷ
ἀβληχρὸς μάλα τοῖος ἐλεύσεται, ὅς κέ με πέφνῃ
γήρας ὕπο λιπαρῷ ἀρημένον: ἀμφὶ δὲ λαοὶ
ὄλβιοι ἔσσονται: τὰ δέ μοι φάτο πάντα τελεῖσθαι
(XXIII, 280 - 284)

...death shall come to me myself
far from the sea, a death so gentle, that shall lay me low,
when I am overcome with sleek old age, and my people
shall dwell in prosperity around me. All this, he said, should I see fulfilled.
(A.T. Murray, PH.D.)

This is almost verbatim what Teiresias actually says back in book XI after the Nykia;

θάνατος δέ τοι ἐξ ἁλὸς αὐτῷ
ἀβληχρὸς μάλα τοῖος ἐλεύσεται, ὅς κέ σε πέφν
γήραι ὕπο λιπαρῷ ἀρημένον: ἀμφὶ δὲ λαοὶ
ὄλβιοι ἔσσονται. τὰ δέ τοι νημερτέα εἴρω.
(XI, 134 - 137)

death shall come to thee thyself
far from the sea, a death so gentle, that shall lay thee low
when thou art overcome with sleek old age, and thy people
shall dwell in prosperity around thee. In this have I told thee sooth.

(A.T. Murray, PH.D.)

...though whether all that is true or part of a prevarication Odysseus relates to the Phaeacians remains unclear.

But it is what Odysseus says in book 23 where the sense is that at last he has come home; he has returned to unity with the woman he loves and will live out his days surrounded by people who love him. He is no longer
τὸν δ᾽ οἶον - no longer one man alone, but a man with others in blissful happiness, heaven.

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