Homer's The Odyssey
By Book 17 of The Odyssey, Odysseus has finally returned to Ithaca after ten years at war and ten more years in slow return due to Poseidon's wrath. He has appeared in disguise as an aged beggar (through the aid of Athena) and has been welcomed by his loyal swinherd, Emaeus. This aspect of the plot may seem strange as Odysseus appears somewhat cold and calculating. Why doesn't he embrace his son and wife, overcome by emotion, after not seeing them for so many years? Odysseus has been shown to be wily and crafty many times in the epic, and his indirect approach is in keeping with this aspect of his character. Also, the text makes reference several times to Agamemnon and his troubles. As Homer's audience would have known, Agamemnon comes home to a wife who has taken up a lover and stealthily kills him. Things change as time passes, and after 20 years, Odysseus can't be too careful.
One morning as he is out walking with Emaeus the following touching scene occurs:
"Now, as they talked on, a dog that lay there
lifted up his muzzle, pricked his ears . . .
It was Argos, long-enduring Odysseus' dog,
he trained as a puppy once, but little joy he got
since all too soon he shipped to sacred Troy.
In the old days young hunters loved to set him
coursing after the wild goats and deer and hares.
But now with his master gone he lay there, castaway,
on piles of dung from mules and cattle, heaps collecting
out before the gates till Odysseus' serving-men
could cart it off to manure th eking's estates.
Infested with ticks, half-dead from neglect,
here lay the hound, old Argos.
But the moment he sensed Odysseus standing by
he thumped his tail, nuzzling low, and his ears dropped,
though he had no strength to drag himself an inch
toward his master. Odysseus glanced to the side
and flicked away a tear. Hiding it from Eumaeus,
diverting his friend in a hasty, offhand way:
'Strange, Eumaeus, look, a dog like this,
lying here on a ding-hill . . .
what handsome lines!'"
[as the conversation continues they leave]
"With that he entered the well-constructed palace,
strode through the halls and joined the proud suitors.
But the dark shadow of death closed down on Argos' eyes
the instant he saw Odysseus, twenty years away."
The Odyssey of Homer, trans. by Robert Fagles, Penguin Classics, 1996. pp 363-64, lines 317-360.
Tuesday, March 19, 2019
Thursday, March 14, 2019
by Ali Smith
“The way we live, in time, is made to appear linear by the chronologies that get applied to our lives by ourselves and others, starting at birth, ending at death, with a middle where we’re meant to comply with some or other of life’s usual expectations, in other words the year to year day to day minute to minute moment to moment fact of time passing. But we’re time-containers, we hold all our diachrony, our pasts and our futures (and also the pasts and futures of all the people who made us and who in turn we’ll help to make) in every one of our consecutive moments / minutes / days / years, and I wonder if our real energy, our real history, is cyclic in continuance and at core, rather than consecutive.” - Ali Smith
I enjoyed reading this novel about Autumn, a season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. In Ali Smith's novel two old friends—Daniel, a centenarian, and Elisabeth, born in 1984—look to both the future and the past as the United Kingdom stands divided by a historic, once-in-a-generation summer. Love is won, love is lost. Hope is hand-in-hand with hopelessness. The seasons continue to parade on their own way.
The novel proceeds with flashbacks interspersed with the present rather than in a consecutive, chronological narrative. Elisabeth ruminates on her youth and moments earlier in her life that formed her relationship with Daniel. Time becomes a central aspect of the story as highlighted by the following quote:
“Time travel is real. We do it all the time. Moment to moment, minute to minute.” (p. 175) Of course this is a metaphorical statement with the travel occurring in our mind's eye.
The novel's structure might be compared to a collage and thus similar to the art of Pauline Boty, a founder of the British Pop art movement who is a character in the book. This approach is highlighted by the vagaries of Elisabeth's memory; while there is also a frequent use of contrast as in the moment when immediately following a difficult situation for Elisabeth the narrative shifts to Daniel asleep in his room (p 111).
The story opens with a reference to Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities, and then there’s a longer reference to a divided country filled with polarities: “All across the country, people felt legitimized. All across the country, people felt bereaved and shocked”? (p. 60) This is a reference to the impact of the Brexit vote and provides a contemporary context for the novel. The novel suggests a certain view of this event when Daniel tells Elisabeth, “So, always try to welcome people into the home of your story.” (p. 119). Perhaps our stories don’t belong to us alone? This can be seen as a call by the author for inclusion and diversity rather than building fences and keeping people out.
Smith alludes to and mentions many other authors and literary works, including William Shakespeare, John Keats, James Joyce, Aldous Huxley, George Orwell. Overall this was a meditation on the meaning of richness and harvest and worth. Autumn is the first installment of Ali Smith’s Seasonal quartet, and shines a light over our own time: Who are we? What are we made of? Shakespearean jeu d’esprit, Keatsian melancholy, the sheer bright energy of 1960s pop art. Wide-ranging in time-scale and light-footed through histories, Autumn is an beautiful story about aging and time and love—and stories themselves.