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Od. IX, 372-395 - lit crit

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Od. IX, 372-395 - lit crit

Postby Thucydides » Sat Jan 10, 2004 10:10 pm

I am doing a piece of literary criticism on this passage and essentially need to say as much as I possibly can about this passage. I would be grateful if people could comment on, correct or add to what I write here (and I know the textkitoi are a pretty learned bunch...! :) :) :) )

(It's amazing how much you can see in such a small passage with really close reading! We should do more of it!)

anyhting marked with a * i am particularly needing guidance on!

General: this passage is the climactic action of the book and summarises the whole conflict between the civilised and the uncivilised in this book (and in this section (books 9-12)).

up to 374: this reminds us how horrible and savage the cyclops is (vomiting man flesh is an especial taunt). this is particularly unusual in the homeric world where usually everything is excellent, fine, strong etc. by reminding us of the cyclops' wrong doing this ensures that the reader can enjoy the triumph over the cyclops without feeling sorry for him( this is the poem of action - oral poetry and so the moment is everything).there is some irony in "pandamator" - the cyclops will soon be tamed by something else.

[another thing that helps our enjoyment of the eventual blinding but not in this passage is the god inspiring them with courage - which suggests that their action is morally right (line 381]

375 - 382: show odysseus as a good leader - he leads, withdrawing the stake at just hte right time(all' ote de" line 378; encouraging his men, his men standing around as he brings the stake out of the fire etc.
the inspiration by a god is a perhaps a metaphor witht he courage that inspires men when doing something particularly dangerous ("let's do this! " kind of attitude...)
* a slight reference to the future joke on "metis" line 377?
* some parallels with arming scenes before aristeia / duels in the iliad.. but which ones?

the blinding:
***Is there intentional assonance on lin 383? there are a lot of "ei" "e" and "r"s. if so, to what effect? to mirror the steady slow pushing in of the stake? or the noise of the eyeball as it is punctured?
"dineon" line 384 at the beginning of the line; also "smerdaleon" 395; pharmasswn line 393
So many details to make this vivid! Reference to heat, sound etc! details of eyes and roots and hot blood! onomatapeia of "siz" line 394 and wmwksen 395.
iaxe used in simile 392 and in narrative 395.

*THE SIMILES:
contrast the civilsied craftsmen with the uncivilised wood/iron. cyclops as helpless as the fleed plank of wood. "tempering"of the iron and tampering of the cyclops? drill = merciless mechanism of odysseus. shipwright working with mates shows teamwork of the greeks here.

**HOMERIC genius in this passage: inconsistency of bronzesmith tmepering iron suggests homeric modification of a traditional simile. similes were not so well used in previous epci poems (eg gilgamesh). this provides evidnece that homer enhanced them. we can also see traces of merged ancient folk tales in this story. in one version the cyclops was blinded with a iron bar . when the stake glows red this is what homer is thinking of.

**oh and i almost forgot metre! im not veyr good on meter. ive scanned it and i cant find much noteworthy in this passage but im sure it's there.
wmwksen (395) is perhaps a spondee to draw it out or match the long groan of the cyclops. can anyone see any other interesting bits of meter?
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Postby Emma_85 » Sun Jan 11, 2004 11:48 am

up to 374: this reminds us how horrible and savage the cyclops is (vomiting man flesh is an especial taunt). this is particularly unusual in the homeric world where usually everything is excellent, fine, strong etc. by reminding us of the cyclops' wrong doing this ensures that the reader can enjoy the triumph over the cyclops without feeling sorry for him


I think how the cyclops is described at all, all his qualities, when compared to what qualities the Greek culture so value, also shows how very different and savage this cyclops is and to ensure the listeners hate him.

I also think it's interesting, that he doesn't say directly anywhere that the Cyclops has only one eye, he assumes everyone knows that.

Can't think of anything else right now, sorry
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Postby Thucydides » Sun Jan 11, 2004 12:28 pm

think how the cyclops is described at all, all his qualities, when compared to what qualities the Greek culture so value, also shows how very different and savage this cyclops is and to ensure the listeners hate him.


yes - i've just had a look at the first half of the book again and the description of the island which odysseus says greek swould have colonised is interesting... as is the ship simile - sailing was part of being greek

I also think it's interesting, that he doesn't say directly anywhere that the Cyclops has only one eye, he assumes everyone knows that.


in fact there's a slip up in this passage as regards the single eye - line 389 refers to eye browS and eye lidS. Significant?
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Re: Od. IX, 372-395 - lit crit

Postby Skylax » Sun Jan 11, 2004 8:36 pm

Thucydides wrote:General: this passage is the climactic action of the book and summarises the whole conflict between the civilised and the uncivilised in this book (and in this section (books 9-12)).

Moreover, this is the answer to a kind of dilemma : the Cyclop is very dangerous, so he should die, and Odysseus could kill him when he sleeps with his [face=SPIonic]ci/foj[/face] (v. 300) but on the other hand, he alone is able to remove the huge stone at the entry, so he must remain alive, else the Greeks won't be able to exit.

(To be continued)
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Postby Skylax » Mon Jan 12, 2004 7:59 pm

Blinding the Cyclop is like killing him. In Greek, "to see the light" is a way to say "to live". Thus, no light, no life. The blinded Cyclop is a kind of living dead, just like Oedipus. But in doing so, Odysseus has killed him "just enough", so that he is much less dangerous but he can still open the cavern's door. This is the trick that Odysseus, [face=SPIonic]a)nh\r polu/tropoj[/face] has found to cope with a lethal monster that is at the same time absolutely indispensable for his survival.
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Re: Od. IX, 372-395 - lit crit

Postby Skylax » Mon Jan 12, 2004 9:14 pm

Thucydides wrote:* a slight reference to the future joke on "metis" line 377?

I don't think so. I don't see any link with the joke in this context. Note that the future joke is also a past one (355-367)
* some parallels with arming scenes before aristeia / duels in the iliad.. but which ones?

[For example Iliad III, 330-339] Here, I think, there is no calm scene of arming before a fair fight. We are already in the middle of the action, as the Cyclop could awake at every moment and the men must struggle to be ready in time. It seems to me that in verses 371-377 Homer has mixed together reassuring as well as worrying elements, in order that the audience remains in a state of nervous tension (Will they succeed?) until the [face=SPIonic]mo/xloj[/face] is brought against the Cyclop.

[face=SPIonic]pandama/twr[/face] deep sleep - reassuring
[face=SPIonic]ywmoi\ a)ndro/meioi[/face] remember what he would do... worrying
[face=SPIonic]oi)nobarei/wn[/face] - reassuring
V. 375-6 : the forging of the weapon - reassuring
V. 377 : Will the sailors be brave enough ? - worrying
After that, the stress is discharged in an attack made with the greatest determination.
the blinding:
***Is there intentional assonance on lin 383? there are a lot of "ei" "e" and "r"s. if so, to what effect? to mirror the steady slow pushing in of the stake? or the noise of the eyeball as it is punctured?

I haven't the slightest idea... :(

*THE SIMILES:

Purpose : Let the audience feel what is going on by reference to familiar elements.
384-6 : efficiency of the action. Similarity in the position of the actors : the audience can SEE it.
391-393 : physical results of the action compared with an impressive phaenomenon.

inconsistency of bronzesmith tmepering iron suggests homeric modification of a traditional simile.

But the word [face=SPIonic]xalkeu/j[/face] has been regularly used for "ironsmith" by Herodot, Xenophon... as when it is said that a steamboat is "sailing" away... Bronze is the metal of the Age of Heroes, but Homer who knows well iron could already use [face=SPIonic]xalkeu/j[/face] to mean "ironsmith". The simile refers clearly to working with iron. What could it have replaced?

**oh and i almost forgot metre! im not veyr good on meter. ive scanned it and i cant find much noteworthy in this passage but im sure it's there.
wmwksen (395) is perhaps a spondee to draw it out or match the long groan of the cyclops. can anyone see any other interesting bits of meter?


No idea :( Here we must be careful : our ideas on the subject were maybe not in the heads of the Greeks.
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thx - the draft

Postby Thucydides » Tue Jan 20, 2004 10:32 pm

many tthanks for all your replies and thoughts.

here's my draft:


---------
"This passage is the climax of book 9 and one of the most memorable of Odysseus' tales. As oral poetry the Odyssey relies very much on the moment and this passage clears the audience's conscience, builds up the tension until it is almost unbearable and then celebrates Odysseus' triumph with a panoply of similes, onomatopoeia and other poetic effects.

The Cyclops asleep (371-374)-

These four lines reiterate the ugliness and savagery of the Cyclops, briefly recalling what has happened so far. In particular the words "ywmoi t' andromeoi" remind us of the Cyclops' past crimes and allay any pity we might feel for the Cyclops before he is blinded. They are Homer's way of getting a final hubristic taunt from the Cyclops, even though he is unconscious. All this prepares us to savour the moment of triumph even more. "H0 kai...au0xena" suggests some particularly grotesque drunken pose. There is perhaps some irony in the word pandamatwr; the Cyclops will soon be tamed forever and by something far less benign than sleep. Indeed the Cyclops uses the word "damassamenoj" later to describe how Odysseus managed to blind him.
The details of vomiting and burping suggest that the Cyclops is having trouble with the wine - a hint of things to come. The wine pouring out of his mouth also perhaps foreshadows the blood which will later pour out of his eye.

Odysseus' Preparations (375-386)

Odysseus and his men
This passage shows us Odysseus as a leader. There is no hint of his former lack of authority (his men stayed fatally too long at the town of the Cicones); now everything is as it should be, again, presumably to make sure that our focus is on the action at hand. Odysseus does everything himself (h9lasa; qarsunon; feron); Odysseus (e0gwn) brings the stake from the fire while his men stand around him (i9stant' - enjambment); Odysseus thoughtfully encourages his men, and here the ethic dative (moi) brings out Odysseus' dependence on the courage of his men.
Although Homeric violence can be quite stylised, this section is particularly realistic. Homer mentions the two effects of extreme fear on men - cowardice and courage, the so-called "flight-or-fight" response. On the one hand, Odysseus' men might "u0podeisaj a0naduh", and on the other "au0tar qarsoj e0nepeusen mega daimwn" - this accurately captures the sudden and almost inexplicable burst of courage men sometimes feel in extreme danger. The verb "enepeusen" which literally means "breathed-in" is an especially graphic way of describing this process.

The dramatic build up
This scene builds the suspense before the blinding. The whole scene is coloured by the threat of the Cyclops waking up (the previous burping and vomiting suggest that the Cyclops is not peacefully asleep). On line 375 Odysseus acts "kai tot'" - "right then", i.e. as soon as the Cyclops has fallen asleep. The stake is pushed under the ashes "h9oj qermainoito" - and not a moment longer. Odysseus removes the stake just as it is about to catch in the fire, and this is emphasised by the "a0ll o9te dh". Indeed the whole passage is a mixture of reassuring and worrying elements:

(373) pandama/twr - reassuring
(374) ywmoi a)ndromeioi - worrying
(374) oi)nobareiwn - reassuring
(375-379) preparing the weapon - reassuring
(377) will Odysseus' men go through with it?- worrying

Homer also uses descriptive vocabulary, reminding of us that the stake is "o0cun e0p' a0rkw?"and "diefaineto d' ai0nwj", emphasising how terrible a weapon this stake has become by Odysseus' efforts.

This scene also echoes some of the those of the Iliad. The long, elaborate description of the preparation of the arms is similar to the arming scenes before a heroic aristeia or a duel. Divine inspiration is another common feature, and both Diomedes and Achilles are emboldened and strengthened by Athena's support before their aristeia (Iliad V & XIX). The encouragement to the comrades of the hero is also common: Achilles encourages the Myrmidons before Patroclus' aristeia (Iliad XVI), and Achilles encourages his horses (Iliad XVIII). The fiery preparation of the stake is a poor man's version of the work a proper blacksmith would do for a hero, such as Hephaestus forging Achilles new armour in book XVIII of the Iliad.

The Blinding (383-395-)

The description of the blinding
This description is particularly graphic. Homer constantly reminds us what a terrible weapon the stake is, calling it "elai+non" twice (382, 394), "ocun ep akrw", "purihkea". The stake does not simply "enereisan" but also "dineon" (a word running over the line for emphasis). Blood "flows around" the Cyclops' eye. Homer goes on to detail the effects - the "panta" and "amfi" "singing" of the Cyclops' eye and eyebrows, by the "glhnhj klaiomenhj", which, though no doubt terribly painful, is placed on the next line as almost an afterthought to the horror currently being described. Meanwhile the roots onomatopoeically "sfarageunto" in the fire, as does the eye ("siz" ) around the stake. The Cyclops groans - "wmwcen" - a onomatopoeic word and one comprised of three long syllables, presumably to imitate the Cyclops' long groan, and even the rock of the cave is forced to echo by the power of the Cyclops groan.

The first simile
Like all Homeric similes, this simile brings the audience closer to the action in question by comparing it with a well-known event from their world. In this case the audience can actually see and hear the drilling and the efforts of the men in the simile and understand the merciless mechanism of the action. There is also an emphasis on the teamwork of the men. In the simile, even more than in the events of the story, teamwork is crucial. With out the men, the stake will fall; without the craftsman the drill will not drill into the wood.

The Cyclops is represented by the ship's timber. The two are both large, bulky and immobile. They are both once grand, awe-inspiring products of nature now being attacked by much weaker humans - the simile represents the contrast between the civilised and the uncivilised. The workman, like Odysseus, is a skilled member of civilised society who is skilfully manipulating nature to his own ends. Indeed ship-building and sailing was part of the very essence of being Greek (c.f. Odysseus' comments earlier in book 9 about colonisation).

This simile also gives us insight by its contrasts with the action. The craftsman is constructive ; Odysseus is destructive.

The second simile
This simile is quite similar to the first. Again it describes a craftsman civilising and refining nature. The iron is described as megan, much like the huge timber. Again this simile brings out the sights and sounds of the action - and the blinding. The iron is personified as "iaxonta" - a word later repeated up when the Cyclops screams on line 395. "farmasswn" - "tempering" is a heavily emphasised word. Not only is standing alone at the beginning of the next line (enjambment), but its three syllables are all long. The combination of three long syllables and the double "ss"even suggest the long slow hissing of the iron as it is dipped into the water.

This simile also throws light on the situation by the very contrasts with what it mirrors. Firstly the "aute" in line 395, which gives the line a meaning something like "and that, surprisingly, is the strength of iron". For the Cyclops of course, the stake takes away his strength. The particle "ge" further colours the meaning. This particle usually means "at any rate" , and here gives the idea of "that is the strength iron at any rate, if not other things" . But what other things? We might immediately think of other metals, such as bronze, which are not strengthened by this process. But what about the Cyclops? Might Homer actually be referring to the Cyclops?
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