Odyssey 7, Alcinous' offer to Odysseus

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Bart
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Odyssey 7, Alcinous' offer to Odysseus

Post by Bart » Thu Nov 01, 2018 7:55 am

At the end of their first meeting Alconous (or Alkinoös) suggests to Odysseus he could stay and marry Nausicaa:

311-315, od 7

αἲ γάρ, Ζεῦ τε πάτερ καὶ Ἀθηναίη καὶ Ἄπολλον,
τοῖος ἐὼν οἷός ἐσσι, τά τε φρονέων ἅ τ᾽ ἐγώ περ,
παῖδά τ᾽ ἐμὴν ἐχέμεν καὶ ἐμὸς γαμβρὸς καλέεσθαι
αὖθι μένων: οἶκον δέ κ᾽ ἐγὼ καὶ κτήματα δοίην,
εἴ κ᾽ ἐθέλων γε μένοις:

Of course we are somewhat prepared for this by Nausicaa's own musings about a potential marriage. However the offer still seems strange. Firstly, it seems a bit over the top to offer your daughter to a shipwrecked guy that came strolling into your house only a few hours ago and who didn't even tell his name; but then, maybe the mores in Scheria are different. Secondly, he does not seem to expect an answer, but dives straight into the practical preperations for Odysseus' nostos.
Should we read it as just a sign how impressed Alcinous is by Odysseus' god-like appearance?

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Re: Odyssey 7, Alcinous' offer to Odysseus

Post by Paul Derouda » Thu Nov 01, 2018 11:33 am

This is indeed psychologically not very convincing. Sure, mores on Scheria are different from other places, but I think this is to show how impressive Odysseus must seem to the Phaeacians. I'm sure analytical and other critics have seen all sorts of problems here. Anyway, I think the main point is to show how much Odysseus' status has already risen and then pass on.

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Re: Odyssey 7, Alcinous' offer to Odysseus

Post by Hylander » Thu Nov 01, 2018 3:19 pm

You can't hold the Odyssey (or most other fiction, for that matter) to the strict canons of realism. There are many things in the Iliad and the Odyssey that defy scrutiny from a narrowly realistic point of view -- even if important parts of both poems achieve a level of psychological realism that brings the characters to life with vivid immediacy, especially the Odyssey: Odysseus, Telemachus, Penelope, Helen, Nausicaa, Eumaeus the swineherd. Even this passage is not entirely unrealistic if you think of Alcinous' words as reflecting his wistful thoughts, though he's only a minor, incidental character.

But if you're excessively critical, you'll miss half the enjoyment of reading the Odyssey. The Scheria episode is a fairy tale that has delighted audiences and readers for more than two and a half millenia. Scheria is an entirely fictional paradise, and if you are excessively realistic, you'll put the Odyssey down in disgust when you come to the ships that travel on auto-pilot. The whole episode hinges on the delicate relationship between Odysseus, who is focused on getting home, and Nausicaa, who is concerned in a barely conscious way with finding a husband.

If you're looking for strict realism, read Flaubert.

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Re: Odyssey 7, Alcinous' offer to Odysseus

Post by jeidsath » Thu Nov 01, 2018 4:17 pm

Here is a very similar offer made to Xenophon in Anabasis 7.2:

ὁ δ᾿ εἶπε· Καὶ ἀδελφούς γε ποιήσομαι καὶ ἐνδιφρίους καὶ κοινωνοὺς ἁπάντων ὧν ἂν δυνώμεθα κτήσασθαι. σοὶ δέ, ὦ Ξενοφῶν, καὶ θυγατέρα δώσω καὶ εἴ τις σοὶ ἔστι θυγάτηρ, ὠνήσομαι Θρᾳκίῳ νόμῳ, καὶ Βισάνθην οἴκησιν δώσω, ὅπερ ἐμοὶ κάλλιστον χωρίον ἐστὶ τῶν ἐπὶ θαλάττῃ.
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Re: Odyssey 7, Alcinous' offer to Odysseus

Post by Hylander » Thu Nov 01, 2018 4:53 pm

Makes you wonder whether Xenophon's account -- in his own words -- was modeled on Odyssey 7.

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Re: Odyssey 7, Alcinous' offer to Odysseus

Post by Bart » Thu Nov 01, 2018 7:15 pm

Thanks for the advice: Flaubert is great. But I’m not looking for strict realism in Homer. How could one in a story that has the protagonist slay a one eyed giant, visit the underworld and withstand the advances of a sea nymph for seven years? However, every fictional world creates its own internal order to which actions and situations need to cohere in a plausible way to be convincing. This offer by Alcinous seems odd to me in Homer’s heroic world. On second thought however the thing that actually struck me is that the preceding story of the meeting between Nausicaa and Odysseus makes you expect such an offer but not under the form it takes. Athene tells Nausicaa her marriage is near and Nausicaa herself is obviously enthralled by the handsome stranger, as she muses about him being her future husband. It seems as if Homer is setting the scene for a new storyline to develop, but then it doesn’t. Nausicaa is barely heard off after leaving Odysseus at the city gates, and the offer her father makes of marriage between her and our hero is just an offhand remark of admiration and isn’t meant to be taken seriously.

This is not the first time in Odyssey 7 our expectations are defied. At the beginning of the book Athene herself in a long speech tells Odysseus he has to go into Alcinous’ palace and particularly stresses the fact he has to supplicate himself to the queen (Arete) and not to Alcinous. However, very little is made of this point that gets so much attention in what follows. Odysseus does throw himself at her knees, but she does not utter a word and it is in fact Alcinous that graciously bids him welcome.

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Re: Odyssey 7, Alcinous' offer to Odysseus

Post by Paul Derouda » Thu Nov 01, 2018 8:13 pm

There's one thing that those who claim that the Odyssey poet was a woman have completely missed. I don't know if modern feminist critics have noticed this.

Although the Odyssey has interesting, varied and even psychologically credible female characters, the way some of them are presented (or rather, the purpose for which they are presented) is in some ways rather depreciatory. The whole point of the Nausicaa episode is to give us this lovely girl in her best marrying age who falls in love with Odysseus, and to have her king father want the union as well; once the point has been made that for them Odysseus is the ideal bridegroom, Nausicaa is no longer needed and a she can leave the stage. Similarly, we have this sex-crazed beautiful goddess Calypso (we're told Penelope is nothing compared to her) jealously in love with Odysseus - and Odysseus doesn't even want her, he actually finds her boring; I think the that whole Calypso episode was meant to be slightly amusing for the original (predominantly male) audience of the poem. I think these rather desirable (but different) female characters falling unreciprocatedly in love with Odysseus is an important part of showing how great a hero he is. These characters exist (to put it bluntly, and to exaggerate a bit) to be Odysseus' sexual conquests (or would-be sexual contests).

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Re: Odyssey 7, Alcinous' offer to Odysseus

Post by Paul Derouda » Thu Nov 01, 2018 8:37 pm

Of course, it can be argued that these female characters are presented to show Odysseus' determination - he wants to go home, and nothing can stop or divert him. Likewise, they heighten Penelope's value in contrast.

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Re: Odyssey 7, Alcinous' offer to Odysseus

Post by mwh » Fri Nov 02, 2018 1:14 am

Going back a bit in this thread:
What father would not want to marry his daughter off to such a man, one who thinks just as he does himself (τοῖος ἐὼν οἷός ἐσσι, τά τε φρονέων ἅ τ᾽ ἐγώ περ—it’s not just his appearance)? Surely the scene has enough psychological realism to satisfy anyone, quite apart from the fact we're in a marked fairytale world.

Alcinous does not actually offer Odysseus his daughter. He only expresses a wish—just as his daughter herself had done earlier. The ambient harmoniousness is enhanced by having the father independently confirm his daughter’s estimate of their guest. Each of them prefaces the wish with αι γαρ, “If only …”. Everyone knows that such wishes are not to be fulfilled.

εἴ κ᾽ ἐθέλων γε μένοις is an important qualification (paralleling Nausicaa’s και οι αδοι αυτοθι μιμνειν, 6.245). Much as his kindly and admiring hosts would like Odysseus to stay, they won’t try to keep him against his will—a strong contrast with Calypso. The whole episode exemplifies xenia at its finest.

Bart, I think you’re right about the startling way Arete is just dropped off the cliff after all that lengthy and elaborate build-up. I have nothing against upsetting audience expectations, but here there’s nothing gained by it, it’s just extremely awkward, and quite different from Nausicaa's natural fade-out. To have Od make his supplication expressly to her, only to have her role abruptly and inexplicably terminated at that point, is incredibly jarring. It’s perhaps the clumsiest, the most maladroit thing in the poem—the poem as we have it, that is.

Paul, it’s the Odyssey, after all, a poem about Odysseus, his continually thwarted efforts to get back home and what happened when he eventually did. It’s not really surprising that some of the requisite detaining/deferring is assigned to women, whether in love with him or not. Let’s not forget the poem is as much about plot as it is about character.

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Re: Odyssey 7, Alcinous' offer to Odysseus

Post by Bart » Sun Nov 04, 2018 6:45 am

Thanks, Michael. Still, Czekhov famously said that if a gun is seen hanging on the wall in the first act, it’s bound to go off before the end of the play. Thus is the internal logic of theatre and literature. Applied to the Nausicaa episode, this means that if a young woman is introduced and even takes centre stage -the point of view changes to her in the first half of book 7- who’s obviously attracted to the protagonist and daydreaming about marrying him -didn’t Athene tell her she would marry soon-, something should happen: our hero tempted but resisting, a short fling, the gods intervening, whatever. But nothing happens, except Alcinous’ comment and a few lines of goodbye in book 8. She is shoved off stage and that’s it. My expectations at least are upset, though yours obviously aren’t. Well, maybe I have read too much Jane Austen :)

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Re: Odyssey 7, Alcinous' offer to Odysseus

Post by mwh » Tue Nov 06, 2018 2:54 am

Hi Bart, and thanks for the pushback on Nausicaa, but I have to say I don’t see it in quite that way. The Nausicaa episode is very charming but I don’t think we should expect it to lead anywhere but where it does (unlike the incoherent Arete business). It gets Odysseus to Alcinous and thence home to Ithaca (the anteCalypso flashback conveniently—deferringly—intervening). She may fantasize about marriage to this handsome stranger dropped in from who knows where, as even her father does in turn (serving to magnify Odysseus still further), but everyone both in and out of the story is aware that that’s not on the cards, and doesn’t even need to be thwarted. (That’s why I made so much of the repeated “if only,” predestined to non-fulfilment.) We should recognize from the very beginning that there will be no temptation for our hero to resist (Nausicaa is no seductress, and we don’t want another Calypso anyway) and that there is absolutely no prospect of a fling between him and this dreamy-but-proper young gal (Nausicaa is no Dido). Athene made clear at the outset that it’s a fellow-Phaeacian she's to wed. As for Odysseus, all he cares about, as others have said, is getting back home, he has neither time nor inclination for dalliance with prepubescent virgins. So yes, I think you’ve read too many romances.

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Re: Odyssey 7, Alcinous' offer to Odysseus

Post by Bart » Tue Nov 06, 2018 12:33 pm

You made your position crystal clear. When three experienced readers of Homer like yourself, Bill and Paul disagree with my reading of this episode, I can only take a step back and reconsider.

mwh wrote: Athene made clear at the outset that it’s a fellow-Phaeacian she's to wed.
Does she? In Od 6, 27 Athene tells Nausicaa σοὶ δὲ γάμος σχεδόν ἐστιν and in line 33 she states ἐπεὶ οὔ τοι ἔτι δὴν παρθένος ἔσσεαι. But she doesn't give any specifications. She does say (Od 6, 34-35):

ἤδη γάρ σε μνῶνται ἀριστῆες κατὰ δῆμον
πάντων Φαιήκων, ὅθι τοι γένος ἐστὶ καὶ αὐτῇ.

But that doesn't seem to imply that it must be a Phaeacian she will marry, only that her present suitors are Phaeacians. But then, what else should one expect, Scheria being as far removed from the rest of the world as it is?

One more thing, about Nausicaa's goodby to Odysseus in Od 8, 457-468:

Ναυσικάα δὲ θεῶν ἄπο κάλλος ἔχουσα
στῆ ῥα παρὰ σταθμὸν τέγεος πύκα ποιητοῖο,
θαύμαζεν δ᾽ Ὀδυσῆα ἐν ὀφθαλμοῖσιν ὁρῶσα,
καί μιν φωνήσασ᾽ ἔπεα πτερόεντα προσηύδα:
'χαῖρε, ξεῖν᾽, ἵνα καί ποτ᾽ ἐὼν ἐν πατρίδι γαίῃ
μνήσῃ ἐμεῦ, ὅτι μοι πρώτῃ ζωάγρι᾽ ὀφέλλεις.'
τὴν δ᾽ ἀπαμειβόμενος προσέφη πολύμητις Ὀδυσσεύς.
‘Ναυσικάα θύγατερ μεγαλήτορος Ἀλκινόοιο,
οὕτω νῦν Ζεὺς θείη, ἐρίγδουπος πόσις Ἥρης,
οἴκαδέ τ᾽ ἐλθέμεναι καὶ νόστιμον ἦμαρ ἰδέσθαι:
τῷ κέν τοι καὶ κεῖθι θεῷ ὣς εὐχετοῴμην
αἰεὶ ἤματα πάντα: σὺ γάρ μ᾽ ἐβιώσαο, κούρη.

Hainsworth in his commentary on book 5-8 notes that it's sad to note that Odysseus in his account of his wanderings in book 23 forgot Nausicaa but remembered Circe and Calypso. Eva Brann however in Homeric Moments thinks the fact Odysseus doesn't mention her name, especially not to Penelope, is a token of a promise kept. He will -Brann's words- never speak of her and always worship her. Well, maybe I'm not alone in having read too many romances. :)

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Re: Odyssey 7, Alcinous' offer to Odysseus

Post by Paul Derouda » Tue Nov 06, 2018 2:47 pm

I think Odysseus’ parting words to Nausicaa are a reference to his first words to her: when he first saw her and talked to her, he wondered if she was a god. Now that he is saying goodbye, he promises (a bit humorously, I think) to continue addressing her like a god even in his home land. As to why Nausicaa is not referred to when Odysseus relates his adventures his wife is difficult to tell: often the Odyssey is not quite consistent in this sort of thing, but sometimes such variation from scene to scene is significant, depending on for example who is talking and to whom.

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Re: Odyssey 7, Alcinous' offer to Odysseus

Post by jeidsath » Tue Nov 06, 2018 3:07 pm

Apparently people were concerned with the loose thread even in classical times.

Eustath. in Odyss. π, 118 p. 1796 Rom.: Ἀριστοτέλης δὲ ἐν Ἰθακησίων πολιτείᾳ καὶ Ἑλλάνικος δὲ Τηλέμαχόν φασι Ναυσικάαν γῆμαι τὴν Ἀλκινόου καὶ γεννῆσαι τὸν Περσέπτολιν.

This is repeated almost verbatim by Dictys, which is at least a little interesting.
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