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ENGL 251 Week 5 Notes

by: Sierra Taylor

ENGL 251 Week 5 Notes ENGL 251- 03

Sierra Taylor
Cal Poly

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Lecture notes, Cushing emails, midterm essay prompts
Great Books I: Introduction to Classic Literature
Dr. James Cushing
Class Notes
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This 9 page Class Notes was uploaded by Sierra Taylor on Wednesday April 27, 2016. The Class Notes belongs to ENGL 251- 03 at California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo taught by Dr. James Cushing in Spring 2016. Since its upload, it has received 9 views. For similar materials see Great Books I: Introduction to Classic Literature in Foreign Language at California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo.

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Date Created: 04/27/16
Emails from Cushing: Odyssey, Books 9-12: The Hero as Storyteller In the Iliad, Odysseus the warrior-hero is a man driven by the desire for kleos – fame, “glory,” reputation, a Name. But once a man has kleos, he is only halfway toward his goal of being a complete human being. In the Odyssey, we see the metaphoric death of the warrior-hero and his rebirth as a “new man,” one driven by the desire for nostos – the return to a place of origin. The idea that Odysseus undergoes a “death and rebirth” is suggested in many ways during Books 5-8, especially his ocean journey from Calypso’s island (see the end of Book 5) and the role of Nausicaa as guide on Achaea. Note also the elaboration of xenia and the role of the bard, Demodocus – an example of oral tradition referring to itself! Then, in Books 9-12, Odysseus takes over the bard’s role as performer of heroic tales. “Well then, what shall I go through first, / what shall I save for last?” Right away, we see how conscious Odysseus is regarding the structure and impact of his story. If he tells a good one, he’ll be rewarded with passage home. The story as a whole works in least these four ways: --as a strategy by which Odysseus can obtain passage to Ithaca --as an anthology of mythic narrative, stressing themes of divine power, xenia, kleos and nostos (an opportunity for a bard to show off his prowess in knowledge of mythic stories and ability to tell them in an exciting way) --as a boast of heroic deeds accomplished against great odds --as a confession of failure (his insult to Polyphemos, the loss of his men, the MIA status) Book 9: Odysseus defeats POLYPHEMOS the CYCLOPS with a heated olive spear and his intelligence, coded in a famously untranslatable pun: OUTIS = nobody, no one ME TIS (two words) = not anybody, not anyone METIS (one word) = shrewdness, cleverness, strategic intelligence Note that, filled with the ego-gratification of victory, our hero lets his “metis” desert him when he yells out his true name to Polyphemos. Odysseus learns, the hard way, that kleos and nostos can be opposites when Polyphemos’ curse takes effect immediately, point by point. Book 10: CIRCE the sexy witch provides the next most famous adventure, and underscores a key sub-theme, the hero’s danger from seductive females – Calypso and (to a lesser extent) Nausicaa being other examples. Note the way she switches from sex-goddess to maternal xenos. Note, too, that Odysseus requires a magic herb and divine step-by-step instruction to survive the mythic ultra-feminine – no such help needed with the mythic super-masculine Polyphemos! Book 11 presents the voyage to HADES, land of the dead, often called the NEKUIA. We meet TIRESIAS the seer-prophet, and he introduces Odysseus to a large number of spirits, including ELPENOR, the sad little drunk, and ANTICLEIA, Odysseus’ mother. The idea that a hero must go to a very dangerous place from which no one returns has become an essential part of our idea of an exciting narrative. What better way to get kleos than to survive a near-death experience? The NEKUIA stresses the death-rebirth theme we saw back in Book 5. Odysseus had “died” to the world of kleos and is now “reborn” as a man of nostos; here, in nearly the exact middle of the story, he “dies” again in the sense of going to the land of the dead. Appropriately, being right in the middle of the story, the NEKUIA looks both forward and backward. HADES is a kind of memory bank, where the mythic past is preserved, and where mythic and heroic characters, both female and male, appear in ghostly form. But it is also a place of prophecy, where the hero learns what awaits him in Ithaca and what he must accomplish after his nostos. Our hero learns several important lessons: that his mother has died, which means “home” will not be what he remembers (the scene anticipates his real reunion with his living wife, but emphasizes the theme of human time and mortality); that Penelope and Telemachos are all right, not plotting against him; that his fight with the suitors will be a bloody one; that his nostos is NOT the final task the gods require of him (build a shrine to Poseidon inland); that the urge for kleos, insofar as it involves military glory, is destructively close to an urge for death, and that the urge for nostos affirms life in all its difficulty. At 11:369-377, Odysseus interrupts his own narrative, resuming it only after hearing how powerfully it is affecting his audience. This pause emphasizes at least three themes: storytelling as a strategy to gain nostos; conspicuous display of xenia; a chance to appreciate the kleos that comes with having survived this experience. Still, Odysseus is caught in a kind of limbo between the living and the dead; he’s not home yet, and he hasn’t finished his story. Queen Arete promises him passage home (one queen gives him the means to return to another). Book 12: The hero’s narrative ends with an account of his crewmen’s fatal act of disobedience in killing and eating the cattle of HELIOS; Odysseus carefully presents himself as blameless. Only he escapes alive, washed up on Calypso’s island. We are back where we were at the opening of book 5! Books 9-12 cover ten years of the hero’s wanderings over thousands of miles. Books 13-24 take place over three days in an area about the size of this campus. The bard slows the pace (time) while compressing the venue of action (space). The result is an intense physical and emotional realism in the second half of the epic, balancing the supernatural symbolism of Books 9-12. Enjoy the irony in Book 13: Odysseus, who has spent ten years wanting more than anything else to return to Ithaca, finally arrives there – and he’s sound asleep, waking up with no idea where he is! Nostos is not just simple physical presence in one’s home; it involves a complex return to the fullness of one’s identity. The second half of the Odyssey involves the long process of the hero’s actual homecoming. The great man’s task, while every bit as difficult as the events of books 9-12, takes a new form: instead of showing his heroic kleos, as he did when he pulled his sword out in front of Circe, he must keep his kleos hidden. He does this by giving out a cover story that he is a beggar from Crete, and by repressing his true feelings. Odysseus here becomes a “spy” or “secret agent” who infiltrates the enemy camp. He played this role years ago in Troy during the war. But now, the “enemy camp” is his home. When the hero returns to his home, he must do so in disguise. The disguise is physical – Athena has caused him to resemble a beggar – and behavioral, in the sense that he must keep his true feelings hidden. Odysseus on Ithaca truly becomes “the man of twists and turns.” The Greek term is POLYTROPOS, “many turnings,” and Odysseus’ life journey has taken many turns before his nostos. Butpolytropos can also mean “many turns of mind.” The hero must be psychologically astute in his readings of people, and capable of emotional subtleties. Our hero’s first important encounters on Ithaca involve his three main helpers: Athena the goddess, Eumaeus the loyal swineherd, and prince Telemachus. Note that his first impulse is to keep his kleos hidden. (He’s learned his lesson from the Cyclops!) Athena sees through his story (Book 13) and, in a key scene, reveals him to his son (Book 16). Eumaeus the swineherd offers his guest the purest xenia we have seen on Ithaca since Telemachus greeted Athena in Book 1. Enjoy the social ironies here: the swineherd, a slave who lives in total poverty, is entertaining his (disguised) master. But, as we learn in Book 15, Eumaeus is the kidnapped son of Ctesius, king of the island nation of Syrie. A king’s son is giving xenia to a king. Maintaining self-control is the greatest challenge he faces in his nostos, and Homer shows us vividly how great that challenge is in the episode involving Argos the dog (Book 17). The boxing scene (Book 18) also demonstrates the extent to which xenia has been neglected in Ithaca. Dr. Cushing English 251-02/03/07 Spring 2016 MIDTERM ESSAY ASSIGNMENT: SAPPHO, PLATO, HOMER Write on parts I and II. Bring your printed essay to class, with both parts stapled together, ready to hand in, on Wednesday May 4 or Thursday May 5, depending. Part I: 1000 words (approx. 4 typed pages) Homer is quoted or mentioned eight separate times in The Symposium, so it’s natural to wonder what the guests might have had to say about the role Eros plays (not literally, but figuratively) in the Odyssey. After all, if Odysseus’ nostos centers on a reunion with his beloved Penelope, then Eros is the driving force in the epic – and we mentioned more than once in class how Aristophanes’ idea of the “other half” applies to Odysseus and Penelope. But are there useful connections between these texts other than this one? For part one, choose one or two (no more than two) Symposium speeches, not necessarily ones we discussed in class, and apply their insights to one or two (again, no more than two) examples of love you see displayed in Homer’s epic. Do not write about how Odysseus is Penelope’s “other half” – we already get that – but take your thinking deeper. Part II: 500 words (approx. 2 typed pages) Write on any one (1) of the following twenty (20) numbered questions. For Plato (questions 3-10), page references are to the Allen translation. For Homer (questions 11-20), page and line references are to the Fagles translation. Do not duplicate any material from your Part I. Sappho 1. Using no more than two of the poems in the Sappho handout, trace the larger complexities of Sappho’s ongoing relationship with Aphrodite, feminine goddess of love and desire. 2. What qualities does Sappho’s Aphrodite hymn have in common with the poem about Helen and Anactoria (“Some say thronging cavalry…”)? Offer an interpretation of these poems in terms of what values Sappho seems to endorse. Plato 3. The opening of the Symposium makes it clear that several people mediate or “filter” the speeches; a modern court would call the text “hearsay evidence.” How does this characteristic affect one’s reading of the speeches as a whole? 4. What do we make of the ways the Symposium presents Socrates as an unusual, even eccentric character, apart from the content of his remarks? Consider the ways the text particularizes Socrates and his idiosyncratic behavior. Are we to think that he is “exceptional,” in the sense that he does not speak for most men, but only himself? If so, how does that affect our understanding of his definition of Eros? 5. How convincing do you find Pausanius’ distinction between “vulgar” and “heavenly” love, 121-124? 6. Why do you think Socrates credits his view of love to a woman? Is Plato suggesting that Socrates’ views should be credited at “true” because this “inspired woman” said it – or is Plato distancing himself from the difficulties inherent in such an idealistic, non-physical/non-emotional view of Eros? 7. Look carefully at 148-150. What is Socrates’ main objection to Aristophanes’ definition of love? How is it consistent, or inconsistent, with the rest of Socrates’ argument? 8. Look carefully at 151-154. How could we paraphrase Socrates/Diotima’s distinction between the two kinds of immortality? Which one, according to her, is to be privileged, and why? 9. Look carefully at Diotima’s definition of the beautiful, 155-157. Does it seem as if she’s describing a realistic goal human beings can attain, or a pure ideal we can only imagine? If the first, how ought we to obtain it? If the second, what should we do instead? 10. After Socrates finishes speaking, the drunken Alcibiades storms in and tells an embarrassing story about his unhappy relationship with him to everyone. What are the functions of this episode, given its context? Homer 11. Look closely at 4: 24-126 (from “The travelers, Nestor’s shining son and Prince Telemachus” to “a boy he left a babe in arms at home”). Most of this passage is a monologue spoken by Menelaos, one of Odysseus’ brothers-in-arms during the Trojan War. What examples of xenia, nostos and kleos are displayed in this scene, and how do these themes work together? 12. Consider the implications of Odysseus’ refusal to accept the immortality Calypso offers him (5: 150-151). What does his refusal imply about the hero’s view of what it means to be human? Relevant to this question are Odysseus’ encounters with the immortals and his attitude toward suffering. 13. Look closely at 6: 122-216 (from “But now, as she was about” to “stems from him,” 172-174). This passage shows Odysseus saving himself from danger and speaking to a human being for the first time in many years. What does it show us about the heroic character? What impression do we get of Odysseus at this point in the story? 14. Look closely at 7: 157-261 (from “And there Odysseus stood” to “’then I can die in peace,’” 183-186). What aspects of Odysseus’ character do we learn from his conversation with Alcinous? How does xenia function here? 15. Look closely at 10: 302-440 (from “Leaving the ship” to “echoed through the house…”, 239-242). If Circe represents a mythic form of the feminine, what does this erotically charged scene reveal about male/female relations in the Odyssey as a whole? 16. Look closely at 14: 32-141 (from “Suddenly – those snarling dogs” to “the whole earth over,” 302-305). What functions does this encounter between the disguised hero and a humble pig-farmer perform in this part of the story, particularly with regard to the themes of xenia, kleos and nostos? 17. Look closely at the reunion scene between Odysseus and Telemachus, 16: 194- 297 (from “Athena stroked him” to “gods and mortal men,” 344-347). What does this scene tell us about father/son relationships, about heroism, about the relations between men and gods? In what sense are Telemachus and his father testing one another? 18. One of the oldest and best interpretive questions in the Odyssey is “What does Penelope know and when does she know it?” Focusing on Book 19, especially the part following the foot-washing scene (19: 567-681), choose one side and construct the strongest argument you can to support the idea that either she does recognize him before he strings the bow (21:456) or that she doesn’t. 19. Look closely at 22:306-401 (from “So the master of longhorn cattle” to “that call for my attention,” 448-451). What do we learn about the Odyssey’s moral values here? On what basis does the hero take or spare the lives of the men in his house? 20. Using these questions as a model, formulate your own short essay prompt about Homer and answer it. Notes: 4/27/16 Book 11: The Journey to Hades, land of the dead:  the original “haunted house” story and the original “hall of fame” - members of the hall of fame divided into 2 categories, those who are still living and breathing and those who were given the Kleos for having met a hall of famer  the “processions” of fame: Elpenor, Tiresias and Anticlea- all very famous and will never go home again Elpenor: got really drunk and passed out on top of Circe’s house, wakes up the in the middle of the night to pee, falls off the roof, breaks his neck and dies Anticlea: Odysseus’s mom, clea- feminine of Kleos, anti- not Kleos, Odysseus didn’t know that his mom had died  what happens to “home” when the mother dies?  Odysseus now knows Ithaca will never be the same because he will not be welcomed by his mother at his homecoming Tiresias: recites Polyphemus’s prophecy of Odysseus, he is already aware of the curse  Odysseus’s homecoming to Ithaca will not be the end of his journey  Odysseus has to sacrifice to Poseidon, functions as an apology, destiny, and praise to mythic consciousness  Odysseus told his destiny by prophet, he now knows he will have a peaceful death surrounded by family  death is a transition from 2 worlds  death in Hades is similar to Calypso’s offer to immortality  Achilles in Hades has an insane amount of Kleos, but when talking to Odysseus he says he’d rather be a slave than living in Hades and then mourns over not seeing his son.  Odysseus literally comes back from the dead Book 13: Odysseus’s Homecoming  irony of physical return  closer to home than he ever was but home isn’t home anymore  he needs to do a ton of work to actually come home  Odysseus bows down to Athena and disguise and wants to treat her like a “god”  Athena and Odysseus tease each other with jokes before revealing their true identities - Odysseus tells complete lie about his story of being a fugitive - people from Crete have a reputation of being expert liars for recreational/serious purposes - Athena calls him out on lying, Odysseus looks directly at the offspring of God himself, and she said “you’re almost as good as a liar as I am” Eumaeus:  the kindly swineherd, living symbol of xenia  so poor he doesn’t even own furniture  misses Odysseus extremely and knows exactly how xenia works and how Odysseus would perform it  Eumaeus greets Telemachus like a father greeting his son right in front of Odysseus, who is trying so hard to keep cool (a huge degree of self-control)  Athena changes Odysseus into a heroic man in front of Telemachus, Telemachus thinks he is a god, then he says “no I’m not a god, why confuse me with someone who never dies, I am your father” - accepting humility, life and death


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