Odysseus: The Man of Twists and Turns

In this series of posts, I examine the various versions of Odysseus/Ulysses that appear in the classical texts of the Greeks and Romans in an attempt to create a clear picture of who Odysseus really is. Most of the content in this series was written in February of 2013, as part of an assignment for a advanced literature course at Santa Clara University called Classical Mythology in the Western Tradition. In this class, we traced two major mythological figures, Odysseus and Helen, through the western literary tradition, from the ancient days to their modern incarnations.

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Odysseus in the Odyssey: The Man of Twists and Turns

Odysseus receives glory and honor in the bronze-age war epic that is the Iliad, but Homer’s other epic, the Odyssey, is an entirely different story. It is a post-war epic that favors the importance of culture and domestic life.

In Greek, andra, or man, is the first word of the epic, and so, it is a story of one man, Odysseus, and the challenges he must face to return from war to the domestic home life. He is a complex man, a man of “twists and turns” as translated by Fagles, so the epic also attempts to show us the full complexity of this man. (more…)

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Odysseus: Orator, Warrior, and Strategist

In this series of posts, I examine the various versions of Odysseus/Ulysses that appear in the classical texts of the Greeks and Romans in an attempt to create a clear picture of who Odysseus really is. Most of the content in this series was written in February of 2013, as part of an assignment for a advanced literature course at Santa Clara University called Classical Mythology in the Western Tradition. In this class, we traced two major mythological figures, Odysseus and Helen, through the western literary tradition, from the ancient days to their modern incarnations.

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Introduction to the Series

Suppose that Laertes, the father of Odysseus, wanted us to answer the question that all fathers ask themselves at one point or another: “What kind of person is my son? Did I raise him to be a good man, with good moral principles and the qualities one needs to succeed in the world?” Because Odysseus is a literary creation, the only evidence we can give Laertes are the stories which have been written about his son.

As we gather evidence for Laertes, we might ask Homer to tell—or rather “sing”—about Odysseus, the “man of twists and turns.” So, to find out what qualities Odysseus has and whether these characteristics are good or bad, we must follow the major appearances of Odysseus in classical literature: from the Homeric epics to the tragedies of Athens to the Roman era of Ulysses. (more…)

Boundaries, Mortal and Divine: Thoughts on Aeneid Book I

In my previous post, I mentioned how Juno bribed Aeolus to convince him that he should release his captive winds to destroy Aeneas’ ships. Fortunately for our hero, Neptune, the god of the sea, realizes what is happening. He is absolutely furious that Juno and Aeolus have dared to cause such disruption and chaos within what should be his realm, the ocean. He demands that the winds pay for their crimes, and asserts his authority over the seas: “Get on your way and be quick. And relay these words to your ruler: / Ocean’s High Command and the savage Trident of Office / Weren’t allotted to him but to me“(Aen. I.137-9). (more…)

Past, Present, and Future: The Aeneid’s Journey through Time

The Aeneid is the story of the long journey taken by Aeneas and the great pains he went through to found the Roman bloodline. For these verses to reach us today, the Aeneid itself needed to go through a long journey, across space and time, from the realm of mythology to the records of history, and from one language to another. Over two thousand years ago, a Roman poet called Vergil composed his grand epic, celebrating a new age of Roman identity and dealing with the complex issues of war and the cost of empire. Vergil died before the final revision of his work, and in his will, he ordered his friends to destroy the Aeneid, as it did not meet his own high standard of perfection. (more…)

Game of Thrones and Family: Paying the Iron Price

At its core, Game of Thrones is a story about family. It is about how far one must be willing to go to protect one’s family. It is about choosing which family one belongs to, and in making that decision, whether blood ties reign supreme or whether “adopted” families can be one’s true family. It is about the power that stems from one’s family connections. It is about marriage bonds, which are meant to tie two families together in alliance or two people together in love, and what happens when such bonds are broken. These are among the topics that we will discuss in this series regarding the role of family in Game of Thrones.

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In a previous post, I discussed Tywin Lannister’s view of family, which states that it is a source of power and prestige that must be protected at any cost from all enemies. How does this view differ from that of Balon Greyjoy, the so-called King of the Iron Islands? Balon certainly does not care much for the life of his son, Theon. Does Balon have some greater vision or goal for his family dynasty, or is it all about personal gain for him? What about Theon’s sister, who offers a different view of family? Who, in the end, should be considered Theon’s true family?

The following post contains SPOILERS from Game of Thrones. Do not proceed unless you wish to see the discussion of MAJOR PLOT POINTS from Season 3. (more…)

Arms and the Man: Thoughts on the Aeneid’s Opening Lines

The opening lines of the Aeneid are absolutely essential to its understanding. In the genre of epic poetry, the very first words tell us what the story is going to be about and what we should expect from it. The poet, invoking the power of the Muse, defines the major topics of his story. So, before saying anything else about the Aeneid, let us just dive right into the opening verses: (more…)

Game of Thrones and Family: Tywin the Patriarch

At its core, Game of Thrones is a story about family. It is about how far one must be willing to go to protect one’s family. It is about choosing which family one belongs to, and in making that decision, whether blood ties reign supreme or whether “adopted” families can be one’s true family. It is about the power that stems from one’s family connections. It is about marriage bonds, which are meant to tie two families together in alliance or two people together in love, and what happens when such bonds are broken. These are among the topics that we will discuss in this series regarding the role of family in Game of Thrones.

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Tywin Lannister, the patriarch of House Lannister, operates using the guiding principles of power and family. He believes that power comes from putting one’s family above all else, even personal interests, and so everything he does is designed to improve the strength, power, and prestige of his family. However, problems arise for the Lannisters because Tywin demands that every other family members must also put the family’s greater interests ahead of their individual goals. As a result, the Lannister clan is enormously powerful politically, and yet is characterized by extremely unhappy individuals and dysfunctional relationships.

The following post contains SPOILERS from Game of Thrones. Do not proceed unless you wish to see the discussion of MAJOR PLOT POINTS from Season 3. (more…)

Summer 2013 Reading List

Summer is often considered a time of relaxation and leisure, but for students it carries the danger of causing the mind to lose the sharp edge developed from the academic rigors of the school year. So, instead of squandering away my summer days doing nothing, I have decided to keep my mind active by continuing to read as many books as possible (though now for leisure, rather than for academic purposes) and discussing them here on this blog. To that end, I present to you my reading list for the summer of 2013. Please expect future blog posts regarding the items on this list. (more…)