Tag Archives: charybdis

“Odyssey” by Homer: Book XII – Sea Perils and Defeat

Source: Symbol Reader

Source: Symbol Reader

A lot happens in this short section of the epic. Odysseus returns to Circe’s island after consulting with the dead, and she gives Odysseus more instructions on how to deal with the next set of challenges that he must face. First, he and his crew sail past the sirens and he alone is tied to the mast with unplugged ears so he can hear their song. Then the ship navigates between the dreaded Scylla and Charybdis. Then they arrive at Helios’ island where his crew slaughters the sacred cattle of the Sun for food, the result of which is Zeus destroying his ship and killing all his crew, and he winds up on Calypso’s island.

So, in my post on Book XI, I pointed out the irony that Alkinoos stated how honest Odysseus was. It made me think that maybe this whole story is one big lie. Odysseus is, after all, a manifestation of the Trickster archetype.

I washed my hands there, and made supplication
to the gods who won Olympos, all the gods—
but they, for answer, only closed my eyes
under slow drops of sleep.

Now on the shore Eurylokhos
made his insidious plea:

‘Comrades,’ he said,
‘You’ve gone through everything; listen to what I say.
All deaths are hateful to us, mortal wretches,
but famine is the most pitiful, the worst
end that a man can come to.

Will you fight it?
Come, we’ll cut out the noblest of these cattle
for sacrifice to the gods who own the sky;
and once at home, in the old country of Ithaka,
if ever that day comes—
we’ll build a costly temple and adorn it
with every beauty for the Lord of Noon.
But if he flares up over his heifers lost,
wishing our ship destroyed, and if the gods
make cause with him, why, then I say: Better
open your lungs to a big sea once for all
than waste to skin and bones on a lonely island!’

(Fitzgerald Translation: p. 221)

So, if Odysseus was asleep, then how could he know about the conversation Eurylokhos had with the crew? Obviously, he is making this all up. Essentially, he is telling a great big lie to manipulate Alkinoos and the Phaeacians. The entire “odyssey” is really nothing but a story told by the Trickster to get others to do what he wants them to do. Odysseus is one crafty dude, I give him that much.

Thanks for stopping by, and hope you enjoyed the post. Cheers!

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Joyce’s “Ulysses” – Episode 9

Raphael's "School of Athens" (detail)

Raphael’s “School of Athens” (detail)

This episode corresponds with Book XII of Homer’s Odyssey, where Odysseus has to navigate between Scylla and Charybdis. It symbolizes being stuck between two powerful forces, both of which are destructive. The episode takes place in the National Library, where Stephen Dedalus is presenting his theory on Hamlet, asserting that Hamlet’s father in the play is representative of Shakespeare the individual. He tries to navigate between the two extreme views, one that posits that knowing the history of an artist’s life is important in understanding that artist’s works, and the other that art should be appreciated for art’s sake, without focus on the artist’s life. The argument incorporates the conflicting views of Aristotle and Plato on the value of art, whether it is an imitation of life or whether art is an ideal to which humans should strive.

Reading this episode, I felt like I was personally navigating between the two extremes. At times it felt very difficult to stay centered in the flow of the text and not get sucked into the whirlpool or chewed up by the multi-headed beast. I suspect that this was intentional on Joyce’s part and that he made this section difficult in order to instill the feeling of being torn and trying desperately to remain on course.

For this episode, rather than attempting to summarize everything that is addressed in this very dense text, I decided to pick a single paragraph and analyze it closely.

—All these questions are purely academic, Russell oracle out of his shadow. I mean, whether Hamlet is Shakespeare or James I or Essex. Clergymen’s discussions on the historicity of Jesus. Art has to reveal us ideas, formless spiritual essences. The supreme question about a work of art is how deep a life does it spring. The painting of Gustave Moreau is the painting of ideas. The deepest poetry of Shelley, the words of Hamlet bring our mind into contact with the eternal wisdom, Plato’s world of ideas. All the rest is the speculation of schoolboys for schoolboys.

(p. 185)

In this passage, George Russell (A.E.) expresses the Platonic ideal that art should be an expression of the ineffable ideal which is formless and cannot be fully grasped by the conscious mind. He criticizes Stephen, who leans toward the Aristotelian. Stephen bases his theory on analysis and criticism and tries to avoid getting pulled into the formless whirlpool of ideals that is the basis of Plato’s philosophy. But I can’t help feeling that Stephen has a little bit of the Platonic in him. He is, after all, a poet, and though he strives to be an academic, he still has an artistic side.

When Joyce writes that A.E. speaks from “his shadow,” he is alluding to Plato’s allegory of the cave in The Republic. Art, according to A.E., is what allows people to view the flame of divine consciousness as opposed to the mere shadows cast upon the cave wall.

The last sentence of A.E.’s quote appears to be a direct jab at Stephen. Stephen is young, essentially a student in Russell’s eyes, just as Aristotle was a student of Plato’s and therefore not as qualified, in A.E.’s opinion. Stephen is also teaching schoolboys. Essentially, he is saying that Stephen is just not experienced enough to fully comprehend the true nature of art, the purpose of which is to communicate directly with the psyche and provide a glimpse of the part of us which cannot be grasped by our normal state of awareness.

While I concede the value of analytical thought, I am a romantic at heart and tend to lean toward the Platonic ideal. Still, I relate to Stephen, trying to navigate between these two opposing ideologies. I suppose that personally, I run the risk of being drawn into the whirlpool and losing myself in the mystic, which is why it’s important to try to stay grounded.

Next week, I’ll cover Episode 10 which ends on page 255 with the phrase “…sturdy trousers swallowed by a closing door.”


 

Previous Posts on Ulysses:

Episode 1

Episode 2

Episode 3

Episode 4

Episode 5

Episode 6

Episode 7

Episode 8


 

References:

http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/ulysses/section9.rhtml

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/530331/Scylla-and-Charybdis

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