"Tell me, why do you weep and grieve so sorely when you hear the fate of the Argives, hear the fall of Troy? That is the gods' work, spinning threads of death through the lives of mortal men, and all to make a song for those to come..."
Here, King Alcinous probes the disguised Odysseus after Odysseus weeps at the minstrel's song about the Trojan War -- subsequently, Odysseus' identity is revealed. Alcinous' words provide insight into the relationship that Greeks of the time had with the gods: even tragedies are fated, and therefore ought not to be lamented; rather, one is justified in mourning only if one personally lost someone (a family member, for instance) in the tragedy. Equally interesting, the gods are given the role of of storytellers here: they ordain events such that they might become stories for future generations of men.
"Alcinous, majesty, shining among your island people, what a fine thing it is to listen to such a bard as we have here -- the man sings like a god. The crown of life, I'd say."
This is one of many instances in which The Odyssey is self-referential: as the poem itself was originally a work performed by bards, weaving in testimony of the value of bards was a way of ensuring that both the poem and its speakers would be perpetuated through the passage of time.
"Come, each of us add a sumptuous tripod, add a cauldron! Then recover our costs with levies on the people: it's hard to afford such a bounty man by man."
This is a rare moment in The Odyssey in which the mundanities of government, which underpin all the lavish feasting and gift-culture of Greece, are explicated. King Alcinous pays Odysseus due respect by showering him with gifts, and plans to make up for this expenditure by imposing taxes upon his subjects.
"[Not] even a darting hawk, the quickest thing on wings, could keep [the ship's] pace as on she ran, cutting the swells at top speed, bearing a man endowed with the gods' own wisdom, one who had suffered twenty years of torment, sick at heart, cleaving his way through wars of men and pounding waves at sea but now he slept in peace, the memory of his struggles laid to rest."
This passage describes the vessel on which Alcinous send Odysseus towards his homeland. Aside from the typical intense imagery of The Odyssey, note that Odysseus is described as "a man endowed with the gods' own wisdom," a type of knowledge which, it is suggested, came only with the tempering of his spirit through twenty years of agony at sea.
"[In] silence you must bear a world of pain, subject yourself to the cruel abuse of men."
Athena says this to Odysseus when explaining that he must reenter his home disguised as a wanderer and watch the suitors of his wife laying waste to his home before he can reveal himself as the king of Ithaca. This ties into the theming of the requirement that Odysseus must suffer deeply before he is worthy of vindication.
"And you replied, Eumaeus, loyal swineherd..."
It is unclear whether the usage of "you" here by Homer is a mere rhetorical device, or if the poem is in some regard anchoring the reader to the story by assigning them the role of Eumaeus in the text. Regardless of intent, the effect of the language, particularly in modern times, is notable in that it gives the reader stake and place in a world that might otherwise feel too foreign to be relatable. In other words, it invites them to relate to the world presented in the poem personally.
"Then [Penelope] can marry the one who offers most, the man marked out by fate to be her husband."
This is how the suitor Antinous foresees events going following completion of the suitor's traitorous plot to kill Telemachus. His words reflect how twisted the suitors are: not only do they believe that fate is on their side, despite the fact that fate actually plans for Odysseus to slaughter them all and for Telemachus to survive, but they also equate the material worth of a man (that is, what they can "offer" Penelope) with his being "fated" to be with Penelope.
"[There's] no way to hide the belly's hungers -- what a curse, what mischief it brews in all our lives! Just for hunger we rig and ride our long benched ships on the barren salt sea, speeding death to enemies."
The wise Odysseus here, beyond the literal meaning of hunger, most likely alludes to the events of the Trojan War, lamenting that so many lives were lost in a war over one woman (Helen of Troy), who, as a sexual icon, represented a base instinct, much like hunger.
"All the nobles who rule the islands about... they court me against my will, they lay waste my house... I yearn for Odysseus, always, my heart pines away."
This testimony of Penelope, which she gives to a disguised Odysseus, hints at an explanation as to why she constantly delays the suitors' advances without ever outright telling them to leave: she is not socially in a position whereby she could directly reject all of them and merely wait forever for Odysseus to return. She is thereby trapped in a hostile situation, with her only mode of recourse being prolonging their offers of marriage for as long as she can.
"[Athena] gave no all-out turning of the tide, not yet, she kept on testing Odysseus and his gallant son, putting their force and fighting heart to proof."
This moment during the slaughter of suitors shows Athena's commitment to obtaining proof of commitment from the mortals whom she holds in favor (i.e., Odysseus and Telemachus): even at the climax of victory, she will not outright ensure their victory, although that is easily within her power; rather, she constantly demands that they assert their own power and will to win.
The Odyssey Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Odyssey is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
By nights he would lie beside her, of necessity, in the hollow caverns, against his will, by one who was willing, but all the days he would sit upon the rocks, at the seaside, breaking his heart in tears and lamentation and sorrow...