August 26, 2008


Homer and His Guide, by William-Adolphe Bouguereau, courtesy of wikipedia. The guide, by the way, was a goat herder.

The theme at Goat Rope these days is the Odyssey of Homer, along with links and comments about current events. If this is your first visit and you like this kind of thing, please click on earlier posts.

Back in the proverbial day, stories like the Odyssey weren't read, they were heard as the songs of traveling bards, probably performed over several evenings. There was no such thing as Netflix in Argos, after all.

The bards often traveled from place to place and sang for their supper, accompanying themselves with the lyre. Interesting etymological note: the word text as in story and textile as in clothing are related as both involve weaving, in the former case with words. My guess is that a bard's performance was more like a poetry recitation accompanied by plucks on the lyre rather than wailing and strumming.

In the Odyssey, which was originally sung by a bard, there is the character of the bard Demodocus, who sings a song within a song. (Nice try, Shakespeare with the Hamlet/play-within-a-play thing, but Homer got there first.) This gives us a chance to see what a live performance might have been like.

After nearly 10 years at war and another 10 in various jams, Odysseus has finally made it to the land of the Phaeacians, who have promised to take him home to Ithaca. In the meantime, they entertain him lavishly with feasts and games. Demodocus is part of the entertainment. Like the Homer of legend, he is blind. Here's his first appearance:

In came the herald now,
leading along the faithful bard the Muse adored
above all others, true, but her gifts were mixed
with good and evil both: she stripped him of sight
but gave the man the power of stirring, rapturous song.

After a decent meal and a drink of wine, Demodocus begins to sing of the war. He is so good that his songs of the Trojan War bring Odysseus to tears as the painful memories return and help to inspire him to reveal his true identity. (Note: Jonathan Shay suggests that the singer is himself a combat veteran, which is one reason why his song rings so true.)

Homer also gave his audience a hint of how a bard was to be treated. A bit later in the story,

...Odysseus carved a strip of loin,
rich and crisp with fat, from the white-tusked board
that still had much meat left, and called the herald over:
"Here, herald, take this choice cut to Demodocus
so he can eat his fill--with warm regards from a man who knows what suffering is...
From all who walk the earth our bards deserve
esteem and awe, for the Muse herself has taught them
paths of song. She loves the breed of harpers."

Nothing like a little self-promotion. And it's only right that those who sing for their supper should get some decent tips. Come to think of it, maybe bloggers of epic themes should too...

STOP THE PRESSES!!!! Stunning new research has found that most teens pick their noses. If we had only known this sooner...

One of the researchers made this priceless remark:

"Some people poke their nose into other people's business. I made it my business to poke my business into other people's noses."

THROUGH THE ROOF. The Christian Science Monitor takes a look at CEO pay.

SPEAKING OF WHICH, the August 25 print issue of Business Week noted that an average S&P 500 CEO would only have had to work three hours in 2007 to "earn" what a minimum wage full time worker would have earned in a year.

HAPPY UP, Y'ALL. Here's another item on the predominantly Buddhist nation of Bhutan's efforts to increase gross national happiness.


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