September 11, 2008

Men into pigs

Circe offers the cup in this painting by John William Waterhouse by way of wikipedia. Think before you drink!

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

After a serious losing streak of one disaster or danger after another, Odysseus and his men get a little bit of a break on the island Aeaea, home of the beautiful nymph Circe.

It gets off to a rocky start though, when she encounters a recon party sent from the ship. When they visit her house, she welcomes them and offers them a meal, while slipping them the proverbial Mickey:

She opened her gleaming doors at once and stepped forth,
inviting them all in, and in they went, all innocence...
She ushered them in to sit on high-backed chairs,
then she mixed them a potion--cheese, barley
and pale honey mulled in Pramnian wine--
but into the brew she stirred her wicked drugs
to wipe from their memories any thought of home.
Once they'd drained the bowls she filled, suddenly
she struck with her want, drove them into her pigsties,
all of them bristling into swine--with grunts,
snouts--even their bodies, yes, and only
the men's minds stayed steadfast as before.
So off they went to their pens, sobbing, squealing
as Circe flung them acorns, cornel nuts and mast,
common fodder for hogs that root and roll in mud.

No doubt many female readers of this story over the ages probably wouldn't consider this to be much of a feat...

One man, Eurylochus, escapes and warns Odysseus, who heads in with his sword. This time, he gets a little help. The god Hermes warns him to take the herb moly with him as an antidote to her spells. When she brandishes her wand, he is to threaten with his sword. When she offers to share her bed, he must make her swear by the River Styx--the sacred oath of the gods--that she will not hurt him and will turn his men back into humans.

That's pretty much the way it goes down. After that, she tells him,

'Royal son of Laertes, Odysseus, man of action,
no more tears now, calm these tides of sorrow.
Well I know what pains you bore on the swarming sea,
what punishment you endured from hostile men on land.
But come now, eat your food and drink your wine
till the same courage fills your chests, now as then,
when you first set sail from native land, from rocky Ithaca
Now you are burnt-out husks, your spirits haggard, sere,
always brooding over your wanderings long and hard,
your hearts never lifting with any joy--
you suffered far too much.'

So begins a year of R&R: great food and wine, comfort and baths, not to mention daily dalliance with a goddess. Not a bad gig, all things considered.

Holy male fantasy, Batman!

This part of the story can be interpreted lots of ways. Peter Meineck, who has produced some excellent lectures on the classics for The Modern Scholar, suggests that at this point Odysseus needs to get in touch with the feminine after years of male violence. Staying for a year also means getting grounded and connected again to the cycle of the seasons.

Another way of looking at it is to note that it doesn't take much for Odysseus to forget all about his homecoming and his wife and child who have been waiting about 11 years by now. As Jonathan Shay notes in Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming, many of the veterans he worked with

went through periods during the first decade after returning form Vietnam when they apparently did seek the solace that Circe specifically offers in wine, good food, and great sex.

Often, however, fantasy and reality don't quite match and the result is disappointment and disillusionment:

A real-world woman, in America, meeting a haggard combat veteran, might have been as understanding as Circe, but unlike Circe had no staff of serving women, had to consider how to pay to keep up the household, had a life with her own family and friends apart from the veteran.

At any rate, it sure beats getting eaten by a cyclops...

SEVEN YEARS AGO. I don't know about you, Gentle Reader, but the anniversary of 9/11 reminds me of the victims but also makes me wonder where we'd be now if the US had pursued a wiser course in its wake.

JOBS VS ENVIRONMENT? Not really. Investing green technology and infrastructure could create 2 million jobs, according to a new report.

A NEW LOOK AT RELIGION. Here's an interesting take on religion based on a study by two anthropologists studying religious behavior and communication. Short version: it tends to promote social cooperation and childlike acceptance of validity claims.

STRESS. A Cambridge (UK) study found the West Virginians had the highest percentage of stressed out people in the nation.

DID YOU TAKE YOUR MORALITY PILL TODAY? A British psychiatrist has proposed the use of morality-enhancing medication.

DOGS AND CATS LIVING TOGETHER--MASS HYSTERIA. Israeli researchers have been studying how well cats and dogs get along when introduced in the same home. Each animal has a different set of body signals but some can learn to "read" the other's. I could have told y'all that.



Andrew said...

hey bro, just wanted to let you know

i use the name goatrope on the internet too. also sept 11th is my birthday (for reals) so i figured i'd celebrate by contacting you. you're like a long lost brother i never had.

sometimes when i register on new sites and "goatrope" is taken i wonder if it was you

well, bye

El Cabrero said...

Happy birthday!

Goat rope is a great expression. I first heard it when I was on the fire department and attended an auto extrication class. Any time a situation got out of control, he'd say "Boys, we got us a goat rope here."

It fits the world pretty well these days.

Thanks for the note.