October 06, 2008

The bed of Odysseus

Odysseus and Penelope by Francesco Primaticcio (1563), courtesy of wikipedia.

Along with links and comments about current events, the ongoing theme at Goat Rope for quite a while now has been the Odyssey of Homer. El Cabrero is striving mightily to wind it up but it takes a while to stop at train or turn a ship around. I'm trying though.

Whatever else you can say about Odysseus, as strange as it may seem he really did have a loving bond with his wife Penelope. This is true despite his 20 years of wandering and the occasional dalliance with a goddess or two. After all, he gave up Calypso's offer of immortality to go home to her.

One symbol of the power of that bond is the story of their bed. Toward the end of the epic, Odysseus, disguised as a beggar, gradually reveals himself to his family and faithful servants. It's hard to tell when the recognition occurred since they are all operating under stress from the threat of more than 100 insolent suitors. It's sort of a game of classics geeks to speculate about what did Penelope know and when.

Penelope in particular is skeptical of anyone who claims to have knowledge of Odysseus after many years of lies and rumors. She also fears being deceived by someone who claims to be her husband. When at last they talk, she pretends to doubt him, which leads him to protest

"Strange woman! So hard--the gods of Olympus
made you harder than any other woman in the world!
What other wife could have a spirit so unbending?
Holding back from her husband, home at last for her
after bearing twenty years of brutal struggle."

As a way of giving him a final test (or of just messing with him), she asks the maid to move their bed so that the stranger can sleep on it--alone.

Now here's the thing about that bed. It is absolutely immovable by any mortal, have been built around the stump of an olive tree. He is devastated at the thought that anyone could have moved it:

"Woman--your words, they cut me to the core!
Who could move my bed? Impossible task,
even for some skilled craftsman--unless a god
came down in person, quick to lend a hand,
lifted out with ease and moved it elsewhere.
Not a man on earth, not even at peak strength,
would find it easy to prise it up and shift it, no,
a great sign, a hallmark lies in its construction."

With that, she knows she's got her man:

"...now, since you have revealed such overwhelming proof-
the secret sign of our bed, which no one's ever seen
but you and I and a single maid, Actoris,
the servant my father gave me when I came,
who kept the doors of our room you built so well...
you've conquered my heart, my hard heart, at last!"

The goddess Athena even gives the couple a special break:

She held back the night, and night lingered long
at the western edge of the earth, while in the east
she reined in Dawn of the golden throne at Ocean's banks.
commanding her not to yoke the windswift team that brings men light...

They had a lot of catching up to do. The lengthened night gave them time to love, talk and sleep.

There are some powerful images in the Odyssey, like Penelope's loom, and this is one of them. The image of this immovable bed symbolizes a deep bond between a couple that not even the ravages of the years can uproot. You don't see a whole lot of that these days.

OH GOOD. The US lost 159,000 jobs in September, the biggest loss since March 2003, according to this Jobs Byte from the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

ON A SIMILAR NOTE, this snapshot from the Economic Policy Institute looks at trade deficit related job losses in 2007.

HOMO ECONOMICUS don't live around here.

WAKE UP. Here's an item on the medical utility of mindfulness meditation.



Tomás said...

Thank you!

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[Sign off]