October 07, 2008

Where will it end?

Athena, courtesy of wikipedia.

We're almost done with a long series on the Odyssey of Homer. You'll also find links and comments about current events. When I started writing about what this timeless classic had to say to us today, I never thought it would last this long. What can I say? Homer is the man (or maybe, as some have speculated, the woman).

For many readers, the least satisfying part of the book is the ending. Odysseus, Telemachus and some faithful servants finally wreak terrible vengeance on the 108 suitors and the unfaithful maids and servants. In a contest, Odysseus strings a bow as only he can do and a massacre ensues.

(The goat herder Melanthius comes to a particularly nasty end. El Cabrero's one complaint about the bard is that he was a little rough on a fellow goat herder. I'm not sure you can really blame the guy for being such a jerk: this is an occupational hazard of hanging out with goats. But I digress...)

The people of Ithaca are not happy about this slaughter. Nor are they particularly pleased with a commander who loses every single one of his 600 men after the war was over.

A fresh conflict is about to ensue between Odysseus, son Telemachus, father Laertes, and servants and a mob of Ithacans when the gods intervened. Athena cries out

"in a piercing voice that stopped all fighters cold,
"Hold back, you men of Ithaca, back from brutal war!
Break off--shed no more blood--make peace at once!"

With that,

...Terror blanched their faces,
they went limp with fear, weapons slipped from their hands
and strewed the ground at the goddess' ringing voice...

At her command, they made a pact of peace.

It is kind of hard to believe (even in an epic with all kinds of gods and monsters and wonders). But it does raise this point: how does the spiral of violence come to an end, with one provocation being answered by yet another with no end in sight and with all sides feeling justified in doing what they do?

Homer seems to suggest that we do need some kind of divine intervention for that to happen. If it's on the menu, I'll take it. Another reading is to say that our only hope is in what the goddess Athena embodies: wisdom, craft and strategy.

Or maybe they're the same thing.


PAYBACK. Here's an interesting item on our innate sense sense of justice, the desire to punish cheaters, and capacity for forgiveness.

THE RECESSION AND YOUR HEALTH. Economic downturns can have some interesting effects.

GET THE PICTURE on climate change? If not, click here.

WARM BLOODED. Half of all mammal species are in decline and one fourth are headed for extinction, according to this report. Here's more on the topic.


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