Monday, November 27, 2017

An "odyssey" in The Odyssey

So, I was looking for a copy of Emily Wilson's new translation of The Odyssey the weekend before Thanksgiving.  Fortunately, I didn't find one in any of the bookstores I checked, because it turns out I'd already long since purchased the e-book and it was waiting for me on my iPad when I headed off to Florida.

My dad had read me The Odyssey when I was a kid (I'd have been 10-12 years old, based on where we were living at the time), but I had never read it for myself.

I still recalled the general concept (Odysseus goes on wacky adventures while his wife Penelope fends off rowdy suitors by unweaving her weaving every night) and many of the episodes (e.g., Cyclops, Circe, the sirens, the need to go between the twin dangers of Scylla and Charybdis - though I didn't remember exactly what Scylla was).  Also Calypso, though I'm not sure I'd have remembered her and Ogygia without the reminder from Rick Riordan, who gives Calypso a requited love with Leo Valdez, a demi-god son of Hephaestus.

But I'd completely forgotten that the whole thing starts off Telemachus on his own mini-quest, and that Odysseus's adventures are told in a series of flashbacks rather than contemporaneously and/or in chronological order.  And I was astonished to see that Odysseus's return and revenge constitutes a good 50% of the story.

All this means that I didn't really have a great basis for comparison between the translation I'd heard as a kid (from ye olde "Harvard Classics" series, a 51-volume set which my parents still own but do not read or refer to).

Still, one line of the translation really got my attention.  It's in Book 5, where the goddess Ino says: "Poor man! Why does enraged Poseidon create an odyssey of pain for you?" (5.339-40).

What an odd choice, I thought, since our word "odyssey" is directly derived from The Odyssey.  What could be true about the original Greek, for Wilson to choose this word?

Sure enough, she addresses that issue in the notes:
5.340 create an odyssey of pain for you?: The original uses a verb that puns on our hero’s name: odysat, which means “he hated” or “he was angry at.”
I didn't look at the notes until after I'd finished the poem, however, so in Book 19 I likewise became very curious about what in the original Greek compels Autolycus to say: "I am disliked by many, all across the world, and I dislike them back.  So name the child ‘Odysseus.’" (19.406-8)

Fortunately, this too is addressed in the notes: 
19.408 I dislike them back: Autolycus uses the same verb odussomai as in 19.274, which sounds like the name “Odysseus” and can mean either “I am angry at” or “I am the cause of anger (in others).” See also the note to 1.63. 
The other referenced notes are:
19.274–75 Helius / and Zeus despised Odysseus: The verb here, odussomai, is the same one associated with the name Odysseus elsewhere in the poem (1.63). It means “to be angry at [somebody]” or “to hate,” and it is a cognate with a noun for “pain” (odune). See also the note to 19.408. 
1.63 why do you dismiss Odysseus?: The word in the original for Zeus’ hostile treatment of Odysseus, odussomai (“to hate” or in this version, “to dismiss”) is reminiscent of the name “Odysseus.” See also the notes to 19.274–75 and 19.408.

Sunday, November 26, 2017


I just watched Drout's 2014 video about How to Read Tolkien. It was pretty entertaining.

Since he mentioned Catharine Stimpson's famous line "To an eyot they came" (a semi-parodic complaint about Tolkien's diction and syntax), I searched LotR for all the "eyot" references I could find.

Drout already defended the diction, so I just considered the syntax of these sentences. They seem relatively straightforward (rather than "wrenched"), but judge for yourself:
  1. "That night they camped on a small eyot close to the western bank." 
  2. "A long whitish hand could be dimly seen as it shot out and grabbed the gunwale; two pale lamplike eyes shone coldly as they peered inside, and then they lifted and gazed up at Frodo on the eyot."
  3. Aragorn: "But if I am right in my reckoning, those are still many miles ahead. Still there are dangerous places even before we come there: rocks and stony eyots in the stream. We must keep a sharp watch and not try to paddle swiftly."
  4. "There were three lines of flat stepping-stones across the stream, and between them fords for horses, that went from either brink to a bare eyot in the midst."
  5. "And they saw that in the midst of the eyot a mound was piled, ringed with stones, and set about with many spears."
  6. "Far to the west in a haze lay the meres and eyots through which it wound its way to the Greyflood: there countless swans housed in a land of reeds."

Inherited Memory

I'm fairly certain the first time I came across the concept of "inherited memory" was through Tolkien.  As Flieger describes (414):

Now, having re-read The King of Elfland's Daughter, I find myself wondering if Dunsany, like Tolkien after him, had some experience(s) he considered "inherited memory," based on this passage (238):
"[F]or only a moment the houses held back that wonderful tide, for it broke over them with a burst of unearthly foam, like a meteor of unknown metal burning in heaven, and passed on and the houses stood all quaint and queer and enchanted, like homes remembered out of a long-past age by the sudden waking of an inherited memory."
Of course, inherited memory may have been part of the standard scientific view of the 1920's, for all I know.  (If so, I could imagine it might have become associated with racial ideologies, in which case it would likely have fallen out of favor along with phrenology and various all-too-manipulable pseudo-sciences.)

Then again, even now we occasionally see news reports about scientific studies suggesting that some memories might potentially be inherited, as in this 2013 BBC article.

Works Cited

Dunsany. The King of Elfland’s Daughter. 1924. 1st Del Rey trade paperback ed, Del Rey Impact, 1999.

Flieger, Verlyn. “Memory.” J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: Scholarship and Critical Assessment, edited by Michael D. C Drout, Routledge, 2007.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

G.K. Chesterton "Fairy Tales" (from All Things Considered)

In G.K. Chesterton's "Fairy Tales" essay, he writes:
I think the poets have made a mistake: because the world of the fairy-tales is a brighter and more varied world than ours, they have fancied it less moral; really it is brighter and more varied because it is more moral.  [...] But suppose a man were born in a modern prison, and grew accustomed to the deadly silence and the disgusting indifference; and suppose he were then suddenly turned loose upon the life and laughter of Fleet Street.  He would, of course, think that the literary men in Fleet Street were a free and happy race; yet how sadly, how ironically, is this the reverse of the case!  And so again these toiling serfs in Fleet Street, when they catch a glimpse of the fairies, think the fairies are utterly free.
(He attributes their "apparent gaiety and [...] delusive beauty," their seeming "lovely and lawless" nature, "too exquisite to descend to the ugliness of everyday duty," to a mere "illusion created by the sudden sweetness of their presence."  In his usual exuberant way, Chesterton goes on to suggest that fairy-tales, "so far from being lawless, go to the root of all law.")

But it's primarily the illustration he has used -- a man born in prison who is suddenly loosed upon Fleet Street -- that strikes me here.  Because it reminds me (just a little) of Tolkien's description of the function of Escape in "On Fairy-stories":

Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls? The world outside has not become less real because the prisoner cannot see it. In using escape in this way the critics have chosen the wrong word, and, what is more, they are confusing, not always by sincere error, the Escape of the Prisoner with the Flight of the Deserter. Just so a Party-spokesman might have labelled departure from the misery of the F├╝hrer's or any other Reich and even criticism of it as treachery. In the same way these critics, to make confusion worse, and so to bring into contempt their opponents, stick their label of scorn not only on to Desertion, but on to real Escape, and what are often its companions, Disgust, Anger, Condemnation, and Revolt. Not only do they confound the escape of the prisoner with the flight of the deserter; but they would seem to prefer the acquiescence of the “quisling” to the resistance of the patriot. To such thinking you have only to say “the land you loved is doomed” to excuse any treachery, indeed to glorify it. 

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Hats in Literature: A few examples

Dunsany - The King of Elfland's Daughter

"They listened spellbound to the ways of men; and every now and then, as when he told of hats, there ran through the forest a wave of laughter."

Tolkien - The Fellowship of the Ring

"Presently Sam appeared, trotting quickly and breathing hard; his heavy pack was hoisted high on his shoulders, and he had put on his head a tall shapeless felt bag, which he called a hat."
* * * 
"There was another burst of song, and then suddenly, hopping and dancing along the path, there appeared above the reeds an old battered hat with a tall crown and a long blue feather stuck in the band."

* * * 
"So [Tom Bombadil] sang, running fast, tossing up his hat and catching it, until he was hidden by a fold of the ground: but for some time his hey now! hoy now! came floating back down the wind, which had shifted round towards the south."

* * * 
"[The hobbits] begged [Tom Bombadil] to come at least as far as the inn and drink once more with them; but he laughed and refused, saying:
Tom's country ends here: he will not pass the borders.
Tom has his house to mind, and Goldberry is waiting!
Then he turned, tossed up his hat, leaped on Lumpkin's back, and rode up over the bank and away singing into the dusk."

* * * 
"Arrows fell among them.  One struck Frodo and sprang back.  Another pierced Gandalf's hat and stuck there like a black feather."

Chesterton - "On Running After One's Hat"

"[T]here is a current impression that it is unpleasant to have to run after one's hat. Why should it be unpleasant to the well-ordered and pious mind? Not merely because it is running, and running exhausts one. The same people run much faster in games and sports. The same people run much more eagerly after an uninteresting little leather ball than they will after a nice silk hat. There is an idea that it is humiliating to run after one's hat; and when people say it is humiliating they mean that it is comic. It certainly is comic; but man is a very comic creature, and most of the things he does are comic [...]. And the most comic things of all are exactly the things that are most worth doing [...].

Now a man could, if he felt rightly in the matter, run after his hat with the manliest ardour and the most sacred joy. He might regard himself as a jolly huntsman pursuing a wild animal, for certainly no animal could be wilder. In fact, I am inclined to believe that hat-hunting on windy days will be the sport of the upper classes in the future. There will be a meet of ladies and gentlemen on some high ground on a gusty morning. They will be told that the professional attendants have started a hat in such-and-such a thicket, or whatever be the technical term. Notice that this employment will in the fullest degree combine sport with humanitarianism. The hunters would feel that they were not inflicting pain. Nay, they would feel that they were inflicting pleasure, rich, almost riotous pleasure, upon the people who were looking on. When last I saw an old gentleman running after his hat in Hyde Park, I told him that a heart so benevolent as his ought to be filled with peace and thanks at the thought of how much unaffected pleasure his every gesture and bodily attitude were at that moment giving to the crowd."

Lewis - The  Magician's Nephew

"'Womfle - pomf - shomf,' came Uncle Andrew's voice from inside the hat.

'None of that now,' said the policeman sternly.  'You'll find this is no laughing matter.  Take that 'at off, see?'

This was more easily said than done.  But after Uncle Andrew had struggled in vain with the hat for some time, two other policemen seized it by the brim and forced it off."

(Note: The hat in question just happens to be Uncle Andrew's "best tall hat" which he'd polished up to impress Jadis.)

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Shades of Watterson?

I'd seen this before, but I had to get off the train and take a photo this time.

"Education is not a crime!"

I find it incredibly beautiful - the blue is so arresting, and the oh-so-familiar tiger pulls at my heartstrings.

The #notacrime website explains:
Swiss artist Bustart joined the Not A Crime campaign with his monumental – four storeys tall – mural at the ABC school in Harlem. His picture of a schoolgirl with her toy tiger shows a series of drawings falling away. The drawings are copies of actual drawings by the children of the ABC school. And the fact that they're falling away represents the stolen dreams of young Iranian Baha'is denied their right to go to university by their own government.
(126th St & Park Ave)

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Nothing's Simple in Brooklyn

Why not just secure all the doors and windows, and keep the key outside the room?
In other places, people may have a "persecution complex."  But not here!

Friday, November 10, 2017


I've been working all along on the assumption that Paper 2 was supposed to be 3,000 to 4,000 words, as in prior courses.  With judicious editing I've been able to turn my 15-minute oral presentation into a 3,300-word paper.  I figured the next step was to re-think and expand the conclusion a bit further, probably ending up with about 3,500 to 4,000 words, maybe even a little more.

But I just looked at the actual assignment, and we are limited 2,500 to 3,000 words!  And I double-checked the original syllabus as well, which is unfortunately consistent.

Saturday, November 04, 2017


Once, soon after we started dating, Z noticed a small collection of folders on a bookshelf.  He made some comment about how tempted he was to look inside the one marked "Privacy."

I just smiled.  

Because of course I would never keep anything private in a folder marked "Privacy" -- that folder contained things relating to privacy.  It could have been articles about the concept of privacy, or how to maintain privacy online, etc.  As it happens, I was using that folder to store privacy notices I'd received from various institutions.  That is, legal notices about institutional privacy policies, which are about as impersonal as it gets.   

So I'm glad he didn't succumb to the temptation to look in that folder - he'd have been so disappointed!  Then again, had he actually wanted to know any of my deepest secrets, I suppose all he'd have to have done, at that time, was ask.  He never did, perhaps because of the secret he himself was keeping.  

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Strolling with Butterflies - Lower Manhattan

After yesterday's attack, I decided to meander up to Chambers Street and work my way down along the Hudson.

shadows on the sidewalk outside of P.S. 234 

Double Helix Sculpture?

I was most surprised to see butterflies active and enjoying the sunshine.  There were probably 6 or 10 of them - numerous enough, and bold enough, that I actually got close enough to capture them with my phone's rather paltry camera: