The Ancient World (HUM 124 - UNC Asheville)/Texts/Odyssey/Book 13

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Summary[edit | edit source]

 Alcinous, moved by Odysseus's harrowing tale, promises that each Phaeacian man will give him a gift to build up wealth for his return to Ithaca. They feast all the next day while Alcinous' men prepare the ships. Odysseus is impatient to leave. Alcinous' men row him to Ithaca during the night as Odysseus sleeps on the ship, and we're kind of surprised he actually made it home this time. They land on a rocky grotto, unload the still sleeping Odysseus, and leave him on the shore with all his treasure. Up in the clouds, or wherever it is that gods hang out, Poseidon sees Odysseus in Ithaca and approaches Zeus angrily. He wants Odysseus to suffer. Zeus tells him that he is a god and therefore may take his revenge against a mortal any time he wants. So Poseidon finds the Phaeacians' returning ship, which is almost back to its homeland, and turns it into stone. Where it promptly sinks. Alcinous, seeing this happen, remembers the prophecy we heard in Book VIII (that his ship would be turned to stone and mountains thrown up around his island if his people were nice to strangers) and promptly whacks himself on the forehead. Meanwhile, Athene, up to her old tricks again, conjures a grey mist to hide Odysseus while he sleeps. When he wakes, Odysseus doesn't recognize his home and has no idea where he is. He thinks the Phaeacians have deceived him. After he counts his treasure and realizes none of it is stolen, Athene disguises herself as a shepherd and approaches him.

They have a little exchange, and Odysseus makes up an elaborate story about being a hunted man from Crete who fought in the Trojan War and just escaped a ship of pirates. Athene, highly amused, reveals her true form and has a hearty laugh. Then she comments that Odysseus is indeed a master liar (which is a compliment). We learn that Odysseus thought himself abandoned by the goddess after the Trojan War, but is pleased to discover that she's been the one following him around and putting protective clouds over him. Athene reaffirms that this land is Ithaca. She lifts the protective cloud so he can see clearly that this is indeed his beloved homeland. They stash the treasure safely in the grotto and start planning revenge. Athene tells Odysseus she will disguise him as a beggar, because she is the master of disguises and no one likes to look too closely at beggars anyway. She orders him to go see his swineherd in the forest while she flies to Sparta to call Telemachus home.

Characters[edit | edit source]

Odysseus: The protagonist of The Odyssey and a legendary hero of Greek mythology. He is the leader of a group of Greek warriors during their adventures to return to home to Ithaca after the Trojan War.

Telemachus: Odysseus’ son; Odysseus leaves him as a baby but he is now in his twenties and helping to maintain Odysseus’ estate.

Eumaeus: He is the loyal swineherd who helps to defeat the suitors

Poseidon: The God of the sea, has a grudge against Odysseus for blinding his Cyclops son.

Athena: Goddess of wisdom and courage, she guides and helps Odysseus throughout his journey.

Zeus: King of the Gods, he allows Athena to help Odysseus and Poseidon to harm him.

Alcinous: King of Phaeacia who is hospitable to Odysseus and helps him return to Ithaca.

Demoducus: bard of Phaeacia

Pontonous: herald to King Alcinous

Arete: queen of Phaeacia whom Odysseus wishes a great life

Idomeneus' son, Orsilochus: part of disguise story: killed him after he tried to rob "Odysseus" of what he won in Troy

Ancient Worldview[edit | edit source]

Disaster as Will of The Gods[edit | edit source]

Disaster abounds in Book 13. The sinking of the Phaeacian’s ship is blamed on their hospitality, angering Poseidon. In reality the ship likely hit shallows and sunk rather than turned to stone, but by blaming the gods we can explain the unexplainable. To prophesy about things like a boat sinking or natural disaster like earthquakes Is self fulfilling because of course these things happen, but by naming them as consequences for disloyalty to the gods, as a society more value is placed on sacrifice and staying in line with the local religion.

One of the controversies in this section of the tale is that the Phaeacians, who are models of hospitality, apparently are to be punished by the gods for their kindness and generosity. Poseidon complains to Zeus that he is disrespected by the mortals and will lose face with other gods because the Phaeacians have returned Odysseus safely to his homeland. The overriding conflict here is that Poseidon wants to punish the Phaeacians for granting safe passage to wayfaring strangers, a custom that is an exceptional virtue in Homer's world. The situation is further complicated because Zeus is the protector of wayfaring strangers and suppliants. Zeus turns his back on this ideal code of conduct.