Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Eumaeus and Emmaus

This is turning into a day of frenzied posting but it suddenly struck me that there is an interesting coincidence in the names Eumaeus (the swine-herd who looks after the disguised Odysseus when he first arrives back in Ithaca) and Emmaus (the village on the road to which Jesus appears after the crucifixion). In both cases, the story turns upon non-recognition and the debt of hospitality owed to a stranger.

This coincidence has been noted before and you can actually watch a conference presentation on the subject by Kasper Bro Larsen here. It's the second embedded video on the page. I haven't watched the whole of it yet but Larsen's concern seems to be to read the Emmaus story (which appears in Luke 24, 13-35) in relation to a longer tradition of recognition stories, an early example of which is the story of Eumaeus.

more on food and feasting

I'm becoming a little obsessed with the theme of food and feasting in the Odyssey. The point is that Odysseus lives in a world where there is a kind of ethical obligation to show hospitality to strangers and the poem consistently thematises the treatment of the stranger/guest, the xenos, at the hands of different hosts. Throughout the poem we find descriptions of feasts that are held under a range of different circumstances. What's more, the descriptions resemble each other quite closely with certain motifs reappearing in the different passages (rinsing the hands with water from a silver basin, for example). This is partly because oral epics make extensive use of stock material that can be repeated in different contexts but the repetition does have the effect of inviting readers to compare the different instances of feasting and meditate on the differences.

I think this is interesting because the danger of the sirens is that they will not treat you with hospitality. To land on their island is to attend a non-banquet where the food never arrives. And their lack of hospitality is not just a detail of their particular myth but is highly salient in a text where the feasting of strangers is a recurrent element of the narrative.

I think there are around seven or eight descriptions of feasting in the Odyssey and I'll briefly draw attention to some of them. (I'm going to miss out a couple of feasts that happen when Telemachus visits Menelaus in Sparta because I can't think of anything to say about them.)

Odyssey 1: The suitors who are using up Odysseus' wealth in his absence hold a feast in his house. I've already commented on this here. As I said in that earlier post, this is an interesting one for us because Athena, in disguise and commenting with assumed naivety on what is happening, explicitly says that this cannot be an ἔρανος but must be a γάμος or an εἰλαπίνη. There is an irony to this comment because she knows full well that there is no host at home to offer a γάμος or an εἰλαπίνη (except Telemachus, who is still acting as a boy at this stage).

Odyssey 7: Here, Alcinous, King of the Phaeacians, welcomes Odysseus who has been cast up on his shores after the ship wreck, and it is only when they have eaten that his wife, Arete, asks Odysseus anything about who he is. It is in this context that Odysseus describes what has happened to him since leaving Troy, so the narrative of the inhospitable sirens is, in fact, told there in the midst of Alcinous' hospitality. The Phaeacians are really the template of the ideal hosts - their treatment of Odysseus is exemplary. (Incidentally, Alcinous calls the meal he offers Odysseus a δόρπον (evening meal).)

Odyssey 10: Circe offers Odysseus food (and the image of the servant with the silver bowl appears here just as it did in the two earlier examples). But, since she has turned his men into swine by feeding them φάρμακα mixed with a strange concoction of cheese, barley, and honey, he doesn't have much appetite. There is something strange and complex about Circe's hospitality. She rivals Alcinous in her treatment of Odysseus but her treatment of his men is a kind of grotesque parody of the act of feasting the xenos. In the end, it is the fact that Odysseus won't accept her food that leads her to free his men, entertain them all, and provide advice about how to avoid the sirens. Circe actually uses the expression 'eating [your] heart' (θυμὸν ἔδων) to describe Odysseus' fretfulness and unwillingness to take her hospitality.

Odyssey 16: Now we're back in Ithaca and Odysseus has arrived home unrecognised. He stays with the swine-herd, Eumaeus, who does not know who he is. But Eumaeus understands the laws of hospitality and offers the stranger bread (σῖτος) and wine (οἶνος). And, when Odysseus thanks him, he says:

"ξεῖν᾽, οὔ μοι θέμις ἔστ᾽, οὐδ᾽ εἰ κακίων σέθεν ἔλθοι,
ξεῖνον ἀτιμῆσαι: πρὸς γὰρ Διός εἰσιν ἅπαντες
ξεῖνοί τε πτωχοί τε: δόσις δ᾽ ὀλίγη τε φίλη τε
γίγνεται ἡμετέρη [...]"

"It's wrong, my friend, to send any stranger packing -
even one who arrives in worse shape than you.
Every stranger and beggar comes from Zeus
and whatever scrap they get from the likes of us,
they'll find it welcome."

As in Phaeacia, the sharing of food leads on to the telling of stories, but here Odysseus makes up a tale so that he isn't forced to reveal his true identity too soon.

This is taking longer than I'd intended, so I'll break off and perhaps say something about the other scenes of feasting later. The main point is that the sirens' lack of hospitality is described in a text that is, in many ways, about the question of how strangers are to be treated and in which in the sharing of food is the sign of the hospitality one owes to them.

Monday, 19 July 2010

on food and eating

Since we met up earlier this month, I've been trying to avoid adding yet more siren-texts to the existing collection - in the manner so aptly satirised by Despina! - and focusing instead on the texts we have.

As I thought about them, it struck me that there is something interesting going on with food. If you give in to the lure of the sirens you end up dying of starvation, but, if you do as Odysseus did, and listen to them with restraint, then you can assemble an eranos, which is a meal to which many people contribute. Instead of becoming hypnotised by the monstrous singers who will not feed you, you can take nourishment from a wide array of voices.

I was in the Castle Market here in Sheffield over the weekend and the plenitude of old-fashioned food stalls - butchers, fishmongers, grocers, bakers, confectioners, and all - made me think of this idea of a world in which voices are food and the ideal life is one in which you pass through taking nourishment wherever you can find it.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

more on the eranos

The term eranos appears in the first book of the Odyssey, when Athena appears to Odysseus' son, Telemachus, disguised as Mentes, an old friend (xenos) of the family. S/he asks him what is happening in Ithaca and, in particular, what all the suitors are doing there. And, in that context, s/he says: 'Is this an eilapinē or a gamos? It clearly isn't an eranos':

τίς δαίς, τίς δὲ ὅμιλος ὅδ᾽ ἔπλετο; τίπτε δέ σε χρεώ;
εἰλαπίνη ἠὲ γάμος; ἐπεὶ οὐκ ἔρανος τάδε γ᾽ ἐστίν:
ὥς τέ μοι ὑβρίζοντες ὑπερφιάλως δοκέουσι
δαίνυσθαι κατὰ δῶμα.

The point is that the other two types of feast are ones offered by a single host, whereas the eranos involves some kind of collectivity. Since the suitors are living at Odysseus' expense, they are not engaged in an eranos. Here are some notes on this provided by Perseus. (Click on them for the full size image.)


Right, this may seem a little pedantic, but I do have a background in linguistics and it's hard to break the habits of a lifetime :o)

I've been a bit troubled by the term eranisteon ever since we first came across it. Rahner's translation makes use of the phrase 'beggar's collection' but the thing is that eranisteon obviously isn't a noun. The noun for one of those pot-luck meals we were talking about is the related term, eranos, and it seems that there is a massive literature on the practice of the eranos both in antiquity and in the early church. The term eranisteon is the neuter of a verbal adjective derived - I think - from the verb eranidzo. Perseus offers an online edition of Hubert Weir Smyth's Greek grammar and this is how Smyth deals with verbal adjectives:

Verbal forms that share the properties of nouns are called verbal nouns. There are two kinds of verbal nouns. 1. Substantival: the infinitive [...]. 2. Adjectival (inflected like adjectives): a. Participles [...]. b. Verbal adjectives: In -tos, denoting possibility [...]. In -teos, denoting necessity, as grapteos that must be written.

So eranisteon isn't simply the name of the 'beggar's collection'. It expresses the whole idea: 'there there must be a collecting'. I think it must have the same sort of connotations as eranos but expressed in a different grammatical form.

As I say, this may be a rather rarified point and, in the end, it may not make much difference to the work. But I like it for two reasons:

1. A word that means 'there must be a collecting' seems more exciting to me than a word that just means 'a collective meal'. There is more dynamism in the word, somehow.

2. The term eranos is the name of an international discussion group which has been considering questions of religion, philosophy, and so on since the early 1930s. (See the wikipedia entry here for a bit of information - some famous names have been associated with the group and, as it happens, Rahner mentions them in the introduction to his book.) As such, I think it's just as well that we have a related but different word to work with.

As I say, there is a massive literature on the eranos and I don't propose that we plough through all of it. But, at the same time, I might post some of the more interesting odds and ends that I come across in the next week or so.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Sirens and Owls

In reading through Ovid again today, I noticed that right before we hear about the Sirens, we learn about Ascalaphus, a son of Acheron, the same river god who is also posited as the father of the Sirens. Ascalaphus is the tattle-tale who tells that Proserpina had eaten seven pomegranate seeds in the underworld. (Jupiter had said if she hadn't tasted the food of the Underworld, she could come home.) Proserpina punishes Ascalaphus by turning him into an owl:

foedaque fit volucris, venturi nuntia luctus,
ignavus bubo, dirum mortalibus omen.

I think it's a curious coincidence that this nasty owl appears right before the talk of the Sirens in Book V. Ovid doesn't tell us the Sirens are daughters of Acheron, we get that from the Argonautica (and elsewhere), but I'm wondering if the sibling relationship of sirens and owls we find in Ovid parallels the Septuagint writers' use of sirens as owl-like creatures?

Odysseus chooses a new soul

(in the Republic, Book X, in the Myth of Er, we see various people choosing their next lives, and here's what happens with Odysseus: how cool is this?!?!)

κατὰ τύχην δὲ τὴν Ὀδυσσέως λαχοῦσαν πασῶν ὑστάτην αἱρησομένην ἰέναι, μνήμῃ δὲ τῶν προτέρων πόνων φιλοτιμίας λελωφηκυῖαν ζητεῖν περιιοῦσαν χρόνον πολὺν βίον ἀνδρὸς ἰδιώτου ἀπράγμονος, καὶ μόγις εὑρεῖν κείμενόν που καὶ παρημελημένον [620δ] ὑπὸ τῶν ἄλλων, καὶ εἰπεῖν ἰδοῦσαν ὅτι τὰ αὐτὰ ἂν ἔπραξεν καὶ πρώτη λαχοῦσα, καὶ ἁσμένην ἑλέσθαι.

And it fell out that the soul of Odysseus drew the last lot of all and came to make its choice, and, from memory of its former toils having flung away ambition, went about for a long time in quest of the life of an ordinary citizen who minded his own business, and with difficulty found it lying in some corner disregarded by the others, [620d] and upon seeing it said that it would have done the same had it drawn the first lot, and chose it gladly.


Saturday, 3 July 2010

siren references

A classified list of references to the Sirens: