Information Technology

Topics: Odyssey, Iliad, Homer Pages: 7 (2951 words) Published: May 4, 2014
t is my pleasure to welcome you to the academic year that looms before us like one of the mythical lands on Odysseus’s journey: unknown, a little scary, and full of promise for the intellectual adventurer. This is the seventh year that convocation has included a lecture on Homer’s Odyssey. For parents who read the text over the summer, I hope to provide one focus for your conference discussion tomorrow. And as a quick aside: for those of you who haven’t quite finished, jump ahead to book XXII and you should be fine. For students new to Reed – and, please, never do what I have just suggested that your parents do – the lecture will provide you a general introduction to Reed’s Humanities program. For faculty colleagues, staff members and guests who may never have read the Odyssey, well… I know that some of you have given in and read it. Welcome to the Humanities program! I have chosen for my topic this afternoon images of violence in the Odyssey. I admit that I have had more than a few doubts about this topic which is, in many ways, contrary to our occasion and the promise of the new academic year. But violence is, of course, a topic that is in the air as we confront our country’s actions in Iraq or the continuing violence around the world, a perceived threat of terrorist violence in our cities and, the real violence which surrounds us and of which we are constantly reminded through newspapers, television news, movies, video games, and other media. It seems that just when we are steeled to one variety of violence a new form assaults us and shakes us anew. The photos of Iraqi prisoners and their torture by US soldiers serve as a recent example of the shock of the new. After these photos circulated last Spring, Susan Sontag wrote in the New York Times Magazine: “The horror of what is shown in the photographs cannot be separated from the horror that the photographs were taken – with the perpetrators posing, gloating, over their helpless captives.” I believe that Sontag is correct here: we are, sadly, accustomed to photos of victims of torture. The new twist and what is difficult to comprehend is that these photos were staged, taken and disseminated by young people, many of whom are the same age as Reed students, who would choose to record their satisfaction or glee at the torture of other human beings. This afternoon, I will look at the representation of violence in the Odyssey. Specifically I will look at Odysseus and Telemachus’s actions in book XXII: here, Odysseus, with the help of Telemachus and the herdsmen, methodically slays the suitors and reestablishes order in his household. There is no question that within the logic of the text, this violent action is justified. The scene is followed by another, though, in which Telemachus disobeys an explicit order of Odysseus concerning how the serving women who have been disloyal to Penelope must die. At this point, and as he does throughout the text, Homer stops the action and presents us with a simile, a verbal photograph if you will, of Telemachus and his brutality. The scene is disturbing both because Telemachus acts contrary to his father’s wishes and because he acts more violently than he needs to. If Odysseus’ slaughter of the suitors is justified in the text, Telemachus’s actions are less clear and highlights the fact that not all instances of violence are equal. When I first read the Iliad as a college sophomore I was overwhelmed by its graphic violence. It was difficult to assimilate the variety of horrors that the heroes could inflict on each other; the countless pierced livers and perforated throats, each painstakingly and sometimes beautifully described as when Homer creates a simile to describe the death of Priam’s “beautiful” son, Gorgythion in Book VIII. That Gorgythion’s epithet is “the blameless” only makes his death more disturbing: “He [Gorgythion] bent, drooping his head to one side, as a garden poppy bends beneath the weight of its yield and the rains of...
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