| THE ODYSSEY|
Professor Fagles responds...
March 13, 1997
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in this forum:
How much of the Odyssey is history, and how much is poetic fiction? How do we know that Homer was blind? What explains the lack of colors in the Odyssey? How has James Joyce's "Ulysses" effected your reading of the "Odyssey"? Is a son incomplete without his father in much of Ancient Greek literature? ADDITIONAL COMMENTS John S. Altemueller of St. Charles MO, asks:
Odysseus, like most of his contemporaries, is a rather arrogant greedy fellow at the beginning of the poem, and brings much sorrow on himself by his actions. Yet the gods are no better than he is -often much worse- and their punishment of Odysseus and his crew has more to do with the capriciousness of the Olympians than the sins of the mortals. What is Odysseus' moral compass, if the gods offer no example ? What keeps him striving for 20 years of war and wandering ?
Steven F. Walker of Highland Park, NJ, asks
Odysseus may have learned a lot by the time he gets home, but do you feel he still has more to learn? Does he have failings or faults with which he still needs to come to terms (let's say, by the end of book 23, at least)?
Professor Robert Fagles of Princeton University responds:
How right you are—in terms of fortitude and reliability, Odysseus is a good deal better than his gods. He has a great deal of growing to do, it's true, and he grows the most on his own home soil of Ithaca, where the dangers and the rewards are greatest. But however much he has to grow, he does grow, for that is the privilege of being human rather than immortal, and it's essentially the humanity of the hero that wins the day, that creates the values and the loyalties that become the hallmarks of the marriage between Odysseus and Penelope. The Odyssey celebrates a great victory for humanity, I believe, and just might form a lesson for the gods themselves, who have their powers, no question about it, but rarely if ever the important human virtues.