When I landed in San Diego I quite literally closed the final page of Homer’s Odyssey ( Robert Fitzgerald edition); unlike our hero Odysseus I did not return to libertine suitors or “a wife dishonored” but rather my own dull life.
What I was left with was many vivid images.
Homer directs a set with meticulous detail, he minutely describes the marble halls of kings, golden vessels pouring forth liquid hospitality, horrifying monsters ready to pounce upon the weakness of man, fetching virgins willing to do the same and the gallantry and failures of man himself.
Once such Everyman was Amphínomos, son of Nísos Aretíadês, comely , “gently bred” (340) and of all the ruffians wooing fair Penélopê he pleased her “…for he meant no ill.” (302-303). I was drawn to this character for in the telling of this tale Homer points out the excesses of the suitors, the bold heroics of Odysseus and his son Telémakhos, the cunning of Kirke and the mad predictions of Cassandra; all characters extraordinary in their way.
Amphínomos isn’t particularly heroic he merely seems to possess basic deceny, a desire to try his hand at the hot widow Penélopê and indulge in the overflowing sweet wine and unending platters of roast meats served by boys with “…pretty faces” and “…pomade ever on their sleek heads…” (278). Can’t really blame the fellow.
In fact his only real act of heroics lies in his aversion to regicide, when the unruly mob of suitors plot to eliminate the young Telémakhos only Amphínomos objects, being unwilling to kill a “…prince of royal blood…” (303). Again and again it is just garden variety decency that makes Amphínomos so endearing, even to our lofty hero, Odysseus. Disguised as a beggar at his own court, Odysseus is greeted with cruelty by the band of loutish suitors; Amphínomos offers bread and cordiality to the unfortunate wretch. Odysseus repays this kindness with words of advice “Get outta Dodge”. He warns the young man that the king will indeed return and all are doomed for there will be “…no way out, unless by blood.” (341).
Something deep within the young knows this to be correct, he witnesses the debauchery around him and knows what the beggars says to be true. As he turns to leave he is frozen for “…his heart foreknew the wrath to come, but he could not take flight, being by Athena bound there. Death would have him broken by a spear thrown by Telémakhos. So he sat down there where he has sat before.” (340-341).
This is my interpretation of the doomed Amphínomos, the grey-eyed Athena and Unrelenting Death.
Well that is all it for now,after facing a fearsome goddess and Death himself, I must walk my dogs.
I had hoped to discuss my thoughts as to why this example of Greek fatalism contrasted so sharply with the Good News of another figure to come. A theology where redemption was indeed possible; where a fellow like Amphínomos inclined to change could have done just that. How in the Classical world god and man were bound by Fate ; the hapless must returned to the chair “…where he had sat before” and silently accept what must be. How a new theology could have understandably appealed to an ancient world weary of the irrational tyranny of fickle gods and brutal destiny.
But thankfully I haven’t time to discuss such matters, I have rambunctious pups to attend to.
Until next time,