Unmeaning Flattery

Home | Blog | Search | RSS | Contact

A Man of Wrath Moved to Tears

Wednesday 10/12/2005 12:23 PM

Homer wrote that the name/word Odysseus meant "man of wrath." Once you know the end of the story, it's easy to understand why.

After he finally returns to Ithaca, the goddess Athena transforms Odysseus into a beggar man so he can sneak into the city unrecognized. Because Odysseus is believed to be dead, his wife, Penelope, has been plagued by suitors and she is close to re-marrying. On the day that Odysseus returns to the palace (in disguise), a prophet warns Penelope's suitors, who had wronged Odysseus earlier in the story, that he sees "the walls of this mansion dripping with [their] blood." They respond with laughter.

Penelope decides she will marry whoever can string Odysseus's bow and shoot an arrow through the open sockets of 12 ax heads set in a row. According to my father, it's at this point in one of the movie adaptations of The Odyssey that the still incognito Odysseus quietly locks the door to the throne room. One by one, each of the suitors tries to string the bow and fails. Finally, Odysseus steps up and, in an Arthur-like move, strings it easily and launches an arrow through all 12 of the ax heads. He then slays all the suitors and reclaims his throne.

That's the super-ultra-condensed Peter version. You can read more at the Wikipedia entry for The Odyssey.

So now that you know the end of the story, let's back up a bit to get to the part I want to tell you about today.

When Odysseus was still disguised as a beggar, but had not yet found his way to the palace, he was wandering through Ithaca and came across his old dog, Argus. It had been twenty years since he last saw Argus and the dog still lived, but in a terrible way. Argus had been thrown out of the palace, was covered in fleas and had not been cared for, yet still he lived.

As Odysseus neared, Argus raised his head and wagged his tail, but he could not get up to greet his old master who he recognized after an absence of a score of years. Odysseus was so moved at the sight of his dog he hid his face so no one would see his tears and recognize him as the returning king. He asked his companion about the dog and Eumaeus the swineherder told him:

“If he were what he was when Odysseus left for Troy, he would soon show you what he could do. There was not a wild beast in the forest that could get away from him when he was once on its tracks. But now he has fallen on evil times, for his master is dead and gone, and the women take no care of him.”

Just then, Argus fell over dead, at peace now that his master had returned. And for many, many years after, Argus was remembered as the most loyal of dogs.

I discovered the sad but inspiring story of Argus during my research for the book, and while this brings us to the end of all I have to share with you regarding Odysseus's tale, it is just the beginning of mine.

Check back tomorrow for the punchline.

File Under: Argus; Odysseus
Music: Bettye LaVette "I've Got My Own Hell To Raise"

Permalink | Comments | Trackback

Previous Entry | Next Entry

©1969-2024 Peter Stuart Lakanen. All rights reserved.
Please report problems to webmaster.