[Today the Almeida Theater in the UK is presenting a live reading of the Odyssey. Duly inspired, we are re-posting some of our favorite Odyssey themed posts]
“You seek a thought-softening homecoming, Odysseus: but the god has made it hard for you, since I do not think that the earth-shaker will forget anger he set in his heart, enraged as he is because you blinded his dear son. But still, even now, though you have suffered evils, you may come home, if indeed you wish to save your own life and your companions. When your well-made ship first nears the island of Thrinakia as you wander over the dark sea, you will find the cattle and fat flocks of Helios who oversees and witnesses everything. If you leave them alone and think of your homecoming, then you will return to Ithaca, even though you have suffered evils. If you harm them, that will be a sign of ruin for your ship and companions. Even if you survive yourself, you will come home badly, after losing all of your companions, and you will find pain in your house: arrogant men who consume your household, suitors of your godly wife and bringers of bridegifts.”
‘νόστον δίζηαι μελιηδέα, φαίδιμ’ ᾿Οδυσσεῦ• 100
τὸν δέ τοι ἀργαλέον θήσει θεός. οὐ γὰρ ὀΐω
λήσειν ἐννοσίγαιον, ὅ τοι κότον ἔνθετο θυμῷ,
χωόμενος ὅτι οἱ υἱὸν φίλον ἐξαλάωσας.
ἀλλ’ ἔτι μέν κε καὶ ὧς, κακά περ πάσχοντες, ἵκοισθε,
αἴ κ’ ἐθέλῃς σὸν θυμὸν ἐρυκακέειν καὶ ἑταίρων, 105
ὁππότε κεν πρῶτον πελάσῃς εὐεργέα νῆα
Θρινακίῃ νήσῳ, προφυγὼν ἰοειδέα πόντον,
βοσκομένας δ’ εὕρητε βόας καὶ ἴφια μῆλα
᾿Ηελίου, ὃς πάντ’ ἐφορᾷ καὶ πάντ’ ἐπακούει.
τὰς εἰ μέν κ’ ἀσινέας ἐάᾳς νόστου τε μέδηαι, 110
καί κεν ἔτ’ εἰς ᾿Ιθάκην, κακά περ πάσχοντες, ἵκοισθε•
εἰ δέ κε σίνηαι, τότε τοι τεκμαίρομ’ ὄλεθρον
νηΐ τε καὶ ἑτάροισ’. αὐτὸς δ’ εἴ πέρ κεν ἀλύξῃς,
ὀψὲ κακῶς νεῖαι, ὀλέσας ἄπο πάντας ἑταίρους,
νηὸς ἐπ’ ἀλλοτρίης• δήεις δ’ ἐν πήματα οἴκῳ, 115
ἄνδρας ὑπερφιάλους, οἵ τοι βίοτον κατέδουσι
μνώμενοι ἀντιθέην ἄλοχον καὶ ἕδνα διδόντες.
(1) Some god made your homecoming hard (100); Poseidon is angry (101-102); Helios will be angry (109-110)
(2) You blinded Polyphemos (making Poseidon angry, 103)
(3) Your men might harm the flocks (angering Helios, 108-11)
(4) They will suffer and so will you
The divine actions are positioned as reactions to human action (itself unmotivated by the divine). So if Odysseus had not angered Poseidon then they would not end up on Thrinakia where his companions would not have the option to anger Helios by eating his sacred cows.
All of this is in accord with Zeus’ opening statement in the Odyssey where he complains that Aigisthus ignored divine warnings (1.32-34)
ὢ πόποι, οἷον δή νυ θεοὺς βροτοὶ αἰτιόωνται.
ἐξ ἡμέων γάρ φασι κάκ’ ἔμμεναι• οἱ δὲ καὶ αὐτοὶ
σφῇσιν ἀτασθαλίῃσιν ὑπὲρ μόρον ἄλγε’ ἔχουσιν
Mortals! They are always blaming the gods and saying that evil comes from us when they themselves suffer pain beyond their lot because of their own recklessness.