Fire the Canon

This episode covers the first 4 books of Homer’s The Odyssey, as translated by Emily Wilson. Ever wanted to know about Odysseus’ idiot man-baby son Telemachus? Well, you’re about to learn! Other topics of discussion include: bird attacks, frat bro feasts, ancient insults, disguises, and copious amounts of oil.

Content warning: The Odyssey contains discussion of violence, sexual assault, animal sacrifice, and slavery

Show Notes

This episode covers the first 4 books of Homer’s The Odyssey, as translated by Emily Wilson. Ever wanted to know about Odysseus’ idiot man-baby son Telemachus? Well, you’re about to learn! Other topics of discussion include: bird attacks, frat bro feasts, ancient insults, disguises, and copious amounts of oil.

Content warning: The Odyssey contains discussion of violence, sexual assault, animal sacrifice, and slavery

★ Support this podcast on Patreon ★

What is Fire the Canon?

Prefer your books in comedy form, but still want to sound smart at parties? We got you. Discover the hilarity hidden in the classics with new episodes every Thursday.

- intro music in background - THEO, QUOTING BOOK: Tell me about a complicated man. Tell me how he wandered and was lost, and how he worked to save his life and bring his men back home. He failed. And for their own mistakes, they died. Tell the old story of our modern times. Find the beginning.

RACHEL: {sigh} You made one mistake.

JACKIE: One mistake, but it was fine.

THEO: Damn it!

- intro music resolves -

RACHEL: Hi everyone, welcome to Fire the Canon, the podcast where we read the books in the Western Canon and decide if they belong or not. Our opinions are objective. I'm Rachel.

JACKIE: I'm Jackie.

THEO: And I'm Theo.

RACHEL: So the first book we're reading is THE ODYSSEY by Homer. We're reading the translation by Emily Wilson. We decided to start with the Odyssey for not... no particular reason, we wanted to get somewhere close to the beginning, but we just happened to pick The Odyssey because it was famous.

JACKIE: And also mostly because Theo didn't want us to. (Theo laughs.)

RACHEL: Oh yeah yeah yeah, we're doing this whole podcast to spite Theo. (laughter) So anyway, we started this episode by reading the first four books of The Odyssey, which are all about Odysseus's son Telemachus. Odysseus doesn't actually really appear in the story until book five, so we thought we'd go ahead and get this part out of the way, see what we thought about it. Have either of you read The Odyssey before or had any experience with it?

JACKIE: I... no.

RACHEL: ...Okay. (Jackie laughs) Theo?

THEO: I know the Wishbone episode, but that's about it.

RACHEL: Yeah, yeah. We talked about that. Theo and I have seen the Wishbone episode growing up, but I had no...

JACKIE: And I had nothing. In fact what I had basically was a very, very wrong idea of what The Odyssey was, so I mean, should I, should I tell you what I thought the Odyssey was?

RACHEL: Yeah why not?

JACKIE: Because I wrote it down.

THEO: Yeah.

JACKIE: I wanted, before...

RACHEL: What do you think Theo?

THEO: I would be willing to produce that.

RACHEL: (laughs) Okay.

JACKIE: So before I like, sullied my mind with knowledge of this, I decided to write down what I thought was going to happen and see like how close it was because I had no formal...

RACHEL: Just based on...

JACKIE: Just based on...

RACHEL: Cultural osmosis.

JACKIE: Yeah, cultural osmosis, and like, me thinking that I know things. Well, here's what I thought the Odyssey was about before I started reading it. Maybe you feel much the same, Nell? (reading from notes) Odysseus, husband of the Beautiful Helena, the face that launched a thousand ships, goes on a very long journey. Why? Because the Oracle told him to. If he didn't launch his ship, he would end up killing his father and bedding his mother, so that was kind of the impetus behind this. When he goes on this long journey, he has to fight monsters and sea sirens. He ties himself to the mast of a ship, so he doesn't get any ideas! And back home, Faithful Helena is weaving and weaving. Paris tries to convince her Odysseus is dead. So why not get with him? She says no. She remains true to her man. Then Odysseus is finally allowed to come back. His mission is finished, whatever that was. He sees Helena has been waiting for him the whole time and he's like, "Dang Helena, you the best." He kills Paris. He lives happily ever after.

THEO: Hmm. You forgot the part with the honey in the ears.

RACHEL: She...

JACKIE: Well -

RACHEL: Well, most of that's wrong. (Jackie laughs) She forgot everything.

JACKIE: I also forgot, like the name of his wife, who is a crucial part of the story. Yeah.

RACHEL: Yeah. So the... that's kind of the problem with us skipping the Iliad, is that a lot of the stuff that Jackie assumed was in the Odyssey is actually in the Iliad.

JACKIE: So what does that say about the Odyssey that if all... if it was so important, wouldn't I have osmosed into my knowledge instead of the Iliad?

RACHEL: Well, you knew the main character's name, and you knew he went on a trip. That's about what you got right.


THEO: An odyssey, in fact.

RACHEL: Yeah an odyssey, in fact. But I guess, like, anytime you think of ancient Greek literature everyone's just like, "Oh, that must be the Odyssey." So I mean, like a brief summary of the Iliad is the Greeks go to Troy to try to... like as revenge for Paris kidnapping or seducing Helen away from her husband Menaleus, and they appear in this story. So after the whole Trojan horse thing happens, they burn the city down whatever, the Odyssey is Odysseus taking ten years to get home or...


RACHEL: Whatever, yeah. So he spends ten years fighting the war and then ten years trying to get home and that's this book. So, anyway. Should we get into it?

JACKIE: Now that I've told you everything wrong... (laughs)RACHEL: That's true, so everything she didn't say is what actually happens. (Theo and Jackie laugh). Okay, so book one is titled 'The Boy and the Goddess'. And it opens on a council of the Gods. Athena is speaking to her father Zeus. She tells him that Odysseus has been trapped on Calypso's island for too long. She wants him to come home. Zeus says, "You know what, you're right. He's great. He's a sensible guy. He always makes sacrifices, so I will tell Hermes to go to the island and tell Calypso to let him go." So Athena is very happy. She disguises herself as an old man named... Mentes, I think he's old? I'm not sure, she disguises herself as a lot of men. And she goes to Odysseus's ancestral home to see how things are going. She meets his son Telemachus, who complains, which - he spends most of his time complaining, or, like, a significant amount. So she tells them...

JACKIE: He's a real Debbie Downer.

RACHEL: Yeah. She listens to his complaints and she says, "Hey, why don't you call a meeting?" And then turns into an owl and flies away. So Telemachus goes home, there's a bard singing a story about Odysseus and how he's been gone for so long, Penelope starts crying and says, "Can you please stop singing about my husband, because it makes me sad!" And then Telemachus is a huge dick to his mom. He talks to some suitors and then he goes to bed, and he makes a plan. He actually... I have no idea why he's so rude to his mom at this point...

JACKIE: I think that's the only person...

THEO: Can we get a little more details on what that means? (Everyone laughs)

RACHEL Yeah, yeah, he says - do you want to read it Jackie?

JACKIE: Yeah, uh - page 116.

RACHEL: Page 116, yeah.

JACKIE: Yeah, so, I think - and I'll read it and then I'll tell you why I think he does this -

RACHEL: Great.

JACKIE: Because I think I can... uh, yeah all right. So Penelope is like, "Please stop it, I miss him all the time, he was my husband, whatever." (Quoting book) Sullen Telemachus said, "Mother, no. You must not criticize the loyal bard for singing, as it pleases him to sing." Dot dot dot... "Go in, go in and do your work, stick to the loom and distaff. Tell your slaves to do their chores as well. It is for men to talk, especially me. I am the master."

THEO: Oof.

JACKIE: So... Telemachus is kind of a little bitch. And like, he -


JACKIE: - can't really stand up to anyone, except for his own sad mother. So that's kind of unfortunate. And you know, he just has all these things going on and all the suitors in his house and...

RACHEL: Oh yeah, we didn't really explain what's happening there.

JACKIE: Yeah, the reason he's so mad!

RACHEL: A bunch of people... basically, anyone who marries Penelope gets to be the king, so a bunch of young men have just moved into Odysseus' house to try to convince Penelope to marry them. And Telemachus is too young and doesn't have an army or like, he doesn't have enough support, I guess, to kick all of these guys out of his house. So they've just been in his house, eating all his animals and drinking all his wine for who knows how long at this point?

JACKIE: It's like, if, if basically a whole bunch of guys, your same age, just moved into your house and was like, "We all want to bang your mom. All of us." And they are all fine with that, and you're not fine with that.

RACHEL: And she's not fine with it either.

JACKIE: So you can think how hard that would be. No, she's not fine with it.

RACHEL: No so, but anyway, yeah, I mean he's taking it out on the suitors.

THEO: How... how many suitors is it?

RACHEL: It's a lot. Like there's so many they don't even all get names. There are two main suitors who are kind of the ringleaders, but we don't know how many. It's enough that it's a problem, though. Like he says, like they're eating all of his all the wealth of his household.

JACKIE: Yeah. It's like the Bachelorette, like there's always a couple of clear favorites and then a whole bunch of guys that you're like... come on.

RACHEL: Right. Like we know the other guys aren't going to get the rose or whatever, but these guys... maybe? I think it's more like they know if they all band together at the beginning, they can get rid of Telemachus and then eventually they'll probably stab each other in the back or whatever.

JACKIE: Basically. And Telemachus I think in this book is like... twenty?

RACHEL: Yeah, he -

JACKIE: No, he's like twenty years old, yeah.

RACHEL: When his dad left, he was a baby. And his dad has been gone for about twenty years by now. So like the, at most he's twenty two.

JACKIE: Yeah. But everybody keeps talking about him as though he's like a literal child.

RACHEL: Yeah, that's surprising to me, because I know that the idea of being a teenager is very recent, like the idea that you're not quite an adult but you're not a child either. But then he's twenty-one, twenty two and everyone's calling him a kid. So I don't really know how age conventions worked in ancient Greece.

JACKIE: Do you think we wuld get sued if we put in that song right here?

THEO: What song?


JACKIE: You know what I'm talking about. (singing) "I'm not a girl..."


JACKIE: (singing) "Not yet a woman..."

RACHEL: Yeah, I think we'd get sued. (Theo laughs)

JACKIE: Well, I'm not going to say who sang that.

RACHEL: That's not ... how the law works.

JACKIE: Yeah, I'm just not gonna give her any credit.

THEO: (laughing) Yeah, that's probably better, just don't credit the person. Avoid copyright infringement.

JACKIE: (laughing) Yeah.

RACHEL: Okay, so book two, 'A Dangerous Journey'. The main thing that you need to know about Telemachus, Theo and audience, is that he has some very oily feet.


RACHEL: Like his whole body is just covered in oil constantly, everyone's always putting more oil on it, or like mentioning it, and that is a good thing.

JACKIE: It's a desirable trait.

RACHEL: Yeah. It's a good trait. He's godlike in his oiliness. So...

JACKIE: I think it's because, like you know, olive oil, like the more olive oil you have and the more you just lather it on your body as though it's nothing...?

THEO: That's true.

RACHEL: Was it that expensive?

JACKIE: You know now that I'm thinking about it, I have no idea.

RACHEL: Yeah. We don't know why this is the case, but the book frequently talks about his oiliness and it's portrayed as a good thing. So anyway Telemachus, he takes Athena's advice and he calls a council of the men of Ithaca all together and he complains and complains and complains about all these boys living in his house. And he wants people to help him, but nobody is helping him. So at one point he throws a scepter and bursts into tears, which he also does pretty frequently. There's a lot of crying in this book.

JACKIE: I wonder why nobody takes him seriously? (Theo laughs)RACHEL: You think it's cause...? Well, I don't think the crying has anything to do with it, because everyone's, like... I think strong displays of emotion were seen as like a manly thing back then.

JACKIE: That's probably true.


JACKIE: I think -

RACHEL: I don't think it was the crying that was the problem.

JACKIE: Well, it seems like nobody wants to help him because they all are like, "Okay, Odysseus is dead, like he's not coming back..."

RACHEL: This is just some oily boy -

JACKIE: Yeah, like they don't want to be on the bad end of the suitors, because one of them is eventually going to win, they think. So they're, just like, I don't know, "Telemachus needs to pipe down."

RACHEL: Well, are the suitors also like, their sons?

JACKIE: Yeah. Yeah.

RACHEL: So they're like, "Oh, I don't want to make someone mad at me, we'll just let this work itself out."

JACKIE: Yeah, everybody's against him. Everybody betray him! (Theo laughs)

RACHEL: That's a good metaphor. Maybe we'll watch The Room at the end and see if we can find any connections. But so, the main suitor - one of the two main suitors is Antinous, and he... at the meeting he talks about how Penelope has been stringing them along and she said like, 'Oh, I can't pick one of you to marry yet because my husband's gone, so I need to weave a funeral cloth for my father in law. He's very old, he's going to die soon. I've got to do this.'

JACKIE: He's not even dead yet!

RACHEL: No, he's not dead yet, but someday he will die. And she says, 'Just give me time to weave this cloth. Once I'm done I'll pick one of you to get married to.' So for a long time, she would weave during the day and then undo all the weaving at night. And she got away with it for a long time, but then someone told the suitors about it. So now they're very mad and they're saying, like, 'Boy, you need to make your mom marry one of us!' And, of course, Telemachus throws his mom under the bus. He says, 'I can't force my mother out of the house. She gave me birth and raised me. My father is elsewhere, alive or dead. If I insist my mother has to leave, Icarius will make me pay the price and the Gods will send more trouble. If she goes mother will rouse up furies full of hate to take revenge, and everyone will curse me. I will not. If you feel upset, you go! Out of my house, stop eating all my food!" So he has another fit.

JACKIE: Well he, he doesn't really offer any desirable alternative. He's just like, 'And if you're mad about it, why don't you just give me what I wanted and stop eating my food.'

RACHEL: (laughing) Yeah, if you're mad that I'm not doing what you want? Why don't you do even less of what you want? (Jackie and Theo laughing)

JACKIE: 'Doesn't that sound great?'

RACHEL: Exactly.

THEO: Can you all conceptulize how much food they must be eating every day and how much food they must have, like in this -

JACKIE: Well, they like slaughter, several... several cows and pigs and stuff every day. Like it's several animals worth of meat.

RACHEL: And they're always eating the grain. They're always drinking the wine. But the thing is, I don't know how many suitors there are. Theo, why don't you just pick a number?

THEO: Uh, one hundred and six.



RACHEL: I feel like that might be a little high, but sure. (Jackie and Theo laughing) Maybe, I don't know how big his house was! Because they're all living there. Like they never go home.

JACKIE: Honestly, it sounds really fun. It just sounds like an eternal sleepover party with all your best friends.

RACHEL: Yeah. It's like a frat house, basically.

JACKIE: Mmhmm.

RACHEL: Where you get to be mean to some dweeb.

JACKIE: And really it's probably better that they're all, like, drinking all the wine all the time, because I don't know how a bunch of sober guys could not notice that she never - literally never makes progress on her funeral cloth. (Theo laughs)

RACHEL: Yeah. That could be why their parents... Like, nobody's helping Telemachus because they're like, 'Well yeah, he's your problem now, I'm sick of my large adult son just hanging out at home doing nothing. This way at least I don't have to feed him.'

THEO: I mean what would be the equivalent of that... like making the, the funeral tapestry or whatever now? Like you could never say, 'Sorry, I'm too busy doing this thing, I can't make this decision right now.' You know, like people expect you to multitask. You can't say, 'Oh, I've been working on this spreadsheet for a while. I got to finish my... spreadsheet', you know?

RACHEL: Yeah? I mean I guess what she's saying is like, 'Because my husband's gone, I'm still part of his family and his dad doesn't have any other kids who can do this for him, and if I get married then I won't be part of his family anymore, I'll be part of someone else's, so I have to go ahead and get this done. While I belong... to them?' I don't really know.

JACKIE: I think the... I think the modern equivalent would be the exact opposite of claiming that you have things to do. I think -

RACHEL: I have nothing to do.

JACKIE: Currently, you know, I think currently people will be like, 'I need a mental health day', and then you just expand that into months and months and months.

THEO: Yeah, that's pretty good.


JACKIE: Yeah. Just, 'I need to... not right now - '

RACHEL: I need to not.

JACKIE: Yeah, and if you don't... yeah and if you don't understand that, that kind of makes you a jerk.


JACKIE: So... that's better than saying you have a spreadsheet to work on. Yeah. That implies that you have mental faculties leftover for work, or... marriage.

THEO: What would you two do if you found out I was currently weaving your funeral tapestries? (Rachel and Jackie laugh)

RACHEL: Um... I would like it.

THEO: Oh yeah?

JACKIE: Yeah, I mean, neither of us have kids, so I guess it's kind of up to you. (Theo laughs)

RACHEL: You're our son.

THEO: All right, yeah.

RACHEL: But if it was someone I didn't know, I would not like it. I would be really creeped out. But if it's you, yeah, I'm fine with it. Go ahead.

JACKIE: Well, is this a good place to just -

RACHEL: It's not a tapestry, right?

JACKIE: It's a funeral quilt that they're going to wrap him in.

RACHEL: It's like a cloth that they're going to wrap his dead body in.

THEO: Oh. So a blanket.

RACHEL: So that's a lot easier.

THEO: Blanket! Quilt, I'm quilting, you a yeah, a funeral quilt.


JACKIE: A funeral quilt.

RACHEL: Pretty cool. So he's having this meeting with the men of Ithaca and two eagles fly down and attack the suitors and bite and claw at their faces, and an old man says, 'Actually, you know, I'm pretty good at prophecies, and this means that Odysseus is going to come back and he's going to kill... all of you guys!" (Theo laughs) And the suitors, the suitors are mad about that they're like, 'Shut up old man.'

THEO: So like, so that, the prophecy for their destruction is kind of destroying them also, right?

RACHEL: Yes! Like eagles come down and like tear at their faces -

THEO: Not, not much of an escalation actually.

JACKIE: Yeah, and then the funny part, though, is that like when he's like, 'Hey, I think that might be a bad sign,' the suitors are like, 'Shut the hell up, you don't know anything.'

RACHEL: Yeah, 'Get out of here!'

JACKIE: They said... 'I wish that you'... okay. 'Odysseus is dead, away from home. I wish that you had died with him to stop your forecasts!'

RACHEL: 'You are making this boy angry!'

JACKIE: Yeah. 'And old man, we will make you pay so much your heart will break, your pain, will cut so deep.' So that - man, that made them really mad!

RACHEL: I think -

JACKIE: Like, that is an overreaction and a half.

RACHEL: I think that maybe they don't really think Odysseus is dead, so they're kind of freaked out.

JACKIE: So basically what happens is eagles come tear their faces. The old man is like, 'I think that's a bad sign' and they're like -

RACHEL: 'We'll show you a bad sign.'

JACKIE: 'Oh my god, we're gonna kill you.' Yeah.

RACHEL: (laughing) Uh, so anyway -

JACKIE: You will wish you were dead before the end!

RACHEL: Yep. So, Telemachus -

THEO: Do you think he ever made a prophecy again or do you think he was just like, 'Whatever, people don't want to hear it, I'm done.'

JACKIE: Yeah he never responds, like he just he doesn't say anything after that, he's gone.

RACHEL: Well, maybe he comes back at the end. We don't know, we haven't finished the Odyssey yet. Spoilers!

JACKIE: But at this point, yeah. At this point he's like, "I... I know when I'm not wanted." He read the room.

RACHEL: Yeah. So anyway, Telemachus, he's talking to the main suitors. One of them, Eurymachus, and he says, "Look. Let me just go on a little trip, I'll see what I can find out about my dad. If my dad's dead I'll pick one of you to marry my mom." Okay. So then they all go home, nothing happens. No one wants to help him, and he goes to the house. The suitors are like, "Hey you're an idiot, come have some dinner and wine with us." And then Telemachus complains and runs away and all the suitors start making fun of him. They just they make fun of him for like two full paragraphs, just mocking this boy, so he runs up to his room and starts talking to his old nurse Eurycleia and he tells her, like, "Here's my secret plan. Can you please help me sneak away and also don't tell my mom?" And she agrees. So that's the end of Book Two.

JACKIE: And she agrees. Yeah.

RACHEL: Yeah, pretty good. I think pretty good stuff.

JACKIE: Yeah, I don't know, do you want to do you want to say any of the things... should we address the mocking of the suitors to Theo?

RACHEL: See - oh yeah, okay!

THEO: See, oh so address it to me and see how I feel?

RACHEL: Yeah, if it would hurt you.

JACKIE: But we're going to replace his name with yours, yeah. See how this makes you feel.

RACHEL: How about you read the first one, I'll read the second one.

JACKIE: Okay. (Sarcastically) Oh, no, Theo is going to KILL us!

THEO: I feel powerful!

JACKIE: He will bring supporters from Pylos or from Sparta. He is quite determined. Or indeed he may be fetching some lethal poisons from the fertile field of Ophira to mix up in our wine bowl and kill us all! OOOOooOooOo!

RACHEL: What do you think of that?

THEO: So is it - these are sarcastic comments?

RACHEL: Yeah. It says, "With sneers they said.... bla bla bla."

THEO: Wow.

JACKIE: Oh no.

RACHEL: So how did you feel? Do you think you wouldn't realize it was sarcastic?

THEO: Uh, well, I didn't, at first. Also I mean I guess, I'm just surprised that they had sarcasm all the way back then.

RACHEL: Isn't it a Greek, doesn't it, doesn't the word have Greek origins?

THEO: Let's ask Jackie.

RACHEL: Jackie?

JACKIE: Let's ask Theo.

RACHEL: Theo? I'm looking up the origins right now. I mean it sounds Greek to me. (typing sounds) It comes from the Latin which comes from the Greek 'sarcasmos', which means a sneer, jest, taunt or mockery, and even earlier was the Greek 'sarcazaine', which literally means to strip off the flesh, suggesting cutting or biting humor.

THEO: I mean after what Jackie said I did feel like my flesh was stripped.

RACHEL: Okay, so that would have worked on you, that one.

THEO: Yeah.

RACHEL: How about this? (sarcastically) "Well, who knows, perhaps he will get lost in that curved ship and die so far away from all his family, just like his father!"

JACKIE: "Ha ha ha."

RACHEL: "And what a pity that would be for us. Then we would have to share out all his wealth and give away the house itself to her, his mother, and the man who marries her."

THEO: Wow, mean girls, right?! That's some serious bullying!

RACHEL: So do you think you would cry and run up to your room?

THEO: Yeah, as a twenty two year old young boy, I would probably cry and talk to my nurse -

JACKIE: As opposed to now, a twenty five year old grown man.

THEO: Mmm, twenty-eight.

RACHEL: Yeah, you're older than that.

JACKIE: (laughing) Oh, yeah!Whatever!

RACHEL: Whatever!

THEO: You just know that I'm younger than you. You just, you don't know my actual...

JACKIE:Yeah, I just everybody younger than me is twenty five.

RACHEL: Is twelve years old.

THEO: Gosh, that would be awesome to be twenty-five.

JACKIE: Yeah, I mean if that was Mean Girls, that would be like Regina, saying, like, "Oh, no, maybe Cady will go... die!"

RACHEL: Perfect.

JACKIE: I mean, I think the suitors actually sound kind of nice when they're not talking to Telemachus because they're just like we're going to share everything -

RACHEL: 'Fuck off, old ma-"oh sorry, no cursing or do we want it to be an explicit podcast?

THEO: You already said "dick". I don’t know.

RACHEL: 'Dick' is allowed.

JACKIE: I also said the B-word.

RACHEL: The B-word?

Jackie (whispering): I said Telemachus is a little bitch.

RACHEL (whispering): Oh shit. (Speaking in normal voice) Now, see, Jackie's not good at whispering, just like Telemacus, as we will find out later.

JACKIE: It's true. Okay, all right, so now that we know that Theo’s flesh has been stripped away. why don't we move on to book three?

RACHEL: Okay book three, “An Old King Remembers.” Jackie?


RACHEL: This is your favorite?

JACKIE: This is my favorite book of the four.

RACHEL: Okay. All right, so Athena borrows a boat for Telemachus, the best boat of all, and gets some guys to help him sail it. And they sail off. He goes to visit Theo’s favorite character, Nestor, Lord of Horses.

JACKIE: That's also my favorite character, but that's fine.

THEO: Uh, more notably mine.

RACHEL: Okay. (laughs) So they, anyway. So Nestor just has tons and tons of sons, also. Telemachus, he's talking to Athena, and he complains about how he doesn't know what to say. But she says, basically, “Oh you'll be fine, don't worry about it.” So they show up and they’re welcomed to the feast. Athena makes a sacrifice or a prayer to Poseidon, and then the book says, “She made her prayer come true all by herself.” Which is pretty cool that she can do that. Telemachus says to Nestor, “Hey, can you tell me what happened to Odysseus?” And Nestor launches into this really long story about the Trojan war and how many people were killed and all the terrible things that happened. And he says at one point that the reason no one is making it back home is because “some of us had neither sense nor morals.” Which is, kind of it turns out a euphemism for... one of the soldiers, like, taking this woman Cassandra out of a goddess's temple to rape her? So, kind of a nice... nicer way for him to gloss over that.

JACKIE: A - a nice way of phrasing that.

THEP: Do you think Telemachus understood?

RACHEL: No! (everyone laughs) Maybe.

JACKIE: You know, it's…

RACHEL: I don't know how common of a euphemism that was.

JACKIE: We all just lose our sense from time to time and drag someone out to assault them. I mean, it happens when you’re young.

RACHEL: Yeah, which I think like, that guy? Yeah. He definitely deserved that punishment. But it does seem a little bit harsh that everyone gets punished. Although, so, the reason they're all punished is because I think Odysseus says, “We need to kill this guy.” And, but that guy has run away to someone else's temple to claim sanctuary, so they're like, “I don't know if we can tear him away from this sanctuary, or from this temple to kill him.” And Odysseus is like, “No, we really need to kill him.” But then they don't end up killing him. So in revenge for that, almost everyone dies on the way home.

THEO: Hmm.

RACHEL: Which, yeah seems a little harsh.

JACKIE: That was the ancient world, deal with it.

RACHEL: Yeah, oh well. They, they would all be dead by now anyway.

JACKIE: Yeah, I mean it essentially doesn't matter. Can I ask a question?

RACHEL: Yeah, why not?

JACKIE: Every time - every time Nestor comes up, he's referred to as Lord of - Nestor, Lord of horses. … Do we think Nestor is a horse?

THEO: Yeah I mean how could you be the lord over the horses if you're a human?

JACKIE: Well, I mean so in Lord of the Rings… Yeah, so in Lord of the Rings, which is the next novel that we’re reading…

RACHEL: (laughs) That... there are no classic novels written between The Odyssey and Lord of the Rings.

JACKIE: Yeah. Yeah, we're just going to skip straight there. I mean Gandalf refers to Shadowfax as Lord of Horses -


JACKIE: So I know... I know for a fact that Shadowfax is a horse, therefore Nestor... they have not described that he's not a horse. We don't know what he looks like.

RACHEL: We do know his son is not a horse.

JACKIE: How do we know that?

RACHEL: Because he rides in a small carriage pulled by horses.

JACKIE: Well, maybe he's a small horse.

THEO: Yeah. I mean, it’s not impossible.

RACHEL: I guess that's true, it's not impossible. So we don't know. Jackie says one vote for horse. I'm gonna vote that he's not a horse. What do you think, Theo?

THEO: I'm gonna be the tiebreaker.

(long pause)

JACKIE: … And?

RACHEL: Go ahead?

THEO: He's a horse.

RACHEL (laughing): Okay.

JACKIE: Wooooo!

RACHEL: So now, canonically, Nestor’s a horse.

JACKIE: Nestor is a horse! We've decided, our opinions are objective.

THEO: And they put peanut butter in his mouth to make him say all these things.

(Jackie and Rachel laugh).

RACHEL: All right so anyway, the ships decide to split up on their way back to Greece and Nestor tells the story of their good buddy Agamemnon, who shows up back home and is murdered by Aegisthus, who married his wife while he was gone and took over the kingdom. But he kind of, I mean, basically he's giving Telemachus a very significant look and he says, “How fortunate the dead man had left a son to take revenge upon the wicked scheming killer, that Aegisthus, who killed Oreste's father. My dear boy, I see that you are tall and strong. Be brave, so you will be remembered.” So basically he's clearly telling him, “You've got to kill the suitors,” or, “You have to stop them from marrying your mom,” I guess? Um. At one point Athena says that, “Death is universal. Even gods cannot protect the people that they love when fate and cruel death catch up with them.” But Nestor...

JACKIE: See, that seems untrue.

RACHEL: I know! That’s -

JACKIE: That seems untrue.

RACHEL: I guess she’s saying…

JACKIE: They always save people and kill people!

RACHEL: Well, she's saying if they are already dead, they can't do anything, but they do sometimes!

Jackie: ...Yeah, she's full of it.

RACHEL: Yeah she's full of it.

JACKIE: Continue.

RACHEL: Um, so Nestor, as Jackie said, is very long winded. So he continues to talk about Agamemnon. He talks about how he left a poet behind to protect his wife and that, for a long time, she resisted Aegisthus, but something happened to the poet. It says, “Fate forced the queen to yield and Aegisthus left the poet to be eaten by birds, abandoned on a desert island.” So…

JACKIE: It's almost like poets don't make good bodyguards.

(Theo laughs.)

RACHEL: Yeah, that's what I'm thinking.

JACKIE: That was a weird choice.

RACHEL: I feel like, if he's sailing away with a whole ship full of soldiers and he's actually concerned, maybe he could have left just a couple behind?

JACKIE: Hmm...

RACHEL: You know?


RACHEL: Maybe not? It - it would have worked out better for him. So anyway, she rejects this guy for a long time and then, finally, somehow it says she marries him by mutual desire, which, honestly I don't - I don't see what the problem is. If she thinks her husband's dead and he's been gone for like fifteen years...

JACKIE: Well, that's the difference between you and Penelope.

RACHEL: Yeah, and Nestor! Nestor’s pissed about it too. Like I think it's bad that he killed Agamemnon, but I think it's fine for an ancient Greek woman to get married after fifteen years.

JACKIE: Mm, I think there's a lot of killing and it's usually fine, so killing is okay.

RACHEL: Okay, interesting take!

THEO: Wow!

RACHEL: Theo, tiebreaker?

JACKIE: But, but marrying somebody else after?

RACHEL: I say killing is bad, Jackie says it’s good. What do you think?

THEO: Hmm… usually I'm anti-murder, but… gotta side with Jackie for no reason.

JACKIE: Woooo!

RACHEL: (laughing) For no reason! Okay, killing - canonically, killing is good, Nestor’s a horse. Anyway. So Nestor at one point says, “Hey, if you want to find out some more info about your dad, you should go to Sparta and talk to King Menelaeus.” And he offers to send him all of his sons, but in the end he only sends Pisistratus with him. So he's got a lot of like a lot of, like, a lot of big talk. No follow-through.

THEO: Do you think that was just a continuity error or did it… or is it -

RACHEL: I think he was bragging.

THEO: Oh. “I have lots of sons.”

RACHEL: Like, “ I can afford to send all my sons with you!” Anyway, at the end of all this, Athena turns into an ossifrage and flies away and Nestor’s like, “Oh shit, that old man was a god. We need to make some sacrifices!” So the whole end of book three is devoted to like, a very long, very gruesome scene of them killing a bunch of cows. Like, really, I don't like that part at all. What do you think, Jackie?

JACKIE: Well it... pics or it didn't happen.

THEO (laughing): Yeah, you can't just talk about it.

RACHEL: Okay, I guess it never happened.

JACKIE: Yeah you can’t just say, “Hey, we…” ...Well, I mean, he painted the picture with words, what do you want from him?

RACHEL: Okay, I wasn't sure what you were getting at with that.

THEO: I still don’t know though! (Rachel laughs)

JACKIE: I mean I just think like…

RACHEL: She's saying you can't just say you killed the cows, you have to go into explicit detail.

THEO: Ohhhh.

JACKIE: Yeah, because the gods, all the time, are like really really into sacrifice, and if you don't do it to a like, extreme degree, in a very dramatic fashion, it's not enough.

RACHEL: It's gross. Like seriously. I don't eat beef and it's been a while, and this is making me happy that I don’t.

JACKIE: But you wouldn't sacrifice a cow for the god, it sounds like.

RACHEL: I would pour out plenty of wine. I would burn some grain. I’m not killing a cow for the gods.

JACKIE: On your head be it!

RACHEL: Whatever. I'm not worried. Like, come at me. If they're really mad, they can send a couple eagles to claw at my face and neck.

THEO: Oh, that would be - that would be a bad sign for things to come. Oh my gosh.

RACHEL: (laughing) Yeah.

JACKIE: You shut the fuck up Theo, you don't know anything!

(Theo laughing).

RACHEL: Okay, so it does -

JACKIE: Moving on.

RACHEL: So, okay, it ends with, also Telemachus takes a bath and Nestor's daughter oils him up and puts clothes on him. So at least now we know, like, he started the story oily and he's continuing to be oily.

THEO: Hmm.

JACKIE: I was wondering that, so I’m glad that we cleared that up.

RACHEL: Yeah, like, “Is he still oily?”

THEO: They haven't mentioned the oil in a while.

JACKIE: He’s oily.

RACHEL: And he is, don't worry. Okay.


RACHEL: So anyway, this oily boy leaves in a carriage with Pisistratus to go to Sparta and book four is called “What the Sea God Said.” When they show up, the Spartans are celebrating a double marriage. Two of Menelaeus’s... Well, actually, I was going to say Menelaeus and Helen's kids, but one of the kids is with Helen, and one of the kids is with a slave woman, which is very bad! But of course the book doesn't care. (Jackie and Theo laugh). So anyway, um, Menelaeus is mad because one of his guards doesn't immediately let these two boys in and says like, “Hey boss, should I let the boys in?” So yeah, he's furious that he had to ask. And, um, they come in... I made a note that says “More oil?” But I don't know... Oh yeah, okay, he takes another bath and gets oiled up again.

(Rachel and Theo laughing)

JACKIE: And he's oiled up, not by himself, right? By probably some... other slave girl.

RACHEL: Well in the previous chapter, or book, he was oiled up by the king's daughter, so he's getting oiled up by various…

JACKIE: My point is, he's always talking about how, like, awkward he feels, like, talking to older guys because he's like, “I'm just a little boy!” But like, he cares nothing for just... strange women, just oiling him up… yeah, and dressing him.

RACHEL: Yeah, it says slave girls rubbed them down in olive oil and then dressed them again, which, here's the thing. I understand why, like, medieval royalty had to have someone dress them, because their clothes were so elaborate. But it says they had to get dressed - all they were wearing were wool cloaks and tunics. It seems like it would be much, much more work for someone else to put a tunic on you than to just do it yourself! Like, I, I just keep losing respect for him. I don’t know how you guys feel.


JACKIE: It just seems odd.

RACHEL: You could just put your clothes on.

THEO: But if you have oil on your hands, you don’t want to touch your clothes.

RACHEL: Oh yeah. (laughs) But your whole body is oily.

JACKIE: Well no, but they’re the ones oiling him!

RACHEL: They have more oil!

JACKIE: They’re, they’re oiling and they’re dressing him.

RACHEL: The thing about reading a book from this long ago is it feels - it really feels like we're reading about aliens. Like the culture is so different. The mindset, the morals- it's just all so weird to me.

THEO: Yeah. And just the general ability to use disguises to solve problems? You know? So bizarre.

RACHEL: Anyway. At one point, Telemachus says... “Telemachus turned round to Nestor’s son, ducking his head so no one else could hear.” Then he says something, and Menelaeus hears it!

JACKIE: But everyone heard!

RACHEL: Yeah, everyone heard what he said and responds to it. So I don't really know, like... Yeah it says, immediately after he says that, “Menelaeus heard his words.”

JACKIE (laughing): But luckily what he said was nice, so…

RACHEL: Yeah it was basically like, “What a great house. This guy's rich!”


RACHEL: So then Menelaeus -

THEO: I mean that actually is kind of realistic, like how often does whispering actually work? You know, like I feel like, usually I hear people whispering… when they're trying not to be heard -

RACHEL (laughing) “Usually”?

THEO: Yeah! (laughing) I hear it constantly, I'm alone trying to go to bed and I'm just hearing constant whispering.

Jackie and Rachel laugh.

RACHEL: Oh no. Anyway, Menelaeus spends several pages complaining about how much he suffered to get all of his wealth and how he was just going all over the world, sadly gathering up cows and wealth. Telemachus cries about Odysseus yet again and Menelaeus, and his wife Helen, who has returned to him, exchange a significant look because they're like, “Wait a second, he's crying about Odysseus. This has to be Odysseus's son!” So Helen says to him -

JACKIE: “He looks just like he did when he was a baby!”

RACHEL: Yes, she says, “I never saw so people - two people so alike as this boy and Telemachus, the son of spirited Odysseus, the child he left behind a little newborn baby.” Which is crazy to me because they have children themselves. And I feel like an adult child tends to look more like their parents than an adult looks like a baby.

JACKIE: I think what she's saying is, “I've never seen anyone look so much like a baby as this man, who's crying and needs to be dressed by other people.

RACHEL: “This oily, crying man.”

JACKIE: She's like, “Wow. That really rings a bell. You know who that makes me think of? A baby.” (Theo and Rachel laughing) Okay. So then everybody realizes that this is, this must be Odysseus’s son and everybody cries.

RACHEL: Everyone cries. Everyone cries.

JACKIE: Everyone.

RACHEL: And then, Pisistratus says something…

JACKIE: Pisistratus says my favorite line in the whole books that I have read -

RACHEL: In any book you've ever read. Ever.

JACKIE: Um. In any book of The Odyssey that I've ever read.


JACKIE: So they're all crying thinking about how much they love Odysseus. Yeah. “King Menaleus, when we spoke of you back home in our own halls, my father Nestor, lord of the horses who is a horse, always declared you are exceptional for common sense.” I may have taken a little -

RACHEL: Editorial -

JACKIE: Artistic license there, yeah. “So listen now to me: I disapprove of crying during dinner. Dawn will soon come; weep then.”

RACHEL: Yeah, so he just tells a king, “Quit crying,” and the king says, “Wow. So smart, what a great thing to say. You're right.” (Theo laughing)

JACKIE: He's like, “You know, I always heard that you were really logical. So why don't you just…”

RACHEL: “Shut up?” Yeah, “Just quit crying!” So Menelaeus goes back. He tells them some more stories. He's like, “Odysseus was so brave because when we had the Trojan Horse, Helen came out of the city and did a perfect mimicry of every man's wife's voice to try to convince us to pop out of the horse and reveal ourselves, and Odysseus told us not to get out of the horse.

JACKIE: And Helen's just like, -

RACHEL: “Yeah, exactly, I did that.”

JACKIE: “Remember when I tried to kill everybody?”

RACHEL: Yeah, which, why did she do that? I really don't understand, it seems like she does - she didn't want to leave, like she wanted to stay with Paris. So anyway, and then Telemachus is like, “Wow, my dad was so brave and so wise to realize that they weren't the voices of all of his men's wives!” Uh, so anyway, on their way back home, Menelaeus, he's made a ton of money and… but he's trapped on a little island there, and they can't get home. There are no currents to take them back. So he meets a goddess who says, “Hey, if you want to find out why the gods are so angry with you, you should talk to my dad.” And he's like, “How will I do it?” And she says, “Here's a plan.” It's a terrible, terrible seal plan. It works out very well, but I hate the plan. It's… makes me very upset.

JACKIE (laughing): I think you need to describe what a seal plan is.

THEO: Yeah, what is - what is a seal plan?

RACHEL: Her dad is a god who loves seals. He's like a shepherd of seals. He loves his little seals. He takes naps with his seals every day and he's always counting them to make sure they're okay, and so she says, “You and two of your friends should murder some seals and skin them and cover yourselves in their skin and go lay down where the seals take a nap, and then my dad will count you guys and he'll take a nap. And while he's sleeping, you just grab him, and then he'll try to transform into different things, but if you hold on to him, you can force him to grant you a wish. So just ask him why you're trapped here.” So that's the plan like, doesn't... that's so sad, he loves his seals!

JACKIE: So yeah, “Hey, here's, here's how you get…” Yeah! “Here's how you get my dad to do what you want: you kill the things he loves the most and just hold him down on the ground.”

RACHEL: Which wouldn't, like - that, wouldn't work for me. I'm just saying that now. Well anyway, they figured it out, the god says, “You have to go back to Egypt and kill a hundred cows, and then the gods are fine with everything and you can go home.” So they're like, “Ugh, we have to go all the way back, whatever.” So they go back to Egypt, kill the cows and they're good. But then Menelaeus says, “Well, can you tell me some stuff about my friends?” And the god’s like, “You do NOT want to hear about your friends.” But he's like, “No really, tell me about my friends.” And it turns out most of them are dead, but the god says, “Well, Odysseus is trapped on an island.” So that's great. Um. Now, finally, yeah well, finally, Telemachus has a little bit of news about his dad. So then Menelaeus says, he says, “Why don't you - why don't you hang out in my palace for eleven or twelve days? And then I’ll send you off with precious gifts, three horses in a gleaming chariot, also a lovely cup. So you can pour gifts to the gods and always think of me.” Then tactfully Telemachus replied, “Please do not keep me here so long, my lord. Indeed I would be glad to stay a year. I would not even miss my home or parents, I get such pleasure listening to you.” (Theo laughs) But -

JACKIE: That seems disingenuous.

RACHEL: I know! But it's tactful, the book says.

JACKIE: I think it's more like tac.. Tactical.

RACHEL: “Tactically replied.” Yeah, maybe. He also says to Menelaeus, “And for a gift, please only give me treasure.” (Theo laughs). Pretty good, right?

THEO: That’s pretty good.

RACHEL: Menelaeus says, “My boy, your words are proof of your good blood.” And then he says, “I'm going to give you the best bowl anyone has ever seen.” So anyway, back at home… We're not done, we're almost done, sheesh! So we cut back to Ithaca and the suitors find out Telemachus is gone and they make a secret plan to ambush and kill him on his return. But a slave named Medan overhears their plan and he tells Penelope, who somehow still had no idea he was gone. Still. And the… his… Eurycleia, his slave nurse, she explains like, “Oh, he didn't want me to tell you because he said that crying would ruin your pretty face.” So, like, he's still being a dick to his mom when he's not home. But that night, so she's crying about it, because she's worried they're going to kill her son and which, honestly I don't know why she cares, he's - every time we've seen them interact he's been really mean to her! But Athena appears to Penelope in her sleep in the guise of her sister, so there you go Theo, another disguise plan. And she tells her, “Oh, don't worry, Telemachus will be totally fine,” and I think she says something like, “Hey, you're a spirit, can you just tell me if my husband's dead or alive?” And the spirit’s like, “Uh, no. I can't.”

JACKIE: (laughs) End of book four.

RACHEL: End of book four, yeah.

JACKIE: I mean, why does she care if he's killed? Because she - he could be dead for a long time and she'd be like, “He's probably just around the palace somewhere.” I mean, she wouldn’t know!

RACHEL: I don’t know. Maybe he was a nice little boy or something. I don't know. But he is really mean. Like I wish we had some scenes of him being nice to his mom. But even, even when he's doing something she wants him to do he's rude about it. Like, even when he's refusing to give her hand in marriage away he's just like, “Ugh, I would if I could bros, but if I did my mom would curse me.” Well, so that's what happens. I mean Jackie and Theo, what did you think, did you enjoy the first section of The Odyssey? I think some people call it, like... what is it, like, the Telemacheia or something?

JACKIE: Um, yeah, I enjoyed it. I think a lot of it has to do with the translation. It's, it’s unpretentious. It's fresh, unpretentious and lean, in fact.

RACHEL: Whoa. Are you quoting something, or did you just come up with that off the dome?

JACKIE: No um, what I think is that there are plenty of finely wrought moments. She's not looking to gild the poetic lily, but rather to emphasize the emotional arc of the story. And that's just how I, that's just how I feel, man.

THEO:. Like those are just - those are kind of just like the sort of sentences you think of all the time.

JACKIE: Yeah. I mean it is rare to find a translation that is at once so effilessl.. Eff.. effortlessly easy to read and so rig-rigorously considered! And that's just how I talk!

THEO: Oh yeah, that’s funny how you had trouble saying that, it’s as if, as if you were like trying to read it really quickly.

RACHEL: Yeah, well, okay, real quick Jackie, what did you think?

THEO: Should it - should we light the fuse? Should we light the fuse?

JACKIE: To fire it?

RACHEL: No, I like it. I think it's... I don't like Telemachus, but I like hearing about him. I think it's pretty funny. Pretty good. I'm enjoying it so far. I want to, I want to get to Odysseus, so I'm excited about that.

THEO: Is it supposed to be funny?

JACKIE: I think parts of it are supposed to be funny.

RACHEL: Uh, probably not.

JACKIE: No, I think parts of it are!

RACHEL: You do?


RACHEL: You think suitors are just… reading him to filth or whatever?

JACKIE: Personally, I think the parts that are supposed to be funny- and I could be wrong about this- shocker- um, are the parts where Nestor talks and talks and talks and talks for pages and pages and then Telemachus is like -

RACHEL: “Weellllll, I love hearing you talk.”

JACKIE: Yeah, “I love hearing you talk, I'd love to just stay here for the rest of my life, but I’ve got to get going, give me some treasure.” He says the same thing to Menelaeus.

RACHEL: I don't know if that's supposed to be funny, though! I thought that was supposed to be like -

THEO: Tactful.

RACHEL: “Hey, audience, here's how you deal with a host who won't shut up.”

JACKIE: I think it's supposed to be a little bit funny, like, yeah.

RACHEL: Maybe!

JACKIE: We're in on the joke, right? I mean, we're not fools.

RACHEL: Yeah that's true, I guess we're not fools.

JACKIE: Speak for yourself.

RACHEL: Uh… woah! (Jackie laughs) Weird! (Theo laughs) Oh, wait! Theo, what do you think? I like it. I think we need to keep it in the canon. Don't fire it.

JACKIE: So if we fire it, does that mean we can't move on to the next book?

THEO: No, I mean we can -

RACHEL: No we would still read it, yeah.

THEO: Yeah you could still keep the, the other ones.

RACHEL: So you want to fire it just to see what's going to happen?

THEO: Me? Yeah, I'm not - I'm not going to light the fuse.

RACHEL: Everyone, if you want to hear some fun Odyssey games come back for episode two. (outro music begins)


THEO: Okay.

RACHEL: Jackie?

JACKIE: S...sure.

THEO: And this is the segment where we think Nell for listening. Thank you Nell!

RACHEL: Thanks Nell!

JACKIE: Thanks Nell, we love you!

* Outro music ends -