Fire the Canon

Books 5-9 of The Odyssey, as translated by Emily Wilson. Well, well, well. Finally we learn what Telemachus’ deadbeat dad has been up to for the past 20 years! Jackie and Rachel tell tales of their own past on the high seas, and Theo finally becomes interested in the book. Topics include: a terrible seal plan, our best boy Polyphemus, Ancient Greek feminism, Odysseus taking things way too far, and, as always, lots and lots of oil.

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

Show Notes

Books 5-9 of The Odyssey, as translated by Emily Wilson. Well, well, well. Finally we learn what Telemachus’ deadbeat dad has been up to for the past 20 years! Jackie and Rachel tell tales of their own past on the high seas, and Theo finally becomes interested in the book. Topics include: a terrible seal plan, our best boy Polyphemus, Ancient Greek feminism, Odysseus taking things way too far, and, as always, lots and lots of oil.

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

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- Intro music in background -
THEO, QUOTING BOOK: Zeus orders you to send him on his way at once! It is his fate to see his family and come back home to his own native land.
* Intro music continues, then resolves -
JACKIE: 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 your host, Jackie.
RACHEL: I'm your other host, Rachel.
THEO: And I’m the producer, Theo.
JACKIE: Thank you all for being here, Nell... hope you're having a great day.
RACHEL: Yeah thanks for coming back.
THEO: Welcome back, Nell. (laughs)
JACKIE: Welcome back.
RACHEL: So we ended episode one with book four, which is Telemachus's arc, basically. it's his journey. So for the second episode, Jackie, we are talking about…?
JACKIE, singing: Books five through thirteen!
RACHEL: Nope.
JACKIE, singing: ….Books five through nine!
RACHEL: Yes.
JACKIE: So book five is the first book that starts with Odysseus’s perspective, so -
RACHEL: Our hero!
JACKIE: Our hero, the hero, in fact.
RACHEL: Not mine, actually. I take back what I said.
JACKIE: Hashtag #notmyhero. So, I'm going to give you an overview of the characters who appear in book five, because the names can be hard to remember. So in this book we have, um, Athena, who is the goddess who loves to don different disguises and help and/or hinder Odysseus as she pleases; Zeus, her father, the king of all the Gods; Hermes, who is one of Zeus's other children... So I guess that would make, uh, him… Athena's brother? He can fly really fast and he has magic sandals that enable him to get anywhere in the world as quickly as he wants. Calypso, who is the beautiful sea goddess who imprisons Odysseus on her island for seven years; um, and Odysseus himself, and I believe he requires no introduction.
RACHEL: But give him one anyway.
THEO: Odysseus is Telemachus's father! That's how we should do it.
JACKIE: And he's Penelope's husband and he's Laertes’s son and he's the king of Ithaca! Bam.
THEO: Doesn't everyone always say “raider of cities” after his name?
JACKIE: Uh, city-sacker.
THEO: City-sacker. (laughs)
RACHEL: They don't always say that. He has a lot of -
JACKIE: He, he also calls himself Lord of Lies sometimes, and he seems weirdly proud of that.
RACHEL: The gods love that about him. We talked about it in the first episode. They talked about how, how great it was that he was so cunning and crafty.
JACKIE: All right. So we open book five with Athena talking to the Council of the Gods and she's pleading for them to help Telemachus and Odysseus. So she says, “Hey, um, this guy that is, is cursed and has really bad luck has been on this island with Calypso for seven years. That really sucks for him, um, and even worse, his son Telemachus is coming to try and save him! Who ever thought of that idea? Pssht! Surely not me! And that's a really bad idea. The suitors are going to kill him when he gets back. We need to help him.” And Zeus is like, “Okay, wink wink, you kind of did that yourself. Maybe you should use your skill to get Telemachus back home safely.” Um, but he also tells his son Hermes to go to the isle of Calypso and bid her set Odysseus free. She - he says, “He's suffered long enough,” which is the part of the excerpt that you heard earlier that, that Theo, our producer, so kindly read for us. So anyway, Hermes straps on his golden sandals, he flies to Calypso’s cave, tells her to let Odysseus go. She goes on this, like, feminist tirade, full of sex-positivity. She is not! Here! For your shaming, dude whose name is merely one letter away from Herpes! She's not listening to you! Then Herpes, or sorry, Hermes, he says, “Okay, but Zeus said so.” And she goes, “Okay, all right, I guess I have to. I'm not pressed, I’m not pressed.” So that's a - a phrase that my generation-Z sister taught me, by the way. It means ‘I'm not too worried about it’.
RACHEL: You haven't heard that, Theo? Don't you teach undergrads?
THEO: Yeah for some reason they all just said, “Yike.”
RACHEL: Every time they saw you? (laughs)
THEO: (laughs) No, every time it was like, I would, I would assign them something it was, yike! Yike this, yike that. And they never explained it to me, but -
JACKIE: Yike this, yike that. So Calypso says, “Yike.” Well it’s funny, she goes from, like, “You cruel, jealous gods, you bear a grudge whenever any goddess takes a man to sleep with as a lover in her bed, blah blah blah blah blah, here are some other examples of, of times that you chastised women for taking lovers,” and then he's -
RACHEL: Goddesses.
JACKIE: Yeah, sorry, women, goddesses, whatever. Interchangeable. And Hermes is like, “Yeah, but you have to,” and she's like, “All right, fine, I’m not pressed. Yike.” So she goes and she tells Odysseys he’s free to go. He's like, “Thanks, sex queen. I know my plain wife who is so homely will never compare to you, but I love her anyway because I'm such a wholesome dude. Anyway, let's F one last time because of how sad I am. They do.
THEO: That actually happens?
RACHEL: Yeah.
JACKIE: Yeah!
RACHEL: It’s horrible! We'll get into that in a minute, don't worry! I'm pissed.
THEO: He's, like, forgotten his wife right?
JACKIE: No! No, he weeps for her every day.
RACHEL: Supposedly she says, “Oh, the clothes that I give you, they're always just so soaked and wet because of your tears, cause you're always crying about your wife,” but we are given no indication that he tried to leave or asked her if he could leave.
JACKIE: He sits and looks at the sea every day in his customary place and cries.
THEO: There's no real, like, magic keeping him there?
RACHEL: I mean, it's hard to escape, or, no, he just doesn't have a boat, basically.
JACKIE: Yeah and I think if he tried to leave, she would probably stop him.
RACHEL: Well, he doesn't know, he didn't ask! It's just his excuse.
JACKIE: So anyway, he goes, “Do not be enraged at me, great Goddess, you are quite right. I know my modest wife Penelope could never match your beauty. She is a human. You are deathless, ageless, but even so I want to go back home.”
RACHEL: Also, he talks about how his wife's short and therefore less attractive than Calypso, who is tall.
JACKIE: Well, I have to say, um, it's not really Odysseus who says that Penelope is short, Calypso says that, like, just to kind of twist the knife a little bit. She says -
RACHEL: “Well, your short wife…”
JACKIE: Yeah. “Well, goodbye, have fun going home to your short wife, whose body is not as good as mine. I know my body is better than hers is. I am taller, too. Mortals can never rival the immortals in beauty.” And that's when Odysseus is like, “I'm sorry, I know my wife is ugly as hell, but I got to go home!” (laughs)
RACHEL: That’s true. (laughs)
JACKIE: Yeah, so they go back to Calypso’s cave for some happy times, one last time. She helps him build a boat. He sails home uneventfully, lives happily ever after.
RACHEL: Well. Okay, we don't know if it's one last time, because it takes four days to build the boat.
JACKIE: Oh you're right, I think every single night they did it.
RACHEL: Maybe even in the day.
JACKIE: So anyway, he sails home uneventfully and everything's fine. Just kidding, that doesn't happen! The gods are still mad at him, especially Poseidon. You do not. Mess. With Poseidon.
RACHEL: Yeah, not if you have to travel by boat.
JACKIE: Um, and also maybe a little foreshadowing, because it kind of seems like maybe Odysseus did something really bad that Poseidon might be mad at him for? We might learn about that later. I wonder what it could beeee! So Poseidon sends up waves and winds. They rip his little boat apart, Odysseus clings to the ruined planks, weeping as he always does. Finally, he sees land - Phaecia - and he manages to swim to shore. He falls asleep under a bush in a decidedly ungodlike fashion. Thus ends book five. Okay, all right. How do you feel about book five?
RACHEL: I'm pissed, let me say that. Because he talks about - Odysseus, in the book, he says, like, “Ugh, when I first got here, I loved having sex with this lady. But now I'm tired of it! (laughs) Time to go home.” Which makes me so mad, because think about poor Penelope back home, weaving constantly, trying to keep these young men away from her. Nobody is her friend, nobody’s supporting her, her son's a huge brat, and everyone is constantly like, “Oh man, better hope Penelope doesn't do to you what Clytemnestra did to Agamemnon and marry someone else and have you murdered!” Like everyone just goes on and on about how she's so faithful to him and like, good, because otherwise it would be terrible, but he is constantly cheating on her! The thing is, I wouldn't care that much if people weren't all up in Penelope's business about it. Like if the rule was, if you're separated for five plus years, you're allowed to sleep around until you get home? If that was the rule for everyone, I would say: that's fine, whatever. Makes sense, I guess. But the way people are just so critical of poor Penelope. Hoo! She's the only one I like so far.
THEO: What about Athena?
RACHEL: No, she's a little bit weird.
JACKIE: What about Helen? I kind of like Helen.
THEO: What about the Eagles?
RACHEL: Eagles? Yes, love the Eagles. Helen, I don't like how she, like, did a perfect mimicry of everyone's wife's voice to try to trick them to come out of the horse. That's just kind of creepy. Uh, I guess I like Nestor, Lord of Horses.
JACKIE: And I kind of like Calypso too. I mean, you bring up a good point. He never asked to leave.
RACHEL: Yeah, that's true. The thing I don't like though is even if he didn't ask to leave, he's crying so much that he's always damp. (Jackie laughs) You could have tried to figure out what was wrong.
THEO: Yeah. Definitely like… mythical tears. But I feel like when I learned about the Odyssey in like, high school, they said that Calypso had put a spell on Odysseus that made him stay there, but that's not true at all. They just like -
JACKIE: That spell is called ‘sex’ and they didn't want to say that in high school.
THEO: But they did say sex! (Rachel and Jackie laugh)
RACHEL: I don't know, in this translation, at least, there's no hint of a potion or a spell or anything. But do you remember Wishbone? That puts a whole new spin on that episode.
JACKIE: Ugh, how could you say that?
RACHEL: How could I not?
JACKIE: I mean are we going to bring up Wishbhone in every episode of this podcast?
RACHEL: Yeah! Every episode where there's an adaptation of it that was from Wishbone, yeah, of course.
JACKIE: She's like, “Why is this dog always damp?”
RACHEL: (laughs) Yeah!
THEO: (laughs) “Why are this dog’s clothes always damp?”
RACHEL: “Get this damp dog out of my cave.” Yeah.
JACKIE: (laughs) That’s, like, the most confusing thing about this dog -
THEO: You’re right. She didn't question that the dog could talk, but the dog’s dampness, that was… eugh…
JACKIE: Yeah, the dampness kind of…
THEO: Yeah...
RACHEL: Oh also, I don't like how rude she was about his wife. Like come on, girl.
JACKIE: Yeah.
RACHEL: You're an immortal goddess, like, you kidnapped him for seven years, get over yourself.
JACKIE: I like what she says to Hermes, though, cause she does have a good point…
RACHEL: Yeah, that was good. You notice I also don't like Hermes.
JACKIE: What the heck did Hermes do?! All he did was - Oh, he flew over there and said, “Oh, you know, I didn't want to come. Zeus made me, who - who would ever want to fly all this way?”
RACHEL: “The sea is soo salty!”
THEO: Even though he's flying above it? (laughs)
RACHEL: Yeah! (laughs) Just fly a little higher, bro.
THEO: Or drink something else. (laughs)
RACHEL: Who cares what the stuff that you're not touching, how salty it is? Like when I drive a car, I'm not like, “Ugh, this asphalt tastes so disgusting!”
JACKIE: (laughs) So book six.. Book six is called “A Princess and Her Laundry.” And so I started reading this and I was like, well, this is going to be silly, it doesn't sound serious at all! And in fact it's pretty, pretty whimsical. So, um, so here's the thing, at the end of book five Odysseus fell asleep under a bush. (sound of cat meowing in background) And… yeah he's exhausted. He's been crying, he's been swimming, he's been crying and swimming, swimming and crying, all the combinations thereof. Athena’s not sure that he's going to make it out of the bush alive, not on his own, anyway. (constant sounds of cat meowing) So she does him another solid and she goes into the bedroom of the Phaecian princess Nausicaa. So Nausicaa is the, um, princess of... this land, and she's sleeping in the palace, as one does. I think she's probably, what, like sixteen years old?
RACHEL: She's a young, unmarried girl.
JACKIE: Young, unmarried girl. She's beautiful, she has white arms -
RACHEL: She's tall -
JACKIE: Yeah. She has good hair. And so Athena goes into her bedroom disguised as Nausicaa’s best friend, which I think is weird, (cat meows) and so she wakes up Nausicaa and is like, “Girl, you have to do your laundry.” And Nausicaa doesn't act like this is weird at all, like she just was sleeping, she has slave girls guarding the door outside who, by the way, are asleep on the job, so great guarding you guys are doing, and then she wakes up and her best friend is you know, just in her face being like, “You - hey. What are you doing? You sleeping? Not anymore. Got to do some laundry.”
RACHEL: “Or else you'll never get married!” Or no, she says, like, “You're about to get married any day now, so you really should do your laundry.” Everyone loves clean clothes.
JACKIE: So she has to go and like really take a trip to do this laundry, by the way. (cat meows) It's like a lot. It's very involved.
RACHEL: Wait, what about that cat? What if we… take a little pause until she stops yelling, cause that is definitely very audible.
JACKIE: I'm going to put her outside. (sound of door closing)
RACHEL: (laughs) That was such a loud cat.
JACKIE: Anyway, Odysseus wakes up, he's been sleeping for whoever knows how long, sleeping off all of his troubles. He finds himself surrounded by, uh, Nausicaa and all of her slave girls? Friends?
RACHEL: Combination.
JACKIE: Yeah, combination, I mean they all just, they're pretty equitable. They all hang out. Um, and he's naked, of course, because he's had all his clothes ripped off by the sea, which… happens, I guess...
RACHEL: This chapter reminds me of an anime so much.
JACKIE: Oh, it's creepy. Yeah.
RACHEL: Yeah anyway, keep going and people will see.
JACKIE: Anyway, “Odysseus jumped up from out the bushes grasping a leafy branch. He broke it off to cover up his manly private parts -”
RACHEL: Mmhmm.
JACKIE: “Just as a mountain lion trusts its strength and, beaten by the rain and winds, its eyes burn bright as it attacks the cows or sheep…” Blah blah blah - “So need impelled Odysseus to come upon the girls with pretty hair, though he was naked.” He's covered in salt, his hair's all messed up, he's naked. He pops out of a bush and correctly, they all run away, cause DUH.
RACHEL: But at least he is covering his manly private parts with a branch.
JACKIE: But Nausicaa stayed still because Athena… made her (laughs) and so Odysseus is like, “Should I touch her knees?” Now, this is the first time that knee-touching is mentioned, and it comes back again and again. What does it mean?
RACHEL: I don't get it. It’s - it creeps me out.
THEO: He's touching her knees with his hands, or with his knees?
RACHEL: He thinks to himself, “Should I reach out my hand and touch her knee?”
THEO: Oh. (laughs)
RACHEL: And then he's like, “No, no, no, I'll just talk to her without touching her.”
JACKIE: (laughs) Yeah, he was like, his choices were, touch her knees or keep his distance and use charming words. “At last he thought it best to keep some distance.”
RACHEL: That's his first good decision in this whole book.
JACKIE: So he talks to this young, unmarried girl, who's maybe fifteen or sixteen years old, and he's like, “Oh. My. God. You're SO pretty, are you a goddess?” And she's like (ditzy laugh). And he tells this long, long story about all the beautiful things he's seen, but none of them are as beautiful as he are.
RACHEL: He's like, “I saw a great tree once. You're kind of like that great tree.”
JACKIE: Why did I say “as beautiful as he are”? (laughs)
RACHEL: I don’t know. (Rachel and Theo laugh)
JACKIE: Anyway. So he's like, “You are so pretty. Can you please help me?” And she's like, “Yeah, totally, I'll help you.”
RACHEL: She tells her friends to give him a bath.
JACKIE: She says, “Why are you running from this man?” as though he's not horrifying. Um, so she tells them, give him food and drink, wash him up -
RACHEL: Theo, what do you think they put on him after he takes a bath?
THEO: Oils.
RACHEL: Oil. Yep, you got it. The oil is back! (laughs) Like father, like son.
THEO: Yeah. (Theo and Jackie laugh)
JACKIE: Well, they always describe Odysseus as salty and covered in salt, because he is, right?
RACHEL: Well, only when he’d just come out of the ocean.
THEO: Or when he's been crying for a long time. (laughs)
RACHEL: (laughs) Yeah.
JACKIE: Yeah, exactly, and he's not naturally oily like Telemachus is.
RACHEL: Salt-brined Odysseus.
THEO: Raider of cities.

RACHEL: Yeah. But at this point he does clean himself off and he gets himself oiled up.
THEO: Ready for his next big cry.
RACHEL: Yeah, because if you're covered in oil, the tears just slip off.
JACKIE: Yeah it’s, I, it’s honestly, that's probably why they cover them in oil so much. Like these men won't stop crying! (Theo and Rachel laugh) So he's like, “No, no, no girls, like you just stand back. I am, uh, going to rub myself with oil.”
RACHEL: And then…??
JACKIE: And then…?
RACHEL: Athena poured attractiveness across his head and shoulders.
JACKIE: His handsomeness was dazzling.
RACHEL: Mmhmm. And she made his hair grow “curling tendrils like a hyacinth.”
JACKIE: Anyway, then he says to Nausicaa, “Okay, time to take me back to your people,” and she's like, “Absolutely, but we can't go together because what if people think we're married? That would be the worst. Oh, my God, I just could not ever imagine -”
RACHEL: So embarrassing.
JACKIE: - being married to someone as… yeah. That would just be terrible. They would shame me, blah blah blah. Uh, but so here's what we'll do, I'll go in first and then you just go to the city and a tiny child could tell you where to find my house, cause literally everyone knows. So, even a baby could do it.
RACHEL: Yeah and she says, “Once you're there, hug my mom's knees - ”
JACKIE: Yeah what is with the knee-hugging?
RACHEL: “ - and you’ll be fine.” (laughs)
THEO: Is he just really short? (Jackie laughs)
RACHEL: Uh, no, well, Athena made him taller when she poured attractiveness over his head and shoulders.
THEO: Oh.
JACKIE: So her mother must be like, seventy feet tall.
RACHEL: Well, no, I think he's supposed to kneel and grab the knees.
THEO: He’s supposed to grovel.
RACHEL: Yeah, something like that. But anyway, that's the end of book six.
JACKIE: How do you guys feel about that?
THEO, sighing: These aren't very epic adventures.
RACHEL: Yeah, not yet, but you're… Actually it's about to become an epic adventure.
JACKIE: It's about to become pretty epic. Right now he's just a salty man who popped out of a bush and scared some girls.
RACHEL: Yeah.
THEO: Wait, remind me again. Why was he under a bush? Did his ship crash again?
RACHEL: Poseidon crashed it. And he's floating around, and then he drifts up on shore and he's exhausted, so he can't do anything, but he doesn't want to get eaten by animals, so he hides under a bush and takes a nap. Now, here's something: I have been shipwrecked. Well, I was lost at sea, sorry, not shipwrecked. (laughs)
JACKIE: Well, I have been in a bush.
THEO: I went on a boat once too, yeah.
RACHEL: When I was a little baby, my dad took me and one of my sisters out on a sailboat, and the boat capsized and we were lost at sea. And we drifted around until some fishermen found us like, days later or whatever, but I can tell you that Penelope is having the worst experience. Because when I was drifting around in the ocean? Totally fine. My mom was PISSED when we got back. She was so mad at my dad. She told me she was mad at him for like three years.
JACKIE: I have so many questions.
THEO: He was just sort of like swimming with the two of you, or you had like…?
RACHEL: No, the boat was totally upside-down. It was a… catamaran, which is flat, it’s got like a tarp, so it totally flipped upside down. So the mast was vertical, pointing into the ocean, and it was just kind of sailing around upside down. So we would just sit on the top of the tarp and, like, I remember there was a little pool of water in the middle of the tarp, so we would splash around in there and my dad would let me like, hold on to a rope and kind of trail along behind the boat while it just drifted around in the ocean. I had a,a great time.
THEO: Did he seem worried?
RACHEL: No, he did a great job not seeming worried. But if you've met my dad, he might actually have not been worried. He's a very chill guy.
JACKIE: He's a little too chill sometimes. I mean, it's all the Hawaiian shirts.
RACHEL: That's the boat that the man stole!
JACKIE: ...Eh, we'll get to that one later! (Theo and Rachel laugh) I have a question! How did you… this was days in the ocean? How did you survive? Did you have food?
RACHEL: It - it was definitely overnight. I was like... four or five? We were gone… we were definitely gone for well over twenty-four hours, but I don't know exactly how long. No, we didn't have food! No food, no water.
THEO: And you were still happy just splashing around.
RACHEL: Yeah, I was having a fun time. Yeah.
JACKIE: I have a story about getting stranded on a body of water with my dad and my little sister too.
RACHEL: Okay, go ahead.
THEO: Yeah, let’s hear it.
JACKIE: It’s not nearly as good. So my dad -
RACHEL: Should have told yours first.
JACKIE: (laughs) Theo, you can tell one after me. Yeah.
RACHEL:(laughs) It'll get progressively worse.
JACKIE: Anyway, so my dad had a pretty bad habit of, like, not checking the gas on things or buying vehicles that had the gasometer like, not working. Gas meter? What do you say? Gas... gauge?
RACHEL: Gauge? Oh, yeah.
JACKIE: No no no, the gauge on the dashboard.
RACHEL (laughing): The gas-o-meter.
JACKIE: (laughs) So anyway, he had a car like this and like, he would never like, keep track mathematically of how many miles he had gone, and like, it would just run out of gas on the side of the road and, like, that happened all the time. And so he also had a little speedboat that he bought called the MadJac. So he took us out on the MadJac on the lake near where my mom lived, and this boat ran out of gas in the middle of the lake. And we had to swim to shore, and then we had to walk a very long way home and just leave the boat, like, drifting in the lake.
THEO: (laughs) Did you ever get it back?
JACKIE: (laughs) No, some say it's still out there.
THEO: (laughs) “Some say.” Do YOU say that? Did you ever get it back?
JACKIE: The MadJac ghost ship is out there somewhere. No, I think he may... I can't remember, but I think he may have like, towed it back by swimming with it, or maybe somebody else took him out there? So that is a way less good story than Rachel's, but I also was stranded… not at sea.
RACHEL: Let's very quickly breeze through book seven, because it's honestly not very interesting and there's an interesting one ahead.
JACKIE: Yeah it's really not. Okay.
RACHEL: Book seven is called “A Magical Kingdom.”
JACKIE: So he goes near the palace and he sees a pigtailed child. Spoiler alert, it's Athena, she's creepy, she could be anything. She appears. She gives him directions to the palace.
RACHEL: She tells him to hug the Queen's knees. She also says the Queen is the niece of the king -
JACKIE: Haha, get it? The knees…
RACHEL: Yeah, well, it, but it's incest, so maybe let's not joke about it. (laughs) Just kidding. Go ahead.
JACKIE: (laughs) I mean...
RACHEL: But yeah. So she's like yeah, the king loves her. Everybody loves her whenever she walks through town people point at her and they're, like that's the Queen.
JACKIE: The Phaecians, they're famous, and what they're famous for is they're known for their fast ships.
RACHEL: Mmhmm.
JACKIE: Really fast ships that are fast. Odysseus approaches the king and queen, they're feasting with their fifty slave girls, as one does. And he says, “You've got a fast ship. But is it fast enough so we can fly away? We’ve got to make a decision. We leave tonight or live and die this way.” The king goes “sure sure sure, have a ship, stranger.” So the queen notices that the stranger is wearing clothes that she clearly made herself because, remember, Nausicaa gave her clothes to him, and she goes, “Okay, that’s weird, didn't you just say you floated here on the ocean? How did you get those clothes?” And Odysseus tells the entire story of living on Calypso's island and feeling like he belonged, feeling like he could be someone, be someone… and then he left her island and got caught in the waves and he swam and cried and then so he tells this whole long story and then at the end he goes, “Oh yeah, so that's how I got the clothes.”
RACHE: And he says to the dad like, “Oh, she told me to come here, but I was too embarrassed.” Yeah, and the king said, “Well, my heart is not the type to feel anger for no good reason. Moderation is always best.”
JACKIE: That seems like a nonsequitur.
RACHEL: Even if Odysseus hadn't lied, it still wouldn't have been a good reason to be mad!
JACKIE: Yeah. Everybody gets really mad about, um…
RACHEL: Stupid stuff.
JACKIE: Stuuuupid stuff. All right, so book eight is called “The Songs of a Poet.” So, in the house of the Phaecians, the Phaecians, the king calls a talented poet or bard to sing to his guest. And in accordance with the customs of the time, the guest’s name is never asked, nor his purpose asked about, until the guest has been wined and dined and sung to and oiled up and all the other things. So they're never allowed to ask him what he's doing there or who he is. So he calls the bard. And, what do you know? The bard tells the story of Odysseus and his great deeds. How brave he is, how strong and clever. Meanwhile, the real Odysseus sits weeping in a corner. But only the king notices. So he quickly suggests the song end so that they can play sports cause he's like, “Well, you know, I don't know who this guy is, but -”
RACHEL: But we're good at sports. (laughs)
JACKIE: So he says, “I want the stranger to be able to go home and tell everyone how good at sports we are.” The king’s son… Eurlalus… Eureealis…the king’s son, anyway, got super rude -
(Rachel and Theo laugh)
JACKIE: (laughs) That’s his name!
RACHEL, correcting: It's… it's ‘Euryalus’.
JACKIE: He challenges Odysseus to a game of discus and Odysseus says, “I am far too sad for that. Please leave me alone.”
RACHEL: It says, “Odysseus thought carefully. He had a plan.” I don't know what his - like, it says he had a plan, but what was the plan? It was a plan to do what?
JACKIE: I don't think he had a plan. I don’t think he did.
RACHEL: It says he had a plan! (laughs)
JACKIE: I get that it says that, but I think the narrator is unreliable. So he says, “My heart is set on sorrow, not on games. I have suffered and endured so much. I only want to go back home.” And so the king’s son really ramps things up at this point, like, I think needlessly escalates, and he's like, “Stranger, I suppose you must be ignorant of all athletics. I know your type. The captain of a crew of merchant sailors, you roam round at sea and only care about your freight and cargo, keeping close watch on your ill-gotten gains. You are no athlete.”
RACHEL: Yeah. “You don't want to do sports? I guess you're just A PIRATE.”
JACKIE: Yeah. I think that's actually a really bad insult in this world, like, “your ill-gotten gains?” And by the way they absolutely are ill-gotten, so that is -
RACHEL: Yes, the rude thing is to call them ill-gotten, it's not too ill-got them. That's fine.
THEO: Can I ask you - so when he says all of the, the gains are ill-gotten, does Odysseus have anything? I mean if he washed ashore with no clothes on, like, what are the gains?
RACHEL: I guess yeah, exactly yeah. He doesn't have any at the moment. That's weird, maybe he’s saying before you got washed ashore you had ill-gotten gains.
JACKIE: And so Odysseus now is pissed and he's like, um, “You are crazy arrogant, and I'm going to beat you at discus.” And so he -
RACHEL: Gets the heaviest discus of all!
JACKIE: Of all of the discuses it's the diskiest. And he throws it as far as he can and it goes further than Euryalus’s and he's like, “Boo-yah. I just threw that disk. You suck.”
RACHEL: Also Athena was planted in the audience and cheers for him, and she says, “Look how far that is! Obviously it's the farthest!” (laughs)
THEO: She must not have that much to do.
RACHEL: I know! (laughs)
THEO: She’s, like, so obsessed with him.
JACKIE: I mean she seems… a little too attached.
RACHEL: She's overinvolved, she's a helicopter goddess.
JACKIE: It gets a little redundant then in my mind, so the king, then, after the sports calls back the bard who sings, Odysseus begins crying again and the king goes, “Stop it stop stop stop stop it, your song is not PLEASING to everyone!”
RACHEL: Even though they all know who it's not pleasing to.
JACKIE: Yeah. I think that's a little passive aggressive, it's kind of like when your boss calls a meeting and is like, “Okay, well, um, someone here didn't…”
RACHEL: But yeah, so he's crying, he's crying and then they say, like “Wow, you're really crying a lot. Did you know someone who died in this war?” Now for book nine... This is one that we really don't like. We hate it. ‘A Pirate in a Shepherd's Cave.” So right after the guy calls him a pirate, it turns out, he was. So he tells the story - he says after they destroyed Troy, they were blown off course and they reached another kingdom which they sacked, killed the men, and enslaved the women as concubines, which we know what that means. So then, while they're partying to celebrate the city that they destroyed, some of them retaliate and kill some of Odysseus’s men, which, good for them, cause I hate those guys. So then there's another storm and they get washed ashore of the land of the Lotus Eaters and some of them eat the Lotus fruit and forget all about their home, but Odysseus says, “Okay. We can't stay here. Let's go back on the boat.” So then they find another island, and this island is the island of the Cyclopes. (laughs) And this is the part we really hate.
JACKIE: Yeah, there's going to be, ah… so I’ll warn you. Trigger warning: if you have a thing about eyes, and if you have a thing about sheep, and if you have a thing about eyes and sheep together: you - listen no further.
RACHEL: And disgusting descriptions of cannibalism.
JACKIE: If you have that triad of dislikes, then... skip. So they go on this island doing what they do, which is just like, looking for things to plunder, and he goes into the cave of a cyclop.
RACHEL: A cyclope. (laughs) No, I’m, that's a pretend - that's not a real correction. That was just a joke.
THEO: (laughs) But it is cyclops, right?
JACKIE: Um, no, they never say that.
RACHEL: He is a cyclops!
JACKIE: Oh, it is, it says he’s a cyclops. Sorry!
RACHEL (laughing) They never say what this giant man with one eye was on the island of the Cyclopes. We have no idea.
JACKIE: Well, they called him a massive man, so I mean that could just be like... I don't know, Andre the Giant.
RACHEL: But it's not. He's a cyclops. (laughs)
JACKIE: So, Andrea the Giant story. On Halloween I had a few people over - intimate gathering, because, you know, covid. And we ordered pizza and the guy who came to the door to deliver the pizza was dressed in some kind of outfit with like, stripy blue pants and like this kind of like, billowing shirt. And he's just kind of like a, like a heavyset large guy- and I was just like, “Oh, my gosh, are you Andre the Giant?” And I think he thought I was asking if he was An - like, literally Andre the giant. He was like, “I'm a pirate.” And I was like, (stammering) “Oh. I thought… okay, thanks for the pi- ! And then I gave him some candy.
RACHEL: Did you tip him, though?
JACKIE: Of course I tipped him! But I also gave him a lot of candy.
RACHEL: And insulted him.
THEO: Wait so you think he actually thought you were asking if he was the person Andre the Giant? Delivering pizzas?
JACKIE: (laughs) Yes. I mean, that's the way he reacted! He was just like, “Uh…”
THEO: (laughs) And he said, “No, I'm not that real person, I'm a real pirate.”
JACKIE: (laughs) And then I was like, I better give him some candy before he plunders my home.
THEO: (laughs) Yeah.
RACHEL: I don't think you're right. I don't think your interpretation of that interaction is correct.
JACKIE: You are so gaslighting me! I was here for it -
(Theo laughing)
RACHEL: Theo? Do you think that this guy thought Jackie was asking him if he's a man who died a long time ago?
THEO: (laughing) How offensive. (laughing more) I’m a pirate! (Rachel laughs)
RACHEL: Anyway, they go in the cave and his men say, “Hey, let's steal all his sheep,” and Odysseus says, “Let's not steal everything. Let's just tell him to give us presents.”
JACKIE: That, to me, is the silliest part of this whole thing, because his men were suggesting that they do a kind of bad thing already, which is like just take a bunch of food? I'm sure the Cyclops would have had more than enough food leftover, whatever. But Odysseus is like, “No no no no no. We should stay here and hope that he will give us a gift, because we are visitors and that's what you do with visitors. You give them gifts.”
RACHEL: You have to give them a gift, yeah.
JACKIE: And so they were like, okay. That goes really poorly for them. The cyclops comes back and essentially murders each of Odysseus’s men, one by one.
RACHEL: He doesn't get em all.
JACKIE: I think he kills six of them because he kills two at night, two the next morning, and then I think another two…
THEO: So, two by two.
RACHEL: (laughs) Two by two.
JACKIE: Two by two by two.
RACHEL: And he just really gobbles him up.
JACKIE: The cyclops comes back and he herds all of his sheep inside, and he cares a lot for these sheep. Like it's very obvious.
RACHEL: Yeah, he really loves those freaking sheep.
JACKIE: He, he just brings them inside. He doesn't like rip them apart with his teeth or anything, he -
RACHEL: Just pets them and milks them -
JACKIE: Yeah, he milks them and he puts the lambs -
RACHEL: He knows them all individually. Oh also, the only reason they don't escape or kill him is because he blocks the entrance to his cave with a giant rock that Odysseus says it would take twenty-two men to roll the rock away. So if they kill him, then they can't move the rock.
JACKIE: So at first, you know, they're just in there and watching him tend his sheep and put the lambs with the moms and all this other really cute stuff -
RACHEL: Mmhmm. Very cute.
JACKIE: But then he turned around and he saw them and they... you know, he said, “Who are you? Why are you here? Are you pirates? Are you going to bring disaster to me?” And Odysseus gives this very pompous speech in which he says, “No, we are Greeks. We are here from Troy. We are proud to be the men of Agamemnon. We are famous for sacking the vast city and killing many people. We beg you to grant a gift, as is the norm for hosts and guests. Please, sir, my lord, respect the gods.” He's basically like, “ Be respectful, please, and give us a gift.”
RACHEL: Yeah.
JACKIE: Because that's what you're supposed to do.
RACHEL: And our favorite guy -
JACKIE: The cyclops -
RACHEL: The cyclops -
JACKIE: Says, “Well, foreigner. You order me to fear the gods? But I don't fear the gods, and if I were to spare you it wouldn't be because Zeus told me to, it would be because I want to.”
RACHEL: He says, “I'm stronger than they are. Who cares?”
JACKIE: (laughs) So Odysseus tries his little deceit, but then with no further words, Polyphemus the cyclops leaps up, grabs two men, knocks them against the ground, quote, “like puppies, and the floor was wet with brains.”
RACHEL: Augh!
THEO: He could have picked any other animal and it would have been, like a little better, right?
RACHEL: Even “dog”.
THEO: Yeah. (laughs)
JACKIE: Well, what other animals do you knock hard against the ground?
RACHEL: The floor was wet with brains!!
JACKIE: “He ripped them limb by limb to make his meal. We felt so helpless.” So then the Cyclops fell asleep because he was so full of humans. They stayed till dawn. At dawn the Cyclops grabs two more men, makes a meal out of them, now we're at four. He rolls the boulder away and drives his flock out so that they can go in the pasture for the day. So anyway, then Odysseus and his men make a plan. Cyclops comes back in the evening, puts the goats and sheep and everybody inside - oh sorry, and now he just ate two more men, so now they’re six down. And he's like, “Hey, now that you've had this nice tasty meal of half of my men, wouldn't you like some wine? I brought it as a holy offering, so you might pity me.”
RACHEL: (laughs) I hate this guy.
JACKIE: Yeah. (laughs) And then he says, “Do you expect more guests when you have treated us so rudely?”
THEO: He’s saying, “No one else is going to come here if they find out you treated us this way.”
RACHEL: Yeah, basically. Which - okay! He didn't want them to come there. They let themselves into his house while he was gone! (laughs)
JACKIE: So he gives the cyclops some wine, and he loved it, and he demanded more. And he says, “Another.” So Odysseus gives him another one. And another, and another.
RACHEL: And he tells him, “Listen up. My name is No Man.”
JACKIE: He's like, “Yeah, you want a gift? Here’s my gift to you, I'm going to eat all the other men first and I'll save you for last.” Which is kind of bad-ass. So, here's a line that I didn't like. Cyclops falls asleep, fell on his back, lay there, his massive neck askew. “In drunken heaviness he spewed wine from his throat and chunks of human flesh?” I'm sorry, is he throwing up?
RACHEL: Yeah he's throwing up.
(Theo laughs).
JACKIE: Uhhh… what?
RACHEL: He's got alcohol poisoning! They need to turn him on his side!
JACKIE: Okay, because when I first read this, I thought they were just saying he was like, breathing heavily or snoring and chunks were flying out?
RACHEL: (laughs) He was breathing so hard -
JACKIE: I was like, that's disgusting! Somehow it's less disgusting that he vomited!
RACHEL: Yeah, that's less gross. (Theo and Jackie laugh) But so anyway, while he's asleep, basically they make a stake and they light - they put it in the fire. So it's really, really hot and then they poke it in his eye.
JACKIE: They go boop. Just kidding. They stab it in his eye, really hard. They whirl it around. It's fiery, and -
RACHEL: It says, “As when a blacksmith dips an axe or ads to temper it in ice cold water, loudly it shrieks. From this the iron takes on its power. So did his eyeball crackle on the spear.”
JACKIE: (retching noise)
RACHEL: (laughs) Disgusting.
JACKIE: Why did they have to make it hot?! Wasn’t it enough to just stab him in the eye?
RACHEL: I know!! Yeah! That's what I've always wondered, like a regular eyeball stabbing is fine...
JACKIE: He just threw up, too!
RACHEL: (laughs) I know! This poor guy.
JACKIE: Poor Polyphemus!
RACHEL: What about stand your ground? If someone comes into your house, you can just eat them!
JACKIE: Yeah, well, he, he stood his ground six times. He should have done it another six.
RACHEL: Ugh. Yeah. So anyway, he wakes up and his neighbors are like, “What's wrong? Why are you screaming?”
JACKIE: And he's like, “No Man is killing me, No Man is killing me!” And they're like, “Huh, well, I guess you're fine, then!” And then they all leave.
RACHEL: Yeah, “You're so funny.” But why doesn't he just keep yelling? He could have easily said, “No, that's the guy's name. A guy is doing this to me.”
THEO: (laughs) Yeah right.
RACHEL: Like, the trick would work for a second! But then -
THEO: Right. Or use a pronoun or something.
RACHEL: Yeah. “There's a person here!” Why does he have to use the guy's name? They don't know him.
JACKIE: Yeah, I can't believe he even remembers the guy's name. He should just be like “HE STABBED MY EYE OUT!” You know?
RACHEL: Yeah, “Help!” Just yell, “Help! Come here!” I have to say, I really think the ancient Greeks were just idiots. Sorry! To any ancient Greeks listening. But they sound real dumb in this.
JACKIE: So basically they said, “If no one hurts you, you're all alone. Great Zeus has made you sick? No help for that,” and then they go away.
RACHEL: They said, “Pray to your father, mighty Lord Poseidon.”
JACKIE: Mmm. So who do you think it was who might have torn Odysseus’s ship apart earlier in the book, later in the years? And why? It's because he blinded his son!
RACHEL: He crackled his eyeball on a stake! They hide in the cave. He can't find them now because he can't see, so then their idea is they're going to tie themselves underneath all the sheep and then when he lets the sheep out and he pats their backs, there won't be anyone on top.
JACKIE: So he pets his little sheep and he knows them each and he has a favorite one, and it's the biggest, fluffiest one. And Odysseus ties himself to the bottom of that one. But because he has a big ol’ hunkin’ man tied to him, he's moving kind of slow. And so Polyphemus says, “Why are you last to leave today, sweet ram? You're not normally so slow. You are the first to eat the tender flowers, leaping across the meadow. The first to drink, first to want to go back to the sheepfold at, at evening time. But now you are last. If only you could talk, like me, and tell me where No Man is hiding... then I would dash his brains out on the rocks and make them splatter all across the cave!” (laughs) That's what he says to his sheep. (Theo and Rachel laugh). It's mostly very cute, until he says that.
RACHEL: Yeah, but it's, it’s mostly a very cute speech. So they escape and they steal all the sheep and take the sheep with them, even his favorite ones! And then, when they're out on the boat, Odysseus can't leave well enough alone. He - they're trying to escape, and he yells back, “Hey, you idiot!” (laughs) “You had it coming!” (laughs) The crew is like, “Please stop taunting this guy, like please.”
JACKIE: Odysseus says, “Row fast to save your lives!” And then he continues taunting him.
RACHEL: But, so, he throws a rock at him, and the rock barely misses the boat, but the wave from the rock pushes them back towards the shore. And so then he starts taunting again and the men are like, “Can you please stop, because he just threw a rock and it almost hit us.” Like, “Please stop taunting,” and then, of course, he does not stop taunting him. He taunts him again. Do you want to read this one Jackie? (laughs)
JACKIE: “Cyclops! If any mortal asks you how your eye was mutilated and made blind, say that Odysseus the city-sacker, Laertes’s son who lives in Ithaca, destroyed your sight.”
RACHEL: Why are you telling him where you live?! Don't tell him that!
JACKIE: “Hey, just in case anyone was wondering it was me! Here’s where I live!”
RACHEL: “It was Odysseus! This is my address. This is my dad.” (Theo laughs)
JACKIE: Maybe one of you can explain this to me. But the Cyclops goes, “Oh, no, the prophecy! Someone told me that Odysseus would make me lose my sight!”
THEO: Who told him that?
RACHEL: A handsome man, Telemus. He was a tall and handsome man who's a soothsayer.
JACKIE: If someone had told me, “Hey, a dude is going to stab you in the eye one day and ruin your eye”… I think I would never let a dude stay in the cave. Right? Like no matter who he is.
THEO: What is the point of being a fortune teller in this world?
RACHEL: Yeah! Nobody can ever do anything about it.
THEO: Nobody believes them. Nobody understands...
JACKIE: Also they hate you.
THEO: They threaten you - (laughs)
RACHEL: They say, “Shut up, old man. The birds don't mean anything.”
RACHEL: So he says now, “My dad is a god and he can fix my eye.” And then Odysseus says, “If only I could MURDER you and send you to HADES, then your dad couldn't fix that, COULD he?” Then the cyclops prays and says like, “Hello, Dad. It's me, your son. Odysseus plucked my eyes out. Can you please make sure he never goes home, or if he does have to go home, let him get there late and with no honor, in pain and lacking ships, and having caused the death of all his men. And let him find more trouble in his own house.” And of course, that is what Poseidon does. They have a feast, they drink some wine, they're having a great time. And then the next morning he says, “We sailed on with sorrow in our hearts, glad to survive, but grieving for our friends.” And thus ends book nine. The worst one. Very, I mean, it's fun, but I hate it.
THEO: Do you think if he had had two eyes, there would have been this plot point of poking out his eyes?
RACHEL: They would have to poke out two eyes, right?
JACKIE: Yeah, and they only had like four men left at that point. (laughs)
THEO: “No Man has ruined my depth perception!”
(Rachel and Jackie laughing)
THEO: Like if you're a cyclops, I feel like, you know somebody's going to try to poke that thing out, right?
JACKIE: Yeah, especially because someone told him!
RACHEL: It's like when there's a big red button that says, do not push. (laughs) It's like you're just daring someone to poke it out. So this is what I think is kind of crazy about this chapter, is that so much of the story of the Odyssey, it doesn't actually happen in the Odyssey. It's basically all Odysseus telling people what happened and, like, the Lotus Eaters is a very well known segment, and it's literally two paragraphs where he's just saying, “So, this happened and this happened.” Take out books one through four and do it chronologically, so we get to see what's happening. I don't - because we, there's no dramatic tension. We already know he survives all of his adventures, because he's telling the tale.
THEO: I wasn't thinking about the fact that he's telling this as a story. So it's as if you're telling a story and then you're bragging about, like, all the the cool ways you mock the person after you hurt them? (laughs)
RACHEL: And how you caused all your own troubles and the deaths of all your men, because you just couldn't shut up.
THEO: I feel like he was probably, like, looking around the room as he was saying that and people were like, kind of cringing, like - uh -
RACHEL: Like, “Pretty cool, guys!” (laughs) “And THEN I said…”
JACKIE, in a dopey voice: “Idiot!”
THEO: (laughs) “Are you sure you’re the protagonist?”
RACHEL: And he told me his dad would fix his eye, so of course I had to say something else!
JACKIE: You know what would be interesting? What if there was the Odyssey just told from the point of view of the cyclops?
THEO: Oh, it would only be one book, that would be awesome.
JACKIE: No, if it was the whole thing, it’s just that it just describes what he's doing while Odysseus is on the other parts. (laughs) “And today I sent the flock out again - “
RACHEL: “Hung out with my sheep, pet my favorite ram. I love that guy, he's so fluffy.”
THEO: “This guy told me this fortune, I sort of disregarded it.”
RACHEL: Yeah.
THEO: To be honest, this is that - this is the first book where I actually feel like I -
RACHEL: Like you're interested.
THEO: Yeah, I'm like excited to hear what's happening.
JACKIE: Yeah, it’s the only one where anything has happened so far.
RACHEL: Anything exciting, yeah. The rest, because the freaking - the stuff about his son, there's some funny little things that happen like the Eagles and the Nestor being the Lord of Horses… but there's nothing exciting. But I still think it's like something that somebody might enjoy reading because the part about Telemachus is, it's not very long, and it's very weird. I just love how oily he is the whole time. (laughs)
JACKIE: I really really loved how Helen was like or, maybe it was a different queen, and she was like, “I just… This looks just like that baby that I saw.” (laughs)
RACHEL: Yeah. That was good. (laughs) “I've never seen someone who looks more like someone else than this adult looked like that baby.” That's pretty good. Theo, so you're interested now?
THEO: Yeah, it's getting better.
JACKIE: Are you invested in the story? Who are you rooting for, suitors or Odysseus?
THEO: It's hard to root for someone when I, I kind of know the ending. I, like I'm setting myself up to be satisfied or disappointed.
RACHEL: Well, what kind of person are you? Are you the kind of person who wants to set yourself up to be satisfied or disappointed?
THEO: Okay, I'll root for the suitors, in the hopes that it will inspire me to write my own spinoff or fan fiction, I guess, where they win, right?
RACHEL: Yeah. What would the suitors winning entail? Do they all marry Penelope? She's like a queen bee?
THEO: They each get one of her knees. (Jackie laughs)
RACHEL: She only - how many do you think she has?
THEO: I don't know, this is a long time ago.
RACHEL: Here's the thing, I like Penelope and she wants to be with Odysseus, so that's literally the only reason I want him to get home.
JACKIE: I think she could do better.
RACHEL: She could! But she has to either know, like, she has to know for a fact that he's dead or else everyone's going to be on her case about it.
THEO: Do you know someone from the story who is better, though? S
JACKIE: Uhh...
RACHEL: She could get with Polyphemus.
THEO: But when he snores, he blows out chunks of human.
RACHEL: Wait? Who is, is there anyone who's better?
JACKIE: Uhh...
THEO: Nestor, Lord of - oh, but he’s married.
JACKIE: Nestor is married and old, yeah. What about -
RACHEL: Maybe one of Nestor’s sons.
JACKIE: Pisistratus!
RACHEL: She could get with him, yeah, he's better than Odysseus, he hasn’t murdered anyone that we know -
JACKIE: He’s her son’s age, though…
RACHEL: Who cares? When she and Odysseus got married she was probably like thirteen, so she's not much older.
THEO: All right. So are we going to fire it from the canon?
RACHEL: Well, Theo? What do you think? You said you're finally interested.
THEO: ….Yeah, so how many books did we go over?
JACKIE: Eight. Ten.
RACHEL: Now we’ve finished nine books.
JACKIE: Nine. (laughs)
THEO: Okay, so we can probably fire... five, six, seven… eight?
RACHEL: You only want to keep book nine?
THEO: So are you going to fire it?
RACHEL: No. I’ll keep it. Because there's a lot of... it's so freaking weird, it's just so weird! I think people should read it.
JACKIE: Is that all it takes?
RACHEL: If it's this weird, yeah.
JACKIE: Yeah, honestly, I'm much more entertained than I thought I would be. I never would have put this on my reading list if Rachel hadn’t made me do this for the podcast. And I'm enjoying it more than I thought I would.
RACHEL: Let's move on, it's late. We've been doing this for way too long.
THEO: And here's the segment where we say bye to Nell.
ALL: Bye Nell!!
* Outro music plays -