Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Wish List

Walking in the footsteps of The Little Professor. Apologies for the haphazard capitalisation, etc - this is pasted from Notepad and was originally just a point of reference for me. I'm too lazy to sort it out.


ted hughes reading poems
sylvia plath reading poems
no, virginia by the dresden dolls
American Doll Posse by Tori Amos


the habit of being by flannery o'connor
the dead and the living/the wellspring by sharon olds
i wish someone were waiting for me somewhere by anna gavalda
the microcosm by maureen duffy
journal by katherine mansfield
angel by elizabeth taylor
the bone people by keri hulme
piece by piece by tori amos
Possible Side Effects - Augusten Burroughs
Finding Alice - Melody Carlson
Several Perceptions - Angela Carter
Unholy Ghost - Nell Casey
The Yellow Wallpaper - Charlotte Perkins Gilman
I Never Promised You a Rose Garden - Joanne Greenberg
Touched by Madness - Kay Redfield Jamison
Bitch: In Praise of Difficult Women - elizabeth wurtzel

band merchandise

Medieval baebes tambourine -
medieval baebes songbook -
medieval baebes shopping bag -
kate rusby shopping bag -
the dresden dolls companion -


amelie on dvd
cranford on dvd
new hard disk

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Well Done, Me

I sorted my blogroll out: deleted a lot of stuff. Go look! It's pretty much limited to friends' blogs, which is probably what a blogroll should be after all. Gosh, I love having free time to sort out all these little niggly things. I'm also in the process of making a new one, Miss Medieval, so I can get all my Medieval stuff together and focussed for next year, when it'll be half my degree, and the year after, when I may well be doing a Medieval Studies MA.

That said, spending pretty much entire days online isn't entirely healthy.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008


Hello. Guess what: my exams are finished. Woot. This means I can actually spend some time online and maybe even blog. I must sort out the blogroll here at some point. It's hideously out of date. I need some way to organise it into categories. Maybe I will have several blogrolls. I need a website, but I'd want a decent one and I haven't the know-how to make it.

With my new-found free time, I went to a conference today. It was on the Odyssey, "Homer to Hollywood," connected by video to two academics in Kentucky. You can see the advertisement here. It was really worthwhile but incredibly frustrating, having this fascinating debate going on all around and being unable to participate. Technically I was allowed to speak but it was near impossible. The only people who spoke were lecturers and one PhD student. I did wave my hand in the air tentatively a couple of times but this was either ignored or not noticed. Those who got a word in were the ones who had the confidence to just start talking loudly, quite often over someone who was already talking. I really didn't feel I had the authority to do that.

I also felt that it was sort of assumed that we wouldn't speak. There was just a hint of the academic snobbery that I've found to be quite prevalent in some places, the suggestion that only people with postgraduate degrees ever have thoughts or opinions worth listening to. I actually find that quite offensive. It's rather like the wicked looks you get as an undergraduate if you venture into the British Library and dare to occupy a seat. Nevertheless, the conference did make me think about the Odyssey in new ways and I enjoyed that. I'm going to go on to articulate some of the thoughts I had, things I would liked to have said. Blogging is a tremendous solace, you know, when you feel that no one's remotely interested in what you have to say. You just say it anyway. Who cares if anyone's listening?

Firstly, the weather and the seasons. Odysseus returns to Ithaca in winter and spring comes on as he enacts his revenge and restores order to the kingdom. The significance is obvious but it's an unobtrusive detail in the poem. Why, then, it was asked, does it turn up in pretty much every film of the Odyssey ever made? The simple answer, which Edith Hall said, is that weather's good in films. Doubtless whoever makes the films goes through the poem with a fine toothcomb, looking for things that will work well visually and atmospherically in a film. A discussion ensued about pathetic fallacy, all well and good. But one really vital thing that was left out was how the weather reflects not only the situation but what is happening inside the characters. On a simplistic level, someone did mention Tess of the d'Urbervilles: it rains when she cries, etc. But I was surprised that no one mentioned King Lear. The storm in Lear not only represents Lear's inner turmoil but is instrinsically connected with what it going on both inside Lear and in the kingdom. It is not merely a weather phenomenon: it is a process. The storm rages and calms. The seasons are processes in the same way. So, likewise, when Odysseus returns in the winter, the kingdom is barren, unfruitful and stagnated. The characters there are despairing. The coming of spring is a process, as is the re-establishment of a fruitful, ordered kingdom, the restoration of Odysseus' identity and the return to happiness of his friends and family. That's why it's such an important detail, and that's why film-makers are right to pick up on it. Not necessarily the same as why they do pick up on it, but relevant nonetheless.

Another question discussed was why is the Odyssey so influential to everything afterward, and why is it so culturally ingrained? Edith Hall and Ahuvia Kahane had a nice little argument about whether Joyce was influenced by Homer or Homer by Joyce (in our perceptions, I think he meant), which was quite entertaining to watch. I would argue, though, that it is not the Odyssey itself but its motifs, which are such an integral part of our collective human subconscious and so resurface again and again. These motifs - monsters, journeys, revenge, etc. - even in the quite specific forms that they take in the poem, predate Homer. The Odyssey just happens to be our earliest source for them. The interesting question, though, is why are these motifs a part of the human psyche, across all ages and cultures? I'd really like to put this to the chaps in Kentucky, who were very insightful and knowledgable, but I doubt I could find e-mail addresses. They may well tell me to sod off anyway. I'm only an undergraduate, after all ;o)

In spite of how much I enjoyed much of the seminar's content, I came away fairly disgruntled because of aforementioned frustrations. A friend of mine, who has been having a hard time lately and so is taking it out on anyone who comes within three feet, snapped at me for the fiftieth time today and I'm ashamed to say I snapped back and went off on one of my confrontational rants. After I stomped away fairly childishly and was struggling to deal with my feelings of anger, another frustration resurfaced. As I puzzled over how to express my anger in the least destructive way possible, I started thinking about how society makes it difficult for women to express rage. Anger in a woman is almost a taboo, it seems. Boys, when angry, are expected to have fights in the playground, but what is an angry girl to do? Women have been wrestling with this problem for centuries. I think it's why we have a reputation for bitching. I also think it's why self-injury and eating disorders are so much more common in girls. We turn our anger on ourselves because we have no outlet. Or at least I do.

This women's justice issue got me thinking about the dreadful case linked to on Rachel's blog. Although I'm not an especially ranty feminist type (I have my moments), I do agree that our culture is, to a large degree, a rape-apologist culture which thrives on blaming the victim. This I know from experience. We still have a long way to go for gender equality. Which sucks.

On a completely unrelated note, Julie Carter has just opened a new poetry forum. Looks like it's gonna be good.

Saturday, 3 May 2008

NaPo Questions

1) What made you want to do it?
It's become a yearly tradition. It's fun, in a perverse kind of way. And I like the comeraderie (sp?) of it, "we're all in this together" type thing. More importantly, though, speaking of someone who can go months without writing anything, it forces me to sit down and write.

2) What do you feel you got out of it?
A reassurance that I haven't "lost it" or outgrown writing poetry. And a few good poems-in-the-making.

3) Do you think the poems you produced are necessarily worse what you would normally write?
Some are, simply because they're stuff I would usually destroy but that I post to meet the deadline. But, usually, no.

4) Did it prompt you to write different kinds of poems to the sort you normally write? In what way?
Yes, I tried out the sevenling, because other people were writing them. I discovered a new form and I was happy.

5) Do you feel it goes against any principle of writing poetry, or definition of poetry, or somehow cheapens poetry or anything like that?
I'd never considered it, but, now I do, no.

6) What are you going to do with the poems you've written during the month?
Destroy some, and keep some for when I learn how to revise.

Friday, 2 May 2008

Still Alive

Just a quick note. It's exam time. Much crazy. Brain fried. NaPo incomplete again, but I was quite pleased with some stuff. I need to redo the links here at some point.


Discuss the treatment of one of the following topics in relation to a selection of the literature you have studied for this course: domesticity, power, the sublime, morality, emotion, restraint.

In order to discuss the treatment of the sublime, it is necessary first to define the sublime. The concept originated in the first century rhetorical treatise On the Sublime, attributed to Longinus.[1] Kant writes that the sublime “raises the soul above the height of vulgar commonplace.”[2] Blackburn describes it as “great, fearful, noble, calculated to arouse sentiments of pride and majesty, as well as awe and sometimes terror.”[3] While the sublime has been widely discussed over the centuries, particularly in terms of aesthetics, I have chosen to focus primarily on the definition outlined in Burke’s A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757), as it was enormously influential on the concept of the sublime as it was understood in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Ann Batten Cristall’s ‘An Ode’ (1795), Mary Robinson’s ‘Sonnet. To Liberty’ (1806) and Felicia Hemans’ ‘The Rock of Cader Idris’ (1839) typify the sublime according to Burke’s definition.

Burke’s understanding of the sublime is based largely on the idea of terror, on which he put a new emphasis.[4] He writes that one source of the sublime is “whatever is in any sort terrible”[5] because terror is “the strongest emotion which the mind is capable of feeling.”[6] Terror is very obviously apparent in ‘The Rock of Cader Idris’ in a number of different ways. The scene itself is terrible, as a “midnight of shadows all fitfully streaming” (line 5). The darkness here heightens the fear, as Burke writes: “To make anything very terrible, obscurity seems in general to be necessary. When we know the full extent of any danger, when we can accustom our eyes to it, a great deal of the apprehension vanishes.”[7] The visions, the phantoms, are, naturally, very frightening: they are described as “dread beings” (line 13) and their being “unearthly” (line 11) adds to their obscurity and thus their fearfulness. The narrator is very clearly afraid, but, more than that, he is overcome: “a strife was within me of madness and death” (line 16). Yet what typifies the sublime here is a strange enjoyment of this fear: “There was light on my soul, but my heart's blood was chill” (line 24). Terror is likewise apparent in ‘Sonnet. To Liberty,’ though implicitly, with its “tyrant tempest” (line 8) and “sanguinary demons” (line 9), although the subject is a positive one, thus proving how terror is seen in the sublime as to be perversely enjoyed.

Nature is also key both to the sublime and to ‘An Ode,’ ‘Sonnet. To Liberty’ and ‘The Rock of Cader Idris.’ The connection between nature and the sublime was described at length by Burke but established originally in On the Sublime, in which, as Baldick writes, the author “refers to the sublime as a loftiness of thought and feeling in literature, and associates it with terrifyingly impressive natural phenomena such as mountains, volcanoes, storms, and the sea.”[8] Cristall personifies nature and sees it as able to communicate directly with the individual: “strongly Nature's truths conviction bring” (line 9). Nature in this poem communicates on an emotional as well as an intellectual level, as the narrator is taken up in raptures: “Stupendous Nature! rugged, beauteous, wild!” (line 25), and describes himself as “impress'd with awe” (line 26). It is this awe as a human response to nature which characterises the sublime. In ‘The Rock of Cader Idris,’ the narrator’s vision of the phantoms is inextricably linked with his natural surroundings. The phantoms themselves are declared to be “the powers of the wind and the ocean” (line 17), which move like “the sweep of the white-rolling wave” (line 19). Nature is again personified, though interestingly not capitalised this time, and is tied into the sense of a glorious resurrection at the end of the poem: “what new glory all nature invested, / When the sense which gives soul to her beauty was won!” (line 31,32) In ‘Sonnet. To Liberty,’ liberty is seen as inseparable from nature, often wandering “by the billowy deep, / Scatt'ring the sands that bind the level shore” (lines 5,6). Nature is, in fact, the source of liberty, “born in the mountain's solitary crest” (line 2). Both nature and liberty are personified, as nature is described as liberty’s “nurse” (line 3), being that which nurtures it and makes its existence possible. The personification of nature, awe at its grandeur and intellectual engagement with it are, then, significant characteristics of the sublime in these poems.

The sublime, in these poems and in general, also has a strong spiritual element. Weiskel writes that this is because, in the sublime, “spirit and matter are differentiated in principle but not yet in the fact of perception or intuition.”[9] A key example of this is Mary Woolstonecraft. For her, the physical matter of nature, combined with human love, reveals the spiritual, God, as her essay ‘On Poetry’ describes: “Love to man – leads to devotion – grand and sublime images strike the imagination – God is seen in every floating cloud.”[10] As with Woolstonecraft, it is in nature’s “wondrous book” (line 26), that the narrator of ‘An Ode’ is lead to anticipate the spiritual “realm” (line 27) of Heaven. There are strong Christian references also in ‘Sonnet. To Liberty,’ with its “sanguinary demons” (line 9) and apocalyptic expectation: “'Till chaos reigns - and worlds shall be no more!” (line 14). The sublime, then, is both external, in that it is a response to natural surroundings, and internal, in that it is a spiritual and emotional experience.

One of the leading reasons for criticism of the sublime is that it can be seen as selfish and egotistical, focussing purely on the experience of the individual in response to his surroundings. As Jones writes, “The object of feeling, the focus of the ‘sublime’ experience, is dissociated from communal aspirations to become the exponent of personal, often nostalgic, emotion.”[11] However, Helen Maria Williams refuted the view that the sublime is essentially self-absorbed in 1798; she describes sublime meditation as “a tranquil rapture, remote from all that is selfish, or sensual… we forget ourselves, and have scarce a consciousness of existence.”[12] ‘The Rock of Cader Idris’ does seem to be excessively focussed on the self, though: it describes the sublime experience of an individual; tellingly, the first word of the first line is “I,” and the pronoun is repeated eleven times throughout the poem. Nevertheless, the narrators of both ‘Sonnet.To Liberty’ and ‘An Ode’ are far more concerned with society than themselves. ‘Sonnet.To Liberty’ begins “Ah! liberty!” and is focussed throughout on this subject, which was a contemporary social concern in light of the American and French Revolutions. ‘An Ode’ is concerned with the fate of mankind in general, pleading with God to “look with mercy on man's misery” (line 4) and expressing dismay that men “pierce the fraternal breast” (line 18). It is difficult to dismiss this kind of interest in universal human welfare as in any way selfish or immoral.
Returning to Burke’s definition of the sublime, he emphasises the importance of sound: “Sounds have a great power in these as in most other passions.”[13] The sounds heard by the narrator contribute greatly to his terror in ‘The Rock of Cader Idris,’ with the “voice of the mountain-wind, solemn and loud” (line 4) and “wild waves and breezes, that mingled their moan” (line 6). This is also the case with the frightening noises imagined in ‘Sonnet. To Liberty,’ such as “the desolating roar, / That bids the tyrant tempest lash the steep” (line 7, 8) and the animalistic “low’r” of the demons (line 9). The sounds are not only communicated because they are stated; they are recreated in the poems themselves. As Burke writes, “Descriptive poetry operates chiefly by substitution; by the means of sounds, which by custom have the effect of realities.”[14] The motion of the aforementioned “wild waves” is recreated sonically by the alliteration, and all three poems suggest a living, changing natural world with its own rhythms by employing regular rhyme schemes and metrical patterns. Impressions of the sublime, then, are as aural as they are visual.

In conclusion, the sublime as understood by Burke and others can be clearly traced in the three poems discussed. It is such a fascinating concept because, inspired by external stimulus but contained in the mind, it encapsulates so many contradictory ideas. It is pleasure in pain, both the pain of terror and of confronting an object, whether a mountain, a deity or an abstraction such as liberty, which exceeds the human capacities of perception. As Phillips writes, it includes “the sacred and the serious, the transcendent and the aristocratic, the privilege of an ‘incomprehensible darkness’ that reason cannot… dispel.”[15] It is thus supremely flexible, and lends itself to a wide range of subjects, and both to political commentary and aesthetic delight, a capacity of which these three poems take full advantage.


Baldick, Christopher, ‘sublime, the,’ in The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996). Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. Royal Holloway, University of London. 18 February 2008 (
Blackburn, Simon, ‘sublime,’ in The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996). Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. Royal Holloway, University of London. 18 February 2008 (
Burke, Edmund, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, (Oxford: Oxford World’s Classics, 1998).
Cristall, Ann Batten, An Ode [from Poetical Sketches, by Ann Batten Cristall (1795)] (
Drabble, Margaret and Stringer, Jenny (eds.), ‘sublime, the,’ in The Concise Oxford Companion to English Literature. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007). Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. Royal Holloway, University of London. 18 February 2008 (
Hemans, Felicia Dorothea Browne, The Rock of Cader Idris [from The Works (1839)] (
Jones, Chris, Radical Sensibility: Literature and ideas in the 1790s, (London and New York: Routledge, 1993).
Robinson, Mary, Sonnet to Liberty [from The Poetical Works (1806)] (
Weiskel, Thomas, The Romantic Sublime: Studies in the Structure and Psychology of Transcendence, (Baltimore and London: The John Hopkins University Press, 1976).

[1] Christopher Baldick, ‘sublime, the,’ in The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms. (
[2] Ibid.
[3] Simon Blackburn, ‘sublime,’ in The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy. (
[4] Margaret Drabble and Jenny Stringer (eds.), ‘sublime, the,’ in The Concise Oxford Companion to English Literature. (
[5] Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, (Oxford: Oxford World’s Classics, 1998), p. 36.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid., p. 54.
[8] Christopher Baldick, ‘sublime, the,’ in The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms. (
[9] Thomas Weiskel, The Romantic Sublime: Studies in the Structure and Psychology of Transcendence, (Baltimore and London: The John Hopkins University Press, 1976), p. 54.
[10] Chris Jones, Radical Sensibility: Literature and ideas in the 1790s, (London and New York: Routledge, 1993), p. 187.
[11] Ibid., p.12.
[12] Ibid., p. 158.
[13] Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, p. 75.
[14] Ibid., p. 150.
[15] Adam Phillips, ‘Introduction’ in A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, Edmund Burke, p. xxii.

Tea and Cake with Homer

The Odyssey: Trace the use of type-scenes associated with hospitality and feasting.

“Type-scene” is a term invented by critics to describe what Clarke calls “recurring situations which are narrated according to a more or less fixed pattern”[1] in Homeric epic. These recurring situations are not random, but reoccur because they have a particular thematic significance in the poem. They are not entirely rigid: there is a certain amount of flexibility but it is limited. In Jones’ words, “the poet always keeps to the same order of events though he may choose to omit some.”[2] The minutiae of the poet’s variations on the type-scene in the Odyssey are worthy of inspection because they reveal a great deal about the values of Homeric society and the poem as a whole.

The type-scenes I will be discussing in this essay are concerned with xenia, which is the concept of hospitality. The type-scenes of hospitality in the Odyssey follow the observance of a standard protocol: the guest is greeted, shown in, seated, washed (usually the hands, though sometimes a bath and change of clothes is offered) and served food and drink. Only then is it acceptable for the host to question his guest. A bed for the night is then offered if it is needed. There is likewise a protocol for the guest’s departure: the guest excuses himself, the host urges him to stay but then concedes, a final meal is prepared and then the host gives gifts to the guest before he leaves.[3]

These hospitality sequences are central to the Odyssey. In terms of plot, they provide room for Telemachus to find out what happened to Odysseus, they enable Odysseus to get home and they provide a space for stories to be told, thus enabling flashbacks. They also reveal the attitudes behind the customs, expose a character’s true moral “worth” in how well he abides by them and are fundamental to Telemachus’ education. As Griffin writes, they have both an aesthetic and a moral aspect: Telemachus’ elders demonstrate to him how to behave in Homeric society,[4] as his father has not been around to teach him.

That said, the role of host seems to come very naturally to Telemachus, probably on account of his noble parentage. In one of the poem’s earliest scenes, Athene arrives in disguise and, despite being preoccupied, Telemachus jumps up immediately at the sight of a guest: “He made straight for the outer porch, inwardly vexed that a guest should stand at the door so long.”[5] Despite the inconvenience, Telemachus’ greeting is warm and friendly: “Greeting, friend; you shall be made welcome here; afterwards, when you have had your meal, you shall tell us what service you require.”[6] Telemachus adheres perfectly to the hospitality protocol, in spite of his inexperience: Athene’s hands are washed and she is fed before Telemachus starts to lament his situation or ask her anything.[7] Likewise, when she says she’s going, he asks her to stay for the traditional farewell rites of the final meal and giving of a gift, called a xeinon, to be passed down as an heirloom and symbolise the bond between the families.

The particulars of this hospitality sequence reveal far more than the fact that Telemachus has inherited his father’s sense of decorum. He shows a tremendous thoughtfulness and care for the comfort of his guest, seating her away from the boisterous suitors and seating himself lower in a show of deference.[8] The poet provides a stark contrast between this and the behaviour of the suitors, who ignore both the prince and the guest, seat themselves uninvited and help themselves to food and drink, flouting all conventions. This reflects their disrespectful attitude for which they are so sorely punished towards the end of the poem. Another aspect of hospitality conventions is also revealed. Athene says: “I claim guest-friendship with your family from days long past.”[9] This tells us that these bonds between families, based on xenia, could have been formed generations before. Jones elaborates: “They lose nothing of their hold over the xenoi because of this.”[10]

The second hospitality type-scene in the Odyssey is Telemachus as a guest at Nestor’s palace. This is, again, central to the poem’s themes: it contrasts the disorder of Odysseus’ kingdom in his absence with Nestor’s ideal, well-run kingdom, which is perfect in its hospitality and honours both the gods and the king himself. Telemachus arrives during a sacrifice to Poseidon. Everyone is preoccupied, as they were when Athene arrived at Odysseus’ palace. Yet at the first sight of a guest, the entire party gets ready to welcome him and integrate him into sacrificial feast: they “all flocked towards them with friendly gestures, bidding them be seated.”[11] We see in this scene that hospitality in the Odyssey is integrally linked with honouring the gods. The sacrifice is Athene which follows her flying off is described in exacting detail.

Nestor’s hospitality is indeed impeccable, and a perfect example to Telemachus. He is bathed and dressed by Nestor’s “lovely” daughter.[12] He is seated in the privileged position near Nestor himself and “on soft fleeces.”[13] Nestor tells Telemachus all the relevant information he has about the homecomings of the Trojan heroes, gives him advice and offers his chariot. Like Telemachus himself, he not only obeys the hospitality customs but demonstrates genuine interest in his guest and does everything to ensure his comfort.

Nestor also demonstrates one of the key aspects of Homeric hospitality: personal pride. He won’t hear of Telemachus’ returning to sleep on his ship, saying, “Zeus forbid – and the other deathless gods forbid – that you should go to a ship and away from me, as from some poor unprovided man who had not rugs and blankets enough in his house for guests and himself to sleep softly in.”[14] Zeus is especially important here because one of his names was “Xenios:” he was the patron of guests and supplicants. The Homeric hero was thus under a religious and moral obligation to treat guests and supplicants well.

Telemachus, accompanied by Pesistratus, one of Nestor’s sons, then goes on to stay with Menelaus and another hospitality type-scene ensues. Again, Telemachus arrives at an inconvenient moment, a feast for the wedding of one of Menelaus’ illegitimate sons and the bridal send-off of his daughter Hermione. Menelaus is told of Telemachus’ and Pesistratus’ arrival by Etoeneus, who suggests sending them away, but Menelaus, as a worthy Homeric hero and thus the perfect host, will not hear of it. He is even angered at the suggestion, telling Etoeneus, “You speak with the foolishness of a child.”[15]

The usual hospitality customs follow: the guests receive a bath and new clothes and are told, “When you have had your meal, we will ask you who are.”[16] Menelaus, like Telemachus and Nestor, takes a personal interest in the care of his guests, despite everything else that is going on, and goes beyond what is required of a host. He sees that Telemachus’ and Pesistratus’ horses are fed and stabled and gave them the food “that had been reserved as his own portion,”[17] thus making a personal sacrifice.

This pattern continues at the guests’ departure. Telemachus asks to go and Menelaus consents but, according to custom, asks to host a final meal and collect gifts.[18] He also offers an escort and displays the perfect host’s desire to oblige when he says: “Too much warmness to guests, and too much coldness, are both things that I blame in others. Measure is best in everything; to press departure on one who is loath to go, to hinder it for one who is loath to stay – either thing is as bad as the other.”[19] He offers gifts of horses and a chariot,[20] which Telemachus cannot accept as they are not practical on Ithaca’s landscape.[21] Menelaus is gracious rather than offended, and offers a mixing bowl instead.[22] Helen’s gift, a wedding robe for Telemachus’ future wife,[23] likewise displays the thoughtfulness which characterises the ideal Homeric host.

The hospitality type-scenes in the Odyssey become more varied when we see Odysseus as a guest of the “hypercivilised” Phaeacians. Everything here is done on a larger scale. Menelaus’ palace was grand, but Alcinous’ is magnificent. Odysseus is sat in Alcinous’ favourite son’s glittering chair[24] and, the following day, games and athletic contests are held in his honour. Odysseus impresses the king so much that he is offered his daughter, Nausicaa’s, hand in marriage.[25] The hospitality of the Phaeacians is excessive; even the parting gifts are incredibly lavish. Odysseus is given clothes and gold, amongst others things, by the Phaeacian elders, and everyone in Alcinous’ hall is told to give him a “massive” tripod and cauldron.[26]

Yet, at least initially, there is reluctance in the Phaeacians’ hosting of Odysseus. He is not immediately welcomed in, as Telemachus was, but must put his hands around the queen’s knees in supplication.[27] Even then, Alcinous does not immediately decree that Odysseus should receive the traditional hospitality sequence. This happens at Echenaus’ recommendation, and it is necessary for him to remind the king of the proper way to treat a guest: “It not decent, that a guest should stay sitting upon the ground, in the ashes by the fire.”[28] Alcinous calls an assembly of the elders in order to decide that Odysseus’ request to be returned home should be granted: he does not see it as a duty. Even the games in Odysseus’ honour are marred by Eurylaus’ taunts, and they seem to be more of an opportunity for the Phaeacians to show off than organised for Odysseus’ pleasure. It seems, then, that the Phaeacians, with all their wealth and grandeur, are not as civilised as first appears.

The hospitality sequence of the Phaeacians is starkly contrasted with that of Eumaeus, and the comparison is to Eumaeus’ advantage. Eumaeus is poor, yet his hospitality has all the eagerness which the Phaeacians’ lacked. He ushers in Odysseus, transformed into a humble and fairly unappealing beggar, and calls him “old friend.”[29] When Odysseus later suggests leaving to wander and beg, Eumaeus won’t hear of it and is “much hurt.”[30] Like Menelaus and Nestor, he takes a personal interest in his guest and becomes emotionally involved. Unlike Alcinous, he sees it as his duty to entertain his guest to the best of his ability. He puts down brushwood and his own goat skin coverlet for Odysseus to sit on,[31] and at night he gives him his own cloak and makes his bed by the fire.[32] Eumaeus’ personal sacrifice for the sake of his guest makes his hospitality more valuable. Yet he’s constantly apologising for not being able to offer more.[33] When the other herdsmen come, he tells them to slaughter the best hog on Odysseus’ account. The sacrifice here shows again the inter-relation between hospitality and religious duty in Homeric culture: Eumaeus “did not forget the Deathless Ones, for he was a right-minded man.”[34]

In conclusion, Homer goes to great length to provide variation among these formulaic type-scenes. We see the young, inexperienced but right-minded host amidst a kingdom in turmoil, Telemachus, the older hosts, Nestor and Menelaus, in their ordered and flourishing kingdoms, the luxuriant but reluctant hosts, the Phaeacians, and the humble but affectionate host, Eumaeus. The hosts, and the guests’ experiences, are dramatically affected by the wealth and state of order in their environment. We have also seen how complex and significant a theme hospitality is in the Odyssey, tied into ideas of personal pride and religious duty. These hospitality sequences, and the patterns they provide, are an essential part of the poem’s structure as a narrative.

Fowler, R. (ed.) (2004) The Cambridge Companion to Homer, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Griffin, J. (2004) Homer: The Odyssey, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Jones P. (1992) Homer’s Odyssey: A Commentary, Bristol: Bristol Classical Press.
Schewring, W. (trans.) (1980) Homer: The Odyssey, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[1] Clarke, “Formulas, metre and type-scenes” in Fowler, The Cambridge Companion to Homer, p.134.
[2] Jones, Homer’s Odyssey: A Commentary, p. 9.
[3] Jones, Homer’s Odyssey: A Commentary, p. 14.
[4] Griffin, Homer: The Odyssey, p. 86.
[5] Schewring, Homer: The Odyssey, p. 4.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid., p. 4-5.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid., p. 5.
[10] Jones, Homer’s Odyssey: A Commentary, p. 13.
[11] Schewring, Homer: The Odyssey, p. 23.
[12] Ibid., p. 34.
[13] Ibid., p. 24.
[14] Ibid., p. 31.
[15] Ibid., p. 36.
[16] Ibid., p. 36.
[17] Ibid.
[18] Ibid., p. 179.
[19] Ibid.
[20] Ibid., p. 48.
[21] Ibid., p. 49.
[22] Ibid.
[23] Ibid., p. 180.
[24] Ibid., p. 80.
[25] Ibid., p. 83.
[26]Ibid., p. 154.
[27] Ibid., p. 79.
[28] Ibid., p. 79-80.
[29] Ibid., p. 165.
[30] Ibid., p. 185.
[31] Ibid., p. 166.
[32] Ibid., p. 177.
[33] Ibid., p. 167.
[34] Ibid., p. 174.