The Odyssey Book 1: lines 144-155

I love the sarcasm here on describing the suitors as ἀγήνορες (“manly” or “valorous”) while they one by one sit down in comfy chairs. Meanwhile, the slave-girl and young boy slave pour water to wash hands and mix the wine for them.

Wine grapes.

Image via Wikipedia

We see here a point that will become important later when describing the incident with Polyphemus the cyclops. Ancient Greek wine was in modern terms concentrated in the sense that the majority of the water was evaporated off before putting the wine into barrels for storage, a custom common in the ancient and especially Mediterranean world. (For example, the practice underlies a number of discussions in Gemara.) Of course, normally one would pour a bit of wine into one’s own cup and then pour water from a jug into the same cup. The “oh so manly” suitors are too lazy even to mix their own wine, something the ancient Greeks would have viewed much as we today might view an adult having someone cut up their food for them. We as the audience are supposed to be repulsed by the uncouth and effete suitors. Calling them “manly” is pointedly intended to hold up how decadent the suitors are, from the view of ancient Greek cultural norms.

The explicit reference in line 150 to a husband emphasizes the point of highlighting the suitors’ lack of manliness. These men are trying to force Penelope to marry one of them. Yet none of them behaves as a man in ancient Greek society was expected to behave so that none of them would be suitable, even if Penelope wanted to remarry in the first place. At the banquet (for which no occasion seems necessary) the suitors play and dance like children.

The herald Phemius plays his lyre beautifully but of course we are expected as the audience to consider this waste of his talents. Instead of acting as the herald of the royal house, an honorable position, Phemius is reduced to playing for a bunch of drunken louts.

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