April 27, 2021 - University of Illinois - Chicago (From My Home)

My take on the Odyssey tends to come across as more sympathetic to the protagonist than most modern audiences feel (or want to feel) about him. 

So much so that listeners sometimes get agitated at having to consider Odysseus as anything other than a lying murderous unfaithful sociopathic monster.

I didn't feel this sort of audience animosity during the post-show discussion with students at UIC, but the professor did ask me to expound a bit on any dissonances between my Odysseus and Homer's.

As often happens with these shows and discussions, I had been thinking about a particular aspect of the story to which this inquiry connected nicely: the slaying of the Suitors.

My friend and brilliant Homerist Joel who runs the Sententiae Antiquae Twitter account (and is also, you know, a professor, scholar, and author) did a poll to see who was the more loved Homeric protagonist: Odysseus or Achilles. Over 1800 people voted and Odysseus came out the winner by a narrow margin (@50 votes). 

Of more interest to me than the outcome (although the correct hero was victorious) were the comments. One of the most-often repeated negatives against Odysseus was the bloodbath of suitors and female slaves. I've written about the killing of the slaves HERE but the comments on the poll got me thinking about the fight with the Suitors.

What would Homer's audience have thought about this? Would they have thought the Suitors' behavior justified Odysseus' violence against them (I say, most likely). The text tells us from the very beginning there are consequences for people who behave foolishly (Odysseus' crew with respect to the Cattle of the Sun but the parallel with the Suitors is clear).

I think there's another argument in Odysseus' favor though: what else was he supposed to do? Reveal himself and try to reason with them? He's vastly outnumbered and we know the Suitors have just (unsuccessfully) tried to murder his son. I'm not sure Odysseus has much leeway in dealing with these one hundred-plus interlopers. I suppose he could have killed the leaders of the group and tried to reason with the others, but I think that's overly optimistic and he took the best (and maybe only) course of action available to him to reclaim his home and self.

I'm not sure if my audience bought this argument but I do think they connected strongly with the idea that every telling and retelling of the story will necessarily have a different and unique Odysseus.

Heck there are a number of different and unique Odysseus-es within just the Homeric version itself: from the Man of ManyTurns to Nobody to a beggar to a King.

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