November 1, 2018 - Earlham College, Richmond, Indiana

It happens every third show or so that an audience member comments that my version of The Odyssey sanitizes much of the violence of Homer's original, most notably in how I represent in an instrumental Odysseus' slaughter of the Suitors and ordering the death of a dozen of the female house slaves.

This very observation was raised after my show at Earlham College, a lovely small liberal arts school in eastern Indiana, and the first show of eight that constituted a ten day tour out to the east coast and back: 5 Odyssey shows and 3 Record of Life/Loss/Love shows in Indiana. Michigan, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut and Virginia.  

I performed in the school's Stout Meeting House, a high-ceilinged sacred room (used for Quaker services among other things), and the fall rain beat steadily on the building's pitched roof throughout my performance, filling the dynamics of my performance with a comforting natural white noise.

In response to the observation about the perceived lack of violence in my Odyssey I remarked as I often do that writing about violent acts in the first person is difficult (which is one of the challenges I'm working through with my Iliad) and I felt I could better portray the emotional meaning of the slaughter of the suitors with an instrumental.  And that my piece sounds more triumphant because I believe to Odysseus the slaughter was triumphant above anything else.  It's the culmination of a decade-long journey, the first time he's been able to fully act to remedy what the Greeks would have likely considered a capital offense in the decimation of his kingdom by the Suitors. 

It's no accident that the song directly preceding The Fight, entitled Hum, frames Odysseus' mental state with aggressive sexual imagery, and also no accident that in the song before Hum, The Scar, Odysseus baldly admits he's got "pain for my enemies, pain for my friends, suffering as means but not suffering as an end."  

After killing the Suitors, Odysseus orders Telemachus to put 12 female slaves to death.

I don't address this portion of the slaughter specifically but I have had an epiphany about it largely because Emily Wilson's translation and subsequent media exposure has raised the profile of what many consider a needlessly brutal and cruel episode.

Something I noticed for the first time in reading Professor Wilson's translation is that the slaughter of the female slaves has a longer and more complex narrative thread than it appears on first blush.  

Back in Book 19, specifically just after one of these slaves has insulted the disguised Odysseus in a manner consistent with the treatment of the male Suitors, Penelope and Odysseus sit down to talk at Penelope's request, presumably to ask the purported stranger for any news of Odysseus.  Somewhat strangely (he is, after all, purportedly a beggar from far off), she immediately discloses a good amount of information to Odysseus, specifically how she maintained her fidelity by weaving and then unweaving a funeral shroud for Laertes.  

Furthermore, she casually but clearly drops the fact that a number of disloyal female slaves were responsible for betraying her weaving stratagem to the Suitors.

I believe this would have likely played into Odysseus subsequently ordering their deaths.  Not only has his experience with these slaves been marred with disrespect, but Penelope has implicated them right upfront: she clearly holds them as responsible for her situation and having contributed to her challenges and suffering.

Though Odysseus orders them killed by Telemachus, he says nothing of how they should be killed.  This brutal and "unclean" death is selected by Telemachus himself apparently unilaterally without Odysseus' input.  It could even be seen as the last step in Telemachus asserting himself as an independent adult leader.

My point in recognizing this more complex path to the death of the female slaves is not to minimize Odysseus' role or absolve him of any blame.  Or even to pass judgement one way or another on whether the slaves deserved death given their societal standing and role in the male Suitors' behavior.  These are all interesting and fair questions.

It's just to say that the path to their brutal deaths is like a lot of things in the Odyssey(and life): complex and, in this case, really a family effort befitting of what we know about the characters of Penelope, Odysseus, and Telemachus.  

The next day I woke to a blustery but dry fall morning, loaded up my car, and headed down the road, glad to have this busy fall tour underway.

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