Continued discussion on the transformation of the Odysseus’ men

Hello, I don’t know if I’m allowed to do this because technically it’s not my day to post a on the blog but I wanted to continue a discussion that I believe otherwise we would not be able to get back to during class and I feel like this would be a great way to reach out to everyone. I would like to further discuss the meaning of the passage in book X, page 177 lines 432 – 452, specifically the ones we were assigned to pay close attention to, lines 441-444.

“Their eyes upon me, each one took my hands, and wild regret and longing pierced them through, so the room rang with sobs, and even Kirke pitied their transformation” (432-452)

After reading some of the intro paragraphs during class today, I realized that the interpretation of these lines varied and many didn’t match what I believed the lines to mean. One way this could be interpreted (which seemed to be the most common interpretation) was that the crewmembers were the ones that were filled with wild regret and longing, this makes the reader question why they would regret being turned back into a human. A common explanation I saw was that the men would rather stay pigs than continue on this never ending journey to return home. If this were true, then why would “the room [ring] with sobs”? Wouldn’t one expect the room to ring with shouts if they were upset? Also if the crewmembers were the ones filled with regret, why would the text mention that “even Kirke pitied that transformation”.

Taking a step back for a moment to explain where the confusion may have occurred may help in properly analyzing the true meaning of the text. I think the problem arises simply because of the grammar. For the reader, it may be hard to determine who is feeling the regret and for what purpose. The fact that “each one [of Odysseus’s men] took [his] hand” (441) right after their transformation shows that they are looking to him as their leader. This action can be seen as a way of following him, taking his hand so he can guide them. This is no way seems like a hostile action out of anger. I believe the crew looked towards Odysseus, waiting to see his response to the situation and saw his “wild regret and longing” (442) and that was what “pierced them through” (442). They saw these emotions in their leader and “so the room rang with tears” (443). The use of the word tears connects the idea that because of the regret and longing they saw, it caused them to cry. It also suggests that they were crying immediately after their transformation, it wasn’t until some cue caused it to happen.

On his journey home, Odysseus continues to lose men in battle. Odysseus emphasizes the importance of continuing to fight to return home or to die in glory when he states “we’ll not go down/ into the House of Death before our time”(10.194-195) yet he continues to explore the new lands they encounter when shifted off course. Exploration and discovery encompasses Odysseus’s journey and seems to override his longing for home and endanger his men. When he lands on Kirke’s island he instructs his men to go and explore. When they encounter Kirke, Goddess and enchantress, she disables them turning them into swine. His men, now weak and completely helpless are only released once Odysseus overpowers Kirke, but only with the help of the God’s. When Kirke turns them back into men, as the “bristles fell off” and they begin to evolve into stronger, taller more powerful men it’s as if this new image of them is a comparison to how they looked before the transformation, weaker, smaller and thus less powerful. Because Odysseus sent him out to explore, he may feel guilty when he sees them in such a weak state that he inherently put them in.

Focusing on the physical transformation of the men back into humans is too much a narrow scope to view this context from. I believe Kirke was referring to a transformation that occurred within Odysseus that she pitied. She pitied the fact that he felt longing to go home, I guess my biggest question now is if I interpreted this correctly, why does he wait a year to go home? Does he wait to give his crew time to recover? Does he wait because he enjoys it there? I would really enjoy if someone could give me an opinion on this matter. Thank you!

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3 Responses to Continued discussion on the transformation of the Odysseus’ men

  1. Clare Welch says:

    I think Erin brings up a very valid point. As we have seen throughout the Odyssey, Odysseus’ leadership is extremely important. Why else would his men blindly follow him to unknown shore after unknown shore? I also agree that Odysseus probably feels guilty that he ordered his men to go and explore Kirke’s island and that is what caused them to be hanged into pigs. Odysseus’ “wild longing and regret”, if it is in fact Odysseus who feels this way, seems misplaced to me. Why would Odysseus have a sense of “wild longing” if he had just rescued his men from the fate of being livestock for eternity? I think that Erin’s interpretation is one way to argue the meaning of this passage. It does make sense that Odysseus would want to go home, and this transformation could serve as a harsh reminder of what Odysseus is delaying by forcing his men into adventures when they could be going home. These forays into the unknown keep the entire crew from returning home, and Kirke’s enchantment would have prevented even more of Odysseus’ men from returning home. The “transformation” could be Odysseus’ realization that he has a duty as a leader to get these men home. A change that Kirke “pitied” because it means that Odysseus cannot stay with her.
    However, Odysseus stays a full year with Kirke. Why would she pity Odysseus then? Could she be pitying his difficult role as leader? That is not a change in Odysseus though, so I am therefore more inclined to think that the men feel “wild longing and regret.” I think that Kirke pities the men’s transformations back into humans because they realize that they have responsibilites that they are neglecting, which makes them regret stalling on the open sea. they also have “wild longing” because they want to go home. Odysseus does not understand this because he was not changed into a pig. The men cry when they shake his hand because thy can see in Odysseus’ face that he does not possess the same urgency to return, which would explain why he stayed with Kirke.
    Of course, I may be completely wrong, but I prefer to think of the men instead of Odysseus in this passage. It makes more sense to me as a reader.

  2. Tobias Boes says:

    Erin, thanks for this additional blog post! To answer the question that you raise at the beginning: of course you are allowed – and even encouraged – to post stuff whenever an interesting idea occurs to you. At the end of the semester, I will base your blog grade on the best post that you produced, not necessarily on the one that you were assigned to do.
    As for your reading of the Kirke passage, your approach had never occurred to me before, but does seem very worth pursuing. You are absolutely right that it is difficult to assign agency with absolute certainty in these lines. My main question is this: why use the word “even” in line 443? If the men sob because they feel guilt over having let down Odysseus, then why would the poet equate Kirke’s reaction with that of the crew?

  3. Ivana Surjancev says:

    Erin and Clare, I understand both of your points, and I’m glad you shared them because I never would have had such interpretations. I was also confused, but I will tell you my point of view; our views may have an overlap that will help us find the best interpretation.

    When I read the passage, I understood that the men felt wild regret and longing, not Odysseus. However, I thought that the wild regret had to do with their inability to stop themselves from giving into gluttony. By gluttony, I mean that they agreed to enter Kerke’s domain and “party” by having food and spirits. Clearly, they shouldn’t have done this since their original mission was simply to explore the island and hopefully find help to get home. Instead, they ignored this obligation by giving in to their mortal desires to feast; this gluttonous action is why Kirke chose to turn them into swine, animals typically depicted as gluttonous beasts. This transformation is not just physical, but symbolic as well.

    When Odysseus saved them, they had wild regret in their eyes because I think they realized their mistakes for having given in to their mortal desires. However, this could be contradictory because they also had longing in their eyes. I took this longing to have one of two meanings: (1) longing to return home, or (2) longing to satisfy the mortal desires that they weren’t able to satisfy. If the first meaning holds true, then I think the regret and longing shows that they learned their lesson, and will start practicing temperance in order to finally get home. If the second is true, then that means that the men regretted being punished, but that they didn’t fully realized what they were punished for. If the second case is true, then this foreshadows that the men will continue to give into temptations that will keep them from home.

    I actually believe the second case has more evidence since it can also explain why Kirke pitied the transformation. I don’t think she transformed them out of cruelty, but rather to punish their mistakes in hopes of making them better men. Once they turned back into men and she saw that their longing (to fulfill mortal desires) was still not extinguished, it would make sense for her to pity their inability to learn from mistakes and not give into future temptations.

    Again, I don’t know if Homer wanted us to read this and consider if we’re actually learning from our mistakes, but that was my interpretation. Please tell me if you agree or disagree so we can continue contemplating this scene.

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