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Ancient Greek! I feel as if it has been an age since I last took a look at a Greek sentence. I blame Latin, it has taken quite a bit of my time lately, especially since I have to use it in many of my classes. At any rate, here it is:

δείδω, μὴ θήρεσσιν ἕλωρ καὶ κύρμα γένωμαι.
I fear lest I find myself made even as spoils to beasts.
Temo por encontrarme hecho presa para bestias.

Odysseus is worried, of course. The hero has just washed up on the coast of Phaeacia, a cold and dreary place. Homer speaks of his body being swollen when it was carried there by the waves, a sign that the had been swimming towards the coast for quite some time. Did he have some kind of flotation device? Doubtful, he was conscious after all, although it would be fun to think he may have kicked while holding on to a log. However time passed for quite a while and as his body took on more salt, it would have sought to get rid of the excess accumulating within by letting water (and its salty content) escape away from the body. After a while, Odysseus became extremely dehydrated, causing all sort of problems, including, well, bloating. As Odysseus begun to die, his body would have attempted to bring more water in so as to compensate for the loss of fluids. The problem? It’s salty fluids. At some point, the hero would have passed out and as his body decomposed he would have looked more like Michelin Man than, well, a man.

As Homer describes it, Odysseus was at the very edge of unconscioiusness. ἁλὶ γὰρ δέδμητο φίλον κῆρ (for the sea -angry Poseidon- had overpowered his friendly heart), he was more corpse than body. One thing is clear, he should not have survived. Obviously, the gods played a role here, allowing the adventurer and hero of Troy survive. It is even implied that he was, in fact dead, for his spirit (θυμός) was returned to him. These events speak to me of some company. As if Odysseus had been found on the beach and was aided. Of course, Homer would never use another human being as the savior of the hero, rather, it was assumed that a god had helped. Athena, anti-Poseidon in the Odyssey, helped the hero swim. A river god, as he neared the coast, guided him towards the shore. I am always in awe of how pervading the existence of the gods was in Ancient Greece. Quite literally, everything people saw was a god or goddess. If people slept, Hypnos was nearby, if people died, it was Thanatos. Rivers were gods, their names their indivual calling cards. Genius was Athena, the Sea was Poseidon, Heaven Ouranos, Thunder and Lightening Zeus, Hell was Hades, Craftsmanship Hephaestus, sudden death Artemis, beauty Aphrodite, there was no end to the gods and their influence in human affairs.

I love calling ‘Θ’ the ‘god letter,’ because it looks like an eye and you see it whenever someone is being seen (usually by the gods – which was everything), spoke to the gods, sacrificed for the gods… In this light, the Ancient Greeks thought everything was a god or a goddess, all was provided by them, and nothing escaped their notice. So, whoever may have aided Odysseus was there when he spoke the words I highlight here. He spoke them, out loud, I have no doubt of that. The passive subjunctive meaning of γένωμαι expresses possibility, why would you express that to yourself? To whom are you indicating the chance of death? To the gods, of course. Odysseus is at the end of physical capability, his fear is expressed to informed a third person, physical or spiritual. In effect, it is a prayer, a call on a god or goddess (such as Athena or the nearby river) to protect him. It is likely that Father River was moved by Odysseus’s prayer and saved him by pouring out his waters unto the sea, reducing salinity levels as the hero approached the coast. It is a possibility that thirsty Odysseus was allowed to drink from the mouth of the river as his body craved potable water to reduce salt levels and cut off the loss of fluids by an otherwise dangerous and unpredictable river god. It is plausible that once the river god had given Odysseus so much, the hero found he needed another favor (χαρις) and begged, as a suppliant, for a solution to his problem with the animals sure to hang around such a source of water.

It never stops fascinating me. The gods were real, as real as the very forces they saw in nature, to the Greeks; they had saved Odysseus many times, and they would save him again, for he was worthy of their friendship and their blessing. He prayed, the Man of Many Turns, to a river. And he fully expected and answer. Odysseus received it, he was made safe (all passive verbs in Greek have ‘Θ’) and survived under two bushes to live and fight another day. The gods were everything, the existed in all things, there was no way to get away from them, no reason that they did not hear every single dropping word from the mouth of humans. The gods were everything, and Odysseus, in Homer, prayed to them.

Χαιρετε!

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