The Odyssey

Writing about these previous beach visits is a bit of an odyssey, a mission, an ongoing quest. Actually, (warning, a not particularly subtle segue follows) I am reading the Odyssey. Not in ancient Greek, but a translated version.

I’m about halfway through Homer’s Odyssey. Odysseus has just related several stories about how he managed to deal with a mean and nasty Cyclops; a many headed female man eating monster called Skylla (who lives in a cave in a rockface on the edge of the sea) and another female monster (who lives near Skylla) in the shape of a whirlpool called Charybdis among other things.

He tells the story of how he had to get past Skylla and Charydbis a second time (I think, if I’ve got this whole thing sorted) in a partially broken vessel (sailing ship). This is what he says:

‘But I went on my way through the vessel, to where the high seas had worked the keel free out of the hull, and the bare keel floated on the swell, which had broken the mast off at the keel; yet still there was a backstay made out of oxhide fastened to it. With this I lashed together both keel and mast, then rode the two of them, while the deadly stormwinds carried me.

‘After this the West Wind ceased from its stormy blowing, and the South Wind came swiftly on, bringing to my spirit grief that I must measure the whole way back to Charybdis. All that night I was carried along, and with the sun rising I came to the sea rock of Skylla, and dreaded Charybdis. At this time Charybdis sucked down the sea’s salt water, but I reached high in the air above me, to where the tall fig tree grew, and caught hold of it and clung like a bat; there was no place where I could firmly brace my feet, or climb up it, for the roots of it were far from me, and the branches hung out far, big and long branches that overshadowed Charybdis. Inexorably I hung on, waiting for her to vomit the keel and mast back up again. I longed for them, and they came late; at the time when a man leaves the law court, for dinner, after judging the many disputes brought him by litigious young men; that was the time it took the timbers to appear from Charybdis. Then I let go my hold with hands and feet, and dropped off, and came crashing down between and missing the two long timbers, but I mounted these, and with both hands I paddled my way out. Both the Father of Gods and men did not let Skylla see me again, or I could not have escaped from sheer destruction.’ (end of Book XII)

I haven’t read any secondary literature, but it strikes me that Homer’s Odyssey is a lot like an action movie. It was written sometime during the 8th Century BC, so, nearly 3,000 years ago, and its setting is at the time of the Trojan war, about 1250 BC. It is a retelling of how Odysseus had an arduous and long journey home after being one of the people who wrecked Troy by hiding inside a wooden horse. The written document we know as Homer’s Odyssey has come about after many generations of people telling and retelling the story of Odysseus. I can’t help thinking about how the fish that was caught gets bigger every time the tale is told.

But anyway, one of the things that interests me about the passage quoted above – apart from the cinematic nature of the action – is how he describes his ‘waiting time’ in relation to legal proceedings brought about by ‘litigious young men’. Imagine Odysseus, hanging from a (fig) tree, for quite some time, in a perilous situation, while his vessel is sucked down into the deep sea by a (female) whirlpool sea monster, thinking about lawsuits. Perhaps he was thinking something like… ‘Imma really gonna take that Charybdis to court for her time-wasting shenanigans’.

Interesting, too, that Skylla (the many-headed monster who had previously reached down from her cave to grab, then eat, several of Odysseus’s male companions) is female. And living in a cave. This brings back memories of when I studied all that Freudian psychoanalysis in relation to film theory – in particular, monstrous feminine and the vagina dentata. Furthermore, Charybdis is a whirlpool. As such, she creates a canal that, well, emasculates Odysseus by taking his broken vessel off him – he is helpless without it, and hanging from a fig tree, the tree that saved Adam and Eve from the shame of being naked – the shame of being sexual. Basically, there seem to be a myriad of sexual undertones to this part of the story. Fascinating!

And, so, back to my Odyssey where I tell the extraordinarily lame tales of my swims. There aren’t any sea monsters, only a few human ones that lurk at the back of my mind.

There is photographic evidence that I attended Pt Chevalier beach on April 1 2014, at low tide which means there wasn’t a swim, merely a walk. No caves were found, no whirlpools, no lawsuits. Apparently there could be a more benign explanation for the whirlpool monster known as Charybdis, as she is probably the Goddess of the tides. If this is the case, she is out.

Low tide at Pt Chevalier beach

Low tide at Pt Chevalier beach

One thought on “The Odyssey

  1. Pingback: Swimming in the rain, the Odyssey continues. | A beach a day

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