The Tale Of Eumaios Essay, Research Paper
The Tale of Eumaios The ancient Greek society was a culture where the Fates and immortal gods hold reign over a man’s life. One’s personal characteristics, including occupation, were as mutable as one’s lineage. For this reason noble Eumaios, leader of men, the swineherd, stands out in the Odyssey as a character who exists above his place as a humble servant. He is conspicuous from his first appearance when Homer applies to him the epitaph “leader of men” (Od. 15: 23) and continues as Homer refers to him as noble and addresses him in the first person, a kind of apostrophe usually reserved for gods and heros. The oddity of such reference is somewhat relieved when Eumaios’ actions are seen to be on the level of nobility in his treatment of Odysseus as a stranger and general adherence to good xenia. Not until we hear his story can we fully understand the basis of this esteem or how complex and important a character he is and the role he plays. To be brief, the story tells the reader Eumaios is a prince. His rightful place in society was stolen by fate and replaced by one of servitude. Certain questions are raised by this fact as to how a man of time and arete could so retrogress and what his motivations for complacency are. These can be answered by considering his self-identity as both royalty and servant. It is a kind of catch-22. He identifies himself with royalty, obviously, otherwise his narrative would not be told. In doing so he takes on the honor befitting one of his birth, thus preventing him from running away from the good household of Odysseus, who raised him as one of its own and “paid a fair price for him.” So he also identifies himself with the lot fate has drawn for him, a swineherd, and fulfills his duties with reverence and love for his masters. Eumaios’ ancestry is almost necessary, for such devotion would not be expected from one born to be a commonplace swineherd, and therefore he would not be in a position to aid Odysseus is the manner he does. The proximity of one of Odysseus’ Cretan tales to Eumaios’ account raises the point that his was a true story. Had Eumaios been lying, his inherent honor as royalty would not exist, allowing him to employ the treachery available to one of more meager conception. An opposite paradigm for Eumaios would be the son of Dolios, Melanthios, one of Odysseus’ goatherds. Insulting and kicking Odysseus with the suitors and siding with them in battle against his master, he exemplified the lack of honor befitting one of his class. Had Eumaios’ personal narrative been a false one it would have seemed likely that he would also attempt to use the suitors in an endeavor for personal gain rather than side with Odysseus against overwhelming odds.. Another aspect of Eumaios’ tale is his attitude toward those who bought and raised him, Laertes and his wife, and those who later became his masters; Penelope, Telemachos, and Odysseus. For one so ripped from his homeland and country and sold into slavery a not uncommon response would be, no matter how kind his new masters, some degree of anger and resentment. Quite to the contrary, Eumaios proclaims nothing but affection for them (Od. 15: 351-79). With such affection comes resentment toward the destruction wreaked by the suitors on the household, resentment which he relates the disguised Odysseus. From the perspective of Odysseus, one looking for allies in the murder of the vilified suitors, Eumaios shines like a beacon. With the creation of such a perfectly suited character for his role, it is only appropriate that Telemachos’ and Odysseus’ next ally to be described in the same terms. And so he is. When the loyal oxherd is first introduced (Od. 20: 185) he is referred to as Philoitios, leader of people, directly referring to Eumaios’ own epitaph, leader of men, given no less than seven times in books fourteen and fifteen alone.
The treatment of the “allies” by Homer plainly corresponds with his treatment of the suitors in the later books of The Odyssey. In preparation for the final showdown, it is as necessary for the “good guys” to be a purified as much as the suitors are vilified. To this end the portrayal of Eumaios, and subsequently his parallel, Philoitios, works to ease the mind of the Homer’s contemporary Greek audience. That is, people living in a time where character is based on birth. With this band of marauding heros, the slaughter of not only the suitors but also the other servants become more justified. A simple swineherd would not have such a right. Another case where Eumaios’ narrative comes into relation to the epic as a whole concerns his life a paradigm for Odysseus’. Both begin, chronologically, as royalty. Through hardship and suffering they are stripped of their outward nobility, visible now only by their upright bearing and observance of honor, and each is sustained by the kindness of their masters (Odysseus’ being Athena and other goddesses, Eumaios’ being Odysseus, Penelope, and Telemachos). Their stories converge after the telling of Eumaios’ story in the shared purpose of the destruction of the suitors, both men fighting for the reacquisition of their household. Eumaios’ dual self-identity manifests itself in this final melee. He assists his master, the godlike Odysseus, as befits a servant while concurrently playing the part of a godlike hero himself. With a bronze-tipped spear in each hand, slaying his enemies and reclaiming what is rightfully his, he takes on the appearance of a double image picture. One where you see and old hag, and by adjusting only your perspective, suddenly the thin lipped mouth becomes a necklace and the picture transforms to that of a beautiful woman. Literally a symbolically the character of Eumaios is subtly complex. One can easily judge him as a swineherd and pass off his narrative as more of that fantastical stuff which permeates the Odyssey: kings, and kidnaping, and homelands. Yet his story can be much more. It is tight and integral, and small enough to be mobile and applied. Didactic in some ways yet a story to be enjoyed as well. But its size can lead some to assume its meaning is likewise limited. In the Greek society where The Odyssey was sang Eumaios’ account held meaning within the epic and relative to the community. Introspection was key in applying it to both the Eumaios of the poem and the Eumaios in ourselves. The part of us that can rise above our lot in life and turn a swineherd into a hero, yet sacrificing the virtue of neither. Contrary to the gist of this description, there is no final philosophy connected with the tale of Eumaios; only that you find your own, complex or simple as you realize it although I suppose that they end up tending toward the simple, which is perhaps as Homer intended. His tale is a microcosm of the entire epic, in that it is rife with details, ideas, and themes, but these pass too quickly and blend with the overwhelming macrocosm. The one who truly experiences The Odyssey learns not to take them too seriously, to let it all flow. Hence the simplicity in complexity, with a little subjectivity and a hint of bull. Therein lies the connection with the identification of self.
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