Feasting with the Gods

With that, the owl-eyed goddess
Flew away like a bird, up through the smoke.
Odyssey Book 1, line 319 translated by Emily Wilson

Last Saturday, in one of the most beautiful secret gardens in Wiltshire, you would have found eleven members of the Bath Writers & Artists group arguing happily in the shade of a yew tree whether these lines mean that the bright-eyed shape-shifting goddess actually turned herself into an owl at this point, whether she flew up still in the shape of  Mentes, the Taphian leader, Telemachus’ guest-friend or whether she simply flew up as smoke. ( Thanks to Conor Whelan for reminding me of this additional possibility. )  We had gathered to share Emily Wilson’s wonderful new translation of the Odyssey which became for one long sun-soaked afternoon the centre of our world.

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Reading in the round, we shared three of the twenty four books – titled in Emily Wilson’s version A Boy and a Goddess, in which Athena teaches Telemachus how to grow into his destiny, A Princess and Her Laundry in which Nausicaa washes her family’s fine clothes in the river and Odysseus covers his salt-caked manly parts with a leafy branch, and A Pirate in a Shepherd’s Cave in which Odysseus and his companions take out Polyphemus’ eye with a sharpened stake of fire-tempered olive wood. Then in proper Homeric fashion we removed ourselves from horror and set out our round-tabled feast, though there was an unexplained shortage of slave girls to bathe us, rub us with  olive oil and wrap us in fine wool mantles as happened to Odysseus before he feasted with the Phaeacians in Scheria. 

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We need seven more afternoons fully to explore the Odyssey.  More than one of us seemed to have a glimmer of that resolution in our eyes as we scattered home.  Huge thanks to our marvellously generous host and to everyone who travelled from the shires to the magical garden to create this blissful afternoon. 

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A deferential slave brought bread and laid
a wide array of food, a generous spread.
The carver set beside them plates of meat
of every kind, and gave them golden cups.
The cup boy kept on topping up the wine.
The suitors sauntered in and sat on chairs
observing proper order, and the slaves
poured water on their hands.  The house girls brought
baskets of bread and heaped it up beside them.
Once they were satisfied with food and drink,
the suitors turned their minds to other things……

Odyssey Book 1, line 139 translated by Emily Wilson

with VERONA BASS, STEPHANIE BOXALL, SUE BOYLE, CLAIRE COLEMAN, SARAH GREGORY, ANN PRESTON, PETE SMITH, TESSA STRICKLAND, CONOR WHELAN, ROGER WHELAN and SHIRLEY WRIGHT. 

Sue Boyle

Monday 16th July 2018

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