Odysseus in Hades: A Classroom Voyage in Homer’s The Odyssey

(In an 8th grade classroom overlooking Lake Michigan, Circe outlines the hero’s journey into Hades and the blood ritual that summons forth the spirits of the dead. These include Anticleia, dead of mother’s grief, and Tiresisas, who reveals to Odysseus his safe return home but the death of all his men for slaughtering the fatted kine of Helios. Scylla and Charybdis are “the borrowed fates.”)

 

 

 

Here

Gather the shapes to find expression.

 

            Dead weight of dreams

        Scuds over the classroom floor

Throatier fuller selves

 

            Those were the days

 

         These are the days now

Desks and straits of gleaming children

 

            These are the days

 

A different order of kenning parcels out a finer sense.

A keener edge goes on recording by example of the

Blood, the red-spilt proof into the dusty hole of

Hades, not quite real for all the rules of mead

And milk and wine laid down by Circe

To gather forth the spirits of the dead.

 

They want an answer.

Seeking the blood they cannot understand,

He navigates in rudimentary fashion:

 

            My children, postulants at prayer, the

            Self is bartered from the flesh, I might suggest…

 

            (Panoply most rare, Tiresias,

            Seer or source,

            You know neither these gleaners nor their course)…

 

 

 

II

 

            The oars will take us there

            Beyond a darkened prism…

 

 

Elements of sleep and dream

Spill across some supple firmament.

 

The spirit of the wandering man will

Wander     hand over hand

Unto some final place. Some more selective

Self will settle score for score

Beyond recognition, beyond Cimmerian shore.

 

Perception of the self is guiding spirit,

A mother’s sad perception of the truth.

(A debt not far behind is death and loss of form).

She died from loneliness and loss and mother’s breath,

Departure from the sword. She knew him not

Until she lipped the wine-rinsed cup.

Her head was lifted:

 

                        Odsysseus

 

                                                Anticleia

 

It was enough.

 

But sinews, bones and flesh no longer work

Here where life and death are borne alike

And soul’s embrace is freely given.

 

And all must flee the fire.

 

 

III

 

 

 

He fictions focus through gray matter now and

Mineral air. A field of horses there and a first

Lake Michigan spring to guide him…

 

They want an answer…

 

         The ship is black and only the furious

Drip-slap of the water and the unfathomable

Horses lead us to the light-ridden world of
Helios eddying at the end of

Some dark cavity or tap.

 

Beware the prophecy of Tiresias!

It is not ours or is it?

 

 

IV

 

 

“There is a time, Alcinous,” Odysseus says,

“When souls must sleep and dream.”

 

Guile guides him. He knows his fate. A ruthless yearning

Homeward keeps him padding along, marking time,

Knowing what he knows and what must come.

 

His followers ape his greed and while he sleeps they

Slaughter fatted kine. He dreams a little and he smiles

At them. Relief must shadow substance for they have yet

To pass between the borrowed fates.

 

And he must make his leap.

 

So greed and grief are one to gods –

To floss men down or swirl their bones or pick them

Milky white.

 

And all, save one, shall perish.

 

 

V

 

 

The words lie

 

            Here

 

                        In a classroom

 

Gathering shape

 

            To recollect

 

                        A collect of

 

Things past.

 

            Voices settle in something like

 

                        A moment to remember.

 

They want

             An answer.
                        
    

                        The air breathes and

 

Passes away.

 

            I too will utter

 

                        Home

 

And leave them to their fate.

 

            They too

 

                        Return

 

And leave me

 

            Far behind.

 

 

 

                                                                                      John W. Pardee