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.”)
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)…
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:
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.
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?
“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
And all, save one, shall perish.
The words lie
In a classroom
A collect of
Voices settle in something like
A moment to remember.
The air breathes and
I too will utter
And leave them to their fate.
And leave me
John W. Pardee