Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Odyssey: Stop 4 - The Wind God's Present

Stop # 4 - Aeolus

This stop often gets overlooked by text books.  It's short, but I think it helps to paint the proper picture of Odysseus' men and why they shouldn't be pitied too much for the events that happen.  Sure, the sun god scene does the same, but this helps to establish a pattern of behavior.

Aeolus is a minor god that helped Odysseus out by giving him a bag of bad winds so that only good winds would blow him home. Of course, he didn't tell his men and they just assumed it was gold.  When he fell asleep (right as they approached Ithaca) they opened the bag, releasing the winds, and sending them way off course.

Who is this guy? Most of us probably don't know that much about him, so consider this a tribute to the unknown god.  He has a floating island close to Sicily for one. The gods used him to release the winds for bad storms. His nickname is Hippotades (the controller of horses) since the Greeks saw winds as horse-shaped spirits.

His dad is Poseidon (makes sense since Poseidon is also credited with stormy seas) and Aeolus is the father of the four winds:

Boreas - The North Wind - he has serpent tails for feet and likes to hang out at Mt. Haemus (where Typhoon likes to hang out). He usually uses a conch to blow his winds and has golden/amber colored wings. He is very strong and tends to be destructive. He even shipwrecked Hercules once. He also disguised himself as a horse and got some fillies great with child (Why? I don't know). Of course people would remark that these horses are as swift as the wind. His most famous story is the kidnapping of Oreithyia. He did this because her parents delayed in answering his marriage proposal. They bore two children, both boys, who were a part of the Argonauts (you know, they guys who did all the work while Jason took all the credit).

Eurus - The East Wind - He also has wings but is a bit more gentle. He is known for bringing rains, so he is usually seen with an upside down vase pouring out water.

Notus - The South Wind - known for his fog and mists, shepherd and sailors didn't really like him. However, he was revered by thieves.

Zephyrus - The West Wind - Probably the best known of the four winds. Cupid used him to bring Psyche to his palace. He known for being gentle. Despite that, one of his more famous stories is about violence. Zephyr fell in love with a young man named Hyacinthus. When he saw Hyacinthus playing discus with Apollo, he got so jealous that he caught the discus in mid air and sent it back at him. The discus hit Hyacinthus on the head and killed him. Where his blood hit the ground, the hyacinth flower bloomed. He too fathered horses, two of which were ridden by Achilles and could talk a la Mr. Ed of TV fame.

Next stop - Odysseus and his men get invited to dinner!

Coming late to the party? You can find all the Odyssey posts here.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Odyssey: Stop # 3 - The Cyclops

Stop #3

Our next stop is the most famous of stops for Odysseus - Polyphemus the cyclops.

Below is a recap of the story of Polyphemus. If you're familiar with it, skip the green writing. If not, read the green writing. If you're color blind, tough.

Odysseus and his men are pretty hungry. How many of his men he has right now, I don't know. I read in one place that he had 3 boats and in another he had 12 boats. Whatever. In a few stops it won't matter anyway, so suffice to say, he had a small enough number to take with him, but a large enough number to feel confident that they could over power whatever enemies they might find.

You all know this story - in a nutshell, Odysseus must prove here how clever he is by finding a way out of the cyclops cave. The rock used to block the door is too heavy for his men to move. They need the cyclops to move the rock, so they can't kill him. They can't wait it out because the cyclops keeps eating the men. So he gets the cyclops drunk, stabs him in the eye with a hot pointy log, and hides under Polyphemus's sheep when they are let out to graze.

This story is also important because it shows Odysseus' hubris - his pride. You see, he told Polyphemus his name was Nobody. When the other cyclops came to see why he was crying, he said Nobody hurt me, so they just left him alone. However, Odysseus couldn't bear to let this opportunity pass so he calls out to the cyclops and gives him his name, his father's name, and where he lives. Being the son of Poseidon, Polyphemus just calls daddy and whines. Poseidon heard. Poseidon delivered. O.K., that doesn't do it justice. Here is his prayer to Poseidon:

"Hear me, Poseidon … If truly I am your son, and you acknowledge yourself as my father, grant that Odysseus, who styles himself Sacker of Cities and son of Laertes, may never reach his home in Ithaca. But if he is destined to reach his native land, to come once more to his own house and see his friends again, let him come late, in evil plight, with all his comrades dead, in someone else's ship, and find troubles in his household." (Polyphemus 2. Homer, Odyssey 9.528).

Alright - recap over. Let's look a little more deeply at the cyclops. One of the problems is that according to Hesiod, there are three cyclops, all sons of Uranus and Gaia. There names are Argos (dang, how many things are named Argos in Greek mythology?), Steropes, and Brontes. They helped Cronus overthrow Uranus because Uranus kept them locked up. In return, Cronus locked them up in Tartarus. When Zeus took over, he set them free. Being pretty good at metal working, the returned the favor by making Zeus' thunderbolts, Poseidon's trident, and Hades' helmet of invisibility. Supposedly Apollo killed them when they hit his son.

The problem comes in with Homer. He writes that they are Poseidon's sons and they are not nearly as intelligent as mentioned above. So, to make things work, let's assume that both Poseidon and Uranus sired cyclops, but Uranus must be better at it than Poseidon.

Another issue is the pronunciation of the cyclops's name.  Is it POLY-FEM-US or PUH-LEE-FEMUS?  I asked the Latin teacher on my hallway and he said that since it is coming from Greek, it really should be PUH-LU-FEMUS.  In a last ditch effort to figure out the correct pronunciation, I did a final Google search and found this study guide that has pronunciations for all the names in The Odyssey.

Cy the cyclopic kitten was born in the last few days of 2005 and sadly enough died in the last few days of 2005. When this first came out there was, quite reasonably, a lot of doubts about this picture. I mean, come on! In this day of Photo Shop, who wouldn't think that a possibility? Live Science and the AP regional photo editor Tom Stathis and Snopes.com has confirmed that this in indeed a true incident.

So truth remains stranger than fiction and now we have Cy.

This kind of thing happens so much that science has a name for it: Holoprosencephaly. This condition is a birth defect in which the brain doesn't properly develop. There are different levels of severity and obviously the above case is a severe one. There have been reports of people with this condition being born with a nose on the forehead, one eye, single-nostril noses, one middle tooth instead of two front teeth, and others.

Traci Allen, the owner of Cy, spent the night and the next day feeding and caring for it, but the deformities were just too much for the kitten to survive.

So what do you do with a dead one-eyed cat? Well, her owner put it in the freezer to save for science. Imagine that nightmare ice cream run in the middle of the night.

Since this condition does exist, might it have some relation to the belief of cyclops in the past? Perhaps.  However, there are better possibilities, such as mammoth skulls (seen to the right) that fit both giant and one-eyed beings, but it might have something to do with it.

Here is a handout I've used in the past that has a prose version of the story with reading questions.

Here's a silent movie from 1911 called Homer's Odyssey (well, really L'Odissea):

You can watch it (or show this section to your class) here (start at 2:50 if you just want to skip to the cyclops scene):

There is a Simpsons version of The Odyssey, but it does not have the cyclops scene.  They drew it, but took it out.  Why?  Because it featured someone more uncouth and more of a glutton than Homer (who was playing Odysseus).

Want a crazy really bad voice over of a cartoon version of this stop?  Look no further!

O.K. - next stop - the Isle of Aeolus!

Coming late to the party? You can find all the Odyssey posts here.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

My Hands Are of Your Color...

Tests can be so stressful.  Those poor students.  So I have a solution.

Why not put a coloring page on the last page of that Shakespeare test?  Give them a chance to relax a bit and de-stress.

Silly, but could be fun.  Plus, it could keep some kids busy and quiet while they wait for others to finish. I found this coloring book for free online and did what teachers do best - steal borrow it!  Feel free to make as much use out of it as you would like.

Shakespeare Coloring Book

And maybe you can save one for yourself to de-stress after all of that grading.

Monday, March 6, 2017

How Do I Love Thee?

Today is Elizabeth Barrett Browning's birthday.  She is known almost as much for love letters as she is for her poetry.  For those of you who need a refresher, Elizabeth (and her ten siblings) was forbidden by her father to ever marry and have children.  When Robert Browning read her poetry, he fell in love with her and began to write her.  Between the two of them, they wrote 570 letters to each other before they ran away and eloped.  They both kept all the love letters and the door to the Barrett house which half of those letters came through, was saved before the house was torn down.  I believe it is kept at Wellesley College Library and was a popular place for college students to slip Valentine cards until it was sealed shut.

So why did Elizabeth's father want to stop his bloodline?  Well, according to one scholar, Julia Markus, in her book Dared and Done, It might be because either her grandfather or gear grandfather has a child with a Jamaican slave. Either he was such a racist that he did not want his bloodline tainted or, being an abolitionist, he was ashamed of his white bloodline and wished to end it.

Either way, it was the reason for Elizabeth and Robert's secrecy.  Her father never forgave her for running off and getting married and having a child.  She wrote to him often and he always returned her letters unopened.

Here is a reading comprehension practice for her poem "How Do I Love Thee?"

Friday, February 24, 2017

The Odyssey: Stop #2 - The Lotus Eaters (AKA Hippy Crackhead Island)

Stop #2: The Lotus Eaters

The second stop of Odysseus is the island of the Lotus Eaters. I've seen several maps of the travels of Odysseus always to find it somewhere different. Herodotus thinks it is the coast of Libya and Polybius has determined that it is off the coast of Tunisia, but nobody really knows for certain.  One guess is that Odysseus is trying to spare us from finding it.

What is so bad about it? Having learned from his last stop, Odysseus only sends out a few people to scout out the area for food. These guys didn't want to come back. It seems that the land is full of these Lotus flowers (the actual translation here is vague and could mean any type of plant) that, when eaten, produce a state of forgetfulness and tranquility. Odysseus has to go out and literally drag these men kicking and screaming back to the boat. Now you know why my students have affectionately nicknamed it Hippy Crackhead Island (hey, I encourage mythology in them in any way I can).


Here is part IX of the Odyssey, as written in Poetry in Translation (not a bad place to get parts of this epic, by the way).

'For nine days I was driven by fierce winds over the teeming sea: but on the tenth we set foot on the shores of the Lotus-eaters, who eat its flowery food. On land we drew water, and my friends ate by the ships. Once we had tasted food and drink, I sent some of the men inland to discover what kind of human beings lived there: selecting two and sending a third as herald. They left at once and came upon the Lotus-eaters, who had no thought of killing my comrades, but gave them lotus to eat. Those who ate the honey-sweet lotus fruit no longer wished to bring back word to us, or sail for home. They wanted to stay with the Lotus-eaters, eating the lotus, forgetting all thoughts of return. I dragged those men back to the shore myself by force, while they wept, and bound them tight in the hollow ships, pushing them under the benches. Then I ordered my men to embark quickly on the fast craft, fearing that others would eat the lotus and forget their homes. They boarded swiftly and took their place on the benches then sitting in their rows struck the grey water with their oars.’

However, for this section, I do not have them read part of the Homer epic, but instead part of Tennyson's piece "The Lotus Eaters".  Part eight to be exact:

The Lotos blooms below the barren peak:
The Lotos blows by every winding creek:
All day the wind breathes low with mellower tone:
Thro' every hollow cave and alley lone
Round and round the spicy downs the yellow Lotos-dust is blown.
We have had enough of action, and of motion we,
Roll'd to starboard, roll'd to larboard, when the surge was seething free,
Where the wallowing monster spouted his foam-fountains in the sea.

Let us swear an oath, and keep it with an equal mind,
In the hollow Lotos-land to live and lie reclined
On the hills like Gods together, careless of mankind.
For they lie beside their nectar, and the bolts are hurl'd
Far below them in the valleys, and the clouds are lightly curl'd
Round their golden houses, girdled with the gleaming world:
Where they smile in secret, looking over wasted lands,
Blight and famine, plague and earthquake, roaring deeps and fiery sands,
Clanging fights, and flaming towns, and sinking ships, and praying hands.

But they smile, they find a music centred in a doleful song
Steaming up, a lamentation and an ancient tale of wrong,
Like a tale of little meaning tho' the words are strong;
Chanted from an ill-used race of men that cleave the soil,
Sow the seed, and reap the harvest with enduring toil,
Storing yearly little dues of wheat, and wine and oil;
Till they perish and they suffer—some, 'tis whisper'd—down in hell
Suffer endless anguish, others in Elysian valleys dwell,
Resting weary limbs at last on beds of asphodel.
Surely, surely, slumber is more sweet than toil, the shore
Than labour in the deep mid-ocean, wind and wave and oar;
O, rest ye, brother mariners, we will not wander more. 

When I give this to my regular level ninth graders, I tell them that this is college level reading and I build up the challenge for them.  As we break it down, I really praise anything they pull from it.  One interesting thing to do is to have them circle all the "s" sounds in the poem then get them to brainstorm what effect that has on the reader.

The Lotus Eaters is a popular title for books.  I did a quick search on Amazon and counted twelve different books with that title before I lost interest in pursuing it any further.  To my knowledge, The Odyssey is the only place where this island factors into mythology, unless, of course, you count The Lightning Thief.  The book, of course.  Nobody counts the movie.

(From the Graphic Novel - a good adaptation)

In the Olympians series, it is a major stop in The Lightning Thief  as a hotel/casino.  It makes appearances again in The Titan's Curse and The Last Olympian when we realize that Hades used the place to keep his children safe from prying eyes.

Coming late to the party? You can find all the Odyssey posts here.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Carpe Diem

If you find yourself teaching the Carpe Diem poets, you may wish to try using this modern day song from Smash Mouth.  The song is "All Star" and is fairly old now, but you students will still recognize it.  Here are the lyrics:

Somebody once told me the world is gonna roll me
I ain't the sharpest tool in the shed
She was looking kind of dumb with her finger and her thumb
In the shape of an "L" on her forehead

Well, the years start coming and they don't stop coming
Fed to the rules and I hit the ground running
Didn't make sense not to live for fun
Your brain gets smart but your head gets dumb

So much to do so much to see
So what's wrong with taking the back streets?
You'll never know if you don't go
You'll never shine if you don't glow

Hey now you're an All Star get your game on, go play
Hey now you're a Rock Star get the show on get paid
And all that glitters is gold
Only shooting stars break the mold

It's a cool place and they say it gets colder
You're bundled up now but wait 'til you get older
But the media men beg to differ
Judging by the hole in the satellite picture

The ice we skate is getting pretty thin
The water's getting warm so you might as well swim
My world's on fire. How about yours?
That's the way I like it and I'll never get bored.

[Chorus 2x]

Somebody once asked could I spare some change for gas
I need to get myself away from this place
I said yep what a concept
I could use a little fuel myself
And we could all use a little change

Well, the years start coming and they don't stop coming
Fed to the rules and I hit the ground running
Didn't make sense not to live for fun
Your brain gets smart but your head gets dumb

So much to do so much to see
So what's wrong with taking the back streets
You'll never know if you don't go
You'll never shine if you don't glow.


And all that glitters is gold
Only shootin' stars break the mold

Perfect carpe diem message.  Your students will recognize the song as being from Shrek, but the song actually was written for the movie Mystery Men, which is about loser super heroes trying to seize their day.  The video of the song was made for the movie: