Page 27. " The travellers now came to Pylos "
A map showing the location of Pylos and other important cities
GNU Free Documentation LicenseA map showing the location of Pylos and other important cities - Credit: Dbachmann/Wikimedia Commons

 Pylos was a city located on the west coast of the Peloponnese (southern Greece), ruled by Nestor, an old and much respected Greek hero. Though too old to fight, Nestor played his part in the Trojan War as an advisor and a leader.

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                          

Sandy Pylos
GNU Free Documentation LicenseSandy Pylos - Credit: Koppi2/Wikimedia Commons

Page 27. " They found the people on the sea-shore sacrificing jet-black bulls to Poseidon "
Leading bulls to sacrifice, south frieze of the Parthenon, ca.447–33 BC
Creative Commons AttributionLeading bulls to sacrifice, south frieze of the Parthenon, ca.447–33 BC - Credit: Marie-Lan Nguyen/Wikimedia Commons

An important aspect of ancient Greek cult involved appeasing and honouring the gods with sacrifice and libations. A large variety of animals, foods and liquids were used for these rites. Specific animals were sometimes associated with certain gods, such as black or white bulls for Poseidon.

 

 

 

Sacrifice scene, red-figure cup interior, ca.510–500 BC
Public DomainSacrifice scene, red-figure cup interior, ca.510–500 BC - Credit: Marie-Lan Nguyen/Wikimedia Commons

 

 

Page 28. " Athene, Daughter of Zeus who bears the aegis "

Athene shakes her aegis, statue of Athena, from the Gigantomachy group, c.525 BC
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeAthene shakes her aegis, statue of Athena, from the Gigantomachy group, c.525 BC - Credit: Ricardo André Frant/Wikimedia Commons
An aegis is a large collar, cuirass or protective shield. In ancient art, Athene’s aegis is usually represented as a scaly collar or animal skin thrown around her neck and shoulders, and is often depicted with snakes hanging from it like tassels. When Zeus or Athene shake the aegis, thunder rolls and mortals quake in fear.  

Page 28. " When you have made your drink offering and your prayer "
Artemis pouring a libation, white-ground lekythos, ca.460–50 BC
Public DomainArtemis pouring a libation, white-ground lekythos, ca.460–50 BC - Credit: Marie-Lan Nguyen/Wikimedia Commons
The ritual pouring of drink onto the ground as an offering to the gods or the spirits of the dead was called a libation.
Page 29. " She passed the fine two-handled beaker to Telemachus "

Two-handled cup, with an elaborate two-handled kantharos (drinking-cup) between two eyes. Black-figure, ca.530 BC
Public DomainTwo-handled cup, with an elaborate two-handled kantharos (drinking-cup) between two eyes. Black-figure, ca.530 BC - Credit: Marie-Lan Nguyen/Wikimedia Commons
Greek cups and pots came in all shapes and sizes, depending on their functions. They ranged from the simple to the very elaborate, from undecorated pottery to those made of precious materials, such as the “golden beaker” mentioned here.

Page 29. " The outer flesh from the victims was now roasted and drawn off the spits, portions were carved for all, and they began their sumptuous feast "
Sacrifice scene. Red-figure krater, ca.430–20 BC
Creative Commons AttributionSacrifice scene. Red-figure krater, ca.430–20 BC - Credit: Marie-Lan Nguyen/Wikimedia Commons

Once the sacrificial animal had been killed, the meat was cooked. The thigh bones, wrapped in fat with some of the flesh, were burnt as an offering, the smoke rising up to the gods. Sometimes omens might be read in the smoke or in the entrails of the animal. Finally, the remaining meat was roasted on spits and skewers before being served up as a feast.

Page 29. " lost at sea in Amphitrite’s waves "
Amphitrite, Corinthian plaque, 575–550 BC
Public DomainAmphitrite, Corinthian plaque, 575–550 BC - Credit: Marie-Lan Nguyen/Wikimedia Commons
 Amphitrite was a sea goddess and wife of Poseidon. She is often used as a symbol of the sea.
Page 30. " There warlike Ajax lies. There lies Achilles, there Patroclus, wise in council as the gods. "

The suicide of Ajax the Great. Red-figure calyx-krater, ca.400–350 BC
Public DomainThe suicide of Ajax the Great. Red-figure calyx-krater, ca.400–350 BC - Credit: Marie-Lan Nguyen/Wikimedia Commons
 Ajax, Achilles and Patroclus are all Greek heroes who died at Troy. Patroclus was killed by the Trojan prince Hector, who mistook him for Achilles. Patroclus had donned the armour of the mighty Achilles in order to raise the morale of the Greek troops and rally Achilles’ men. Achilles had refused to fight due to an argument with Agamemnon. The Iliad tells of the anger of Achilles upon hearing of the death of Patroclus. Achilles himself died when Paris’ arrow (guided by Apollo) pierced his heel. Ajax committed suicide after losing the armour of Achilles to Odysseus, or according to other accounts, out of shame when a god-influenced madness compelled him to slaughter all the army’s animals, believing them to be the Greek leaders.

Page 30. " She began by making the two sons of Atreus quarrel "

The two sons of Atreus referred to here are the Greek leaders and brothers Agamemnon and Menelaus. It was Menelaus’ wife, Helen, whom Paris took to Troy, beginning the war. Menelaus was king of Sparta, and Agamemnon of Argos (or Mycenae, depending on different traditions). Both were very powerful men amongst the Greeks.

Page 32. " They tell me that the Myrmidon spearmen reached home in safety "

The Myrmidons were the tribe of skilled warriors commanded by Achilles.

Page 35. " to escort you to lovely Lacedaemon "
Ruins at the ancient site of Sparta
GNU Free Documentation LicenseRuins at the ancient site of Sparta - Credit: Thomas Ihle/Wikimedia Commons
Lacedaemon is another name for Sparta.
Page 39. " When she had bathed him and rubbed him with olive-oil "
A strigil and oil flasks (aryballoi)
Public DomainA strigil and oil flasks (aryballoi) - Credit: Xocolatl/Wikimedia Commons
Greeks used olive oil to clean themselves, scraping the oil (along with the sweat and dirt) off with a strigil. Olive oil could also be rubbed onto a clean body to soften and smooth the skin, and to give it a healthy glow.
Page 39. " There they spent the night and received the gifts that hospitality dictates "
Bronze swords, one of the traditional gifts that hospitality dictates
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeBronze swords, one of the traditional gifts that hospitality dictates - Credit: Claire H/Wikimedia Commons

Hospitality was an important concern for the ancient Greeks, and one of the main themes of The Odyssey. Not only was it customary for rich men, princes and kings to entertain each other and exchange gifts, it was considered the duty of every Greek to offer hospitality to a stranger in need. For travellers and sea-faring people, being able to rely on the kindness of strangers was particularly important. Hospitality was also considered vital on a religious level; not only did mortals have to worry that a stranger may be a god in disguise testing them, all suppliants also came under the protection of Zeus. Homer uses both guest-friendship and gods in disguise as recurring themes in his poem, a moral lesson for his audience about how Greeks ought to behave to each other. In The Odyssey, it is this hospitality, or lack of it, that marks the difference between civilisation and barbarism.

Page 42. " Your lineage has left a stamp upon your looks; you are the sons of kings "

In Homeric society, heroes are usually kings or princes (basileis), and always rich, important members of the elite. Their status is instantly evident to anyone, as they are taller, stronger and more handsome than normal men. Although there is probably some truth here (those who can afford better food, weapons and training will naturally be bigger and better fighters), this is probably more to do with a need to elevate the social elite, to justify their position over other men, as well as the tribute they would receive from their subjects. Epic poetry such as The Odyssey was most likely composed for the elite, with their interests in mind, to be performed at banquets like those described in this poem.

Page 44. " Egyptian Thebes "

There were two important Thebes in the ancient world, one in northern Greece, the other in Egypt. The Egyptian Thebes was the capital of Egypt at varying points in its history.

Page 44. " you Achaeans came to Troy with war in your hearts for my sake, shameless creature that I was! "
Helen of Troy, by Evelyn de Morgan (1898)
Public DomainHelen of Troy, by Evelyn de Morgan (1898) - Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Helen’s degree of guilt in starting the Trojan War differs according to different accounts. In some, she leaves with Paris willingly; in others she is abducted. One account (Euripides) even tells of Helen being transported to Egypt, with a phantom Helen sent to Troy in her place. Homer’s Helen is ambiguous; she refers to herself as a shameless creature, but then tells how she secretly tried to help the Greeks at Troy. Menelaus relates quite a different story, however, in which Helen sides with the Trojans and almost foils the Greeks’ cunning plan. Helen is presented to us as an opportunist, a clever woman with an extraordinary ability to come out of any situation on top.