We’re up to our fourth chapter of Homer which correlates to the fourth sign of the zodiac, Cancer. Ruled by the Moon, this is a Cardinal Water sign that deals with the feminine, home, family, silver, womb and birth, bath, beds, sleep and things nautical.
And then, there’s always food. As a water sign, their emotions flow. They cry a lot.
In the category under women in this chapter alone we have various associations that wrap their arms around the feminine as daughter, bride, maid, housekeeper, queen, Aphrodite, Helen, Artemis, wife, shameless whore, a train of women, a woman of Egypt, Trojan women, serving women . . . and that’s only from the first ten out of 36 pages of the Robert Fagles translation.
But these are simply vocabulary words, words alone. Let’s read the verses as Homer wrote them (translation aside) and jump back into the lyrics themselves.
“But God himself, jealous of all this no doubt,
robbed that unlucky man, him and him alone,
of the day of his return.”
So Menelaus mused
and stirred in them all a deep desire to grieve.
Helen of Argos, daughter of Zeus, dissolved in tears.
Telemachus wept too, and so did Atreus’ son Menelaus.
Nor could Nestor’s son Pisistratus stay dry-eyed,
remembering now his gallant brother Antilochus,
cut down by Memnon, splendid son of the Morning . . .
Four grown individuals, three men and a woman, moved to a puddle of tears by their grief stricken memories.
Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink. At least, not in these lines.
And here another example of grief, tears and memories being emphasized in this chapter.
much as I weep for all my men, grieving sorely,
time and again, sitting here in these royal halls,
now indulging myself in tears, now brushing tears away–
the grief that numbs the spirit guts us quickly-
for none of all those comrades, pained as I am,
do I grieve as much for one . . .
that man who makes sleep hateful, even food,
as I pour over his memory. No one, not in Achaean,
labored hard as Odysseus labored or achieved so much.
And how did his struggles end? In suffering for that man;
for me, in relentless, heartbreaking grief for him,
lost and gone so long now- dead or alive, who knows?
How they much mourn him too, Laertes, the old man,
and self-possessed Penelope. Telemachus as well,
the boy he left a babe in arms at home.”
Here’s some earlier lines that invoke a number of our lunar/Cancerian images. Telemachus and his buddy Pisistratus have just arrived at the palace (home) of Menelaus and his lovely wife Helen, the pearl of women, the one over whom the entire war had been fought. Here the focus is home and food, but it is not limited to that.
Both struck by the sight,
they marveled up and down the house of the warlord dear to Zeus-
a radiance strong as the moon or rising sun came flooding
through the high-roofed halls of illustrious Menelaus.
Once they’d feasted their eyes with gazing at it all,
into the burnished tubs they climbed and bathed.
When women had washed them, rubbed them down with oil
they took up seats of honor next to Atrides Menelaus.
A maid brought water soon in a graceful golden pitcher
and over a silver basin tipped it out
so that they might rinse their hands,
then pulled a gleaming table to their side.
A staid housekeeper brought on bread to serve them,
appetizers aplenty too, lavish with bounty.
As a carver lifted platters of meat toward them,
meats of every sort, and set before them golden cups,
the red-haired king Menelaus greeted both guests warmly:
“Help yourselves to food, and welcome!
It is in this chapter that Odysseus must wrestle with the “Old Man of the
Sea” in order to obtain the information needed to get off the island he is landlocked on. Once again, we find tears:
So Proteus (the Old Man of the Sea) said, and his story crushed my heart.
I knelt down in the sand and wept. I’d no desire
to go on living and see the rising light of day.
But once I’d had my fill of tears and writhing there,
the Old Man of the Sea who never lies continued,
‘No more now, now Menelaus. How long must you weep?
Withering tears, what good can come of tears?
None I know of. Strive instead to return
to your native country– hurry home at once!
And once more we have a veil of tears at the end of the chapter, when the wife of Odysseus learns that her son had set out for distant lands, to catch some news of his long lost father.
Down she sank on her well built chamber’s floor,
weeping, pitifully, as the women whimpered around her,
all the women, young and old, who served her house.
Penelope, sobbing uncontrollably, cried out to them . . .
And then later, after exhaustion finally overwhelms her:
Harried so she was, when a deep sleep overcame her,
back she sank and slept, her limbs fell limp and still.
And again the bright-eyed goddess Pallas thought
of one more way to help. She made a phantom now,
its build like a woman’s build, Iphthime’s, yes,
another daughter of generous Lord Icarius,
Eumelus’ bride, who made her home in Pherae.
Athena sped her on to King Odysseus’ house
to spare Penelope, worn with pain and sobbing,
further spells of grief and storms of tears.
The phantom entered her bedroom,
passing quickly in through the doorbolt slit
and hovering at her head she rose and spoke now
“Sleeping Penelope, your heart so wrung with sorrow?
No need, I tell you, no, the gods who live at ease
can’t bear to let you weep and rack your spirit.
Your son will still come home– it is decreed.
He’s never wronged the gods in any way.”. .
And Penelope murmured back, still cautious,
drifting softly now at the gate of dreams . . .
You tell me to lay to rest the grief and tears
that overwhelm me now, torment me, heart and soul? . . .
“Courage!” the shadowy phantom reassured her.
“Don’t be overwhelmed by all your direst fears.
He travels with such an escort, one that others
would pray to stand beside them. She has power-
Pallas Athena. She pities you in your tears.
She wings me here to tell you all these things.” . . .
she glided off by the doorpost past the bolt-
gone on a lifting breeze. Icarius’ daughter
started up from sleep, her spirit warmed now
that a dream so clear had come to her in darkest night.
Silvery ghosts to the rescue!