- May 2016
Eurymachus spoke among them again a second time: “Friends, for you see that this man will not stay his invincible hands, but now that he was got the polished bow and the quiver, will shoot from the smooth threshold until he slays us all, come, let us take thought of battle. Draw your swords, and hold the tables before you against the arrows that bring swift death, and let us all have at him in a body, in the hope that we may thrust him from the threshold and the doorway, and go throughout the city, and so the alarm be swiftly raised; then should this fellow soon have shot his last.”
Once again, the recitation imbues the words with feeling. On the page, they are flat actions, just what happens next. Spoken, they are intense, they are what is happening now. When I read this story, it is something that has happened. When I hear it, it is happening.
But Odysseus of many wiles stripped off his rags and sprang to the great threshold with the bow and the quiver full of arrows, and poured forth the swift arrows right there before his feet, and spoke among the wooers: “Lo, now at last is this decisive contest ended; and now as for another mark, which till now no man has ever smitten, I will know if haply I may strike it, and Apollo grant me glory.”
This written translation of the text is not the same translation used in the video. The language in the video's translation is more appealing to me, so I am not sure if the fact I have a better understanding of what happens from listening to the story than from reading it is because I just understand the spoken word better or because the words being spoken are just more understandable.
Then didst thou mock him, swineherd Eumaeus, and say: “Now verily, Melanthius, shalt thou watch the whole night through, lying on a soft bed, as befits thee, nor shalt thou fail to mark the early Dawn, golden-throned, as she comes forth from the streams of Oceanus, at the hour when thou art wont to drive thy she-goats for the wooers, to prepare a feast in the halls.”
As mocking goes, this reads a little flowery. It seems tame in print, but it holds a sting when I hear it spoken. The tone, the delivery is everything. This is an interesting moment when I hear it. When I read it, I barely notice it.
So saying, he drew his sharp sword of bronze, two-edged, and sprang upon Odysseus with a terrible cry, but at the same instant goodly Odysseus let fly an arrow, and struck him upon the breast beside the nipple, and fixed the swift shaft in his liver.
There is so much going on in this sentence. I am so used to reading everything in my head, which means I am used to reading relatively quickly. So when I come to a sentence like this, I rush through it. And when I get to the end of it, I have no idea what I just read. I have to make myself slow down, read each portion separately, pause at the commas, breathe between thoughts. I work harder to understand these sentences when I read them because I have to adjust my internal rhythm to the rhythm of the words. When I listen to the words, it's like listening to music. I respond to the rhythm of their sounds intuitively; I don't have to decipher the rhythm. I understand better and faster when I hear the words than when I read them.
I have such a difficult time understanding the names of some of these characters when I hear them spoken. So it's a challenge to keep everyone straight. When several new names are introduced, I have to rewind the video a few times to untangle the identities of. It is a relief, when reading, to understand who each character is without having to make sense of unfamiliar sounds.
“If thou art indeed Odysseus of Ithaca, come home again, this that thou sayest is just regarding all that the Achaeans have wrought—many deeds of wanton folly in thy halls and many in the field.
When I read these words, I get caught up in their reason. It is a rational argument, motivated by fear and self-preservation, but rational in spite of that. When I hear it performed, or when I heard it performed in the video, the reason was overpowered by the feeling. The fear behind the words eclipsed them. When spoken, performed so expressively, the speech begun with these words invoked in me an emotional response. When I read these words, I was not pulled into the moment. I did not fully understand them absent the inflections given the words by someone who does understand them.