Thursday, October 29, 2015

TFBT: Unwove the Tapestry of his LIfe

If you are a bibliophile, I am sure you know the following experience.    On a long flight or in a remote location you get stuck reading a book that is a piece of propaganda full of lies and half-truths.  In order to save someone else from getting sucked into this mess you toss it into the garbage rather recycling or donating it to the library.   Or is it badly written and has a lame ending.  Or it is full of illogic and bad science.  Or the author makes a state of general and universal application that this is an "obvious projection of..." If it is so obvious why must the authoress point it out?    I read one of these books recently.  (Walker 1983). I would have tossed it but I was on a five hour flight. In between the waves of nausea and disgust there were a few interesting if odd insights on Greek mythology.  This is the second in a series of blogs investigating these possible gems in the rubbish. 

As long as Penelope refrained from cutting her thread, Odysseus couldn’t die.  So he survived many dangerous adventures while she wove and unwove the tapestry of his life.”  Walker 1983 

If you don’t know the story of Penelope and Odysseus, here it is in a nutshell.  The mortal Queen Penelope stayed home twenty years waiting for her wandering husband to return from Troy.  At some point suitors began to arrive; one hundred and eight of them.  She attempted to forestall choosing one by announcing that she could not wed until she finished weaving a shroud for her father-in-law.  Each night she unraveled that day’s work.   

Many societies sing of a group of goddesses who weave the destinies of the gods and men.  In Greek they are the Fates; Clotho the Spinner, Lachesis the Measurer and Atropos the Cutter.   

What’s interesting and ironic about the quote above is that seems real similar to Helen of Troy weaving in Book 3.121 of the Iliad 

“Iris…found Helen in the hall, where she wove a great purple web of double fold, and thereon was broidering many battles of the horse-taming Trojans and the brazen-coated Achaeans, that for her sake they had endured at the hands of Ares.”

Many commentaries noted this moment.  (Of course I am on a jet at the moment and have no access to references.) What they note with this passage is that the goddess Iris is about to enter the room and order Helen to lay aside her works and come see the duel for her hand.  All the Greeks and Trojans have set aside their arms.  It is as if as long as Helen weaves about the war the armies rage.  When she stops weaving of battle scenes, they cease to exist.   

The problem with the statement that Odysseus "survived many dangerous adventures while she (Penelope) wove and unwove" is that he was in no danger-when she began to weave the shroud.  As a matter of fact for most of her weaving he was the well-kept lover of a powerful goddess.   

Still an interesting notion.



  1. I am too lazy to browse the Odyssey to check the exact order of events, but it seems to me that Odysseus starts his homecoming in earnest only after the suitors force Penelope to stop her weaving cycle. If so, then maybe her periodical unweaving prevents him from approaching Ithaca. Like in an old movie where the hero was enchanted to live the same day over and over again.

  2. My Moirae have nothing to do with mortal fate but are instrumental in the destiny of gods. They have engineered the founder pair (Uranus & Gaea) immortal but doomed to produce, in several generation, mortal progeny.
    My Atropos says, "We couldn't let you (i.e. the gods) take over the Earth, therefore we made the immortality protections self-excising and so cut the thread of your generations."
    I'll change this to, "...we made the immortality protections self-excising from your thread of life and so cut it in your generations." That is, I intend to introduce the metaphor "thread of life" as term for DNA. (You can hardly imagine, if you have not tried it, how difficult it is to describe molecular biology and gene engineering without using "molecule", "gene", "cell" or any other specialized term :-). Only "atom" is allowed, because it was already in use in ancient Greece.)

  3. Maya ,

    Good point. Odysseus finally stopped screwing around and headed home when the Tapestry was fnished.

    DNA strains and threads, hmm.


  4. Do you wish to know how this happened and descendants of gods were mortalized? You won't hear it from any classicist :-), but it is shown here:

    Of all the text, the only relevant part is, "Mini-circle of DNA is permanently lost from the genome". At left, it is shown before being lost. It makes a loop which will be cut out.
    The "Greek key" (meander) which is omnipresent on ancient Greek pottery is actually a stylized representation of these loops being excised from DNA. Another invaluable piece of information you could not get from anyone else :-).

  5. Maya,
    I think you can do this with Dactylic hexameter. I wonder if the is a correlation?


  6. You may think that I can be a part-time epic poet,
    But I'm not good - not at all - with the damn hexameter :-).