The Odyssey – notes by Peter Howe
Peter made a few notes on the back of the napkin while perusing the blind Homer’s work. For your enjoyment…
In part three of The Odyssey we have Telemachos, son of Odysseus looking at sea for his dad. He doesn’t surf for fun, that’s for sure, but this passage really has a coastal authenticity about it, written over three thousand years ago. A passage that would have shaped people’s attitude to all kinds of things including the adventure of riding waves.
“Zeus (the god) poured out a hurricane of whistling winds and monstrous swollen waves mountain-high……
There is a smooth cliff running down steep into the sea at the verge of Gortyn, over the misty deep, where the wind from the south-west drives a great wave against the headland up towards Phaistos, and a little bit of stone keeps off the great wave. So far they came and then the men escaped death with great trouble; but the ships were smashed to pieces on those rocks by the sea.”
You can see how being on the ocean for these people at least was not necessarily fun. But these sailors could obviously swim if they were able to survive. In book five, Odysseus is trying to get home across the sea when Poseidon the earthshaker sends a storm.
“As he said this, a great wave rolled up towering above him and drove his vessel round. He lost hold of the steering oar and fell into the water; the mast snapped in the middle as the fearful tempest of warring winds fell upon it. Sail and yard were thrown from the wreck. He was kept long underwater and could not get clear, for his clothes weighed him down.”
A hold down that we’re all familiar with. He gets hammered for hours then the goddess Ino comes to his aid.
“Here, take this veil and stretch it under your chest: it is a divine thing and while you have it there is no fear that you will come to any harm.”
He accepts the veil ( a surfboard image, really) but clings to the raft.
“While these thoughts were passing through his mind, Poseidon Earthshaker brought up another wave, a terrible great mass that curved under him and drove him along.”
So here we have Odysseus surfing. (unintentionally)
Odysseus ends up paddling ashore on the veil.
It’s well worth a read. This legend would have been told and told, a bit like a dreaming story of the Aborigines. So it’s obvious that the idea of riding waves was there in the collective unconscious of Greeks, and later Italians who adopted Greek legends.
In that same chapter there’s a sentence that singles out only one god who didn’t bathe in the sea, so Greeks and Italians were probably swimmers from way back.