The Odyssey in a Bottle (‘Til the Bottle Gets Busted in a Car Wreck Blues)
 
Well I roam from town to town, I go through life without a care,
And I'm as happy as a clown,
With my two fists of iron, but I'm goin' nowhere.
  - Dion, The Wanderer

Happy as a clown? Boy, does that sound out of place. Try this instead.

He who has tried it knows
how cruel is
sorrow as a companion
to the one who has few
beloved friends:
the path of exile holds him,
not at all twisted gold,
a frozen spirit,
not the bounty of the earth.
- The Wanderer, anonymous, Anglo-Saxon Exeter Book

That's better. Ready to celebrate the singular thrill of turning in my wretched, poorly-penned research paper, I did what any conscientious partier would do: pour him or herself a nice glass of adult beverage and watch some Supernatural. Sticking with our recent old school theme, I decided to start with the pilot. And then my ever-churning geeky brain confirmed its long-held suspicion: John Winchester and his sons aren't merely obvious examples of Der Wanderer, aren't just experiencing the Quest, they're living in an alternately thick-n-thinly veiled, (very) broadly narrated version of the greatest quest ever told.
 
The Greatest Story Ever Hulaed
 
Who hasn't read Homer's Odyssey? If you haven't, seriously, fix that tragic loss right now. I'll wait.
 
Back? Good. Eric Kripke and the other writers are pretty smart folks, and I can't imagine that such archetypal imagery didn't subconsciously bleed into their work, for they reflect integral threads of the human condition (conflict, love, family, home, death) that have remain unchanged over thousands of years. From the epic of Gilgamesh and Enkidu; Aeneas following his destiny after the fall of Troy; Ariosto's Orlando Furioso; Cervantes' Don Quixote; Captain Ahab forever searching for his white whale; the protagonist of Schubert's moving song cycle Winterreise; Rabelais' Pantagruel and Panurge (Sam and Dean? In some respects, yes!); numerous tales of the Old West such as the novels of Zane Grey; Kerouac's On the Road; any number of blues songs, to television's Kung Fu, the notion of the wanderer, of the quest is as old as civilization itself, and that's what we watch every Thursday at 9 p.m.. "Road show" is merely the latest incarnation of this timeless framework.
Back water blues done caused me to pack my things and go,
'cause my house fell down, and I can't live there no more.
- Bessie Smith, Back-Water Blues
 
Truer words never spoken, huh, sisters (and brothers)? The Winchesters certainly did have the tide of fate wash over them, as the gods are wont to do to mere mortals. The Winchesters entered their war, our war, on November 2, 1983. Their home as they knew it and expected it to forever be was gone, and now they have the dubious, difficult double task of keeping the ideal of home alive - for that's all it is now, an internalization of exterior trappings and vice versa, a fragmented whole - while they drive with the vanguard shielding the abode of each and every one of us from what lurks in blackest pitch. So, about that joining of conflict and its consequences, that odyssey...

The Road So Far
 
"And as to stratagems, no man would claim
Odysseus' gift for those. He had no rivals,
your father, at the tricks of war."
 - Nestor to Telemachus, The Odyssey, book III
 
Credit fraud, fake IDs, hustling pool, all small fry compared to the epic drama played out on the slopes of Ilion and the town itself, thanks to the famous rogue's wooden horse, right? Au contraire, for that was a mere regional conflict, whereas here, we've got the apocalypse looming ahead. Only we didn't quite know it back in 2005. Score one, I guess, for Team Winchester, that most cursed of families.
 
"My distinguished father is lost,
who ruled among you once, mild as a father,
and there is now this greater evil still:
my home and all I have are being ruined."
- Telemachus, The Odyssey, book I
 
"Dad's on a hunting trip. And he hasn't been home in a few days."

 
The muse is singing, and through Sam and Dean Winchester the story is told. Right from the first scene of the first episode, we see a father's love for his family lashed and burnt by tongues of flame. He's already been through a war; he certainly wouldn't have wanted to experience another. We know from a nonextant fragment of Cypria that Odysseus attempted to avoid joining the Achaeans against Troy by pretending to be mad. Palamedes exposed his antebellum ruse when, catching Odysseus sewing his fields not with seeds but with salt, he placed the infant son in front of the father's plow, thereby prompting him to turn. Like John, his family was his number one concern, and their life would always take precedence over his. Thus, the Greek taught his son the ways of proper kingship, as John was to teach Sam and Dean the ways of hunting. 

Comments  

Jasminka
# Jasminka 2009-12-18 19:48
I’m singing your praises, Randal – this is fantastic!

The Odyssey is one of my all-time favourite books, and that you decided to connect it to this show is, well, extraordinary. Or, well, you didn’t even have to find a connotation; it was always there, as you wonderfully point out.

So many of the great pieces of world literature have drawn from antique writers, and Homer provided the world with archetypes in abundance. He is to be found in Tolkien’s books, the Arthurian legends, I guess almost every European legend or myth has some kind of root in Homer’s works (and there is Ovid, Euripides, well, many others), and some poets needed to paraphrase the works of old and compose fabulous poetry, like Tennyson with ‘Ulysses’†¦

I do agree with your assumption that every piece of literature might hold a different meaning for different people, based on personal experiences or preferences or… or…, but the almost divine quality of immortal words will never be diminished. Which is a very hopeful thought.

Would you really compare John’s memory of Mary to Odysseus’ brush with Calypso? She was ordered to let him go by Hermes (who acted on behalf of the Gods’ council, if memory serves), John, however, did not seem to be ever free of remembering Mary’s horrific death. How could he? No one who experiences something like that will ever be free. Not entirely.

Thank you so much for this! Loved every line of it. This time *your* words brought an old dream of mine back to mind – to get to Turkey one day and to sit down where Troy used to stand and read the Illiad where it all happened… and I’m sure, if the Gods allow, that it will happen….

Love, Jas
Sablegreen
# Sablegreen 2009-12-18 20:56
WOW, Randal...this is great. I love the Odyssey, but never compared it to Supernatural. It’s fitting...the Odyssey is a classic and so is Supernatural. ;-)

I can tell you really had fun doing this. So much work too. Thanks so much.
Freebird
# Freebird 2009-12-18 20:56
"I see the bad moon a-rising
I see trouble on the way
I see earthquakes and lightnin'
I see bad times today
Don't go around tonight
Well, it's bound to take your life
There's a bad moon on the rise
I hear hurricanes a-blowing
I know the end is coming soon
I fear rivers over flowing
I hear the voice of rage and ruin
Hope you got your things together
Hope you are quite prepared to die
Looks like we're in for nasty weather
One eye is taken for an eye"

Creedence Clearwater Revival's song was the closing song for the Season 1 finale, remember, when that truck hit the Impala with Sam, Dean and John in it? Watching the story develope, this particular scene and song come to my mind quite often, and I can't help thinking that it is a landmark of the Winchester myth arc. Bad moon rising? From that point on, definitely.

Thanks, Randal, for this wonderful review! It's amazing to see how the same story can be presented in so many ways during different times of human history and civilization.
Gotta read Homer again, it's been a while.
Lara
Suze
# Suze 2009-12-19 06:51
Randal, you are a git. Sneaky Odysseus was always my favourite out of all the warmongering gung-ho greek hoards and now you've gone and tied him in with my love-to-loath man Big J in a more than slightly convincing fashion so I'll have to have a rethink and give myself brain strain. Curse you for a smarty-pants swot. ;-)

Jas, there's not much left of Troy now but it's well worth a look if you can time yourself to miss the coach-born multitudes ... Stand on the ruins and look out over the Dardinelle straits and shiver ...
Randal
# Randal 2009-12-19 07:18
alice, thanks for adding the screen caps. Nice break for the readers wading through such rambling text. 8-)

Jas, thanks, and don't forget nigh unreadable stuff like Joyce (he's alright, but some of those linguistic inventions put a strain on my eyeballs.)

You're 100% correct that Odysseus (thanks to the reason you laid out) did escape Calypso, whereas he'll never get over Mary's death and hey I *did* say it wasn't point-by-point ;-) - poetic license, right?) but I think there is a shared sense of imprisonment. And I wonder, given the intervention of the 'gods,' both in ancient Greece and Supernatural, if John wasn't 'rewarded' at the end of 2.22 with a trip to those fields of the lord that Castiel spoke about, and perhaps a reunion with Mary, a return, at last, to home. At least we can hope so.

Speaking of hope, I hope you get to see Priam's town, and if you do, make sure you take LOTS of pictures for us, especially us stuck across the pond. 8-)

sablegreen, thanks, and it was indeed enjoyable to put together, but I wondered if I wasn't just blowing smoke out of my ass, another case of "Marxist Readings Of Chaucer." :D

Freebird, that was the perfect choice of song, and completely foreshadows the bleakness that lay ahead. I watch that finale now and it still moves, Sam's in the middle of his speech - BLAM!

As Jas said, there's an immortal quality, and their universality is why we love and retell them to ourselves.

pete, thanks, I think the show is worthy of such analysis, but to me, it's never strictly, I don't know, 'scholarly.' There's such a visceral quality to what Kripke & Co. have created. It's so human.

Suze, HA! That certainly wasn't my intention - or was it? ;-) No, John is still a bit of an ass, and made some parental choices that a few of us wouldn't have, but he loved his kids, kids who just might end up better than their pop, which is what all us parents want for our own.

Be glad John wasn't not Goya's Saturn. ;-)

As for Troy, you've been? How close can one get, given the archaeological digs (which I assume are still going on - didn't they start back up in the 1980s?)
Suze
# Suze 2009-12-19 09:57
Yeah, back in the mid '80's ( '86, I think ... Brain scrambled by interviening eons of abuse ... :oops: ) There were a few trenches but nothing keeping you from climbing all over everything and fantasising wildly, it's a big site but the actual city seems really small compared to what we term a city now and there's not much left above ground ... Still go though, let your imagination fill in the blanks ...
Bevie
# Bevie 2009-12-19 14:51
Speechless here with admiration Randal!

Haven't read the actual Odyssey, but remember the kiddie version. Fascinating analysis as usual. Bravo!
Jasminka
# Jasminka 2009-12-19 20:18
Hey Randal and Suze, well, to my chagrin I won’t be able to go to ‘Troy’ anytime soon. All the money I save for vacation will flow into my US-trip next year....

But according to a friend who’s been to Turkey, they made a huge tourist attraction of it, you know, horse and all… Lucky Suze, having trodden the paths of old… I wouldn’t care, actually, if there was nothing to be seen. To stand on that ground alone where Hector and Achilles fought, where Aeneas had his hour… oh that would be enough to fill in the blanks…

Went to Tintagel last year (basically we did an Arthur-tour, visiting many places from the legends, even found dosmary pool), and the experience was intense and rewarding. There is magic in life, indeed.

Randal, I know you said your piece was not to be a point-to-pointâ €¦ I just love to challenge you once in a while a bit. ;-)I mean that nicely, though, you know I do. And, ahem, I confess I’m not exactly a fan of Joyce. But I do love Tennyson… Ah, Tennyson…

Guys, grrrrrr, it’s even colder tonight. -21 C (how much is that in Fahrenheit?)… I need to stock up that hot chocolates and socks…. A little sympathy, please?

freezing, but kicking Jas
Randal
# Randal 2009-12-20 05:42
suze, didn't think there'd be much left of Troy (or Troy II or VIa or however many there are) besides an army of archaeologists with farmer's tans. ;-) But oh, to see those lands anyway.

Bevie, thanks! There's a kiddie version? Man, now I'm wishing that Shel Silverstein did one, that would've been groovy.

Jas, bah, go to Troy, nothing to see here besides Wal-Marts. 8-)

Please, challenge me, tell me when I'm full of shit, which is probably often! And I'm certainly with you on the Tennyson. And Swinburne, and Browning and a bunch of others who probably didn't rewrite ancient Greece either, ha!

-6°F or thereabouts? Which is, F-ING COLD. Stay warm!
Suze
# Suze 2009-12-21 04:31
Poor Jas, only -2ish here which is bad enough! Tintagel's awesome ... It's just down the road from my sister, fantasic place, just don't wear high heels!

Randal, there's loads of good stuff in Turkey ... Lots of Roman bits and bobs and Ephesus, which is well worth a look ... Parts of Istambul are straight out of Shehezerade too. You guys have given me itchy feet! ( probably an improvement on frozen feet, though ... :lol: )
Jasminka
# Jasminka 2009-12-21 11:24
Suze and Randal, thanks for the consoling words, they drove the cold away, well, a bit, it’s a few degrees warmer now….much obliged….

Randal, I’m not interested in Wal-Marts, so I don’t care how many of those will try to capture my attention… Initial plans were to take a road trip along the Pacific coast (don’t try to tell me that’s not beautiful), but our plans have changed. So, I’ll be going to the con in March (and, frankly, I’m so damn curious about the whole thing and I haven’t looked forward to do so crazy a thing for a long time) and then to the capital, visit a couple of friends and see the sights (my hotel is in walking distance from the Smithsonian and various libraries, come on!).

Challenges coming up, as soon as I deem them necessary, don’t worry… hehehe….

What, Suze, your sister lives nearby Tintagel?! Oh, sigh, I’m having a heart attack. It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve visited in a long time, and it’s magical (had an experience there I’d file under ‘paranormal†™).
And you’re right – it was wise to leave those heels at home… (how did you know I wear those, anyway?)

Couldn’t the writers think of some ancient Greek ghost or whatnot and send the brothers over the Atlantic to investigate? I bet Jared and Jensen would welcome the warm weather, the great food and all those nice folks… (just don’t go swimming, guys,… sharks,…)

The cold is slowly freezing away my brain cells, all I’m coming up is nonsense…. (btw: itchy feet are far better than frozen ones, believe me, right now I’m doing studies on the matter)

Crazy, Jas
Randal
# Randal 2009-12-21 13:31
Suze, freezing feet? That's what giant moon boots are for. ;-)

Ah, Sheherezade, always makes me think of Rimsky-Korsakov . I could listen to that all day.

Jas, don't worry, America has some lovely bits, but you know how it is when you live somewhere. Every place that isn't home always seems more exotic and magical.

Hmm, given that the apocalypse is planet wide, I'm sure Vancouver could easily pass for various European cities. Of course, they'd have to take the TGV instead of the Impala.
Supernarttu
# Supernarttu 2009-12-21 17:44
Krhm. Allow me to form my own intelligent quip:

WOW. 'nuff said :-)
Jasminka
# Jasminka 2009-12-21 18:20
Well, if the TGV comes in black... 8-)
Jasminka
# Jasminka 2009-12-21 18:29
Randal, you're right - other places than home often seem more exotic or magical... Now, I somehow couldn't accept that, so I found a couple of places that meet those qualities (here it's a Celtic grave mound and the five hundred year old oak growing next to it, and a moor where I like to go for a run) - when I wish to travel to Troy (since I've read your article again and again felt transported to an ancient world mingling with Midwestern US), but cannot, for whatever reasons, then the mind must provide opportunities - even if it was to cook a Turkish meal... well, who said you couldn't visit a place or time culinarily?
Thanks again for this article. I'm going to read HOmer again as soon as I have him unpacked (I know it's a sacrilege that he is still in some box, but, you know, working hours...)
:-) Jas
Hayley McCuan
# Hayley McCuan 2009-12-26 17:58
Hey, I 'm writing a report for school and I need to pick a t.v. or movie that relates to the Odyssey. I picked Supernatural as my choice-- and I need to write 3 ways on how it relates to the Odyssey.. so I was hoping you could help me out?? You know so much about them both.. obviously.
elenaM
# elenaM 2010-01-01 22:08
Even Dean's read the Odyssey! I hadn't, though-- til now. Another great article, Randal.