In Homer’s Odyssey, when the hero Odysseus had to fight the Cyclops Polyphemus by putting out his eye, he first introduced himself by the pseudonym, “Nobody.” So, when Polyphemus cried out in pain to the other Cyclopses that “Nobody” was trying to kill him, they thought Polyphemus had been afflicted by a divine power and, instead of helping him, recommended prayer as the answer. Twenty-eight hundred years or so since the creation of The Odyssey, Homer scholars are debating whether Homer himself may have also been a Nobody. Was he just one artist or a collaboration of contributors, tuning over time a literary language via oral transmission? These days, most agree that Homer is probably not a singular, blind genius hailing from the coast of what is now present-day Turkey. Standing at his tomb on the island of Ios in the middle of the Cyclades, Nobody feels like an epic somebody.
Peter and I had growled up a dusty mountainside on our 200cc quad, hair-pinning until the path narrowed, where we jumped off to climb higher on foot. Eventually, alone in the wind, we summitted to a small, almost concealed stack of marble blocks. I’d read that centuries ago these low stone walls and their ancient, hillside terraces were lushly cultivated and populated as in the lower valleys — now all but abandoned save for a smattering of goats. A monastery, now a pile of rubble, stood nearby. Today, Ios is asleep, summer hoardes have gone, and we are left to straggle in the October wind.
Homer’s cairn is perched humbly before a staggering backdrop of tumbling cliff edge and smashing surf below. All around, previous Homerians, tourists and Nobodies had each erected an obos — a small, loose rock pile that can be toppled and rebuilt, made from the shards of quartz that make up the mountain’s shambled form. In the hundreds now, the obos ramble like a listening crowd, dotting the pathways, reaching out to the edges and down the hill. Here is a collection transforming, designed by the anonymous and waiting in nature’s amphitheatre for a silent reading in the wind.
PS: “My name is Nobody.” (Homer, The Odyssey)
Esoterica: As Odysseus escaped from the island of Cyclops, in an act of hubris he shouted his real name back at Polyphemus, now blind from having his eye poked out. Polyphemus, in a fit of rage, prayed for revenge and hurled rocks at the ship. Odysseus barely got away. When debating the Homeric Question, scholars suggest that “Homer” might be best seen as a label for an entire tradition. In turn, Homer’s name for his inhospitable Cyclops “Polyphemus” means “abounding in songs and legends.” And, though the etymology of the name “Homer” is unknown, it’s been linked to the Greek word for “hostage” and also “going with a companion.” Harvard professor of Classics and Homer specialist Gregory Nagy interprets the name as “he who fits the song together.”
“The journey is the thing.” (Homer)
Take a winter break! Join me, Hermann Brandt for one or both of these retreat/workshops in sunny Mexico.
Casa Buena is a gorgeous art retreat center, right on the ocean. Jane Romanishko is a fabulous host and goes above and beyond to make sure you have a fantastic time. Included: Most art materials, meals, accommodation, a jungle-river boat trip and several sightseeing ventures. For beginner to intermediate level artists. Figure drawing (Feb 14-21) – from life; nude model. Plein air (Feb 21-28) – beach scenes, fishing villages and surrounding hills. I look forward to sharing a time of fun and learning.