Homeric Moms–A Mother’s Day “Appreciation”

Posted on May 22nd, 2008 by

What better way to appreciate and support mothers on Mother’s Day than to reduce all maternal identities and behaviors into two universalizing and demeaning stereotypes–and to back it up with some Homer!

Classic Moms
The meddler and the martyr. That’s what Achilles and Odysseus had to deal with.

On Achilles’ mother Thetis, who lobbies Zeus on behalf of her son and helps to secure his future glory:

consider Thetis only as Achilles’ mother — the meddling type who has difficulty cutting the apron strings. First, worried that her precious boy has been sullied by mortal blood, she tries to render her infant son immortal by dipping him either into the water of the River Styx or into fire, depending on which myth you prefer. Either way, she holds him by the heel, which doesn’t get the treatment; hence Achilles’ weak heel.

But she’s not done trying to manipulate her son. A prophecy states that if he fights at Troy, Achilles will gain renown but also surely perish. Thetis tries to keep him away from the war by dressing him as a girl. Yes, Achilles’ mother turns her warrior son into the Cpl. Klinger of Bronze Age Greece, 3,000 years before “MASH.” Thetis fails in her endeavors, and Achilles spends part of his life impersonating a woman and then dies young.

Nevermind the fact that Thetis helps Achilles attain immortal fame by lobbying Zeus on his behalf–the only part of the Achilles story that’s actually portrayed in the Iliad.

Apparently Odysseus’ mother Antikleia exists solely to make her son feel bad:

Anticleia, falls, unlike Thetis, in the martyr camp. In one of his lesser-known episodes, Odysseus ventures to the land of the dead to consult an inconveniently deceased prophet. While there, he runs into a great many famous people, including … Anticleia!

…it turns out that in his long absence his mother has died — from grief, missing him: “It was my longing for you, my shining Odysseus … that tore away my life that had been sweet.” A thousand guilt-inducing-mother jokes leap to mind: “No, no, Mr. Big Shot, you go out and have your war, fight your giants, you’re very important: I’ll just stay home alone and die!”

It’s hilarious and perfect, especially because immediately after comes the heartbreak: Odysseus, “desperate to hold her,” tries to embrace his mother three times — and each time her phantasmal form “fluttered through my fingers … dissolving like a dream.” He pretty much hurries home to his wife after that.

Goodness, that *is* hilarious. Apparently it’s not important that Odysseus’ encounter with his mother reaffirms that he even has a wife and home to go back to.

You can read the whole thing here.


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