Thursday, August 24, 2006

Doggie Stories Redux

They were onto me. The kids asked me, over and over again, to read the story of Balto the dog hero. Then they would giggle at me as my voice caught and I choked back my tears. I think my wife instigated this.

So, in revenge, I threw the most poignant dog story ever written at them. (Not Old Yeller, which in comparison seems insipid.) I made them listen as I read (and it took a long time because I kept choking up):
Thus they spoke to one another. And a hound that lay there raised his head and pricked up his ears, Argos, the hound of Odysseus, of the steadfast heart, whom of old he had himself bred, but had no joy of him, for ere that he went to sacred Ilios. In days past the young men were wont to take the hound to hunt the wild goats, and deer, and hares; but now he lay neglected, his master gone, in the deep dung of mules and cattle, which lay in heaps before the doors, till the slaves of Odysseus should take it away to dung his wide lands. There lay the hound Argos, full of vermin; yet even now, when he marked Odysseus standing near, he wagged his tail and dropped both his ears, but nearer to his master he had no longer strength to move. Then Odysseus looked aside and wiped away a tear, easily hiding from Eumaeus what he did; and straightway he questioned him, and said: “Eumaeus, verily it is strange that this hound lies here in the dung. He is fine of form, but I do not clearly know whether he has speed of foot to match this beauty or whether he is merely as table-dogs are, which their masters keep for show.” To him then, swineherd Eumaeus, didst thou make answer and say: “Aye, verily this is the hound of a man that has died in a far land. If he were but in form and in action such as he was when Odysseus left him and went to Troy, thou wouldest soon be amazed at seeing his speed and his strength. No creature that he started in the depths of the thick wood could escape him, and in tracking too he was keen of scent. But now he is in evil plight, and his master has perished far from his native land, and the heedless women give him no care. Slaves, when their masters lose their power, are no longer minded thereafter to do honest service: for Zeus, whose voice is borne afar, takes away half his worth from a man, when the day of slavery comes upon him.” So saying, he entered the stately house and went straight to the hall to join the company of the lordly wooers. But as for Argos, the fate of black death seized him straightway when he had seen Odysseus in the twentieth year.

My social worker mother might consider it child abuse, but a little Homer won't hurt you. If you have lost your Lattimore, forgotten your Fagles, or ton Pope es perdu you can find the complete text of the Illiad and the Odyssey and much else at the Perseus Digital Library.

You can torment your children with it now. But you can dream that in a few decades this stuff will come in handy and get them out of a jam. Then, you'll have an excuse to do your Sean Connery impression (from either Name of the Rose or Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade) and pronounce, "Your classical education serves you well."

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