When it comes to being a friend, Odysseus is just about as loyal as any dude you'll ever meet. But forcing his entire crew to backtrack so they can bury a guy who got drunk and fell off a roof? Well everyone has his limits. In "Canto I," we never actually find out how Odysseus responds to Elpenor's test of loyalty but we do know that the guy has other loyalties that compete with this one: his loyalty to his family, for example. What kind of dad and husband would he be if he went gallivanting around and burying people instead of getting back home? It's a tough call to say what's right in this situation, and that's what makes it so interesting. Loyalty can be a tough thing to negotiate.
Questions About Loyalty
- What would you do in Odysseus' situation, with respect to Elpenor? Would you risk your life to save someone from the curse of living in the underworld, or would you totally be like "Too bad, dude" and sail home to your family?
- Why do you think Odysseus behaves more loyally to the blind prophet Tiresias than he does to his own mother? What evidence from the text supports your answer?
- How "loyally" do you think Ezra Pound translates his version of Homer's poetry? Is it more loyal to try and translate something word for word, or is it more loyal to figure out the "spirit" of the original and try to recreate it using your imagination?
Chew on This
Ezra Pound talks a lot about loyalty in "Canto I," but he shows absolutely no loyalty to his idol Homer when he totally rewrites part of The Odyssey on his own terms. Harsh.
For Pound, there is no human quality more important to loyalty, and this is something he confronts us with by bringing the character Elpenor into "Canto I." (And you thought he was just there to pad the dialogue.)