Friday, August 16, 2019

Homer and Cain

I was teaching the Odyssey. Odysseus was with the Phaeacians, and the students were skeptical about him, and lively in expressing their skepticism. It was Odysseus as Trump: an ancient who’ll tell any lie to get what he wants and who always displaces blame.

I had forgotten to introduce the epithet πολύτροπος [polytropos], “of many twists and turns,” from the poem’s first line, so I asked the students to turn back to the beginning of the poem. I quoted Robert Fitzgerald’s version of the epithet, “skilled in all ways of contending,” but I couldn’t find the words on the page. This translation began with a long prose passage, with the first lines of poetry appearing at the bottom of the second page. Was I using something other than Fitzgerald?

The class was supposed to end at 11:50, and it was now 12:10. No matter. No one was knocking at the door to get in, and no one in class showed any urgency to leave. But I had to get to another class.

But first Fred MacMurray came up to talk to me. He wouldn’t be in my next class today because he had to study for a grammar test, after which he wanted to talk to me about his dissertation. “Sure. Come by my office after my class,” I told him.

I walked to my next class, a small seminar, carrying a tall stack of books that included Roland Barthes’s Mythologies (the older orange-covered paperback). I was teaching a James M. Cain novel in this class, but which one? My copy had a binder clip marking where we had left off the week before. I hadn’t looked at the book since then, and now I was surprised to see that we had only four or five pages left. How was I going to get a class’s worth of discussion from that? I looked at the text but still couldn’t figure out which Cain novel I was teaching. I didn’t think to look at the cover.

A group of older women walked in, single file, to observe the class. One woman was blind and held the shoulder of the woman in front of her. The women all took seats in a long row at a table against the far wall. They wore dark suits and white blouses with high collars. They looked like members of a women’s organization from the 1930s. I still hadn’t figured out what novel I was supposed to be teaching.

[Some sources for this dream: seeing Fred MacMurray in The Caine Mutiny, thinking about books as armor, seeing Dorothy Neumann in an episode of Lassie. This is the fifteenth teaching-related dream I’ve had since retiring. The others: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, and 14.]

comments: 2

zzi said...

Fred used to rent his clothes, that he wore on "My Three Sons", back to the studio, even his pipe! My friend's father worked on the show. He also brought a sack lunch with him to work.

Michael Leddy said...

No wonder TCM refers to his “notorious frugality.” If he shows up to discuss his dissertation, I’ll ask him about it. :)