“Eumaeos is a shrine herder.”

My student is writing about The Odyssey.

Eumaeus (the more standard transliteration of this Greek name) is the aged swineherd whose cottage is Odysseus’ first stop upon reaching home, Ithaca, after the Trojan War and his long return voyage. When Odysseus was a young man he spent a lot of time with this humble but big-hearted servant and, we assume, the swine. (If British literature is to be trusted, this fondness for visiting pigs has continued, at least into the twentieth century, with the country gentlemen of England.) Approaching the cottage, Odysseus first encounters the swineherd’s dog, who recognizes him through his beggar disguise and his twenty added years, licks his hand, and then dies, of old age and, presumably, happiness. This is, I confess, the only moment in The Odyssey that makes me cry every time.

But back to Eumaeus. His sight has dimmed, and years of human experience have persuaded him not to expect miracles, but eventually he believes it really is Odysseus returned, and he pledges his service in his king’s effort to reclaim home, wife, and kingdom.

Anyway. Eumaeus is a swine herder.

Did my student read the text, or was he relying on what he merely heard in class?

Had he never heard the word “swine”? If not, he could have asked, or looked it up. Assuming “shrine” was intended marks him as a student with a very strange sense of the world, indeed—or else someone who actually thinks pigs are “shrine” and can’t get his mind around Lourdes.…

At the risk of seeming irreverent, which is not my intention, I present to you a gathering of shrines and swine.

I presume all were herded onto this page by Eumaeus.

If my student were to go back to grade school, he might be asked by his teacher to “find the one that is different.” Do you think he could do it?

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About RAB

Teacher of English writing and literature (college-level); academic-freedom activist; editor and copy editor; theater director, costumer, actress, playwright. View all posts by RAB

9 responses to ““Eumaeos is a shrine herder.”

  • Mary Jane Schaefer

    I have this “thing” about death. I really hate it. I have told my husband, several times, that I think the only decent way to die is while saving someone you love. (He argues that you would die in the process of trying to save someone you love. But you’d never know. Well, perhaps, but. . .) It has just now occurred to me that to die from happiness might also be really really acceptable. I think of that wonderful moment in “The Royal Family,” when Grandma says (spoiler alert), “Oh, I am so happy” and falls down dead.

  • philosophermouseofthehedge

    Maybe the author thought it was like clipping grocery store coupons…you know, collect shrines and get bonuses when you check out at the end?
    Swine herders might have enough spare time to do that as they wandered around after their charges?
    Heard something like that….
    Hilarious post as always.

  • RAB

    If Eumaeus collected shrines, that would make him a shrine hoarder, no?

  • RAB

    While we’re punning, I suddenly wondered if someday, honor insulted by some knave, my student might slap said knave across the face and say “Take that, you shrine!”

  • Helen Baumgartner

    This would be a good one to prequalify voters. —

  • Delft

    There well may be shrine herders: at least in my experience shrines do tend to congregate in particular areas.
    I’m not sure about the role of the dog, though. Sheepdogs, yes. Shrinedogs or swinedogs, no. There is the German Schweinehund but that’s quite a different kettle of fish.

  • Book – The Odyssey by Homer « Raymond M. Towers

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