Tag Archives: swineherd

“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?