Short summary - Return to Ithaca (Strändernas svall) - Eyvind Johnson

Scandinavian literature summaries - 2023

Short summary - Return to Ithaca (Strändernas svall)
Eyvind Johnson

Ten years after the end of the Trojan War. The messenger of the gods Hermes arrives on the island of the nymph Calypso, where Odysseus has been living for seven years now, with a report and instructions: The time has come for the Wanderer to return home and put things in order there. But Odysseus does not aspire to Ithaca, for he understands that he will again be forced to kill, and he has always been not so much a king and a warrior as a plowman. He was forced to leave his homeland and take part in the war of conquest launched by the Olympians in order to show that war is also a “deity” that requires sacrifice. And Odysseus sacrificed Troy, leaving for the war only to return as soon as possible. But now the Wanderer is simply afraid to feel the passage of time again, which you do not feel here, at Calypso. Maybe he was her prisoner, although he never tried to leave. Nevertheless, he has no choice: he must obey the will of the gods.

... And in Ithaca in recent years, riots have really been going on. The suitors of Penelope, who founded the Progress Party, wanting to seize the fortune and power of the Long-Absent King, tried to force the Spouse to consent to the marriage, convincing her that she was ruined. But Penelope nevertheless remained a wealthy woman. Eurycleia, Odysseus's nurse, the ubiquitous old woman, kept going to the mainland, where she traded herself or through nominees. There was an economic and political struggle on the island. The wife was playing for time: at first, Eurycleia advised her to spin all the available wool (this dragged on for several years), and then, when the grooms cut off the supplies, proceed to the fabric of the funeral cover for the father-in-law, rumors about whose illness were spread by the same old woman.

The time of the Wanderer's departure draws near. He would leave the place where he had tasted peace and go into the unknown, into a world that must have changed too much in the past twenty years. Again to the war, which is so sweet to the gods, who do not want to see the human race as sublime and tender, doing everything to bring out "a breed of people where men hastily lighten heavy flesh, a breed of men who do not have time to rest on a woman's chest."

... The Wife's political tricks were not liked by the Son, who in many ways was still a boy, naive and straightforward. Telemachus subconsciously felt that his mother. A middle-aged woman who has already made her choice and that when the Long Expectant thinks of young men who want her, her shuttle runs faster ...

On the last night at the Nymph's, the Stranger tells her about what he had experienced. No, not to him, but to a man named Utis - Nobody. About how his companions mistook ordinary girls for sirens, and whirlpools for monsters, how, having drunk strong wine on the island of Kirki, they behaved like pigs ... And also about the fact that he is haunted by memories of the murder of Hector's son Astyanax. Can't remember who did it. Odysseus tries to convince himself that it was not him, but the war.

...Weaving continued for a long time. And the middle-aged woman yearned rather not for her Spouse, but for men in general. She didn't know if being strong meant waiting or taking care of her own life? Then she had to (at the prompt of Eurycleia) gradually dissolve the canvas, not deceiving, but "pursuing a policy." The grooms found out about everything before they officially announced it: they were not averse to using other people's good. But anyway, the Weave ploy was exposed, and Penelope was forced to promise to choose a new husband in a month. Memories do not let go of Odysseus: he thinks too often about Troy, about the War and about the descent into Hades, which he saw in delirium. Then the soothsayer Tiresias told the Stranger that he would return home knee-deep in blood, when there would no longer be a desire to return. And Odysseus will be unhappy until he finds people in the west who do not know the sea and war. Then, perhaps, he will become the first man of a new breed, and happiness will smile upon him.

Meanwhile, on the advice of a certain Mentes, Telemachus decides to go to Nestor and Menelaus to find out something about his father and prove to everyone that he himself has already grown up. An attempt to officially achieve this fails: the Progress Party easily manages to dissolve the People's Assembly. The son has to go to Pylos in secret.

The voyage of Odysseus starts off well. But soon a storm, the wrath of Poseidon, falls upon him. The Stranger spends several days in raging waves until he comes ashore. "I am a man away from the sea, I live."

Pylos and his ruler Nestor deceive Telemachus' expectations. The young man expected to see a mighty hero, but he meets a talkative old drunkard. Confused in his thoughts, he begins his memoirs with the words: “Well, at first, of course, we killed the children ...” Nestor did not say anything definite about Odysseus.

The exhausted, hungry Wanderer finds himself in the lands of the Phaeacians, where he is found by the princess Navzikaya, a young girl dreaming of her Only true hero. "...Real heroes are noble gentlemen, they don't kill children..." The Theacian king receives Odysseus as a welcome guest, and he gets the opportunity to rest a bit. But even here he continues to remember Astyanax, who was killed by the War. “I was in the War. But War is not me."

The fact that Telemachus has left becomes known to the Progress Party, and the suitors decide to remove the Son as an unnecessary obstacle to power over Ithaca (and then over the rest of the lands) as soon as possible. The spy informs Penelope about the suitors' plan, and Eurycleia immediately sends him to the mainland to warn Telemachus of the danger.

Meanwhile, at a feast held by Tsar Alcinous, the Stranger reveals his real name: partly true, partly simulated excitement at the sound of a song about the Trojan War betrays him. Then he tells everyone about his wanderings, transforming them not in the main, but in the details. In order to be believed, he creates a legend shrouded in a halo of divinity: a volcano turns into a cyclops, strong wine into a magical drink, whirlpools into bloodthirsty monsters... Odysseus wants the Phaeacians to help him return to his homeland. Maybe he would have stayed here, married Navzikai, but it's too late. He will return to Ithaca and fulfill the role of the executioner prepared for him.

The first person Odysseus meets when he gets home is the chief swineherd Eumeus. Pretending that he did not recognize the King, he says that Odysseus, once again setting foot on the land of Ithaca, will still not return from the war, for he will start it again. He has no choice, because he is just a prisoner of the funny, playing gods, which the people themselves came up with. Blood will flood not only the small island of Odysseus, but all other countries. But probably. The king of Ithaca, by taking away power from the suitors and dividing it among many citizens, will be able to lay the foundation for a new kingdom of man, when people themselves understand who they are and what they should do. And then the power of the gods will no longer be able to draw them into a new war.

Returning from his unsuccessful journey (Menelaus also did not say anything new and did not provide significant assistance), Telemachus meets his father, but does not recognize him: the man he saw did not look like his dreams of a Father, a Hero and a Protector. And Odysseus, having revealed his secret to his son, understands that the family will accept him, maybe they will recognize his body, but never himself.

Disguised as a beggar, the Stranger enters his house. Despite the constant insults of the suitors, it still seems to him that there is no need to kill them all and many can be spared... Unrecognized, he talks to his wife and realizes that he has returned too late: Penelope will marry her from twenty years of waiting, anxiety and longing.

According to the conceived plan for the extermination of suitors, Telemachus announces that his mother will become the wife of the one who can shoot an arrow from Odysseus's bow through the rings of twelve axes. Grooms cannot do this. They try to turn everything into a joke and, mocking Telemachus and the supposedly dead Odysseus, confirm their death sentence one by one. If the Stranger could have left even one of them alive, he would have said to himself that, disregarding the divine command, he managed to save Astyanax. But he came to kill. I took the bow. Odysseus begins his mission.

And he kills them all. Subsequently, the rumor exaggerated the number of victims of this massacre by almost five times. In fact, there were no more than twenty of them. A doll in the hands of the gods, the personification of war, Odysseus destroys the world for many years, shedding blood under the moans of a giving birth slave, coming from the servants' quarters. And Penelope is crying in her room, realizing that no one needs a fragment of the war deprived her of freedom of choice and the right to happiness ...

When, along with the grooms, the slaves, their former lovers, are also destroyed, Odysseus learns that they also want to remove the woman who has given birth and her child from the "world of those who are pure." This decision provokes a protest in the Stranger, because not a single child in this world has done and will not harm him. But it's' too late. Besides, he has no time to think about it: he must go on his journey, a far journey to the west. However, the wise old Eurycleia, with a devoted smile, stops him: “The journey is over, my child, the ships are pulled ashore for the winter. I've prepared a bath for you, my beloved master..."