“Of all Odysseus’ field hands in the old days
this forester cared most for the estate;
and now Odysseus found him
in a remote clearing, sitting inside the gate
of a stockade he built to keep the swine
while his great lord was gone.” Homer, Odyssey, Bk XIV
Eumaeus is a man whose herding of swine is an embodiment of his very manhood. Odysseus his lord has been gone for many years, leaving the estate vulnerable to the predation of the infamous suitors of Penelope. But Eumaus is a rock. He refrains from the injustices common during the absence of authority. And more, he is expanding the stockades for the swine. Odysseus’ swine. Absent in body, the master still has a place in the heart, and hands, of a faithful servant. Even so might a father remain present in his home, with his family, in his absence.
Accustomed to passing the seasons with his pigs, scanning trees and forest floor for their forage, Eumaeus finds consolation in his work. Hard, honest, close to the earth, such work ties him to master and home. If and when the great lord returns, he will find a thriving herd of swine providing nourishment for rich and poor alike, as it always has. And he will find Eumaeus keeping faith, by keeping swine.
Note: This week commences several weeks of reflections upon the story of Eumaeus, the swineherd of the Odyssey.
Homer (8th century B.C.) is the great epic poet, author of the Iliad and the Odyssey.
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