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<   No. 670   2004-11-26   >

Comic #670

1 {scene: a seaside dock in Athens}
1 Prof. Jones: Ah, to sail the Aegean! Following in the footsteps of Odysseus, Agamemnon, Menelaus, Achilles, Jason...
2 Prof. Jones: To cross the waters plied by the Argo, the fleets of Ithaca, and the traders of Phoenicia...
3 Prof. Jones: You can almost smell the weight of legend and history on these myth-steeped shores.
4 Sallah: I think that's the open air fish market just over there, Professor.

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Once again the background image is from morgueFile. This is indeed a Greek fishing port, but I'm not sure which one.

Odysseus, Agamemnon, Menelaus, and Achilles were all part of the combined Greek army that sailed to Troy to wage war on those nasty Trojans who stole Menelaus' wife Helen - the full tale of which is told in Homer's Iliad. Odysseus of course went on to wander the Aegean and much of the Mediterranean for ten years before managing to find his way home - a tale told in the Odyssey, proving that cashing in on a successful story by producing a sequel is not a modern idea.

Jason was another Greek hero, who was sent on a quest to retrieve the fabulous Golden Fleece by his evil uncle Pelias as a way to get rid of him. Jason assembled a group of heroes and set sail in the ship Argo. As is typical of Greek legends, he succeeded after many tribulations and returned to oversee the fitting death of his treacherous uncle.

2013-12-19 Rerun commentary: Imagine if the Iliad had been a modern movie production, and they decided to make a sequel. It'd be called Iliad 2: This Time it's Poseidonal.

It'd be a hit, but then followed by the much-reviled flop Iliad Resurrection.

(Lest you think this thing about sequels is entirely silly, there was actually an Ancient Greek sequel to the Odyssey, called the Telegony, following the adventures of Telegonus, the son of Odysseus and Circe - although the text of it has been lost.)

UPDATE: Matteo from Brussels writes:

I was reading your re-run comment of this strip and, being an historian by trade, I wanted to add something to it. Telegony is not the only sequel to Iliad and Odyssey. Homer's two epic poems actually created what in modern terms we might call a "fictional universe" (though it was regarded as actual history at the time) which spread throughout the Mediterranean, especially during the Hellenistic period, and these poems influenced many other writers.

The most famous of these later works is probably the Aeneid, written in Rome by the poet Virgil around 20 BC. It tells the story of Aeneas, a Trojan warrior who manages to escape the sack of his city and leads a band of refugees through the Mediterranean, landing eventually in central Italy. There, after a war with a local tribe, the Latins, he ends up founding Alba Longa, the city from which his descendant Romulus will one day set out to found Rome.

When the Aeneid was written, Rome had just come out of decades of civil strife that had ended with the accession to power of Octavius Augustus, Rome's first emperor. This work was part of a wider action to pacify the country by reinforcing Octavius' rule, as his gens (more or less the Roman equivalent of a clan), the Julii, claimed to descend directly from Aeneas. As Aeneas himself was the son of a mortal man, Anchises, and the goddess Aphrodite (Venus for the Romans), this meant that the Julii had divine blood in their veins.

The fact that the Romans decided to set their creation myth within the "Homerian Universe", i.e. in a setting that derives from a totally different country, one that they had actually conquered more than a century before, shows like nothing else can the power and influence that these works had.

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