Another look at “winged words”

27 Sep

Sentence summary: In book IX, Odysseus recounts his tale of blinding the one-eyed monster Polyphemos with his wit to the Phaeacians over dinner.

Paragraph summary:  After Odysseus blinds Polyphemos, he tells the monster his name is “Nobody.”  Polyphemos yells to his companions that “Nobody” is hurting him.  Confused why someone is getting hurt by no one would yell for help, Polyphemos’ fellow Cyclopes leave him in agony.

Close reading:

“So then the others speaking in winged words gave him an answer:” (book IX line 409)

We talked about winged words in class on Monday, so when I continued reading and saw the term “winged words” in book IX, it really stood out to me.  I was curious about the term, and wondered if it was one of those terms, like “rosy fingers of Dawn,” that is repeated a lot.  Sure enough, I found a source that said between The Iliad and The Odyssey “winged words” is used 124 times.  Since it is repeated so much it has to be important, so I wanted to look closer into its meaning and use.

From the word winged alone, it brings to mind birds and flight.  The words are flying, almost leaping, from one person’s mouth to the other person’s ears.  This does give the words some sense of urgency—they are moving and quick.

The quotation I pulled is from when Polyphemos is crying about being blinded to the other Cyclopes, and says that “Nobody” is killing him (Odysseus’s clever trick).  The Cyclopes are confused—why cry when no one is hurting you?  They ask him this in “winged words.”  Now, we can associate some sort of confusion with “winged words,” because the Cyclopes use them when they are confused.  The term takes on an inquisitive nature.  The term pops up again, when Odysseus is with Circe.  She addressing him with “winged words” when she asks him why he is not happy staying with her (book X, line 377).  Again, she is questioning him, which supports that there is an inquisitive connotation with the word “winged.”  I noticed the term yet again, when Odysseus is in Hades talking to his mother.  She asks him in “winged words” how he can be in Hades talking to her, yet alive at the same time (book XI, line 154).  She is confused at how this is possible.  Each time, “winged words” is used by a person in a state of confusion or curiosity.  They are all asking questions with “winged words.”

Now, if we can accept from these examples that “winged words” has an inquisitive nature, let’s take it back to the example of Telemachos inviting Athene in using “winged words” in book I.  Telemachos uses “winged words” because he is curious who is at the door, and why they are there.  Every day the same suitors come to try to court his mother and take over his home, but today there is someone new at the door.  He was curious who they were and what they were doing there.

Now, I have trouble connecting “confused” or “curious” with “winged.”  I have the examples that show that “winged” is often used when the person speaking is questioning something or confused about a situation.  However, how can we link “winged” with “confused”?  I don’t know that I have the answer, but I can try.  Going along with the bird motif, I picture a flock of birds taking off.  They are all neatly sitting in a tree or on the beach when they decide to take off.  As they take off, there is this explosion-like effect of birds taking off before they get into alignment in the sky.  The take-off has kind of a sense of pandemonium.  There is confusion in such pandemonium.  That is the connection I can make between birds in flight and a state of confusion.

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One Response to “Another look at “winged words””

  1. E. L. McCallum September 28, 2011 at 9:18 pm #

    This is on track as a close reading to examine a number of different places where this phrase occurs. You should, however, cite any outside sources that you use (just footnote or put at the end of your entry). The connection with birds is good, and specifically I like the way you use the bird idea to connect “winged words” to confusion. But this invites us to look at other ways in which bird or birdy ideas operate in the text….

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