Autumn 2013

Autumn 2013

Sunday, October 14, 2012

A Smart Cookie

Hello, everybody, and welcome again to the Apple Basket. This week, I have an actual Apple of the Week for you! I realised that it has been way too long; there have been slivers and bits, but not a proper Apple. But fear not, it’s coming! After all, it is my duty to provide health, strength, and longevity to all :o)
I will also give you, of course, an update on the Knitting and some musings on dyeing. I am desperately trying to get as much dyeing done as I can, before winter sets in and my workshop freezes over. Well, gets too cold for comfort, anyway.

I have mentioned before that I listen to the CraftLit podcast with the fabulous Heather Ordover – I am continually amazed at the amount of work that she does: teaching, home schooling, writing, researching, podcasting, knitting, spinning, weaving, dyeing, ... Wow. Anyway, I have lived under a rock until – well, pretty much until I discovered Ravelry and through that a whole new world of crafting-related activity, not least podcasts. So, in May this year (I think) I started listening to CraftLit, ‘the podcast for crafters who like books’, from the very beginning in 2006 – because greedy me wants All. The. Books. With Heather’s commentary, too. This podcast is brilliant.
This week, I finished listening to Tristan and Isolde, the Medieval romance of star-crossed lovers. Very sad, very tragic. But also very reminiscent of the Odyssey: the whole oral story-telling tradition, the travelling and monster-fighting hero – and, as Heather points out, the heroine who is ‘a smart cookie’. Towards the end of the story, Tristan returns home in disguise (like Odysseus, by the by), and Isolde pulls off some very clever scheming to keep Tristan – and herself – from being killed.
And I, of course, being a classicist, had to note that there is a precedent for this female cleverness and guile: Penelope, the wife of Odysseus. Now, Odysseus is famous for being clever, wily, and always able to sweet-talk himself into and out of all sorts of trouble. But his wife is his match, make no mistake about that. She is crafty. There are several instances of this in the Odyssey; I will give you one this week and another one next week.

The Apple of the Week:

We all know the basic storyline, right? Odysseus goes off to Troy, leaving his wife and newborn son behind. After ten years of war, he sets out on his journey back home – which also ends up taking ten years, mainly because he gets on the wrong side of Poseidon by blinding his son, the Cyclops. And having the god of the seas as your enemy can seriously hamper your sailing. So Odysseus and his men are blown off course, meet various monsters, giants, and sorceresses, suffer shipwreck and hardships, until finally only Odysseus himself is left.
We may note here that he left Troy with twelve ships, each crewed by 50 men. Not an outstanding record for an officer, losing 600 men on the way. But, we can blame the gods. Or Fate.
Anyway, after the final shipwreck, Odysseus is rescued by the goddess Kalypso, who keeps him on her island for seven years (so much for ‘toiling on the seas’ for ten years!) and would have kept him forever as her immortal husband, had Zeus allowed it. Or Fate. But no, Odysseus is supposed to go home. So, off he goes again in a little boat, suffers shipwreck – or boatwreck, in this case – is rescued by a princess, tells his tale to the court on her island and is sent off home laden with gifts.
Back on Ithaka, he is reunited with his son, disguises himself – with the help of Athene – as an old beggar, and sneaks into his ... well, palace is too grand a word ... homestead to kill off all the suitors who are competing to marry his wife. He wins the battle, obviously – with the help of Athene – and is reunited with Penelope. A happy ending for a great hero.

I know this is a very quick and somewhat flippant telling of the tale. Bear with me, please: even attempting to give a comprehensive analysis would keep us here all week. And if you don’t know the story and the above is all gibberish: go read it! Seriously, this is a great story in itself, apart from being the inspiration for lots of later stories and literature; this is one of the founding tales of European mental history. So read the book.

Meanwhile, Penelope is left at home to manage the household and to bring up their son, not knowing when or, indeed, if her husband is coming back. Ten years pass, and news of the end of the Trojan war reach even the remote island. But no Odysseus. And in these days long before Skype or facebook or even a reliable postal service, news only travel with sailors and merchants who may happen to have heard some third or fourth-hand rumour. So still, she knows nothing of his fate, and still, she waits, patiently and loyally.
After a further six years, the local nobles decide that the chief ought to have been back by now, if he is coming back at all, so they begin to move in on the assumed widow. This is not only, and not even mainly, because she is a good-looking woman (though she is: all high-born individuals are good-looking) – they want Odysseus’ title, his power and position.
Penelope does not want to marry again; her heart belongs to Odysseus, her home is Odysseus’, she has her son and her life here, and re-marrying would mean not only getting a new husband, but having to move to a new house, a new set of in-laws and rules, a new position. As Odysseus’ wife, she is at the top of the social order – and being left to take care of everything for so many years means that she is also left to make the decisions and run the place. And she is not stupid: she is very capable of managing.
So, she does what she can to keep the suitors at bay. She tells them that, before she can leave the house of Odysseus, she feels obliged to weave a shroud for her father-in-law. Now Laërtes, the father of Odysseus, is not dead yet, but he is liable to die at some point in the not too distant future; he is old, weighed down by the prolonged absence of his son and the sorrow of his wife’s death (Odysseus’ mother died from the grief of missing him) and has taken to living in a little cottage in the country instead of reclaiming his place as head of the household, while Odysseus is away.
Anyway, Penelope claims this filial responsibility, which the suitors cannot argue with – she is a dutiful woman, which in and of itself is part of her merits. And Penelope weaves: every day, she weaves a length of the shroud – and every night, she unpicks her work so as to not finish it. She keeps this up for three years. Yes, you heard me: three whole years of weaving and unpicking, before one of her maids gives away the game and her ruse is exposed.

I have a few comments here as to how this can be: either these suitors are exceptionally dumb, which they are not; or they know nothing whatsoever about weaving and how long it is supposed to take, which on a practical level seems unlikely, given that all of them have grown up with mothers and sisters and maids who did these things; or they are blinded by some divine intervention and so incapable of judging the passage of time in correlation to the weaving. This seems more probable: the suitors are repeatedly described as being hubristic, and in the latter part of the narrative, Athene at one point forces them to laugh until their jaws nearly break, thus condemning themselves further.

The important thing to remember here is that this divine blinding of the suitors does not in any way detract from the value of Penelope’s ruse. The Greek gods of the Odyssey help those who are worthy of it, those who help themselves. It may be useful to regard the gods as manifestations of inner traits and skills; so that when we are told of Athene putting an idea into somebody’s heart (these people think with their hearts; the notion of the brain being responsible for anything comes centuries later), we may view Athene as a personification of that person’s reason or wisdom.
The same goes for the role of Fate: sometimes we are told that something is foretold or fated – like the homecoming of Odysseus and the killing of the suitors – but at the same time, the suitors are still guilty of wrongdoing. They deserve their fate; the foretelling of some event or other is no excuse.

As for the maids: we are told at one point that Odysseus’ household has 50 maids, 12 of which are ‘unfaithful’, i.e. sleeping with – or being raped by, Bronze Age mentality doesn’t really distinguish – the suitors. The numbers themselves are obviously not to be taken at face value: 50 means ‘many’ and twelve is a much used number for a band of people.
We may imagine that relations are formed between some maids and some suitors or their people, over the nearly four years of presence in Odysseus’ house, and that the betrayal of Penelope’s secret is pillow talk.
‘But they are wooing Penelope!’ I hear you cry. ‘How can they be sleeping with other women?!’ Well, Bronze Age mentality again: a man has his needs – and they are obviously not being met by Penelope. Odysseus is getting something, too, out there; remember Kalypso who wanted to keep him? And before that seven-year ‘indenture’, he and the at-that-point-remaining men of his crew hung out with the sorceress Kirke for a year.  Ancient sexual morality is a case of double standards, if there ever was one. Penelope was hailed all through antiquity for being the ultimate Good Wife, for waiting faithfully and chastely, until her lawfully wedded husband came back to her.
Of course, there are practical reasons behind this morality (even though we can and should argue with those, as well): the society was patriarchal; inheritance of property, fortune, position etc went from father to son – and the only way of being sure about who is the father of whom is to control the sexuality of the womenfolk. It has been this way from the invention of social hierarchy until – well, the invention of birth control. It would be so much easier to let inheritance work through the female line. After all, there is seldom any doubt as to who the mother of a child is, right?
But I digress.
With her weaving ruse exposed, Penelope is pushed to make a choice between her suitors ... and that will be our topic next week.

But now to something completely different –

The Knitting:

I have finished a couple of things since last week:
The Watson socks for Victor! He is wearing them at this very moment, and they look so much better on his feet than while they were flat. I made a few changes to the pattern – all recorded in my project notes on Ravelry. I reversed the cables on one side of the foot to mirror the others; it was either that or reverse all the cables on one sock so that the socks would mirror each other. What can I say, I’m particular about those things. Also, I made fewer increases in the gusset and decreased a few stitches above the heel, all to avoid the sock growing too large.

Everything turned out fine in the end, with not too much Second Sock Syndrome along the way. SSS usually hits me when I’m just over halfway done on the first sock, after the heel: I still have a ways to go on either the foot or the leg, depending on the direction – and there is a whole other sock to do after that.
But I suppose this is just a variant of my regular getting-bored-with-a-project-after-a-while. There comes a point in every project – for me, at least – when the initial excitement is wearing off, and there is still a long way to go before it begins to resemble something that might actually be something. If it has a stitch pattern, I’m thinking ‘I know this repeat already, give me something new! A new colour, increases or, even better, decreases, anything!’
This is one reason I always have multiple projects on the needles, so I can put the temporarily boring thing down and do something else. I am no Penelope ... no, wrong analogy; that would be more like letting a wip hibernate and not knit for a very long time. Shudder.

Anyway, I also finished my Hitchhiker – and I love it! It has just the right size for a scarf, and the ends stay where they are supposed to, when I wear it ‘cowboy-style’. I don’t know if it’s the slight curve on the hypotenuse that does it, but the ends hang down in front and don’t stray to the back or anything. Great.

I decided to make one for my mum for Christmas. I know, I said I was going to do the Wisteria Arbor shawl ... let this be a lesson to you: do not ever believe I have finished changing my mind and am actually going to do what I say I’m going to do, until I am doing it. There is reasoning behind this decision; there has to be, I have to explain to myself that it is not a cop-out to knit a garter scarf instead of a lace shawl ... so A: I made her a Haruni for her birthday in June, so I’ve done the lace thing, and B: the denser fabric is better for winter. I have actually cast on and knit 4 teeth, so you can safely believe in this project; I’m beading the tips to add a bit of interest, both in the making and in the wearing.

And I cast on the owls! After some measuring and swatching and counting and calculating, I’m doing a top-down, sleeveless version. That way, I’m sure to have enough yarn – if I run a bit short, the vest will be a bit short, but so am I, so that’s okay :o) And the owls are so cute ...

The dyeing is happening – so far; I am feeling the cold out there today, squeezing water out of skeins that have soaked overnight ... I want to get as much as possible done now, before winter sets in.
And I want to play with colours and colour combinations; but I can easily dye much more than I can knit with, and I can’t really justify the expense in it – after all, I wouldn’t go out and just buy 10 skeins of sock yarn for no reason. 
So, I’m toying with thoughts of selling hand-dyed yarns: that way, I can enjoy the process without adding hugely to my stash or going broke.
I don’t want to be one of those people who ‘dye three skeins of yarn and open an Etsy shop,’ as someone put it; but I think I’ll try it out. If I can get the habit to support itself, that’s fine. If not, I’ll have to cut back, at least until I’ve learnt some more.
Anywho, I’ll let you know how it goes ...

That’s all for this week – thank you so much for stopping by once again, and I hope you have a great week!
My boys are home from school next week, so we are already relaxing and watching Firefly; I will be going to a new-to-me knitting group on Thursday – and hopefully, the weather will behave, so we can get a few of those glorious, shining autumn days when the sun lights up the trees in their multitudes of colours against a deep blue sky ...

Take care, and Happy Knitting!

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