The Holidays: Cowboys, Coffee, and Wily Odysseus

The best thing I’m likely to read today:

The immediate (practical purpose of drinking a cup of coffee is to wash the biscuit down. Its proximate (ethical) purpose is the intimate communion of, say, cowboys (they do exist; Will James was right!) standing around the sullen campfire in a drenching rain, water curling off Stetsons, over slickers, splashing on the rowels of spurs, as they draw the bitter liquid down their several throats into the single moral belly of their comradeship. The remote (political) purpose of coffee at the campfire, is the making of Americans—born on the frontier, free, frank, friendly, touchy about honor, despisers of fences, lovers of horses, worshipers of eagles and women.… The ultimate purpose is spiritual. For a boy to drink a can of coffee with cowboys in the rain is, as Odysseus said* of Alcinous’s banquet, something like perfection.

– John Senior, “The Restoration of Innocence”
(quoted in Fr. Francis Bethel’s (Prior of Clear Creek Abbey) new book, John Senior and the Restoration of Realism)
[* This line is often translated “something like perfection”, but that’s not the right image (as much as I’d like it to be). Still, what Homer gives us is, as usual, something like perfection. Here’s what Odysseus said:
Lord Alcinous, renowned of all hosts of men,
This here, indeed is a fine thing, to hear a bard,
Such as this one is here, like the gods in voice.
For I at least say that there is nothing more delightful
Than when joy holds through a whole people,
And in feasting they listen throughout the house to a bard
Sitting in rows, and tables nearby are full
Of bread and meats, and drawing wine from the bowl
The cupbearer brings it and pours it into the cups;
This, to my mind, seems to be the finest thing.
(translation mine)
Ἀλκίνοε κρεῖον, πάντων ἀριδείκετε λαῶν,
ἦ τοι μὲν τόδε καλὸν ἀκουέμεν ἐστὶν ἀοιδοῦ
τοιοῦδ’ οἷος ὅδ’ ἐστί, θεοῖς ἐναλίγκιος αὐδήν.
οὐ γὰρ ἐγώ γέ τί φημι τέλος χαριέστερον εἶναι
ἢ ὅτ’ ἐυφροσύνη μὲν ἔχῃ κάτα δῆμον ἅπαντα,
δαιτυμόνες δ’ ἀνὰ δώματ’ ἀκουάζωνται ἀοιδοῦ
ἥμενοι ἑξείης, παρὰ δὲ πλήθωσι τράπεζαι
σίτου καὶ κρειῶν, μέθυ δ’ ἐκ κρητῆρος ἀφύσσων
οἰνοχόος φορέῃσι καὶ ἐγχείῃ δεπάεσσι·
τοῦτό τί μοι κάλλιστον ἐνὶ φρεσὶν εἴδεται εἶναι.
Odyssey 9.2–11]
I defy anyone to list three books he’d be better served to take with himself for the rest of his life to a deserted island than The Odyssey.
Thanks, dear reader, should you ever find me, for being my gadfly.

About philokalos

Philologist, historian, and lover of great books, I started this blog to keep myself alert to the beauty of what I see amid the demands of my work.
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