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NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 21:  'Mr. Met' performs during the game between the New York Mets and the Milwaukee Brewers at Citi Field on August 21, 2011 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. The Brewers defeated the Mets 6-2.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)


Mets Hofstra Conference Excerpt: The Odyssey

Tomorrow, Hofstra hosts “The 50th Anniversary of the New York Mets,” a three-day conference dedicated to examining the Mets' connection to a variety of highbrow topics. In the magazine this week, we presented sections from a paper studying the societal significance of Mr. Met. Today and tomorrow, we'll post some more. Today: an excerpt from Steven Amarnick's “A Teacher’s Journey: Homer’s Odyssey and the Mets in the Classroom,” which recounts the Kingsborough Community College's professor's experience teaching The Odyssey through Mets–related lessons.

On the importance of translation:

With the Mets as a regular presence in the room, I also found ways to integrate them into my lesson plans. For instance, to analyze one of the most famous scenes in The Odyssey — when the disguised Odysseus fears that his old nurse Eurycleia will blow his cover after she recognizes his scar — I brought in several translations, so that students could see how nuances in word choices might affect their analyses. How serious is Odysseus when he claims that he will kill her if she says anything? The translations matter. And to bring home the point, we looked at, and even sang, two versions of 'Meet the Mets': the original one, featuring 'bring your kiddies, bring your wife, guaranteed to have the time of your life,' and the revised one, with 'hot dogs, green grass, all at Shea, guaranteed to have a heck of a day.' Why did the Mets change those lyrics? Why does Odysseus sound angrier in one translation than another? Close attention to language makes for rich discussion in a literature class.”

On the 1969 Baltimore Orioles as Cyclops, the 2007 Mets as the lotus fruit, and José Reyes' free agency as the choice between a six-headed monster and a deadly whirlpool:

So many stirring moments in The Odyssey can be recast in Mets terms — at least with some creative stretching. The massive Cyclops, putting the immovable boulder at the entrance to his cave so that Odysseus and his men have no chance of getting out alive? Surely those are the 1969 Baltimore Orioles, supposedly unbeatable, yet the Miracle Mets found a way. The lotus fruit, which causes anyone who eats it to stop striving, to just relax and while away the hours? Surely that fruit was consumed by the 2007 Mets, as they complacently sat on their division lead; that team never realized until it was too late that once you eat the lotus, you can’t stop eating it. Scylla and Charybdis, one a six-headed monster, the other a devastating whirlpool? There is no good choice here; whichever way Odysseus’ ship sails, men will die. Surely that was the decision faced by the Mets front office regarding Jose Reyes: the Scylla of signing an injury-plagued shortstop to a long-term contract that would extend well past the point when his greatest asset, his speed, would cease to matter, or the Charybdis of losing their most exciting player to a division rival.”

On Bobby Valentine as "the great tactician," and Tom Seaver as Telemachus:

Odysseus, in the Robert Fitzgerald translation, is referred to over and over by the epithet 'the great tactician.' That allowed for plenty of references to managerial decisions in the Bobby Valentine era, but no such references at all to the three managers who followed him. (I’ll grimly remind you of their names: Art Howe, Willie Randolph, Jerry Manuel.) Odysseus’ twenty-year-old son, Telemachus, who has grown up without his father around, can easily be compared to a dazzlingly talented but raw rookie. Once his father does return, will Telemachus be the rookie who succeeds right away? (Tom Seaver.) Or will he come into his own only after a long gestation period? (Nolan Ryan.) Or will he never come into his own? (Tim Leary.) The answer turns out to be 'Tom Seaver,' but the students have to wait until the final chapters of The Odyssey before that becomes evident."

On fate and the playoffs:

The concept of fate in Homer’s poem is a complicated one. It exists, but there are also moments when it seems that fate could be averted; one can’t be certain about fate until after the fact. After what happened in Game Six of the 1986 World Series, the Mets might have seemed fated to win Game Seven. And so they did — though they took their time before finally catching up and then taking the lead. After Endy Chavez’s catch in Game Seven against the Cardinals in 2006, the Mets seemed fated to win then too. I don’t have to remind you about the trick fate played on that occasion.”

On violence and hating the Yankees:

The violence in The Odyssey is extensive, and we are not asked to question it. Instead we are made to root for the deaths of the suitors, for all of them, even the less obnoxious ones — and the more lurid the better. Students especially like the death of Melanthius, as Odysseus and his small crew 'lopped his nose and ears with a ruthless knife, / tore his genitals out for the dogs to eat raw / and in manic fury hacked off hands and feet' (22.502-504). It’s okay, I ultimately argued, for us to enjoy this, in the same way that is okay for me to hate the Yankees: because at a fundamental level it’s all in good fun. Hating a sports team is, or should be, an enjoyably passionate pastime, nothing at all like the corrosive, soul-sucking nightmare of hating an actual person for years and years. To be in a room watching a real person die like Melanthius would be a traumatic experience of the highest order; to read about it in the context of Homer’s epic poem is sheer entertainment.”

On team loyalty:

I have gone this entire talk, until now, without mentioning the magnificent, and enigmatic, Penelope, who takes on no lovers in the twenty years that her husband is gone. Odysseus has not been as loyal. While it is true that he is forced to join Circe in her 'flawless bed of love' if he wants her help, most notably in getting his crewmates back after Circe has turned them into pigs, the implication is that this is only supposed to be a one-night stand. Instead Odysseus remains an entire year in that bed. Should we bemoan the double standard, as we see men get away with behavior that women would be pilloried for? Should we critique Penelope for devoting herself to a man who is her moral inferior? Should we cut lots of slack for Odysseus, who after all does return home, despite many detours, and thus can be said to be deeply loyal — ultimately — to Penelope and to his son and country? What are the limits of loyalty? There are so many questions to raise and discuss. When I demonstrate my loyalty to the Mets, I don’t pretend that there haven’t been trying moments, downs as well as ups.”

Photo: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images