Subsystems In Ithaca Essay

1553 words - 6 pages

Death, destruction, disorder; this was what was destined to engulf Ithaca had Odysseus not been able to return home and reclaim his place at the head of Achaean society. The basis of a civilization’s culture is made up of five subsystems according to Colin Renfrew in his Emergence of Civilisation. Renfrew’s five subsystems are named as subsistence, technological, social/ political, symbolic, and trade/ communication. These subsystems are all interconnected, allowing for actions to exist in multiple subsystems simultaneously. This connection is what “gives human culture its unique potential for growth.” While the connection of the subsystems allows for growth as Renfrew states, when one of the five begins to collapse, each aspect of the culture is directly affected leading to a failing of the whole. In The Odyssey, the overlapping influences from the subsistence, social/ political, and trade/ communication subsystems in the early Greek culture combine to form the events taking place during Telemachus’s journey to find out about his father.
Humans cannot survive without food, which is what the subsystem subsistence is all about. Subsistence includes any part of society or “actions relating to the distribution of food resources.” In the Odyssey, the issue of distributing food is primarily seen in Odysseus’s home of Ithaca. The suitors of Penelope according to Telemachus continue to “infest our palace day and night,/ they butcher our cattle, our sheep, our fat goats,/ feasting themselves sick, swilling our glowing wine/ as if there’s no tomorrow”. In this speech by Telemachus it is seen that the best his palace has to offer is being eaten and devoured by the suitors. As the suitors are “guests” in the house of Telemachus and Penelope they were required by custom to provide food and drink. The suitors have overstayed their welcome in the palace and have eaten the very best of the animals available to be eaten. This puts a strain on the ability of the palace to provide food for its own occupants, servants and family alike. Telemachus still adheres to the proper ways, appealing to the suitors to “See to your feasting elsewhere,/ devour your own possessions, house to house by turns./ But if you decide the fare is better, richer here,/ destroying one man’s goods and going scot-free,/ all right then, carve away!” Returning to their own houses to feast or even rotating houses would have restored the proper ways of distributing food in Ithaca. The refusal by the suitors to leave the palace has an over lapping effect as it is connected with the other subsystems, leading to further disorder in the Ithacan way of life.
The suitors of Penelope are primarily disrupting the palace due to events relating the social/ political subsystem in their culture. This subsystem is defined by Renfrew as activities that take place between men. The king of Ithaca, Odysseus, has been gone for nearly twenty years due to war and delays on his long trip home. This foremost...

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