Albert Ehrenstein

Magic Tales

Berlin 1919






Homer’s Martyrdom

(translated by Sheldon Gilman and Robert Levine)



I make a formal protest against the presumptuous, short-lived prophecy of the genial dandy Ovid, "Vivet Maeonides, Tenedos dum stabit et Ida, dum rapidas Simois in mare volvet aquas." As if Homer would not outlive, by eons, these lousy yokels, who could be wiped away by the next earthquake that comes along!

I protest further against my cynical friend Lucian’s distorted claim that Homer, during the Trojan war (1193-1184 B.C.), was a dromedary in Baktrien. Far more accurate is that stupid saying of the old pedants, "Seven cities battle for the honor of being Homer’s birth place: Smyrna, Rhodes, Colophon, Salamis, Chios, Scyros, Athens."

But why the different city fathers fight so strenuously, gullible, deceived posterity learns for the first time through this film.


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Homer composes the Iliad and the Odyssey; the old man walks back and forth in front of his tent, reciting while strumming his lyre up and down.

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Odysseus’ estate: Homer is reciting something for his king. Odysseus has slaves bring the singer a cup of wine and an honorarium: a cow bursting with milk. Homer happily thanks him for the walking gift and has it brought to his home by a slave, drinks, and proudly declares, under the influence of the wine, that no creature deserves the gift more than he. And, pointing to a statue of Phoebus Apollo, he insists that even this god could not compose poetry better than – or even as good as he. For Apollo was only a scion of unmusical Zeus, but he himself had inherited the poetic art; the singers Phemios and Demodokos had engendered him.


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On Olympus, around which nine muses are dancing, Phoebus Apollo hears this outrageous self-advertisement by the poet and storms off through the white cloud around the mountain towards Ithaca, with his bow over his shoulder and his quiver filled with thundering arrows.

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Threatening gestures. A competition results. Odysseus must decide between the poets Apollo and Homer. Apollo reaches for Homer’s lyre. (What the young god sings is shown)

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Achilleus leans his shining shield against the wall and tries, running with his massive ashen spear, to break through Troy’s gates. The spear shatters. The raging Achilleus wants to tear the gates from their hinges with his hands. From the wall above Apollo uselessly cautions him; the son of Peleus does not stop, and as he loads the quivering gates of old Troy on his Samson-like shoulders, an arrow from the god finds its mark in Achilles’ heel. Greeks and Trojans battle around the body of Achilles in the usual painterly poses. While big Ajax kills the most famous Trojans, Odysseus, hard pressed, carries the body off to the ships … Thankful, Achilles mother Thetis grants Achilles’ weapons to Odysseus.

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Odysseus listens to this fascinating panegyric with emotion, but Homer remains unmoved, his song


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describes the love of Apollo for Daphne. How the love-struck god creeps up on the nymph, combing her hair at a spring, spies on her, pursues her in and out of the woods – at the last moment, almost caught, she lifts her hands in prayer to the earth her mother, who turns her into a slender bush. So that the God embraces, instead of the sweet girl, the bitter laurel (daphne laurus).

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When Homer finished, Apollo’s grief for the beloved Daphne is renewed; he covers his head; with diffidence, the weeping god admits that Odysseus declares him defeated, sympathetically presses Homer’s hand, moves his hand over his eyes, cheeks, and shoulders with pity, and declares that, because he was defeated, he does not have the power to ward off from Homer’s head the fate of a poet.


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Odysseus, with a rudder on his shoulders, leaves Homer. To appease Poseidon, whose son Polyphemos he had blinded, Odysseus must undertake a pilgrimage, which must last until he reaches an inland people, who think that his rudder is a shovel. Odysseus commits Telemachus and Penelope to the poet’s care.


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But Telemachus is always out hunting wild goats. And Penelope gives the poet, because he does not make himself very useful about the house ( he crushed the foot of her heaviest, blue mesh, tame, favorite goose headed for the oven) steadily smaller portions, until he finally, with a heavy heart, half ousted by the competition with the house-beggar Iros, decides to leave the palace. Penelope makes two cheese sandwiches for him, and Homer sets out on his wanderings.


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Because he lost his parents very early, and does not know the city of his birth, which would have had to support him in old age, he now goes to Asia. Phoenicians, to whom he gives the cow which was a gift from Odysseus, take him with them aboard their ship.





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1. Smyrna. Weakened by the privations of the long sea journey, the poet, before entering the city, dyes the gray hair on his head and beard. Sings for his very bread in the public squares. But the people laugh at him – he had a bad hair job; he ended up with green hair and beard. Exhausted, the poor beggar-musician, followed by children making fun of him, sits on a bench in the city park of Smyrna, falls asleep propped against the bottom of the city wall. Heedless of the sign, "This area is for public-minded citizens," a camel reaches over the wall and, attracted by the green color, devours Homer’s hair down to the scalp. After that he wears a wig.


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2. Rosin. Because he uses so much rosin and plucks the harp so often, Homer’s fingers begin to fester. He fears that his hands will wither, longs for peace, for someone to take care of him. Somewhat desperate, somewhat passionate he pursues a beautiful woman in the temple of Apollo Kourotrophos. Genuflects and prays to the god that the woman might reject wild nights of love and vibrant young men and take pity on him. But she has an inclination for a temple-servant, and nothing more remains for Homer than to go on composing the Iliad as well as the Odyssey.

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3. Rhodes. Discouraged, Homer leaves Asia. At first he is well received at Rhodes. But then he is brought to Königsburg and, pointing to an old man gently growing senile, they assure him that this is Tlepolemus, Hercules’ son, who, according to Homer in the Iliad, had been killed by Sarpedon. At this point, a son of the idiotic old man, furiously explains that Homer had written a roman-à–clef, and a lengthy stay on the island was officially forbidden.

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4. Chios. The good wine of this island raises Homer’s spirits. He sings his songs gladly. Then a young man named Phron, of Phoenician appearance, approaches the trusting, happy man. He asks Homer to perform something more. The poet did so. Phron praises him, offers to perform Homer’s songs everywhere. But because Homer’s name is still new and unknown, everything imaginable in the way of advertising would be done, but that would of course be expensive; in return for his services and as the first installment, he takes from him the cheese that a farmer had given to the poet, complains about the cheese and disappears never to be seen again. Phron was – the first publisher.

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5. Skyros The inhabitants of Skyros are celebrating the marriage of Achilles’ son Neoptolemus with Hermione, the daughter of Helen and Menelaus. The man who sang of Achilleus is run off the island by rugged, unsung Pyrrhus and his dogs.

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6. Salamis. Homer barely gets here, to be able to be present as an observer at a procession held in honor of big Ajax and Saint Teucer. Because the nearsighted man does not remove his wig in front of the priests, he is hounded off the island while the mob roars.

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7. Athens. When Homer demands to be fed by Prytaneion, Plato, the son of Kassner, proposes that the rhapsode, because he has mentioned Athens too infrequently in his incidentally postmodern songs, and also had too often described the indecent, lurid copulations of Zeus with Hera, and of Ares with Aphrodite, by the law of ostracism, be banished from Athens. It was done.

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8. Ios. Half blind and staggering on all fours, carried about here and there by compassionate ships, Homer wanders from city to city, from island to island. No municipality will feed him, he is rejected again and again as a burdensome foreigner, the city fathers of each community energetically reject the idea that this crippled moocher was a natural son of their city. Finally exhausted, he rests on the beach at Ios. Fisherboys, empty nets on their shoulders, climb out of their boats and tease him. They give him a riddle: "What we have caught we leave behind us. What we have not caught we carry with us." Baffled, Homer cannot find the solution. A boy who resembles Phron, the son of Phron, explains to him: because they could catch no fish, back on the beach they looked for lice, which they killed when they caught them; they brought back, against their will, the lice they had not caught … the ragamuffins depart. Homer shakes his head mournfully; painfully aware that his mind was now so weak that he could stumble over a simple child’s riddle, he throws himself from the cliff into the sea.


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The poor grave of Homer on Ios. Inscription: : "Here the earth covers the sacred head of Homer, who sang about heroes in his songs."

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Shows the belly of Professor Methusalam Corpsestyle, who, to hasten his advancement, had all the graphic designs of Achilles’ shield tatooed on his belly.

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Professor Corpsestyle’s class. Next to the lectern stands Phron and his son who explains riddles and resembles him closely, Primus Eugen Pelideles. He cackles: seven cities strive for the honor of having given birth to Homer: "Smyrna, Rhodes, Kolophon, Salamis, Chios, Skyros, Athens."

The sea surges against the lectern, a corpse floats along the waves: Homer. As the tearful gaze of his dead eyes falls on Pelideles his wounds begin to bleed … and the waters of time rush over everything, crushing everything.











It is recorded that the voice spoke to Isfendiar Zualkarnian and commanded him to gird his loins for death. And when he had enjoyed all places and people on his journeys, he said to himself: "O blind slave of fate, rejoice at last, for now you will find out what comes after this little life." So he did not quarrel with the final command of that voice, but ordered slaves to clean his two horns as though for a celebration. And after he had, as a precaution, consumed an entire wild ass, he mounted a swift camel in order not to delay and thereby offend the call of praiseworthy death. But his poets, the nightingales, began to compose beautiful laments, trying to fill his indifferent heart with their gentle sadness, and to bind the man whose mind was set on new tasks to these meager affairs of life. The swift camel, however, in its three-humped wisdom, recalled some date-pits it had eaten, and, while depositing the warm excrement for the poets to use during the raw nights ahead, disappeared into the woods with the king of time. He, however, muttered to himself, "I do not understand the gentle sorrow of those who accompanied me while I drew life’s breath. If I slip away from them, then they can restrain me in the curves and windings of their snake-like poetry. However, I have it worse than these tame creatures: I must do something. Now I have eaten an entire wild ass, for it is not good to meet death fearfully, and on an empty stomach. If I do not like him, then I can, as a man, at least belch in his face, as is fit and proper. But I still don’t see anyone here who might kill me." While he was expressing his annoyance about having to wait for death, a white wildcat appeared appeared on the road and explained to him: "this is not the road to death, O king Twohorns; but you may, if you want to get there faster, ride towards the trees. However, riding to one side of these two forests would be better, and if, in the twilight, in a corner of the forest you see my wife, tell her that I shall visit her later today." Then the king thanked the kind cat, and when, half a camel ride further on, he actually saw the wildcat’s wife, he gave her a courteous greeting and delivered his message. In response, the wildcat told him, in a friendly fashion, about the approaching possibility of an acceptable death – only a parasang further!

And when he had traveled this distance he met in that very spot a man whose strength was equal to that of a full-grown lion. "Next time don’t make me wait so long," the man roared. "My name is Rustan. I am your father. And because I brought you into life it is also fated that I kill you." He then began to unscrew the horns from the head of his tardy son, and Isfandiar Zualkarnain honored his father, true to the law of the prophets. He did not try to pluck the beard of this death, nor to belch in his face the ass he was digesting. So overcome was he by the pain of life.




Slave of his own Fate


Manhood came upon Analama, who lived on the island of Quo-uk with swans; he had to go beyond gray Chroglu and he entered the damned kingdom of Uttarakuru. As is always the case, the king’s daughter reported that she was indisposed, and there was nothing else for him to do but fight with the bloody monster Uhuru. He was not in a fighting mood, but preferred the softer, ephemeral things of life. He longed for soft cheeks, women’s hair, celestial thighs. The king’s daughter, however, remained unalterably indisposed. Analama also could no longer control the stirrings of his blood. He found that the Norn whose name is boredom embroiders time, wanted to kill frozen time -- and only wasted his time. He wanted to destroy all women – and tore out the braids only of certain women with especially enticing thighs. The king’s chaste daughter remained steadily indisposed. Analama did a wonderful job of tearing out his eyes with his own fingers, to avoid seeing any more of his own existence. The king’s daughter crushed his eyes and gave the puree to her cats. Analama left. The king’s daughter brought into the world the legal heirs: strong young dogs.





Dream of the 888-Night Editor


And Sheherazad noticed the gray of day and stopped telling the tale she was allowed. But since it was the 888th night, she continued in this way: "O fortunate king, I heard that in the land of drunken streams there lived an exceptional young man with a buzzard’s nose, who liked to drown in sleep, and because he did very little work, he was hounded by hunger. Nevertheless, he longed and yearned for the rottenness of unobtainable spices, and because of this habit they called him the ham-star heathen.

One day, when he let his belly sleepwalk to the islands of marzipan, an express train ran over him and did not stop dragging him along until it ran out of coal. "This is not the land of saffron and incense," shouted the kidnap victim, when he found himself, after a maddeningly shrill whistle, in a bustling hall. Out of necessity, he interrupted his reverie and looked for a sofa, where he could lay his head down. His plans got no farther, and as he was passing a hotel doorman, he managed to gain permission to fill out some official forms. After he had defeated the demon, he buried himself in sleep, hoping that the dream to come the interpretation of the dream to come would reveal his innermost thoughts. But sleep recklessly, dreamlessly spit him back into life, and when the unhappy man awoke again for the thousandth miserable time in the room, he arranged for a few moments of reflection. But before he had hacked out some reasonable thoughts, the scream for a buttered roll replaced the croaking of his soul. When he then, still weak from digesting, tried to put his head back on, he did not find it, and so decided, for the time being, to give his body up to the arbitrariness of chance. He was in no way disposed to work like a dog, and preferred to break off dealing with earthly matters. Thus he began to glide over the surface of the strange streets like a deliberate, and not entirely aimless pedestrian. His eyes peacefully grazed on appearances and finally fell upon the leaves, from which so many fools tried to learn the path of the stars. Then a flash of memory struck him, and his vulture’s nose, roused by the smell of food, grinning at him from a mirror, supported him in his observations that time had no soul.

He certainly owned no poet’s pen, but on leap-days magnificently wise words poured from him. When he despaired that these few leap-days might infect him for a whole year, he became conscious of a modest knowledge of some, but by no means all of the laws of punctuation, and damned himself cold-heartedly to live in ordinary language. Therefore he put on a top hat, and before he knew what he was doing he disappeared into a publishing house. He would have done better by stealing the wind from the world. For when he stepped before the journalists of the time, the power of the press smashed him to nothing, in the following way: "you belong to the unworldly oxen of Sirius and certainly do not imagine that you have a monopoly on style, but you are proud, nevertheless, of having been the first to have dotted the i. But I can only use a typewriter that can spell." When the traitor let Ham-star die, he answered, "O newspaper-king, I hear and obey. I was an Ifrit of the Marid of Dschann, and am ready to be paid by the line. I am in a hurry to hasten into nothingness. I was until now the tongue of things. Would I be less, if I made myself the voice of cattle? May I die soon of a typo!" "I see, you belong to the draught animals who, instead of finishing, complain about their unconquerable bellies, O half poet!"

It is reported that the man with the greedy nose then sank to reviewing books, becoming one of the many castrated critics and dregs who enviously guard the harem of fame. He became a bare cipher, laid bare his brain, made a fool of himself as his wisdom rapidly wore thin, but his soul was beyond that. He wrote only potatoes, and the words of the poet deserved to be inscribed with needles in the points at the corners of his eyes. There he finally noticed the gray of his day and stopped in this prohibited life. May Allah never translate him!