Robert Benchley: Odysseus to Penelope


[ Among the essays collected in Of All Things, Robert Benchely included a fairly substantial piece, “When Genius Remained Your Humble Servant,” about the changing tenor of letters. I don’t want to reprint the whole essay here, but enjoyed the amusing hypothetical exchange here that showcases the lovely blending of high culture and pedestrian business that is so fruitful for humorists. ]

So explanatory has the method of letter writing become that it is probable that if Odysseus were a modern traveler his letters home to Penelope would average something like this:

Calypso,

Friday afternoon.

DEAR PEN: — I have been so tied up with work during the last week that I haven’t had a chance to get near a desk to write to you. I have been trying to every day, but something would come up just at the last minute that would prevent me. Last Monday I got the papyrus all unrolled, and then I had to tend to Scylla and Charybdis (I may have written you about them before), and by the time I got through with them it was bedtime, and, believe me, I am snatching every bit of sleep I can get these days. And so it went, first the Læstrygones, and then something else, and here it is Friday. Well, there isn’t much news to write about. Things are going along here about as usual. There is a young nymph here who seems to own the place, but I haven’t had any chance to meet her socially. Well, there goes the ship’s bell. I guess I had better be bringing this to a close. I have got a lot of work to do before I get dressed to go to a dinner of that nymph I was telling you about. I have met her brother, and he and I are interested in the same line of goods. He was at Troy with me. Well, I guess I must be closing. Will try to get off a longer letter in a day or two.

Your loving husband,

ODIE.

P.S. You haven’t got that bunch of sports hanging round the palace still, have you? Tell Telemachus I’ll take him out of school if I hear of his playing around with any of them.

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Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there.

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