The Lord Weird Slough Feg – “Eumaeus the Swineherd”

The American heavy metal band The Lord Weird Slough Feg have recently released their latest album New Organon. Masterminded as always by guitarist, vocalist, and philosophy professor Mike Scalzi, “New Organon” is largely a series of meditations on various philosophical figures, texts, and ideas from throughout history. This includes tracks on Greek philosophers such as Socrates (“The Apology”) and Diogenes (“The Cynic”). Sometime following the official release these tracks will certainly receive their own song-of-the-day treatment.

While the new LP sees Scalzi’s academic and artistic worlds greatly overlap, history, sci-fi, fantasy, and mythology have long inspired the band’s lyrical concepts. This includes classical myth, and much as Socrates, Plato, and Diogenes memorized the epics of Homer as the cornerstone of ancient Athenian education, so modern students of Greek philosophy often familiarize themselves with the poetic classics that informed the old thinkers’ outlooks (or, in the case of Plato, against which they reacted). One of these classics, which remains essential in the legacy of world literature, is the Odyssey, the 24-volume of the Greek hero Odysseus’ perilous and protracted homecoming after a decade in the trenches at Troy.

Yet while the episodes involving Odysseus’ wanderings, encounters with monsters and sorceresses and all, are the most recognizable parts of the epic that persist in the popular imagination, they are not the majority of the story. More than half the poem is set on the island of Ithaca itself, before and after Odysseus comes ashore to plot the reconquest of his kingdom. There we dive deep into the complex characters, dealings, and relationships of Odysseus’ equally crafty wife Penelope, their son coming-of-age Telemachus, and the scores of Penelope’s aristocratic suitors daily abusing the hospitality of the royal household. But another important group of characters in this setting is the staff of household slaves, both the nurses and maids who manage the household, and the men who tend the flocks and fields. All of these people were involved in and affected by the strain of the suitors’ gluttony on this estate’s economy, and most longed for the return of their true master to drive out these freeloaders. This being an ancient slaveholding society, it never occurs to anyone that perhaps the solution would have been to have no masters at all.

With this song from their 2005 album Atavism, Slough Feg participate in recent trends in the public engagement of Classics by telling a familiar story from the perspective of a character either underrepresented and/or of underprivileged social rank (e.g. Pat Barker’s Silence of the Girls or Madeline Miller’s Circe). Eumaeus is a slave tasked with pig farming, and so staunch is his loyalty to Odysseus that he is the first to whom he reveals his true identity and with whom he conspires to murder the suitors in the second half of the epic. This song is set in the days before Odysseus’ fated return, where Eumaeus tells us in the first person his daily experience of tending the pigs, serving the ungrateful suitors, and waiting, waiting for his master’s return. Confident in divine justice, Eumaeus fantasizes about the suitors’ slaughter when Odysseus returns. While many despair that Odysseus is still alive, Eumaeus is confident. Some subtler allusions to the Odyssey are the lines “the baying of hounds won’t cease. Long for their master they yearn.” This may refer to Odysseus’ aged dog Argus, who utters a final triumphant bark at seeing his master return, only to collapse and die, but the phrase also paints the suitors as prey to be hunted by the heroic hunter and his hounds. Homer himself, the original narrator, thought highly of Eumaeus, “the good, kindly swineherd,” and though he is often eclipsed in the popular memory of the tale by the freer, higher-born characters, Slough Feg restores his dignity by giving him a powerful voice. This track is followed on the album by “Curse of Athena,” a track of equal length told from the perspective of Odysseus as he arrives in Ithaca dressed in rags and taking refuge in Eumaeus’ hut. Slough Feg thus frame Eumaeus and Odysseus as equals, the former ennobled by his being given a voice in song, the latter humbled by his penurious disguise.

Twelve herds on the mainland’s shore
Gathering slaughter I wait
I’ll bring you my finest boar
Driving the droves to their fate
I am a swineherd awaiting my master’s return
From the city of Troy

The anger of Gods increase
Gathering slaughter to burn
The baying of hounds won’t cease
Long for their master they yearn
Suitors will fall to the hand of my master
Upon his triumphant return

The insolent suitors boast
Carelessly stalking their prey
I’m ranging the island’s coast
Searching my mind for a way
I am a swineherd impatiently waiting
The spilling of blood on that day”

Lyrics to “Curse of Athena”:

“Swept on the shore by the light of
the silver moon’s glaive
Creeping of dawn through the streets
in the rags of a slave
Once I was lord of this kingdom from city to sea
Now twenty years past the townsfolk
are laughing at me

Crouched in the hut of the swineherd
I don my disguise
Faced with the kindness and questions
I meet them with lies
Dirty and smoke-stained I’m all
shriveled flesh, gnarled limb
Touched by the hand of the goddess
my eyes become grim

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