You all know about Odysseus and the winnowing-fan, right? He comes home, and kills half the people on Ithaka, and finally gets to go to bed with his initially suspicious wife, and he tells her all about his travails in stupefying detail, including how Poseidon said… well, I’ll let Jamie Rieger retell it in his imitiable way:

He said I have to go build him an altar in some foreign land where they’re never seen the sea. And the way I know that is, I walk around with an oar on my shoulder until people stop saying “Nice oar, dumbass!” and start saying “Where are you going with that oddly shaped winnowing fan?” And then I make an altar right then and there. And then I live happily ever after. Not too shabby, eh?

Well, Conrad Roth of Varieties of Unreligious Experience, after an introductory riff, has posted a discussion of the history and attributes of the winnowing fan (which, it turns out, comes in two varieties, the liknon or basket-fan and the ptuon or shovel-fan), with philology and pictures of Francis Darwin’s gardener and a mediaeval capital and citations of Jane Harrison and the Bible and references to a useless art object and the extremely useful pizza peel, all served up with his usual impeccable style and engaging rhetoric. Go, learn, enjoy.


  1. Odysseus and the winnowing fan? So powerful a metaphor, and worked into the narrative of the Odyssey with unerring skill.
    The response that I would like to post here is a long poem of mine, composed over twenty years ago (and never published), that has the winnowing fan in its last stanza. But, partly because of its length, I would not post it here without LH’s permission. It is prompted by Tennyson, but offers a sequel to the Odyssey that is, in effect, opposite to the continuation presented in his famous poem Ulysses.

  2. Umm… how long is it? If it’s, say, 50 lines or less, go ahead, but if it’s longer, how about just posting the last stanza or two?

  3. [Nah. It’s 136 lines long. I’d prefer to leave it, thanks. No problem.]

  4. I’ve got a spot I could host your poem and you could link to it from here; if you’d like, drop me a line at kmdavisus AT yahoo

  5. Yeah, I’d be happy to link to it.

  6. [Ah, thanks to The Ridger and to LH. But no thanks. It’s nothing, really. Interesting link, LH. I’m delighted to see the topic treated at all, let alone so well in its material detail.]

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