Above: Terracotta plaque depicting the homecoming of Odysseus disguised as a beggar (right), ca. 460–450 B.C.
Source/creator: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. License: Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.
Articles from the
Oxford Classical Dictionary
Homer | orality | rhapsodes | Homeridae | Epic Cycle | Greek hymns | Troy | Olympus | Alcinous | Calypso | Demodocus | Eumaeus | Odysseus | Penelope | Telemachus | Ithaca | Pylos | Sparta | Aeolus | Circe | Charybdis | Cyclopes | Lotus-eaters | Laestrygones | Scylla | Sirens
Readers coming to the Odyssey for the first time are often dazzled and bewildered by the wealth of material it contains which is seemingly unrelated to the central story: the main plot of Odysseus' return to Ithaca is complicated by myriad secondary narratives related by the poet and his characters, including Odysseus' own fantastic tales of Lotus Eaters, Sirens, and cannibal giants. Although these 'para-narratives' are a source of pleasure and entertainment in their own right, each also has a special relevance to its immediate context, elucidating Odysseus' predicament and also subtly influencing and guiding the audience's reception of the main story. By exploring variations on the basic story-shape, drawing on familiar tales, anecdotes, and mythology, or inserting analogous situations, they create illuminating parallels to the main narrative and prompt specific responses in readers or listeners. This is the case even when details are suppressed or altered, as the audience may still experience the reverberations of the better-known version of the tradition, and it also applies to the characters themselves, who are often provided with a model of action for imitation or avoidance in their immediate contexts.
This comprehensive study of the Odyssey sees in meat and meat consumption a centre of gravitation for the interpretation of the poem. It aims to place the cultural practices represented in the poem against the background of the (agricultural) lived reality of the poem's audiences in the archaic age, and to align the themes of the adventures in Odysseus' wanderings with the events that transpire at Ithaca in the hero's absence. The criminal meat consumption of the suitors of Penelope in the civilised space of Ithaca is shown to resonate with the adventures of Odysseus and his companions in the pre-cultural worlds they are forced to visit. The book draws on folklore studies, the anthropology of hunting cultures, the comparative study of oral traditions, and the agricultural history of archaic and classical Greece. It will also be of interest to narratologists and students of folklore and Homeric poetics.
Piero Boitani's study is a perceptive and imaginative exploration of the myth of Ulysses in a range of Western literature from Homer to Joyce. Describing the many incarnations of Ulysses, Boitani sees the hero as an ideal observation-point from which to measure the similarities and differences between the otherness ("alterity") of the past and the "modernity" of the present. The relationships between poetry, history, and myth, and between rhetoric and the imaginary, are discussed, as is the figure of Ulysses in Homer, Dante, Tasso, Tennyson, Poe, Joyce, and Borges, to name but a few.
Female characters play various roles in the Odyssey: patron goddess (Athena), seductress (Kirke, the Sirens, Nausikaa), carnivorous monster (Skylla), maid servant (Eurykleia), and faithful wife (Penelope). Adopting an interdisciplinary approach, this study examines these different female representations and their significance within the context of the poem and Greek culture. A central theme of the book is the visualization of the Odyssey's female characters by ancient artists, and several essays discuss the visual and iconographic implications of Odysseus' female encounters as depicted in Greek, Etruscan, and Roman art. The distinguished contributors--from the fields of classical studies, comparative literature, art history, and archaeology--are A.J. Graham, Seth L. Schein, Diana Buitron-Oliver, Beth Cohen, Sheila Murnaghan, Lillian Eileen Doherty, Helene P. Foley, Froma I. Zeitlin, H.A. Shapiro, Richard Brilliant, Jenifer Neils, and Christine Mitchell Havelock. Feminine in orientation, but not narrowly feminist in approach, this first interdisciplinary work on the Odyssey's female characters will have a broad audience amongst scholars and students working in classical studies, iconography and art history, women's studies, mythology, and ancient history.
This path-breaking and eloquent analysis of The Odyssey, and the way it has been interpreted by political philosophers throughout the centuries, has dramatic implications for the current state of political thought. This important book offers readers original insights into The Odyssey and it provides a new understanding of the classic works of Plato, Rousseau, Vico, Horkheimer, and Adorno. Through his analysis Patrick J. Deneen requires readers to rethink the issues that are truly at the heart of our contemporary "Culture Wars," and he encourages us to reassess our assumptions about the Western canon's virtues or viciousness. Deneen's penetrating exploration of Odysseus's and our own enduring battles between the dual temptations of homecoming and exploration, patriotism and cosmopolitanism, and relativism and universality provides an original perspective on contentious debates at the center of modern political theory and philosophy.
This volume assembles sixteen authoritative articles on Homer's Odyssey that have appeared over the last thirty years. A wide variety of interpretative strategies are represented, including, in addition to traditional close readings, the approaches of comparative anthropology, narratology, feminism, and audience-oriented criticism. Papers have been selected for their clarity and accessibility, and each is informed by close attention to philological and textual detail. A full glossary and list of abbreviations have been included, and a specially written introduction puts the selections in a wider context by giving an overview of major strands in the interpretation of Homer in the second half of the twentieth century.
Travel and Home in Homer's Odyssey and Contemporary Literature brings Homer's Odyssey together with contemporary literary texts ranging from Rebecca West's The Return of the Soldier to Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping and Cormac McCarthy's The Road to produce new readings that reframe, reorient, and ultimately revise aspects of Homer's iconic story of travel and home. While some novels share with the Odyssey a celebration of the creative process of improvisation to rethink the relationship between home and travel, others draw upon nostalgia - our complicated longing for home - to unsettle the inevitability of return. Rather than offering an explicit retelling of Homer's poem, each of these novels prompts us to revisit the relationship between travel and home that Odysseus and Penelope embody to ask new questions of that well-read text. Does travel reinforce or destabilize our notion of home? Are mobility and domesticity irrevocably gendered, or can we imagine a world in which Penelope travels and Odysseus stays home? Just as Odysseus continually reinvents his own identity with each new encounter, both abroad and at home, so too we, as readers, participate in an improvisatory interpretive experiment of our own. This volume sets out a new model for reading ancient and contemporary texts together - one that challenges the conventional chronological assumptions inherent in many works of classical reception. No longer a stable text to which we as readers return time and again to find it the same, the Odyssey, together with the novels with which it engages, changes and adapts with each new literary encounter.
Homer and the Poetics of Hades offers a new and unique approach to the Iliad and, more particularly, the Odyssey through an exploration of the role and function of the Underworld as a poetic resource permitting an alternative perspective on the epic past. By portraying Hades as a realm where vision is not possible, Homer creates a unique poetic environment in which social constraints and divine prohibitions do not apply, resulting in a narrative which emulates that of the Muses but which at the same time is markedly distinct from it. In Hades experimentation with, and alteration of, important epic forms and values can be pursued with greater freedom, giving rise to a different kind of poetics: the 'poetics of Hades'. In the Iliad, Homer offers us a glimpse of how this alternative poetics works through the visit of Patroclus' shade in Achilles' dream. The recollection offered by the shade reveals an approach to its past in which regret, self-pity, and a lingering memory of intimate and emotional moments displace an objective tone and traditional exposition of heroic values. However, the potential of Hades for providing alternative means of commemorating the past is more fully explored in the 'Nekyia' of Odyssey 11: there, Odysseus' extraordinary ability to see the dead in Hades allows him to meet and interview the shades of heroines and heroes of the epic past, while the absolute confinement of Hades allows the shades to recount their stories from their own personal points of view. The poetic implications are significant, since by visiting Hades and listening to the stories of the shades Odysseus, and Homer with him, gain access to a tradition in which epic values associated with gender roles and even divine law are suspended in favour of a more immediate and personally inflected approach to the epic past. As readers, this alternative poetics offers us more than just a revised framework within which to navigate the Iliad and the Odyssey, inviting as it does a more nuanced understanding of the Greeks' anxieties around mortality and posthumous fame.
Taking Her Seriously is a reevaluation of Penelope, one of the most universally admired female characters in Western classical literature. Casting her in a new light, Richard Heitman emphasizes the courage, steadfastness, and integrity of this iconic figure while facing potentially tragic decisions. Homer's treatment of events in Ithaca and the motivations of Penelope throughout the denser books of the Odyssey reveal a complicated, serious, independent, and insightful thinker whose actions are crucial to guaranteeing the well-being of her home and a safe future for her son, and for Odysseus as well. Through this thematic approach to the text, Penelope comes into focus as a loving wife whose role is far more important than passive fidelity to a wandering husband. Her integrity and wisdom in Odysseus's absence sets the stage for his violent and triumphant return, and secures her place as a female role model in even the most modern of contexts.
The Odyssey's larger plot is composed of a number of distinct genres of myth, all of which are extant in various Near Eastern cultures (Mesopotamian, West Semitic, Egyptian). Unexpectedly, the Near Eastern culture with which the Odyssey has the most parallels is the Old Testament. Consideration of how much of the Odyssey focuses on non-heroic episodes – hosts receiving guests, a king disguised as a beggar, recognition scenes between long-separated family members – reaffirms the Odyssey's parallels with the Bible. In particular the book argues that the Odyssey is in a dialogic relationship with Genesis, which features the same three types of myth that comprise the majority of the Odyssey: theoxeny, romance (Joseph in Egypt), and Argonautic myth (Jacob winning Rachel from Laban). The Odyssey also offers intriguing parallels to the Book of Jonah, and Odysseus' treatment by the suitors offers close parallels to the Gospels' depiction of Christ in Jerusalem.
Black Odysseys explores creative works by artists of ultimately African descent, which respond to the Homeric Odyssey. Considering what the ancient Greek epic has signified for those struggling to emerge from the shadow of Western imperialism, and how it has inspired anti-colonial poets, novelists, playwrights, and directors, McConnell examines twentieth- and twenty-first century works from Africa and the African diaspora, including the Caribbean and the United States. In seeking to discover why the Odyssey, as a founding text of the Western canon, has been of such interest to these artists, the great plurality of post-colonial and anti-colonial responses becomes clear: responses that differ dramatically from each other, even in the attitude adopted towards Odysseus himself. Since Aime Cesaire's seminal 1939 poem, Cahier d'un retour au pays natal (Notebook of a Return to My Native Land), the Odyssey's homecoming trope and quest for identity have inspired writers who are simultaneously striving against and appropriating the very forms which had been used to oppress them. Following in the wake of Cesaire, this volume proceeds chronologically and considers works by Ralph Ellison, Derek Walcott, Jon Amiel, Wilson Harris, Njabulo Ndebele, and Jatinder Verma.
Best known for his adventures during his homeward journey as narrated in Homer's Odyssey, Odysseus remained a major figure and a source of inspiration in later literature, from Greek tragedy to Dante's Inferno to Joyce's Ulysses. Less commonly known, but equally interesting, are Odysseus' "wanderings" in ancient philosophy: Odysseus becomes a model of wisdom for Socrates and his followers, Cynics and Stoics, as well as for later Platonic thinkers. From Villain to Hero: Odysseus in Ancient Thought follows these wanderings in the world of ancient Greek and Roman philosophy, retracing the steps that led the cunning hero of Homeric epic and the villain of Attic tragedy to become a paradigm of the wise man. This book explores the reception of Odysseus in philosophy, a subject that so far has been treated only in tangential or limited ways. Diverging from previous studies, Montiglio outlines the philosophers' Odysseus across the spectrum, from the Socratics to the Middle Platonists. By the early centuries CE, Odysseus' credentials as a wise man are firmly established, and the start of Odysseus' rehabilitation by philosophers challenges current perceptions of him as a villain. More than merely a study in ancient philosophy, From Villain to Hero seeks to understand the articulations between philosophical readings of Odysseus and nonphilosophical ones, with an eye to the larger cultural contexts of both. While this book is the work of a classicist, it will also be of interest to students of philosophy, comparative literature, and reception studies.
Beginning with a diagnosis of the current state of American classical philology, John Peradotto proceeds to concentrate on textual practices of naming and narrating in the Odyssey from a perspective that blends traditional philological with semiotic and narratological techniques. What emerges from this reading is a view of the poem as a tense opposition between "myth" and "folktale," recognized as vehicles for contrasting ideological opinions on the world. With terms drawn from Bakhtin's concept of "dialogism," the Odyssey's two voices are characterized as "centripetal" and "centrifugal"--the one associated with dominant political power, with the conventional, the official, and the heroic; the other, with the personal, the disempowered, and the popular, with the antics of the Autolycan trickster and outlaw. As he examines the more audible, "centrifugal" voice, Peradotto shows how the poet's sense of power over his material, represented in Odysseus' ability to narrate a fictitious world, creates a "character" of infinite variety - one whose self-chosen anonymity becomes a paradigm for a subtler ideology of the self than that embodied in the Iliadic Achilles.
Who was Homer? This book takes us beyond the legends of the blind bard or the wandering poet to explore an author about whom nothing is known, except for his works. It offers a reading of the ancient biographies as clues to the reception of the Homeric poems in Antiquity and provides an introduction to the oral tradition which lay at the source of the Homeric epics. Above all, it takes us into the world of the Odyssey, a world that lies between history and fiction. It guides the reader through a poem which rivals the modern novel in its complexity, demonstrating the unity of the poem as a whole. It defines the many and varied figures of otherness by which the Greeks of the archaic period defined themselves and underlines the values promoted by the poem's depictions of men, women, and gods. Finally, it asks why, throughout the centuries from Homer to Kazantzakis and Joyce, the hero who never forgets his homeland and dreams constantly of return has never ceased to be the incarnation of what it is to be human. This translation is a revised and much expanded version of the original French text, and includes a new chapter on the representation of women in the Odyssey and an updated bibliography.
The Odyssey, William G. Thalmann asserts, does not describe an actual historical society at any period, but gives a selective, idiosyncratic, and contradictory picture to serve ideological ends, representing rather than reproducing social reality. The Swineherd and the Bow is an ambitious attempt to apply literary and social science theory in order to reveal Homeric epic as a form of class discourse within the context of early Greek social and political development.Drawing upon recent scholarship in archaeology and cultural anthropology, Thalmann considers the evolution of Greek culture up to the formation of the polis in the late eighth century B.C. He demonstrates that Greek society was already stratified well before that date and that the distinction between an elite and other classes was well developed. Thalmann concentrates on the representation of slaves and on the dynamics of competition and family structure in the contest of the bow to interpret the Odyssey ―and, implicitly, epic poetry generally―as an intervention in the conflicts that surrounded the birth of the polis. In the interests of the aristocracy, the poem appropriates a traditional cultural paradigm, enshrined in the story of the Hero's return. The distortions of dark age reality, he maintains, should form the basis of an historicizing reading of the poem.
This is a study of how Homer creates two versions of his hero, one who is the triumphant protagonist of the revenge plot and another, more subversive, anonymous figure whose various personae exemplify an entirely different set of assumptions about the world through which each hero moves and about the shape and meaning of human life. Separating the two perspectives allows us to see more clearly how the poem's dual focus can begin to explain some of the notorious difficulties readers have encountered in thinking about the Odyssey. In The Unknown Odysseus, Thomas Van Nortwick offers the most complete exploration to date of the implications of Odysseus' divided nature, showing how it allows Homer to explore the riddles of human identity in a profound way that is not usually recognized by studies focusing on only one "real" hero in the narrative. This new perspective on the epic enriches the world of the poem in a way that will interest both general readers and classical scholars.
Whereas traditional commentaries tend to be comprehensive and micro-textual, this narratological commentary, first published in 2001, focuses on one aspect of the Odyssey, its narrativity, and pays lavish attention to the meso- and macro-levels. Drawing on the concepts of modern narratology as well as the insights of Homeric scholarship, it discusses the role of narrator and narratees, methods of characterization and description, plot-development, focalization, and the narrative exploitation of type-scenes. Full attention is also given to the structure, characterizing function, and relation to the narrative context of the abundantly present speeches. Finally, the numerous themes and motifs, which so subtly contribute to the unity of this long text, are traced and evaluated. Although Homer's brilliant narrative art has always been admired, this commentary aims to lay bare the techniques responsible for this brilliance. All Greek is translated and all technical terms explained in a glossary.