And the tradition continues to build on itself....
Now that you have become familiar with Homeric epic through the
Iliad, and have had an opportunity to see some thematic
echoes (as well as some important narratalogical complications: unreliable
"autobiographical" narration, "Cretan story," nested
plots) in the Hymn to Demeter, you should be able to pick out
the "squiggles" in the Odyssey --the clues embedded
in the poem that tell you how to read the poem--fairly readily.
Some preliminary questions you should be asking yourself as you read
- Intertextuality: How does the
Odyssey continue the Iliad? What continuities and/or
discontinuities with the Iliad do you observe in the way the
story is told (characters, role of gods, language, imagery, dramatic
devices, simile, etc.)?
- Form: Using the tools you gained
from analyzing the Iliad, can you trace formal patterns in
- Worldview: How would you characterize
the Weltanshauung (world-view) of the Odyssey? What
do these tell us about how to read the poem?
- "Telling": The question
of telling (that is, the act of narration) is foregrounded
much more in the Odyssey than in the Iliad (where narrative
crafts such as singing and weaving were restricted to a few characters).
What does this thread add to the poem?
- Identity: The Odyssey
is a nostos--a poem of homecoming. (When we were reading the
Iliad, we discussed the concept of kleos poetry--poetry
dedicated to the exploits of heroes, and composed in dactylic hexameter.
We also talked about nostos--"return"--as
a concept which, for Achilles only, was proposed as antithetical
to kleos. Like kleos, however, nostos is also
the name of a literary genre: the nostoi are the bardic works
commemorating the homecomings of the victorious Achaians. For more
details, see p. 4 of Lattimore's Introduction [you don't need to read
the rest of the Introduction]). An essential part of returning home
involves the hero's identity: how he has changed, how he is the same,
how he reconnects with those who knew him before. Odysseus owes his
ultimate success largely to the skill with which he negotiates his
identity. Keep track of these "negotiations": can you trace
a pattern? How does the poem make you think about identity? And who
is the "real" Odysseus?
andra moi ennepe,
mousa, polutropon, hos mala polla...
Start with the proem, or introductory
stanza--here, the first ten lines of the epic. (To see it in transliterated
Ancient Greek, click here.)
As you know from the extensive discussion we had of the proem to the
Iliad, the proem "sets up" many of the themes and poetic
strategies that will be most important to a proper reading of the work
as a whole. So you should take a particularly careful look at the proem.
Since you have the antecedent form of
the Iliad proem to compare it to, go ahead and draw comparisons--then
think about what the differences (and similarities) tell you about the
Odyssey as a discrete artistic unit. Here are some questions
you will want to ask of the proem:
- What is the subject of the poem (the equivalent
to the Iliad's "wrath)?
- The adjective
polutropos ("of many ways," in Lattimore's commendably
ambiguous translation) has a similar "quasi-divine" connotation
to Achilles' menis. But it is quite a different sort of defining
quality for a hero to have. What does introducing it "up front"
here do for the poem?
- What is special about Odysseus's homecoming,
as it is sketched in the proem? What further issues are raised by
the nature of his nostos?
- Who is not named in the proem? Why not?
- Why does the poet explicitly ask the Muse
to choose a starting-point for the story? What do you think of the
place "she" chooses to start in (l. 11 ff.)?
All this and much, much more when we meet on Tuesday.........
NB! Don't forget the following:
(a) bring your ticket money to class on Tuesday;
(b) check back with the H2D discussion boards (click here)
to read my notes on what you said;
(c) write your paper
(due Friday at noon)! (For online self-help sheet, click here.)