Western Literature to Dante

Bruce A. McMenomy, Ph.D. for Scholars Online
2018-19: Mondays, 1:00 p.m.- 2:30 p.m. Eastern Time


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Unit II: The Greek Epic

Week 8: Homer, The Odyssey
ca. 800 B.C.

Well, by now I hope you are enjoying the Odyssey; it is certainly very different from the Iliad, I am sure you will agree. Please have read by your classtime this week:

If appropriate, once again refer to the section of the introductory notes relating to the Odyssey.

Bust of Homer (almost certainly imaginary). Paris, Musˇe du Louvre. Photograph, Bruce A. McMenomyKeep the larger questions from last time still in mind, but consider these as well:

  1. How do the gods seem to figure in the plot, as opposed to the plot of the Iliad?
  2. Here, even more than in the Iliad, the question of truth and falsehood, deception and honesty, reality and illusion comes to the fore. We have a number of instances where things are not what they seem to be:
    • Odysseus as trickster (the Trojan horse was his idea);
    • the shape-shifting of Proteus and the transformations of Circe;
    • Odysseus’ anonymous travels and arrival home as a beggar;
    • Helen’s “good drug” which induces forgetfulness;
    • the tricks played on Polyphemus, including the name-trick;
    • ...and you can probably come up with a few more.

So...what does it all mean? What is identity here? What is the relationship between identity and survival — and again, how does this tie in to kleos and nostos?

What kind of hero do we see emerging here? Is this different from the hero of the Iliad? When you consider heroes — and we will see a lot of them throughout this course, consider in particular:

  1. What are they in it for?
  2. What are they willing to die for? (That they are willing to die for something is perhaps definitional of a hero — one reason the Greek gods can never be as heroically serious as mortals.)

The Odyssey surely jumps from one situation to another a great deal. In scene-setting, at least, it is quite episodic. Is it similarly episodic in terms of its plot, or is that a unified whole?