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Chris Mackie does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any type of company or company that would certainly benefit from this write-up, and has disclosed no appropriate affiliations past their scholastic appointment.

You are watching: The odyssey and epic poetry: an introduction, part 1



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The Odyssey of Homer is a Greek epic poem that tells of the return journey of Odysseus to the island also of Ithaca from the battle at Troy, which Homer addressed in The Iliad. In the Greek heritage, the battle lasted for ten years. Odysseus then spent a even more ten years getting house in the confront of hostility from Poseidon, god of the earth and also sea.

Odysseus’s return to his island also, however, is not the finish of his woes. He finds that 108 young men from the local vicinity have got into his residence to put push on his wife Penelope to marry one of them. A stalemate exists, and it is just refixed by a bow challenge at the finish of the poem, which then leads to a slaughter of all the suitors by Odysseus and his child Telemachus. Peace on the island also is eventually recovered via the intervention of Athena, goddess of wisdom, victory and also battle.

Penelope, waiting on Ithaca. Painted by Domenico Beccafumi circa 1514. Wikimedia

The pursuit of Odysseus to acquire back to his island and also eject the suitors is constructed on the power of his love for home and also family members. This concept of love dominating are afraid and hatred is a prevalent template in Greek search mythology.

The Odyssey, favor the Iliad, is split into 24 books, equivalent to the 24 letters in the Greek alphabet. Within the middle area of the poem (Books 9-12), Odysseus describes all the obstacles that he has actually confronted trying to get residence. These incorporate monsters of various sorts, a visit to the immortality, cannibals, drugs, alluring womales, and also the hostility of Poseidon himself. These obstacles resemble those of previously heroes like Heracles and Jaboy. In the Iliad, the hero Achilles faces no such challenges, indicating that the Odyssey has actually a very different idea of heroism.

Cunning and courage

The instrumental episode on the means residence is Odysseus’s enrespond to via Polyphemus, a Cyclops and also kid of Poseidon (told in Publication 9). He and his males enter into the cave of the Cyclops, acquire him drunk on some seriously potent wine, and then stick a huge burning stake right into his eye. Polyphemus is blinded however survives the strike and also curses the voyage home of the Ithacans. All of Odysseus’s males are inevitably killed, and also he alone survives his rerevolve house, mostly bereason of his adaptability and also cleverness. Tright here is a solid aspect of the trickster figure around Homer’s Odysseus.

It is incredibly important in the Odyssey that the hero’s renown as the destroyer of Troy has conveniently entered right into the oral legacy of the world through which he travels. On the last leg of his rerotate he is entertained by the Phaeacians on the island also of Scheria (probably modern Corfu), wright here Odysseus, his identification unwell-known to his hosts, rather cheekily asks the neighborhood bard Demodocus to sing the story of the wood steed, which Odysseus had actually supplied to hide the Greek soldiers and also surpclimb the city of Troy.

Odysseus resists the Sirens. Carole Raddato/Flickr, CC BY-SA

Odysseus is more than keen to hear about his own heroic exploits. And so well does Demodocus sing the story of the steed that tears run dvery own Odysseus’s cheeks and also he groans greatly. His reactivity to the bard prompts his organize, the king Alcinous, to ask him who he is and what is his story?

Odysseus deserve to rightly claim to be the conqueror of Troy based on his creative thinking in dreaming up the principle of the horse in the first place, not to point out his courage in going into its belly through the other males. His role in breaking the siege at Troy is a precursor to breaking the stalemate in his own home. He is a sort of “breaker of sieges” in at an early stage Greek epic. His heroism is qualified by these two elements – his shrewd intelligence, and his courage in the darkness of confined spaces.

This sort of heroism is exceptionally various from Achilles in the Iliad, whose renown is constructed on his use of the spear and also shield in single combat in the bideal light of day. Achilles never before sees the fevery one of Troy because he dies beforehand also (unless one watches the 2004 film Troy). One might say that Achilles wins his Trojan war by killing Hector, via Athena’s assistance, but it is Odysseus who is the real destroyer of the city by virtue of a new and also various type of heroism.

Just as Odysseus is too clever for the Trojans - and also the suitors - so his wife Penelope is a version of cleverness and circumspection. She tries to prevent re-marriage and also delays the event by a clever before ruse: she agrees to marry a suitor only after she has actually finiburned weaving a death shroud for Odysseus’s father Laertes. The suitors agree to this, however little bit execute they recognize that she weaves the shroud by day, and also un-weaves it by night. She is ultimately betrayed by among the maids in the residence, and also required by the suitors to finish it, although the rusage does last for three years.

Penelope keeps her suitors at bay by spinning a shroud for 3 years. Painted by Pinturicchio circa 1500. Wikimedia

The Greeks had actually no illusion that the characteristic cleverness of Odysseus had a sinister element to it, not the least in the means that he encounters the Trojans after the war. Several of the atrocities at Troy, notably the killing of the young boy Astyanax (child of Hector and also Andromache), are sheeted residence to Odysseus by the poets. In late-5th century BC Athens (over 200 years after Homer’s Odyssey) the increase of demagogic politicians, prefer Cleon, appears to have actually impacted the portrayal of Odysseus in Greek drama. In works such as Sophocles’ Philoctetes and also Euripides’ Trojan Womales the emphasis is on his appalling cruelty and duplicity. Likewise, the Roman poet Vergil in his Aeneid (Book 2) emphasises the dark trickery of Ulysses (the Romale name for Odysseus) in obtaining the Trojans to drag the Wooden Horse inside the city walls.

Returning from war

The Odyssey, therefore, is a maritime epic best as much as the suggest wright here the emphasis of attention is the siege in Odysseus’s residence. The return journey of the warrior from Troy was a favourite design template in Greek mythology, and we know of one more early epic poem (ssuggest called Nostoi, interpretation “Returns”) which told a similar story. Even within the Odyssey tbelow is a far-reaching comparison between the cautious and clever before return of Odysseus, and also that of Agamemnon, king of Mycenae, that is murdered as quickly as he gets house.

Tbelow are a number of indicators that the Odyssey is a later poem than the Iliad, and not necessarily by the very same poet (despite the Greek tradition that they are both by “Homer”). The gods are much less influential in the Odyssey than the Iliad, although Athena in specific has her moments. She is linked through cleverness (metis in Greek) and also victory (nike), both of which are germane to the story of Odysseus’ survival, and also that of his family members. In many kind of methods Odysseus and also Penelope are models of the sorts of things that Athena represents.

Odysseus and also his boy slaughter Penelope’s suitors on Ithaca. Wikimedia

The Odyssey likewise has actually a much more elaborate framework and chronology than the Iliad. The initially four publications attend to the case of the residence invasion on Ithaca, and the travels of the young Telemachus to mainland Greece. Athena takes Telemachus from the female room of the home to the exterior human being of male politics. Thereafter, Odysseus himself is the centre of the poem’s attention as wanderer, tale teller, and siege breaker in his very own house. The folktale world with which he travels (in Books 9 to 12) is told instraight by Odysseus on his journey home to a Phaeacian audience, fairly than straight by the poet. This notion of Odysseus as tale teller is main to the Odyssey.

In many kind of ways the Odyssey is the most renowned literary job-related from Greek antiquity, even though some world would certainly say it lacks the radical brilliance of the Iliad. The truth that the word “odyssey” has actually come right into our language from Homer’s poem speaks for itself. The story of the Odyssey is a quintnecessary quest that relates to the passage via life and also the prestige of love and household and house. Many readers today discover the Odyssey more obtainable and also more “modern” than the “archaic” Iliad.

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Modern interpretations

The rich array of mythical narratives in the Odyssey (specifically his wanderings through a civilization of wonder and mystery in Books 9 to 12) has expected that the cultural history of the poem is astonishingly huge, whether in literary works or art or film. Whole monographs have been created on the reception of Odysseus in later periods. When one bears in mind that Odysseus’s name at Rome, Ulysses, is regularly provided by artists and also writers, as it was by James Joyce, then we acquire a sense of exactly how leading a figure he is in western cultural history.

Creative re-tellings of the Odyssey in a modern context include movies such as 2001: A Void Odyssey, Paris, Texas, and O Brother Where Art Thou? Likewise the theme of the returning war veteran has Homeric overtones in films favor The Manchurian Candidate, The Deer Hunter and In the Valley of Elah.

Odysseus, moreover, most likely affected the at an early stage comic book superhero Batman in the late 1930s and also 40s, simply as Greek demigods, such as Heracles and Achilles, help to indevelop the extra-terrestrial background of Superguy. As a huguy bat, Batguy offers disguise to great impact, as Odysseus does, and also he thrives on conducting his obstacles in the darkness of night.

Bob Dylan cites The Odyssey as a significant influence. EPA/DOMENECH CASTELLO

But the last word on the topic of Odysseus and his adventures must go to Bob Dylan, that won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016. Dylan created a lecture in honour of his Nobel victory, focused on some of the literary works that affected and also affected him. One such work was the Odyssey, and also via echoes of Constantine Cavafy’s magnificent poem Ithaca, Dylan mirrors on Odysseus’ adventures and also their immediacy as a lived experience:

In most methods, some of these exact same things have happened to you. You as well have had actually drugs dropped into your wine. You also have actually mutual a bed via the wrong woguy. You too have been spellbound by magical voices, sweet voices with strange melodies. You also have actually come so far and also have been so much blown back. And you’ve had actually cshed calls also. You have actually angered civilization you must not have. And you as well have rambled this country all roughly. And you’ve likewise felt that ill wind, the one that blows you no excellent. And that’s still not all of it.