The Odyssey Notes on Homer and his epic poems
Homer • May have lived sometime between 850 BCE and early 1200 BCE • Much of his life is a mystery • He probably lived closer to the 850 BCE date • The Iliad and The Odyssey both date from around this time • The poems may have been created over a long time, even by multiple people. • There is no proof that “Homer” even existed. • Emperor Hadrian asked at Delphi about Homer. • The prophecy said he was the son of Telemachus, and grandson of Odysseus • “Homer” could come from words meaning either “hostage,” or “blind.” Idealized Portrait of Homer http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homer
Homer’s Style • Aristotle mentions him in Poetics • Homer focused on a single, unified theme or action in both stories, which was unique at that time • Used dactylic hexameter, which doesn’t work in English • Six (6) feet per line • Dactyl: three syllables, the first accented • Just for a handful of silver he left usJustfor a riband to stick in his coat • (Browning) first two feet are dactyls. • This makes Homer’s writing seem to flow quickly • Characterized by, “Rapidity or ease of movement, plainness of expression, and plainness of thought” (Arnold, Wikipedia.org). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Homer_Statue_Munich.jpg
The Iliad • This story precedes the action of The Odyssey • Possibly based on history, to a degree • Depicts the actions of the Trojan War • Covers only a few weeks at the end of the war, but mentions other preceding events • Helen, wife of Menelaus is “kidnapped” by Paris of Troy • Ten years of war ensue • Featured the hero Achilles, who is killed at the end of the war • Also featured Agamemnon http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/0d/Iliad_VIII_245-253_in_cod_F205%2C_Milan%2C_Biblioteca_Ambrosiana%2C_late_5c_or_early_6c.jpg The first work of Western Literature!
The Odyssey http://towerreview.wordpress.com/2011/01/26/playlists-for-fictional-characters/ • Non-linear structure • Most of Odysseus’s adventures are told by him to the Phaeacians • Covers Odysseus’s ten year voyage home from the Trojan War • Translated from the Greek • Like The Iliad, written in oral style • Lots of repetition, to help the teller memorize the story • Odysseus and his story appear in Dante’s Inferno, Joyce and Tennyson’s Ulysses, and even in modern films
Greek Hero Cult • Greeks had many heroes • Originally meant “protector,” like the warriors at Troy (on both sides). Later came to refer only to dead people who were worshipped • More than human, less than a god • The line between hero and god was blurred • Some common traits • Circumstances of conception are unusual • An attempt is made at his birth to kill him • Reared by foster-parents in a far country • Meets a mysterious death • Body is not buried • Leaves no successors Heracles (http://boysblogongreekgods.blogspot.com/2010/06/heracles.html)
Epic Poetry • “Long narrative poem in elevated style presenting characters of high position in adventures forming an organic whole through their relation to a central heroic figure and through their development of episodes important to the history of a nation or race” (Harmon and Holman via wikipedia.org). • Begins with an invocation to a muse • Epic invocation • It starts with a statement of the theme • Contains long lists • Epic catalogue • Features long and formal speeches. • Shows divine intervention on human affairs. • "Star" heroes that embody the values of the civilization. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epic_poetry
Epic Poetry (Cont.) • Epic poems were written to be memorized and performed • There are a lot of repeated phrases • They use stock phrases, like “rosy-fingered dawn,” or “wine-dark sea” rather than original phrases. • There is usually a cyclical journey, or quest • The purest form of the “Hero’s Journey” Cuneiform script from Mesopotamia http://www-news.uchicago.edu/releases/03/oi/photos.html