In the final of three classes on Trojan War narrative, we will move from the end of the Iliad through the end of the Odyssey. First, we will cover the major episodes that were considered to follow the Iliad, including the arrival of Trojan allies, Memnon and Penthesilea, the Trojan Horse, the Sacking of the City, and the disastrous “returns” (Nostoi). After exploring some of the mythical insights available from the sufferings the Greeks encountered after leaving Troy, we will turn to the Homeric Odyssey,
If the Iliad is a poem of war and death, the Odyssey is a poem of life and survival. One of the riddles left to us by antiquity is why, of all the possible epics and all those whose names are recorded, these two have survived whole to the modern day. One of the things we will consider in class is that these epics display an essential complementarity: together, they cover most of the questions and needs of human existence.
The Odyssey draws on previous myth and storytelling in much the same way the Iliad does. In telling a grand tale of journey, survival, suffering, and vengeance-laden return, the Odyssey appropriates from and occludes similar stories that came before. But in returning the warrior home, it also asks audiences to consider themes less well-fit to the Iliad, including issues of personal identity, what a home is, the relationship between a person and a state, and what happens to a ‘hero’ after the ‘main story’ is over. In addition, the Odyssey fills something of a cosmic purpose: in bringing the generation of heroes to a definitive end, it asks us to consider what the world of mortal human beings is like. Through its explorations, the Odyssey invites us to draw boundaries between the civilized and the wild, the story and the self, and justice and vengeance.
We will close the class by surveying other stories about Odysseus and considering the contrast between the man the Homeric epic puts before us and versions other audiences might have known.
Ancient Authors Discussed
Homer, Archaic Age
Hesiod, Archaic Age
Ovid, Roman Imperial Period
Apollodorus, Roman Imperial Period?
Some Suggested Course Texts
Hesiod’s, Works and Days
Apollodorus on the Trojan War (E.2.16-7.40)
Homer on the Nostoi
Odyssey, book 1
Odyssey, book 9
Odyssey, book 24
A Few Terms
Links to Blogposts
Modern Authors Mentioned
Other Articles for Additional Reading
Colleen Chaston. “Three Models of Authority in the “Odyssey”.” CW 96 (2002) 3-19.
J. Christensen. 2018. “Human Cognition and Narrative Closure: The Odyssey’s Open End.”
J. Christensen. 2018. “The Clinical Odyssey: Odysseus’ Apologoi and Narrative Therapy.” Arethusa 51: 1-31
Erwin Cook. “Structure as Interpretation in the Homeric Odyssey.”
Lillian Doherty. 1992. “Gender and Internal Audiences in the Odyssey.” AJP
Benjamin Haller. “Dolios in Odyssey 4 and 24: Penelope’s Plotting and Alternative Versions of Odysseus’ nostos.” TAPA 143 (2013) 263-292.
Stephanie Larson. 2000. “Boiotia, Athens, the Peisistratids and the Odyssey’s Catalogue of Heroines.” GRBS
Jim Marks. Zeus in the Odyssey. Washington, D.C.
Melissa Mueller. “Helen’s Hands: Weaving for Kleos in the Odyssey.” Helios 37 (2010) 1-21.
Sheila Murnaghan. 2002. “The Trials of Telemachus: Who was the Odyssey for?”
Laura Slatkin. 1986. “Genre and Generation in the Odyssey.”
Willian Whallon. 1960. “The Name of Penelope.” GRBS
Yung in Chae. “Women Who Weave.” Eidolon Nov. 16, 2017.
Joe Goodkin. “On Being a Modern Bard.” Eidolon Apr. 16, 2016