Free «Homer, the Odyssey» Essay Sample

Despite modern-day oralism, we may still look at Homeric diction word by word. Shive (1987) gives a somewhat tendentious, but nevertheless salutary, demonstration of this, as he shows the consistent appropriateness of the various ways in which Achilleus is referred to in the Iliad and Odyssey. Previously, and from a more limited perspective, Watkins (1977) had urged a close analysis of even such familiar a word as menin, "wrath," with which the Iliad opens. As Watkins shows, menin has connotations of divinity, and this fact puts the hero of the Iliad in a special category, different from that of other subjects of epic poetry.

Andra, the opening word of the Odyssey, wild also repay examination, even though it may seem to be a less-distinctive item than menin. Most obviously, this word, meaning "man," establishes the humanity of Odysseus. It is therefore part of the evidence for Stanford's observation (1964,107) that in the Odyssey, unlike the Iliad, "with its emphasis on one destructive passion and its consequences, . . . the subject is stated to be a full picture of a man of many varied adventures and devices. "

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There is also more to be said than just that the Odyssey's scope is somehow fuller than that of the Iliad. According to Liddell-Scott-Jones (1940), aner (to cite the word in its nominative form) is used to refer to men rather than (1) women, (2) gods, (3) youths, or (4) wives. We have already considered briefly one of these contrasts, namely andra as "man" instead of "god," and all the rest too have some appropriateness at Odyssey 1.1.

One effect of andra will be to signal that its referent is a man, not a youth. There is thereby an adumbration of how the narrative will develop, namely, through exploring whether Telemachos is old enough to take over as head of his father's household, as he searches for information about him in books 1-4. Then, after first concentrating on the son, Homer will turn our attention to the adult Odysseus from book 5 onward.

Equally significant nuances are the contrasts with "woman" or "wife." Kalypso's interest in Odysseus will be mentioned within a dozen lines or so, at 1.13-15. The plot of the Odyssey as a whole, on the other hand, revolves around Penelope. The suitors' presence in her house is predicated on the supposition that she no longer has a husband and that Telemachos, now grown up, should see to her remarriage. Penelope herself, though, hopes for Odysseus' return, as does Odysseus, because at 5.215-224 he definitively rejects Kalypso's offer of immortality (which would have made him like a god) in favor of returning home.

An additional entry in LSJ (Liddell-Scott-Jones 1940) for aner is "man indeed." Inasmuch as their other definitions of the word are expressed through contrasts, we may gloss this as "a real man, not one of inferior status or accomplishment." Any such nuance for andra might seem unremarkable in Homeric epic, where men are almost by definition heroes. According to Pindar, in Nemean 7.20-22, however, Homer made Odysseus appear better than he was. Pindar's implication is that Odysseus was really a slick and disreputable trickster, and this negative evaluation is consistent with most ancient presentations of Odysseus' character and personality outside of Homer (cf. von Geisau 1972). It therefore seems likely that Homer brought a traditionally nonheroic type up to the standard of other epic heroes, such as Achilleus, Diomedes, or Aias (who is the subject of Pindar's praise at Nemean 7.20-30). Correspondingly, it is entirely fitting that in Homer's introductory assessment of his central character in the Odyssey, we have a heroic designation at 1.1.

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All this may seem a heavy responsibility to put on one fairly ordinary word. How could andra prepare for the rest of the Odyssey by simultaneously connoting (1) the adult member in a succession of generations, (2) Kalypso's paramour, who will yet return as Penelope's husband, and (3) a hero who is neither an ordinary man nor a god? Really, one cannot prove any of this, but as a first approximation, we may note that andra is the initial word in a poem composed in a language in which word order can be far more significant than in English.

Also important is the accentual pattern into which andra falls, although this point will require a fair amount of argumentation.

The Homeric citation at the beginning of this note is in translation and without any indication of accent. Such a procedure is usually satisfactory, because Greek accentuation, unlike the stress accent of English, was metrically and poetically secondary. The acute accent, for example, correlated with higher pitch, and the circumflex indicated a higher and then lower pitch on one syllable (for details, cf. W. S. Allen 1987, 116-30). Accent therefore had little to do with the quantitative rhythms of Greek verse. Nevertheless, it could sometimes be of poetic importance, as for example at Odyssey 9.364 414, where one must distinguish outis, "no one," from Outis, a proper name. We moderns may see this in the printed contrast between capital and lowercase, but as Stanford (1967,90-91) points out, Homer's audience will of course have recognized the proper name through its circumflex accent.

In the time of Homer and Hesiod, many words ending in a trochaic rhythm received an extra accent before an unaccented enclitic. Later, the rule applied only if the trochaic rhythm was provided by a long vowel or diphthong in the first syllable. Thus, while both epic and fifth-century-B.C. Attic Greek have combinations such as oikon te, "and home" (from underlying oikon te), only epic has a double accent in combination such as phulla te, "and leaves," or entha per, "where indeed, just where."

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Although the rule just sketched is well attested, it is nevertheless pretty well forgotten today, even among classicists. It is not actually very frequent, occurring only about once every forty lines or so, and most texts regularize in this matter. T. W. Allen's standard Oxford text of Homer, for example, ignores the rule, as does Stanford (1964; cf. W. S. Allen 1987, 127, n. 31). The rule does, however, apply in Odyssey 1.1, pace some hesitation expressed by West (1966,438-42). The old standby, Ludwich (1889), which is still the most convenient source for information on Homeric manuscripts, prints the original form as follows: Andra moi ennepe, Mousa, polutropon, hos mala polla . . . The opening word, with its trochaic rhythm followed by an enclitic, is thus marked out as unusual. The next occurrence of this accentual pattern in the Odyssey, for example, is at 1.88 (with others in book 1 at lines 128, 158, 210, 236, 261, 316, 363, and 389). In the Iliad it does not appear until line 38, in Hesiod, Theogony, until line 63, or in Works and Days until line 37. The Odyssey, though, opens in this manner, and, correspondingly, attention is somehow called to the word that is so accented.

Moreover, an important nuance is thereby reinforced at Odyssey 1.1: The acute accent was of course relative to other pitches in the stream of speech. Not being a matter of absolutely higher pitch, it was therefore as applicable to one speaker as to another. Against the normal accentuation of man as andra, however, the higher pitch on the entire word, andra, may yet suggest a woman's voice. Correspondingly, we may hear over the bard's voice, as he began the Odyssey, the voice of Kalypso, for whom it will be a question at 1.13-15 of how one takes the word--as simply "man" or as "husband." Even more, we may hear Penelope's voice here, and thus a suggestion of the multiple meanings of andra for her--man, husband, adult, hero, or god.

The Odyssey recounts the trials of Odysseus, king of Ithaca and hero of the Trojan War, as he struggles for ten years to return to his homeland and reunite with his wife Penelope and son Telemachus. After leaving Troy, Odysseus and his fleet sack the city of Ismarus, home of the Cicones. His men balk at his leadership and linger, enjoying the spoils, until the Cicones ambush and kill many of them. Storms now bring them to the land of the Lotus Eaters. His men sample the lotus flower and lose all desire to return home. Odysseus drags them back to the ship against their will (9:108–113). They land at the home of the Cyclopes, who have no laws and live alone in caves. Expecting to be treated hospitably as guests, as Zeus requires, Odysseus and his men are locked in a cave by Polyphemus, who begins eating them. This behavior violates a fundamental moral norm of the gods and the Greek world, where civilized humans are expected to protect and respect strangers.

Odysseus realizes that he is dealing with a “savage deaf to justice, blind to law” (9:240). After inducing Polyphemus to get drunk, Odysseus stabs the Cyclops in the eye. When other Cyclopes ask Polyphemus if he is in trouble, he screams, “Nobody’s killing me,” because Odysseus has informed Polyphemus that his name is “Nobody.”

He and his men escape by tying themselves to the underbelly of sheep. Sailing away, Odysseus proudly shouts to Polyphemus, “Say Odysseus, raider of cities, he gouged out your eye” (9:560–563). The boast reaches Polyphemus’ father Poseidon, god of the sea, who pursues Odysseus with implacable hatred. The gods often interfere in the life of mortals. Zeus and other male gods notoriously mate with mortal women, generating heroes and noble bloodlines. Sometimes the gods become special protectors of a mortal, as Athena does with Odysseus, but more often than not, mortals matter little to them—nothing more than “senseless burnt out wraiths of mortals” according to Achilles (11:540). When humans die, they enter the joyless land of the dead as shadows of themselves, hopeless, restless, endlessly wandering (11:105 ff.). There is no heaven and no hell to balance the scales of earthly injustice, and the gods do so only sporadically. Thus leaders are under heavy pressure to achieve in this life because the next offers no moral balance. 

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