Homer in the Twentieth Century: Between World Literature and the Western Canon

By Barbara Graziosi; Emily Greenwood | Go to book overview
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4
Homer and Joyce: The Case of Nausicaa

Stephen Minta

The Iliad closes on its audience like a great door on an empty cathedral, leaving only silence behind. Over its long course, the epic has raised some of the most pressing issues in human affairs, and, through the eyes and actions of Achilles, in particular, the heroic code which is the foundation of conduct in the epic has been relentlessly scrutinized. Nevertheless, the poem works towards its end by distancing the possibility of saying anything further. Achilles and Priam meet in Book 24, and, in response to Priam's incomprehension at the terrible and unpredictable nature of human destiny, Achilles gives him an answer which is no answer, but which is all that is available in the world as he has come to understand it:

he says to Priam, 'keep going' (Iliad 24.549). Even grieving now seems like a luxury from another age, and there is always worse to come. The story goes on, of course, into the Aethiopis and beyond, but though there is a sense of brooding menace at the end of the Iliad, there is remarkably little suspense. The important events to come—the death of Achilles, the fall of Troy—have, in the imagination of the audience, already happened.1

If the Iliad ensures its own finality and completeness, the Odyssey, as has often been pointed out, does something like the opposite. Or,

Unacknowledged translations in this chapter are my own. I am grateful for the
comments of Barbara Graziosi, Emily Greenwood, and Derek Attridge on an earlier
draft of this essay.

1 In its closing moments, Wolfgang Petersen's film Troy (2004) resists the sense of
finality by hinting at a continuation of the story through the future career of Aeneas.

-92-

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