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

By Barbara Graziosi; Emily Greenwood | Go to book overview

9
Theo Angelopoulos in the Underworld

FranÇoise Létoublon

(with the collaboration of Caroline Eades)

Since the Odyssey, the journey to the Underworld has become an obligatory theme in epic, as well as in many other literary genres, also because it entails the ultimate form of voyage: one which leads the traveller to confront a radical Other, and to experience the limits of the human condition. This could account for the fact that many heroes, Virgil's Aeneas, Dante in The Divine Comedy, and Fénelon's Telemachos, have followed Odysseus' steps, and for the fact that in modern times, since Joyce and Proust, literature and the arts have not shunned Homer's Nekuia, even if the rewriting of this episode has often purposely taken many liberties with the original model. The films of the Greek director Angelopoulos are haunted by two kinds of shadows, constantly intertwined in his work: the shadows met by Angelopoulos in his own underworld, with some analogies with those met by Odysseus in his journey, and Homer's shadow, a pervasive one in literature, since antiquity.1

1 See Boitani 1994: 12: 'I would like to start with [substantial shadows]. One
emerges from Ulysses' story of his adventures during his ten-years return from Troy
to Ithaca, recounted in the Odyssey: the shadow of the journey to Hades and death.
The other is the shadow which seeps quietly out of the myth, covering the whole of
our culture: the Ulysses who is reincarnated, in different forms and bearing different
values, in poetry and history through the centuries, from Homer to the present day.
This constant presence and its continuing hold over the imagination are signs that it
represents our destiny as human beings.' In this quotation, Boitani quotes Eugenio
Montale's poetry collection, Ossi di sepia (1925).

-210-

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