The Distaff Side: Representing the Female in Homer's Odyssey

By Beth Cohen | Go to book overview

and fits together. . . . But this whole must always be put outside the text, for the text cannot at once contain it and rely on it as basis and ground." Paradoxically, in order to evoke a totality, the poem must exclude certain voices. In the epic genre, where plots are traditionally focalized by masculine heroes and narrators, it makes a kind of poetic sense that the excluded voice that guarantees wholeness should be feminine. Yet, as Ford wisely adds, the poet's evocation of excluded voices, however brief, is an opening that makes interpretation possible. 399 For me, it is this opening -- this space in which a female voice claims the authority of an epic poet -- that makes for the enduring power of the Sirens episode.


Notes

I am grateful to Marylin Arthur Katz, Beth Cohen, and the anonymous readers for their helpful comments on earlier drafts of this paper. I would like to dedicate the paper to the memory of A. K. Ramanujan, poet, scholar, and teacher.

1
See Buitron and Cohen, 1992, 14, 109-11.
2
Allen, 1917, 3: 218-19 (Book 12, lines 165-200). The total comes to forty-seven lines if Odysseus' introductory speech (12.154-64) is included and to sixty-three if Kirke's warning speech (12.39-54) is added.
3
See Schein, Chapter 2, this volume.
4
Ibid. Among other scholars who have taken related positions are Felson-Rubin, 1987 and 1993, and Murnaghan, 1986.
5
This approach is represented by, e.g., Roscher IV, 602-39; Buschor, 1944; and Page, 1973.
6
Pollard, 1965, 144.
7
Buitron and Cohen, 1992, 109.
8
Kahn, 1980, 121-34.
9
Compare Brilliant's observation that "the hybrid monster exemplifies the very fact of the transgression of boundaries" (Chapter 9, this volume).
10
An explicit comparison between a Muse and a Siren is first preserved in a fragment of the poet Alkman (frag. 30, Campbell, 1988, quoted by Aelius Aristides, Orations 28.51). In the modern critical literature, the comparison has been explored at length by Pucci (see n. 18, this chapter), and Kahn, 1980 and 1982. See also Segal, 1983, esp. 400; and Thalmann, 1984, 129 and 150. Buschor, 1944, also saw a resemblance between Muses and Sirens, but he did not explore the implications of this resemblance for the status of epic narrative.
11
This is not to deny the possibility, carefully outlined by Svenbro, 1976, 46-73, that the source of poetic authority that the Muse represents was understood quite differently by Hesiod and the poets of the Homeric tradition.

-89-

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The Distaff Side: Representing the Female in Homer's Odyssey
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Contents xi
  • Contributors xiii
  • Abbreviations xvii
  • I - Introduction 1
  • 1 - The Odyssey, History, and Women 3
  • Notes 14
  • 2 - Female Representations and Interpreting the Odyssey 17
  • Notes 26
  • 3 - Between Skylla and Penelope: Female Characters of the Odyssey in Archaic and Classical Greek Art 29
  • Notes 50
  • II - Female Representations in the Odyssey 59
  • 4 - The Plan of Athena 61
  • Notes 78
  • 5 - Sirens, Muses, and Female Narrators in the Odyssey 81
  • Notes 89
  • 6 - Penelope as Moral Agent 93
  • Notes 109
  • 7 - Figuring Fidelity in Homer's Odyssey 117
  • Notes 146
  • III - Representations of Female Characters from the Odyssey in Ancient Art 153
  • 8 - Coming of Age in Phaiakia: The Meeting of Odysseus and Nausikaa 155
  • Notes 161
  • 9 - Kirke's Men: Swine and Sweethearts 165
  • Notes 173
  • 10 - Les Femmes Fatales: Skylla and the Sirens in Greek Art 175
  • Notes 183
  • 11 - The Intimate Act of Footwashing: Odyssey 19 185
  • Notes 196
  • References 201
  • Index 219
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