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

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

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

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

Synopsis

This collection of essays explores the crucial place of Homer in the shifting cultural landscape of the twentieth century. It argues that Homer was viewed both as the founding father of the Western literary canon and as sharing important features with poems, performances, and traditions which were often deemed neither literary nor Western: the epics of Yugoslavia and sub-Saharan Africa, the keening performances of Irish women, the spontaneous inventiveness of the Blues. The book contributes to current debates about the nature of the Western literary canon, the evolving notion of world literature, the relationship between orality and the written word, and the dialogue between texts across time and space. Homer in the Twentieth Century contends that the Homeric poems play an important role in shaping those debates and, conversely, that the experiences of the twentieth century open new avenues for the interpretation of Homer's much-travelled texts.

Excerpt

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'Everyone who now reads and writes in the West, of whatever racial background, sex or ideological camp, is still a son or daughter of Homer': this is how Harold Bloom attempted to capture the place of Homer in 1975, as part of his illustration of the anxiety of influence in A Map of Misreading. Bloom's statement represents a well established way of thinking about the place of Homer in twentiethcentury culture. However, it seems to us that this vision of Homer as the fountainhead of all Western literature, grand as it is, actually underplays Homer's role in twentieth-century culture in at least two respects. The first and most obvious problem is the restriction of Homer's influence to 'the West', however conceived: even a superficial survey of Homeric translations published in the twentieth century shows that Homer was deemed relevant to readers of, to quote but a few, Ukrainian, Arabic, Chinese, Esperanto, Albanian, Turkish, and Korean. To be sure, in some cases Homer was translated precisely as the defining author of Western literature; yet the close engagement with Homeric epic on the part of readers and writers from many corners of the world challenged and redefined the very concept of Western literature. We may think of the ways in which Derek Walcott's Omeros weaves connections between St Lucia and the ancient Mediterranean, of how Odysseus navigates the

Bloom 1975: 33; see also Bloom 1973.

For a full list of translations of Homer published in the twentieth century see
Young 2003.

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