The Art of the Odyssey

The Art of the Odyssey

The Art of the Odyssey

The Art of the Odyssey

Excerpt

In 272 B.C. a Greek named Andronicus was captured in a battle in southern Italy and brought as a slave to Rome, where he came to be employed as a schoolmaster. Finding no suitable text for the enlightenment of his young charges, he translated Homer's Odyssey into Latin verse around 240 B.C., thus establishing Homeric poetry as the first achievement of Latin literature as it was of Greek. Since then Homeric epic—the Odyssey in particular—has retained a primacy of various sorts, as the first and probably the finest example of its genre, the beginning of the Western literary tradition, and the ideal introduction to literature, so simple and so profound, so obvious and so mysterious, so accessible and so elusive, but withal so available to everyone despite limitations of age, culture, or literary awareness. The Iliad, like its hero, can be difficult, austere, desperate, but the Odyssey, as Livius Andronicus realized when he faced the stolid sons of his Roman masters, is for everyone. The same may be said of this book. It is intended for that overworked abstraction, die general reader (who has to read so many booksl), and its aim is to comment on the Odyssey in such a way as to increase the pleasure and understanding of a reader either first coming or returning to Homer's great epic. Although this study follows, more or less, the sequence of action in the poem, it is not, except incidentally, a retelling of the story, for as Odysseus himself says at the end of Book XII (452–53), "It goes against the grain with me to repeat a tale already plainly told." Noted in passing, too, are some of die long-standing puzzles of the Odyssey's composition, but they are not solved; instead the emphasis in the present study is to elucidate (and celebrate) What There Is rather dian to speculate on What Might Have Been. This tactic is less a maneuver than a dodge, because many of die problems of logic and consistency that began to bedevil scholars in the nineteenth century are still outstanding and though some have ceased to matter much they can still cast their special pall over even the most self-consciously liter-

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