An American Homer for the
Seth L. Schein
There probably have been more readers of the Iliad and Odyssey in undergraduate humanities and great books courses in the United States since the 1920s than in the 500+ years since the first printed editions of the Homeric epics—more, perhaps, than since the time of the Alexandrian editors. Over 100,000 students take such courses annually, and the significance of these courses as a new institutional and social context in which to read Homeric poetry is perhaps the main factor in the American reception of Homer during the twentieth (and now the twenty-first) centuries.1 The only rival is in the realm of popular culture, where films and TV 'specials' loosely based on (parts of) the Iliad and Odyssey attract even larger audiences (e.g. Ulysses, Contempt, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Troy, the Odyssey), and other films seem to assume some degree of familiarity with or interest in Homeric epic, for example The Human Stain, where a professor is shown discussing the Iliad with undergraduates.2 These popular receptions, however, do not involve the same kind of engagement with the epics themselves as do the humanities and great books courses that are the subject of this chapter.
I would like to thank Emily Greenwood for detailed comments and criticism that
improved this essay. I also am grateful to Caesar Adams, Penelope Adams, Barbara
Graziosi, Nancy Felson, and Emily Wilson for their encouragement and suggestions.
1 Another 150,000–200,000 students per year read all or parts of the Iliad,the Odyssey,
or both epics in high school or college courses in Mythology or Classical Literature.
2 On the politics of classical receptions in film, see Goldhill (Ch. 11 above).