Ancient Epic Poetry: Homer, Apollonius, Virgil: With a Chapter on the Gilgamesh Poems

By Charles Rowan Beye | Go to book overview

5
The Odyssey

You stubborn man, full of so many plans, deceits,
not even in your own land have you any intention
of stopping your cheating, your lying words,
which you know you love from the bottom of your heart.

—Athena to Odysseus, Odyssey 13.293–95

The Odyssey seems to be quite different from the Iliad. The difference, however, is not in the mechanics of style; its creator knows the same techniques of oral poetic composition, the same metrics, the same formulaic construction, the same reliance on typical scenes and stereotypic characters. If the diction seems at times different, that is no more than one would expect from different times, a different poet or group of poets, and, of course, a very different story. It is remarkable that these poems can be so very unlike one another and yet so very similar. The ancients considered them to be the works of the same man, the "divine poet," and for centuries that was the received opinion, but twentieth-century scholars are more inclined to view them as the work of two poets or poetic traditions. Computerized studies of the language tend to support this view: they show trends and linguistic habits peculiar to each poem which suggest that the Iliad is earlier than the Odyssey in some kind of oral poetic linguistic evolution. But clearly the oral poetic technique held this poet tightly in its grasp; the opening invocation to the Muse is very real, for the Muse of epic formulary style does possess the poet.

While the story of the Iliad proceeds without any sensible interruption, the Odyssey narrative might be said to separate into three distinct parts. The first four books, commonly called the Telemachia, describe the conflict of Odysseus's son Telemachus with his mother's

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Ancient Epic Poetry: Homer, Apollonius, Virgil: With a Chapter on the Gilgamesh Poems
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page i
  • Contents v
  • Preface to the Second Edition vii
  • 1: Oral Poetry 1
  • 2: The Poet's World 43
  • 3: Poetic Technique 74
  • 4: The Iliad 113
  • 5: The Odyssey 144
  • 6: The Argonautica 187
  • 7: The Aeneid 219
  • Further Reading 257
  • 8: Gilgamesh 279
  • Further Reading Revisited 303
  • Index 311
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