Saturday, December 27, 2008

you can tell because at the end everyone is married...

I never thought of the Odyssey as a comic novel before, but it's starting to dawn on me that it is one. What?

Maybe it's because epics aren't often comedic -- even comic novels like Candide that cover long journeys and spans of time are so short and snappy that they can hardly be considered epics. Then again, epics aren't often intimate, but Beowulf will fight you in an alleyway. Anyway, when Clare says it's a "just a romp," she's absolutely right. I like to imagine Odysseus as just this dude who took a long time getting home and when people asked about it he told them about all the bad weather and the islands he'd seen and the people who had helped him, and they seemed bored and he kept talking and eventually it was this storm-swept adventure full of nubile maidens and one-eyed monsters.

(A thing that bothers me about the Odyssey is that I can't really seek out historical anecdotes about the author or the original manuscript, for obvious reasons. However, I'd like to point out that some guys with too much time took a debatable detail in the Odyssey and pinpointed the day the Odysseus returns home and kills all the suitors. For the record, it's April 16, 1178 BCE. We are totally having a party on April 16, and I'm gonna serve Odyssey-themed food. It's going to be the best thing that ever happened.)


annie said...


The 16th of April is about when my husband will be returning to me from boot camp.

Leigh Walton said...

E. V. Rieu, founder of the Penguin Classics series and translator of their first Odyssey, described the poem as a novel. His role as editor-in-chief gives him a VERY different perspective on translation, considering that he knew he had to make sales quotas. Let me quote my thesis:

Rieu’s strategy for selling Homer to the millions was to make the text familiar. “In form they are epic poems; but it will perhaps make their content clearer to the modern reader if I describe the Iliad as a tragedy and the Odyssey as a novel. ... the Odyssey, with its well-knit plot, its psychological interest, and its interplay of character, is the true ancestor of the long line of novels that have followed it. And though it is the first, I am not sure that it is not still the best” (Rieu 10). He characterizes the Odyssey as a literary adventure to be read with joy rather than an imposing monument of ancient culture. “I am not going to spoil my readers’ pleasure by an analysis of the plot. Homer is the world’s best story-teller, and I can safely leave them in his hands” (Rieu 12). Regarding textual criticism he is similarly unconcerned, proclaiming the simple single-author theory (i.e. that there was a “Homer,” and he wrote both poems), which corresponds well to modern literature: “readers may feel as sure that they are in one man’s hands as they do when they turn to As You Like It after reading King John” (Rieu 9). His position stands in contrast to the more complicated modern theory in which the extant text is a hybrid of multiple strands of oral and literate composition. Though in 1946 Albert Lord was still refining the oral theory, Milman Parry had laid its solid foundations in the early 1930s, and its omission must be conscious. Rieu wishes his readers to imagine a single author because they are used to doing so—because it will help them feel safe and “sure.”

Rieu is perhaps the clearest example of what Borges called “the essential or conventional Homer,” formed by smoothing over the irregularities and idiosyncracies of the text with the translator’s own uniformity.17 To do so, however, is to eliminate the “numerous and small surprises” of the original (Borges “Homeric Versions” 17). This method is hardly illegitimate or ineffective— million readers have discovered Homer through Rieu—but it does fundamentally mask the nature of the text. Rieu decided that the story was more important than the poem, and felt that that story would be most comprehensible to modern readers as a novel rather than an epic.