Odysseys

Term: SPRING 2013

Subject Code: GLIB

Course Number: 5833

Homer's Odyssey is among the most important foundational texts of Western literature. The paradigmatic heroic voyage, it has a vast tonal and thematic range; among the issues explored are exile, homecoming, fidelity, honor, deception, the characteristics of a civilized society, and the relations between men and women, parents and children, and individuals and their social groups. Countless subsequent authors have used elements of Homer's epic as starting points; in fact, the story has become the basis for an ongoing conversation among writers, who revisit its figures and tropes as part of the never-ending effort to define the role of literature in helping us understand our lives. In this course, we look at the Odyssey itself and some of the works of poetry, fiction and drama it has inspired. We spend about a month reading the Odyssey, together with critical works on its structure, style, and literary and historical context, including selections from Finley, Whitman, Dodds, Bowra, Parry and Nagy. We then turn to literary works that have taken the Odyssey as a point of departure, including Joyce's Ulysses (to which we devote several sessions) and texts by Dante, Tennyson, Camus, Cavafy, Kafka, Margaret Atwood, Derek Walcott, Zachary Mason and Julin Ros. In each case, we consider how the author uses elements of the original epic for his or her own purposes, expanding some, deleting others, adding new material and altering structure and focus, in order to explore some of Homer's major themes for audiences living in a world very distant from that of the ancient Greeks. We also consider the cumulative effect of this tradition of reimagining: how each new version explicitly or implicitly comments on previous versions, creating a metafictional narrative that becomes part of the story itself.

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