The Odyssey: Notes Towards an Analysis of Homer’s Poem

Interesting Literature

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle revisits Homer’s Odyssey, the epic poem that resists our analysis

Of all the epic poems from the classical era, Homer’s Odyssey is the most modern. In ancient Rome, at the court of the Emperor Nero, Petronius parodied its episodic style for his scurrilous and daringly modern ‘novel’ the Satyricon; nearly 2,000 years later, James Joyce used its episodic structure for his scurrilous and daringly modern ‘novel’ Ulysses. There is something novelistic even in Homer’s original poem. Far from being solely a glamorous epic idealising heroes and glorifying war and adventure, Homer’s Odyssey is also about how heroism and adventure often fail to live up to our expectations of them.

I first encountered the story of Odysseus through Tony Robinson’s entertaining retelling of it for children, Odysseus: The Greatest Hero of Them All. The story…

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