Skip to main content Accessibility help

III. The Odyssey 1

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 February 2016

Get access


Although it is theoretically possible (and has been asserted) that the Iliad followed the Odyssey, or that the two poems were composed quite independently, with no influence from one to the other, majority opinion ancient and modern puts the Odyssey later, and assumes it to be in important respects a successor, even a sequel, to the Iliad. This position can be maintained in various forms: those who believe in a single master-poet as the creator of both epics may assign the Iliad to Homer’s youth, the Odyssey to his riper years (a position memorably expressed by Longinus); those who follow the ancient separatists can regard the Odyssey as a rival work, composed by a poet who immensely admired the Iliad but whose own poetic and moral concerns lay elsewhere. On the whole the latter view is now more common, though there are eminent advocates on both sides. In fact it is probably impossible, in a tradition which involved so much use of conventional themes and formulaic material, to decide firmly in favour of common or separate authorship. Whichever view one prefers, the important point seems to be that the Odyssey is later, and that it is conceived as a poem on the same scale as the Iliad, but differing strikingly in content and ethos.

Research Article
Copyright © The Classical Association 1996

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below.



The standard commentary for scholars is now Heubeck et al. (originally published with a text, and in a more attractive format, in Italian (6 vols., 1981-6); now translated and publ. in 3 vols, by Oxford 1988-92). The first volume is the most valuable, with important introductory essays. See also Jones 1991, for books 1 and 2; more advanced, Garvie 1994 on books 6-8, Rutherford 1992 on books 19 and 20. Jones 1988 is an unpretentious and informative guide to the poem aimed at readers of Lattimore’s translations. For book-length studies see H. W. Clarke, The Art of the Odyssey (New Jersey, 1967; repr. with additions Bristol, 1989), Thornton 1970, Eisenberger 1973, Austin 1975, Griffin 1987, S. V. Tracy, The Story of the Odyssey (Princeton, 1990; rather elementary), U. Hölscher, Die Odyssee: Epos zwischen Märchen und Roman (Munich, 1989). G. E. Dimock, Jr., The Unity of the Odyssey (Amherst, 1989) is a book-by-book reading, sometimes rather disappointing: see my review in CR 41 (1991), 9-10. Page 1973 is an enjoyable essay on the adventures of books 9-12 (cf. 1955, ch. 1). Hölscher 1939 and esp. Fenik 1974 are indispensable on the thematic structure. A good deal of the material in part 1 of Edwards 1987 concerns both epics.


2. For a fuller treatment of the topics covered in this section see Rutherford 1991-3; also Heubeck, A., Der Odyssee-Dichter und die Ilias (Erlangen, 1954)Google Scholar; Burkert, W., ‘Das Lied von Ares und Aphrodite’, RhM 103 (1960), 130-44Google Scholar; Griffin 1987, 63-70, and (most fully) Usener, K., Beobachtungen zum Verhältnis der Odyssee zur Ilias (ScriptOralia 21, Tübingen, 1990)Google Scholar (reviewed by Griffin, CR 41, 1991, 288-91).

3. Sen. de brev. vitae 13. 2 refers to the argument over priority as one of the pointless debates of Greek scholarship. Page 1955, 149-59 argued for complete independence, but has not generally been followed.

4. For the problems of the conclusion of the Odyssey see pp. 74-7 below.

5. On Odysseus in the Iliad see further Stanford 1963, chh. 2-5; Borthwick, E. K., Odyssean Elements in the Iliad (Edinburgh, 1985)Google Scholar.

6. Cairns, F., Virgil’s Augustan Epic (Cambridge, 1990), ch. 8 Google Scholar, attempts to argue that the Odyssey had a higher status in some periods of antiquity than the Iliad.

7. Cf. Goldhill 1991, 1-68; Rutherford 1991-3, 48-9; Segal 1995, chh. 6-8.

8. See now Olson, S. D., Blood and iron: story and story-telling in Homer’s Odyssey (Leiden, Mnemos. Supplement 148, 1995)Google Scholar.

9. On Odysseus’ lies see Emlyn-Jones, C., ‘True and lying tales in the Odyssey ’, G&R 33 (1986), 110 Google Scholar, Goldhill 1991, 36-48, Rutherford 1992, 69-73.

10. Juvenal 15. 13-26, Lucian True History 1. 3, Dio Chr. 11. 34; cf. Goldhill 1991, 47-8.

11. Indeed, the narrative itself contradicts this interpretation as far as the Cyclops-tale is concerned: see esp. i. 20-1 with 68-75, v. 282ff.

12. Cf.Marg, W., ‘Das erste Lied des Demodokos’, in Navicula Chilonensis (Jacoby, Fest. F.) (Leiden, 1956), 1629 Google Scholar, Macleod 1982, 1-8, 1983, ch. 1; differently Nagy, G., The Best of the Achaeans (Baltimore, 1979), 4258 Google Scholar.

13. See further Burkert (n. 2 above), Braswell, B. K., ‘The song of Ares and Aphrodite: theme and relevance to Odyssey 8Hermes 90 (1982), 129-37Google Scholar, and the notes in Garvie’s commentary.

14. Mattes, W., Odysseus bei den Phåaken. Kritisches zur Homeranalyse (Würzburg, 1958), esp. 129 ff.Google Scholar; reservations in Fenik 1974, 13-18. See now Garvie 1994, 26-30.

15. Cf.Steiner, G., ‘Homer and the scholars’, in Language and Silence (London, 1967), 221 Google Scholar: ‘it reminds one of the performance of an air from “The Marriage of Figaro” in the last act of “Don Giovanni” ‘.

16. On the importance of naming and anonymity in the Odyssey see Austin, N., ‘Name magic in the Odyssey ’, CSCA 5 (1972), 119 Google Scholar; Fenik 1974, 5-60; Goldhill 1991, 24-36; de Jong, I.J. F., ‘Studies in Homeric denomination’, Mnemos. 46 (1993), 289306 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

17. Rüter 1969, 228-46; Rutherford 1985; Garvie 1994, introd.

18. See further Hölscher 1939, 37-50.

19. Apthorp, M. J., ‘The obstacles to Odysseus’ return’, CQ 30 (1980) 122 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Hoesktra on xv. 1 ff.

20. Scenes such as 15.142-261 provide a partial precedent, but on a much shorter time-scale. See Krischer 1971, 131 ff; Whitman, C. H. and Scodel, R., ‘Sequence and simultaneity in Iliad N, Ξ and O’, HSCP 85 (1981), 115 Google Scholar; Janko on 14. 1-152.

21. Odysseus’ self-description on two occasions in the Iliad as ‘the father of Telemachus’ is abnormal procedure in that epic, and seems to imply that this relationship was already important in earlier poetry. It is probably relevant that Telemachus is the only son of an only son (xvi. 118-20).

22. Schol. i. 93 and 284. For doubts see S. West 1988, 54-5.

23. Note also the fate of the lesser Ajax, described at iv. 499-511. See further Klingner, F., ‘Über die vier ersten Bücher der Odyssee’, SAW Leipzig, Phil.-hist. Kl. 96, 1 (Leipzig, 1944)Google Scholar = Studien zur griechischen und römischen Literatur (Zürich-Stuttgart, 1964), 39-79.

24. D’Arms, E. F. and Hulley, K. K., ‘The Oresteia-story in the Odyssey ’, TAPA 77 (1946), 207-13Google Scholar; Hölscher, U., ‘Die Atridensage in der Odyssee’, Festschrift für R. Alewyn, edd. Singer, H. and von Wiese, B. (Cologne, 1967), 116 Google Scholar; S. West 1988, 56-7, 60.

25. Müller, M., Athene als göttliche Helferin in der Odyssee (Heidelberg, 1966)Google Scholar.

26. For the novelty of the sentiments expressed see Finley 1954 (2nd edn. 1978), 140-1. More generally on the morality of the Odyssey see J. M. Redfield in Rubino-Shelmerdine 1983, esp. 239-44; Rutherford 1986, 156.

27. Dodds 1951, 28-37. Contrast Fenik 1974, 208-30. For other views see bibl. in S. West on i. 32 ff.; Erbse 1986, 237-41; Kullmann 1985; Friedrich, R., ‘Thrinakia and Zeus’ ways of God to men in the Odyssey’, GRBS 28 (1987), 375400 Google Scholar; Winterbottom, M., ‘Speaking of the Gods’, G&R 26 (1989), 3341 Google Scholar; Hankey, R., ‘“Evil” in the Odyssey’, in Craik, E. W. (ed.), Owls to Athens: Essays . . . Sir Kenneth Dover (Oxford, 1990), 8796 Google Scholar; Segal, C., ‘Divine Justice in the Odyssey: Cyclops, Helios and Poseidon’, AJP 113 (1992), 489518 Google Scholar = Segal 1995, 195-227 (strongly Unitarian).

28. Clay, J. S., The Wrath of Athena (Princeton, 1983)Google Scholar perversely argues that Odysseus’ misfortunes are the result of Athena’s anger with her protégé. This has not been generally accepted, but her book contains many good observations on Homer’s gods.

29. On most of these episodes see Radermacher 1915, Page 1973; also the works cited in n. 37 below.

30. As already remarked by Eratosthenes ap. Strabo i. 2.15-17. See further Walbank on Polyb. 34.2-4, Luce in Stanford-Luce 1974, 118-38; H. H., and Wold, A., Der Weg des Odysseus (Tübingen, 1968)Google Scholar.

31. Reinhardt 1948.

32. For the importance of Agamemnon see p. 63 above; for the silent departure of Ajax see p. 94 below.

33. See e.g. Rüter 1969, 251ff; Wender 1978, 41-4; Griffin 1980, 100-1; Clay, J. S., The Wrath of Athena: Gods and Man in the Odyssey (Princeton, 1983), 108 ffGoogle Scholar; Goldhill 1991, 104-6. Some aspects of the differences of outlook between the Odyssey and the Iliad are discussed further in Rutherford 1991-3.

34. On the question of Odysseus’ death (violent or peaceful?) see Hartmann, A., Untersuchungen über die Sagen vom Tod des Odysseus (Munich, 1917)Google Scholar; Stanford 1963, 86-9; Heubeck on xi. 134b-7.

35. For what follows see esp. Vidal-Naquet 1970, rev. 1981.

36. Cf.Segal, C., ‘Transition and ritual in Odysseus’ return’, PP 22 (1967), 321-42Google Scholar, and id., ‘The Phaeacians and the symbolism of Odysseus’ return’, Arion 1 (1962), 17-64 (both revised in Segal 1995, chh. 2-4); Fenik 1974, 54-5; Garvie 1994, 22-5. For the hedonism see esp. viii. 246-9; Dickie, M., ‘Phaeacian athletes’, PLLS 4 (Liverpool, 1983), 237-76Google Scholar.

37. Calhoun 1939; Page 1955,18n. 1; Stith, Thompson, Motif Index of Folk Literature (Copenhagen, 1955-8)Google Scholar, N681, H331; Crooke, W., ‘Some notes on Homeric folk-lore’, Folklore 19 (1908), 5277 CrossRefGoogle Scholar, 153-89, and ‘The Wooing of Penelope’, Folklore 9 (1898), 97ff, Zhirmunsky, V., ‘The Epic of “Alpamysh” and the Return of Odysseus’, PBA 52 (1966), 267-86Google Scholar. For different analogies see Burkert, W., ‘Von Amenophis II zur Bogenprobe des Odyssee’, Gräzer Beiträge 1 (1973), 6978 Google Scholar.

38. See Rutherford on xix. 380-1 on the question whether Odysseus is recognizable or not.

39. See further Radermacher 1915; Page 1973, 55, 69 etc.

40. See Fenik 1974, 5-60, Stewart 1976, Murnaghan 1987.

41. Richardson, N.J., ‘Recognition-scenes in the Odyssey and ancient criticism’, PLLS 4 (1983), 219-35Google Scholar.

42. See further Whitman 1958, 300-5, Wender 1978, 60-2. For a semiotic reading of Odysseus’ bed see Zeitlin in Cohen 1995, 117-52.

43. Thornton 1970, ch. 6; Austin 1975, 162-71. This aspect seems to me understated by S. West 1988, 59-60; contrast Rutherford 1992, 13-15.

44. Cf. Stanford 1963: note especially the well-known claim by Joyce that Odysseus was a truly rounded character, more so even than Hamlet or Faust (quoted in Ellmann, R., James Joyce (Oxford, 1966; 2nd edn. 1982), 435-6)Google Scholar; see also Ellmann, , Ulysses on the Liffey (Oxford and N.Y., 1974, revised 1984)Google Scholar, Kenner, H., Ulysses (London, 1980, rev. 1987)Google Scholar.

45. The fertile field of classical scholarship on women cannot be sifted here: see e.g. G. Clark’s helpful G&R Survey (Oxford 1980, 2nd ed. 1993), and the forthcoming G&R Studies volume on this topic, ed. McAuslan, I. and Walcot, P. (Oxford, 1996)Google Scholar; Lefkowitz, M. R., Heroines and hysterics (London, 1991)Google Scholar and Women in Greek Myth (London, 1995); Peradotto, J. and Sullivan, J. P. (edd.), Women in the Ancient World: the Arelhusa Papers (Albany, 1984)Google Scholar; Cameron, A. and Kuhrt, A. (edd.), Images of Women in Antiquity (London, 1983, rev. 1993)Google Scholar.

46. Butler, , The Authoress of the Odyssey (1897, 2nd edn. 1922)Google Scholar; see also Graves, R., Homer’s Daughter (N.Y. and London, 1955)Google Scholar. Butler’s outlook is discussed satirically from a modern standpoint by Winkler 1990, 129 ff.

47. The admiration of Taplin (which in most respects I endorse) for the Iliad goes much too far when he claims that the sympathetic treatment of women in that poem makes it more likely than the Odyssey to be a woman’s work (1992, 32).

48. See further Detienne, M. and Vernant, J.-P., Les ruses d’intelligence: la métis des grecs (Paris, 1974 Google Scholar; Eng. tr. Cunning Intelligence in Greek Culture and Society, Brighton, 1978).

49. See esp. Crane, G., Calypso: backgrounds and conventions of the Odyssey (Frankfurt am Main, 1988)Google Scholar, with ample refs. to older discussions.

50. See also Griffin 1980, 59-61, esp. 59 n. 17.

51. See now Garvie 1994, 29-30.

52. Woodhouse 1930, ch. 7, Lattimore, R., ‘Nausikaa’s Suitors’, in Classical Studies presented to B. E. Perry (Urbana, Chicago, London, 1969), 88102 Google Scholar, Petersmann, H., ‘Homer und das Märchen’, WS 15 (1981), 4368 Google Scholar.

53. See esp. Stanford 1963, 51ff, against the sentimentality of Woodhouse 1930, 64.

54. E.g. with the queen of the Thesprotians in the Cyclic Telegony.

55. Woodhouse 1930, 201.

56. The secondary literature is already enormous, and much remains unpublished. In general on the mythical figure of Penelope see Mactoux, M., Pénélope: légende et mythe (Paris, 1975)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; on her presentation in Homer, Büchner, W., ‘Die Penelopeszenen in der Odyssee’, Hermes 75 (1940), 126-67Google Scholar; Harsh, P.W., ‘Penelope and Odysseus in Odyssey xix’, AJP 71 (1950), 121 Google Scholar (an enjoyable but misguided attempt to prove that Penelope did indeed recognize her husband on his return); A. Amory, ‘The reunion of Odysseus and Penelope’, in Taylor 1963, 100-21 (important for moving the debate on to a more subtle psychological level); Vester, H., ‘Das 19. Buch der Odyssee’, Gymn. 75 (1968), 417-34Google Scholar; Austin 1975, ch. 4; Emlyn-Jones 1984; Russo, J., introd. to the English edn. of his comm. on Odyssey xvii-xx, 316 Google Scholar; Winkler 1990, 129-61; Katz, M. A., Penelope’s Renown. Meaning and indeterminacy in the Odyssey (Princeton, 1991 Google Scholar; deconstructive reading), Felson-Rubin, N., ‘Penelope’s perspective: character from plot’ in Bremer, et al. 1987, 6183, and Regarding Penelope: from character to poetics (Princeton, 1993)Google Scholar (combining psychology and narratology), and Murnaghan and Zeitlin in Cohen 1995. I have not greatly changed my views as stated in Rutherford 1992, 27-38, though I grant that some of the more recent work is provocative and stimulating.

57. Winkler 1990, 142-3.

58. See further Foley, H., ‘“Reverse similes” and sex roles in the Odyssey ’, Arelhusa 11 (1978), 726 Google Scholar = Peradotto and Sullivan (see n. 45 above), 59-78.

59. Felson-Rubin in Bremer et al. 1987, 82.

60. xxiii. 218-24, defended by Heubeck ad loc, but by few others.

61. The cynical view that Penelope was not faithful to Odysseus was already current in antiquity: see e.g. Hor. Satires 2.5.78-83, Sen. Epist. 88. 8 (the latter passage also refers to the debate about whether she recognized her husband or not).

62. For other parallels between husband and wife see Rutherford 1986, 160 n. 77.

63. See esp. Eur. Hipp. 85-6, 1389-1401, 1437-41 ( Vernam, J.-P., Mythe et pensée chez les grecs, Paris, 1965 Google Scholar, tr. as Myth and Thought among the Greeks, London, 1983, ch. 14). Even the Odysseus-Athena relationship is given something of this chilly remoteness in the prologue to Sophocles’ Ajax.

64. See e.g. Kirk 1962, 365, 378-9.

65. Cf. Fraenkel’s note on Aesch. Agam. 811; Mikalson, J. D., Athenian Popular Religion (Chapel Hill, 1983), ch. 2 Google Scholar.

66. For comparison between Athena and Penelope see also Murnaghan in Cohen 1995, 68-73.

67. xix. 108 kleos, and cf. 128 = xviii. 255. See further Foley (n. 58), 11 ff.; Segal, C., ‘ Kleos and its ironies in the Odyssey ’, AC 52 (1983), 2247 Google Scholar (repr. in Segal 1995, 84-109); A. T. Edwards 1985, 78-82; Goldhill 1991, 93ff, arguing for ‘revisionist’ use of the vocabulary of fame; Papadopoulou-Belmehdi, I., Le chant de Pénélope: Poétique de tissage féminin dans l’Odyssée (Paris, 1994)Google Scholar.

68. That Arete does have some say in these matters is another oddity about the Phaeacian community; and it is notable that in fact she does little to justify her reputation, and that when she does initiate a proposal she is told firmly by Echeneus that ‘On Alcinous here depends deed and word’ (xi. 346, cf. Finley 1954, rev. 1978, 89; Garvie on vi. 310-15).

69. See Heubeck on xxiii. 296 for basic arguments and bibliography; the modern assailants are best represented by Page 1955, ch. 5 (overstating his case, and with many purely rhetorical arguments); S. West 1989; Oswald, R., Das Ende der Odyssee. Studien zu Strukturen epischen Gestaltens (diss. Graz, 1993)Google Scholar. Defenders include esp. Heubeck in his commentary, Erbse 1972, 97-109, 166-244, Moulton, C., ‘The end of the Odyssey ’, GRBS 15 (1974), 139-52Google Scholar, Stössel, H.-A., Der letzte Gesang der Odyssee (diss. Erlängen-Nuremberg, 1975)Google Scholar, Wender 1978.

70. Their views are quoted by the scholia and Eustathius; see e.g. S. West 1989,118 for the relevant passages.

71. So Pfeiffer 1968, 175; see now S. West 1989, 118-9.

72. S. West ibid, argues they did not even think it spurious, but saw it as a separate lay by the poet. This does not, however, much affect the modern debate.

73. See further Petzl, G., Antiken Diskussionen über die beiden Nekyiai (Meisenheim, 1969)Google Scholar; Sourvinou-Inwood, C., ‘Crime and punishment: Tityos, Tantalos and Sisyphos in Odyssey 11’, BICS 33 (1986), 3758 Google Scholar.

74. Older views e.g. in Rohde, E., Psyche (Eng. tr. London and N.Y., 1925), ch. 1 Google Scholar; Page 1955, 21-7. More flexibility: e.g. Vermeule 1979,29,34-5,218 n. 49 (cf. S. West 1989, 138 n. 51); also an Oxford D. Phil, thesis (1995) by M. Clark, which will, I hope, soon be published.

75. Sourvinou-Inwood 1995, ch. 2, esp. 94-107.

76. S. West 1989 argues that these are all interpolated by the author of this section, but this is not the most persuasive part of her paper.

77. Cf. Rutherford 1986, 162 n. 87.

78. Cf.Walcot, P., ‘Odysseus and the art of lying’, Anc. Soc. 8 (1977), 119 Google Scholar = Emlyn-Jones et al. 1992, 49-62.

79. Hence I do not agree with S. West 1989, 125, who writes that ‘We should of course all like to avoid this conclusion’ [i.e. that Odysseus is now habitually a deceiver].

80. Wender 1978, 15-18 attempts to defend it, but succeeds only in some small details. S. West 1989, 121 points out that Odysseus’ narrative here, 310-43, is the longest piece of indirect speech in all of Homer (though see Dover, K.J., Lysias and the Corpus Lysiacum (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1968), 96 Google Scholar, for the limited value of such arguments).

81. Thus Sourvinou-Inwood 1995, 101.

82. Cf. S. West 1989, 120, and on the Doloneia see p. 19 above.

83. Modern readers are repelled by the mutilation of the disloyal Melanthius (on which see now Davies, M., ‘ Odyssey 22. 474-7: murder or mutilation’, CQ 44 (1994), 534-6)CrossRefGoogle Scholar and by the hanging of the maids. By contrast with the seriousness with which the Iliad surrounds the issue of mutilation (Segal, 1971), the Odyssey seems remarkably casual (cf. Murray 1907, 4th edn. 1934, 126-8, who surely misinterprets the tone of xxii. 473). Perhaps one simply has to accept that Homer’s audience would have thought any punishment justifiable for such treachery within the household.

Full text views

Full text views reflects PDF downloads, PDFs sent to Google Drive, Dropbox and Kindle and HTML full text views.

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 11 *
View data table for this chart

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 24th January 2021. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Hostname: page-component-76cb886bbf-4qfsd Total loading time: 0.268 Render date: 2021-01-24T01:16:45.005Z Query parameters: { "hasAccess": "0", "openAccess": "0", "isLogged": "0", "lang": "en" } Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "metricsAbstractViews": false, "figures": false, "newCiteModal": false }

Send article to Kindle

To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

III. The Odyssey 1
Available formats

Send article to Dropbox

To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

III. The Odyssey 1
Available formats

Send article to Google Drive

To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

III. The Odyssey 1
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Your details

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *