To save content items to your account,
please 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 account.
Find out more about saving content to .
To save content items to your Kindle, first ensure firstname.lastname@example.org
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 saving to your Kindle.
Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations.
‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi.
‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.
It is a commonplace to link Homer with tragedy. Plato calls Homer the first tragedian, Aristotle praises the dramatic concentration of his plots, and pseudo-Plutarch claims that in Homer we find ‘all elements of tragedy: great and unexpected deeds, epiphanies of gods, and speeches full of thought and representing all kind of characters’. Likewise, modern critics write studies on Nature and Culture in the Iliad. The Tragedy of Hector, ‘Tragic Form and Feeling in the Iliad’, ‘Homeric Epic and the Tragic Moment’, and Homer and the Dual Mode of the Tragic.
Italo Calvino's novel If on a Winter's Night a Traveller of 1979 famously revolves around a reader in search of a book that he has started to read but that turns out to be incomplete. The book's opening sentences tell of a traveller arriving on a winter's night at the small station of a provincial town. In the final chapter the reader ends up in a library where one of the other readers warns him that finding the book will be very difficult since ‘once upon a time they all began like that, all novels. There was somebody who went along a lonely street and saw something that attracted his attention, something that seemed to conceal a mystery, or a premonition; then he asked for explanations and they told him a long story’; ‘the traveller always appeared only in the first pages and then was never mentioned again – he had fulfilled his function, the novel wasn't his story’.
In this chapter I shall take a closer look at this device of ‘the anonymous traveller’ in European literature. Calvino suggests that it is an old device (‘once upon a time they all began like that’), and my first question is ‘how old?’ Thus, I shall go back in time step by step and trace its origins. My quest will, not surprisingly in view of the topic of this volume, lead me to ancient Greece. The second question which I shall discuss is whether we can indeed draw up such a European history of a narrative device and speak of its Greek origins, or whether, perhaps, we should rather consider the anonymous traveller a narrative universal.
The life and times of the poet who created the Homeric epics are shrouded in mystery, as they have been since antiquity. He himself is partly to blame for this, in that he never mentions his name or gives any other personal information.The name Homer at some point in the seventh or sixth century bc came to be connected to the poems that are called Iliad and Odyssey (the titles are found for the first time we know of in Herodotus Histories 2.116), and more than one place in Ionia, most prominently Smyrna and Chios, claimed Homer as its native son. He was supposed to have lived at any time between the fall of Troy (traditionally placed in the twelfth century bc) and the seventh century. Some Lives of Homer are known from Roman imperial times, but they are worthless as historical sources because they are largely composed out of elements taken from the poems themselves (the boy Homer is taught by Phemius, a name suspiciously similar to that of the singer in Odysseus’ palace, and travels together with someone called Mentes, recalling Odysseus’ old friend and advisor of Telemachus, etc.). More than once it has even been suggested that Homer never existed; a recent proponent of this view argues that he was the creation of a group of professional performers called ‘the descendants of Homer (Homeridai)’, who thus endowed themselves with a mythical forefather. The name Homer, not common in Greek, would be their reinterpretation of the designation ὁμηρίδαι, which originally referred to professionals singing at a *ὅμαρος, ‘assembly of the people’. Conversely, some think there may have been two ‘Homers’, one composing the Iliad, the other the Odyssey.
Modern scholarship concurs with antiquity in placing Homer in Ionia, on account of the predominance of Ionian forms in his language; however, his dates remain contested. Can archaeology perhaps be of help? Here we must distinguish between the world created by Homer in his poems and the world in which Homer himself lived. As for the first, modern opinions vary between considering the setting of the Homeric epics by and large Mycenaean (1600–1200 bc), ‘dark age’ (1200–900 bc), eighth- or early seventh-century, or an amalgam.
Book XXII recounts the climax of the Iliad: the fatal encounter between the main defender of Troy and the greatest warrior of the Greeks, which results in the death of Hector and Achilles' revenge for the death of his friend Patroclus. At the same time it adumbrates Achilles' own death and the fall of Troy. This edition will help students and scholars better appreciate this key part of the epic poem. The introduction summarises central debates in Homeric scholarship, such as the circumstances of composition and the literary interpretation of an oral poem, and offers synoptic discussions of the structure of the Iliad, the role of the narrator, similes and epithets. There is a separate section on language, which provides a compact list of the most frequent Homeric characteristics. The commentary offers up-to-date linguistic guidance, and elucidates narrative techniques, typical elements and central themes.
Book 14 contains the remainder of the thirty-fifth day and the evening; cf. Appendix A. It begins the account of Odysseus' meeting with Eumaeus, which will be continued in Book 15. The plot function of this stay was indicated by Athena in 13.411–13: Odysseus is to question the swineherd about ‘everything’, i.e., the situation in the palace, and wait there until the arrival of Telemachus. But, as will be clear from its length, the meeting between ‘the stranger’ and the swineherd brings much more. A part from thematic and structural functions (see below), the main function of the Eumaeus episode is to create a foil for the ensuing encounter between Odysseus and the Suitors and disloyal servants: here we have an Ithacan who all these years has remained loyal to Odysseus and who treats ‘the beggar’ well.
Odysseus' meeting with Eumaeus is an instance of the *‘delayed recognition’ story-pattern: Odysseus does not reveal his true identity until Book 21. He has been instructed by Athena to remain incognito; cf. 13.397–403n. A hint as to why Odysseus keeps his identity hidden from his swineherd for so long, despite the latter's obvious loyalty, is given in 16.458–9 (he might not be able to keep the good news of Odysseus' return to himself and tell Penelope).
This book contains the beginning of the Apologue, Odysseus' narrative of his adventures on the way home from Troy (Books 9–12). In the Iliad, too, we find the technique whereby the past – i.e., that part of the fabula † which precedes the main story † – is filled in by characters telling stories; indeed, the technique is a necessary corollary to the in medias res device (cf. 1.10n.). What is new in the Odyssey is the scale on which this technique is employed: Odysseus' narrative, which is continuous except for one intermission (11.333–84), takes up 2,140 lines and recounts a period of ten years. This is by far the longest embedded story † in the Homeric epics and, together with his many lying tales, forms the basis for Odysseus' status as ‘singer’; cf. 11.363–9n.
The Apologue is strategically placed: having arrived at the last station of his adventures abroad, Odysseus looks back on his earlier experiences; despite everything, he has managed to survive, thanks to his shrewdness and endurance. This cannot but bolster his – and the narratees' – confidence with regard to his final ‘adventure’, his arrival home. And for the narratees, the Apologue finally fills in the missing link in Odysseus' ‘piecemeally’ presented nostos; cf. Appendix C.
The Apologue is firmly anchored into the main narrative.
Book 4 contains the evening of the fifth day and the sixth day, which bring Telemachus' stay with Menelaus in Sparta (1–624; this will be followed by an epilogue in Book 15) and the reaction on Ithaca to Telemachus' departure (625–848); cf. Appendix A.
The goal of Telemachus' trip is attained in this book, in that he finally hears where his father is. This climactic moment is postponed until the very last moment, via a series of retardations †. In the first conversation between host and guest, Pisistratus broaches the subject of the reason for Telemachus' visit (162–7), but this is ‘forgotten’ by Menelaus and only picked up the next morning, in the second conversation (312–31); an instance of the interruption technique †. When Telemachus asks him for information about his father, Menelaus promises to tell him what the Old Man, Proteus, told him (347–50), but first embarks on a lengthy tale about his own Egyptian adventures. Not until halfway through this story does Proteus enter the story and announces that he will inform Menelaus about the fate of three Troy veterans (496–8), tells about Ajax and Agamemnon, but only after a reminder from Menelaus (551–3) finally discloses what he knows about the third man, Odysseus (555–60). Telemachus' knowledge now almost equals that of the narratees, who have known from 1.13–15 on that Odysseus is with Calypso.
This book contains Odysseus' last three adventures, two short ones (Sirens, Scylla and Charybdis), followed by one long one (Thrinacia); cf. Introduction to 9. These adventures are preceded by Circe's instructions, and end with the storm which robs our hero of his last companions and brings him to Calypso and thereby to the end of his story.
1–143 This scene forms the last phase in the ‘Circe’ adventure; cf. 10.469–574n. When Circe told Odysseus to go to the Underworld, she did not explicitly say that he was to return to her. However, her duty as hostess to escort him home is still in a state of suspension (cf. 10.475–95n.), and, in any case, Odysseus has to return to Aeaea to bury Elpenor (cf. 11.69–70, where the latter assumes that Odysseus will return to Circe's island). Odysseus does not go back to Circe's palace, but she comes down to the beach to meet him.
1–7 The beginning of the episode follows the pattern of many adventures (cf. 9.82–105n.): (i) landing, including a – second – introduction of Aeaea (1–6); (ii) initial activities, here sleeping (7); (iv) Odysseus sends out men, here to fetch the body of Elpenor (8–10).