Brain Snacks: Tasty Tidbits of Knowledge
The first four books of the Odyssey are sometimes known as the "Telemachy" because they revolve around (guess who) Telemachos. Somehow, that name never caught on to describe a story about an ineffectually whiny post-adolescent. Weird. (source)
For a long time, people have debated whether the last book of the Odyssey was written by Homer. There is speculation that it might have been added by another poet, mostly because the quality doesn't match that of the first two. What do you think? (source)
Classics scholar Martin West has argued that the Odyssey was heavily influenced by the Sumerian poem the Epic of Gilgamesh. (Source)
Many scholars think that the Odyssey had a long and rich oral tradition before ever being written down. Homer's epithets, repeated phrases, and metrical idiosyncrasies all functioned as mnemonic devices for those bards and singers who memorized the verse and passed it down from generation to generation. That's why you see some of the same phrases over and over—like "But when the young dawn showed again with her rosy fingers." In Greek, this is a stock phrase that fits the meter of the poem. Think of it as a go-to line for the oral poets. (source)
The Canadian poet and novelist Margaret Atwood wrote a book called The Penelopiad. (Source)
Nobel Prize-winning poet Derek Walcott wrote a long poem entitled Omeros which used Homeric themes to depict life in his native St. Lucia – and island in the Caribbean.
In addition to the poem “Ulysses," the nineteenth-century English poet Alfred Lord Tennyson also wrote a poem about the Lotus Eaters, which stretches that brief moment in Homer’s text like a piece of silly-putty. You can read the poem here.
The opening poem of the epic Cantos by modernist poet Ezra Pound is a quirky translation of the decent to the Underworld in Book XI of the Odyssey. You can read Pound's weird version here. Part of the strangeness might be explained by the fact that he was working, not from the Greek, but from a sixteenth-century Latin version by Andreas Divus—as he reveals at the end of his translation.
The Modern Greek poet Cavafy wrote a poem based on Odysseus’s travels entitled “Ithaca,” which you can read here.
The English-American poet Thom Gunn wrote a poem about the transformations brought on by Circe (and, indirectly, of the transformations brought on by LSD), and named it after “moly,” the weird plant that Hermes gives to Odysseus to keep him safe. Read the poem here.
“Moly” also features prominently in this lecture by the Canadian poet and classics scholar Anne Carson, in which she talks about issues of translation – and what to do with words that can’t be translated. You can read her thoughts on the matter here.Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet Stephen Dunn wrote a poem about Odysseus. And you can find it in his book Different Hours.
Nineteenth-century English poet Alfred Lord Tennyson was really into his Greek epics: in addition to his spectacular "Ulysses," he also wrote a poem about the Lotus Eaters, which stretches that brief moment in Homer's text like a piece of silly-putty.
"Moly" also features prominently in this lecture by the Canadian poet and classics scholar Anne Carson, in which she talks about issues of translation—and what to do with words that can't be translated. You can read her thoughts on the matter here.