Study Guide

Canto I Memory and the Past

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Memory and the Past

Since the entirety of "Canto I" is basically being spoken by a first-person speaker in the past tense, we definitely get the sense that we're listening to Odysseus reminiscing, maybe at a really old age. This decision to cast this section of Homer's Odyssey as a personal memory of Odysseus was Pound's, and in Shmoop's humble opinion, it totally puts a cool new spin on a very, very old piece of poetry. But the reminiscing doesn't stop there. Odysseus also has to confront his past when he goes into the underworld, even though he might not want to. At the end of the day, it seems like Pound is telling us that memory can both be a beautiful and ugly thing, since there's stuff in our past we'd love to get back, and stuff we'd rather forget about.

Questions About Memory and the Past

  1. Why do you think Pound chooses to write "Canto I" as a personal memory of Odysseus? What does the sense of reminiscing add to what happens in the poem? What sort of perspective does it give us?
  2. If Odysseus is retelling this story from some unknown point in the future, why do you think he's choosing to tell it? Who benefits from this retelling: the readers, or Odysseus himself? Could it be both? Why do you think so?
  3. It sounds like Elpenor and Anticlea aren't the only two people to confront Odysseus in the underworld. Why do you think so many spirits want to talk to him? Do you think that the souls of the dead make him feel guilty about the life he's lived? After all, the guy did kill a whole bunch of people in the Trojan War.

Chew on This

Pound chooses to write "Canto I" as the personal memory of Odysseus in order to show how the power of this story can have a really personal, intimate value for us. He's a homer for Homer.

Hey, there is an I in "Canto I." It's totally possible to read all of "Canto I" as Ezra Pound's attempt to make The Odyssey the story of his own life.

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