The World of the Odyssey

We’re almost done with the first text we will read for this class, and I’d like to use our last class period (and these discussion boards) to return to our original theme: the way in which fiction creates an image of “the known world.”

How then, can we describe the world of the “Odyssey”?  What gives it wholeness, structure or meaning?  Given that Odysseus ventures as far as the Underworld, is there anything that lies beyond the boundaries of the knowable?  If so, what?  What conception of space did the ancient Greeks have?  How are the various places Odysseus visits integrated into a larger whole?  What about time?  How are worlds created in and through time?  And what meaning, finally, does the “Odyssey” hold in our own time?  Given that our own perception of the world is so vastly different from the Greeks, why is this still such a famous story?

These aren’t easy questions.  For one thing, they’re a lot more abstract than the issues we’ve previously discussed on these boards.  But that’s what discussion boards are there for: a space to try out ideas and to collectively turn them into something meaningful.  So go for it!

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2 responses to “The World of the Odyssey

  1. Here’s a quick summary of some of the answers that we came up with in class. I’m sure I’m forgetting some, so feel free to add yours in response!

    – the world of the “Odyssey” is characterized by uncertainty and indeterminacy and requires human intervention in order to structure it. Odysseus performs this function; unlike Achilles, who’s a hero simply because he’s a good fighter, Odysseus becomes heroic because he imposes sense upon the world.

    – the world of the “Odyssey” is a “single-plane world,” meaning that the gods, humans and the underworld all share a common space. You can move back and forth between these realms by simple travel.

    – along much the same lines, gods and humans in the Greek cosmos obey the same rules of time. There’s no deity that stands outside of time and space, as there is in the Judeo-Christian worldview.

  2. In response to the question regarding the value of the “Odyssey” in our own time, I believe that the audience of “modern times” needs to be defined.

    Greek culture of Homer’s time held little to no social system, where most people were rural farmers without title. Reading and writing had not yet been invented and education was very minimal. This created a general audience during Homer’s time where oral poems were a norm. However, in modern times, the audience is more varied due to different economic levels and varying levels of education. The amount of education is also much higher than in early Greece, leading to a myriad of lenses for the “Odyssey” to be read through.

    For instance, historians find value in the “Odyssey” as a window into Greek life during Homer’s time. Linguists will find interest in how the multitude of translations changes the understanding of the “Odyssey.” English teachers find it to be a valuable source of literature and regard it as a classic must-read. Each category of people finds a different reason to read through the “Odyssey,” leading to the wide readership that perpetuates the “Odyssey” through the generations.

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