11120 - 1 - The Meaning of Meat and the Structure of the Odyssey


The Odyssey is a poem of paradoxes. Its central hero is both poet and liar, hero and trickster, emphatically famous and notoriously anonymous, endowed with a ravenous belly, yet capable of extreme fasting. The poem itself provides a narrative context entirely worthy of such ambiguity. Hailed by many for its self-reflexive narrative sophistication, it resorts nonetheless to primitive folktales featuring witches, ogres, and magical objects. And it does so precisely in what confirms the poem as a narratological tour de force, the extended tale of Odysseus’Wanderings told by the hero himself at the court of Alkinoos, king of the Phaeacians. The pull between ancient and modern seems to be reflected in the uncertain generic status of the poem as a whole: is this tale of the Homecoming Husband not some kind of elaborate folktale rather than an instance of heroic epic? Or is the poem, with marriage as its telos, a very early specimen of the novel, the genre of the future? Part of the paradox is due to the fact that our idea of what constitutes “epic,” and what not, has been too confident and too rigid. Epic has been seen as a transcendental norm, best exemplified by the Iliad and its unambiguous setting in a heroic age. The Odyssey can only fall short of such a norm, due not only to its fairytale and folktale elements, but also to its domestic scenes. The poem, with its social conflict playing out on a small rural island at the periphery of the Greek world, evokes no less Hesiod’s troubled Iron Age and the agricultural world of the poem’s historical audiences in the archaic age than a long-vanished Bronze Age of heroes. Scholars frequently attribute the difference between the two poems to a difference in time – and hence in style and taste – between two poets

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@inproceedings{Bakker2013111201, title={11120 - 1 - The Meaning of Meat and the Structure of the Odyssey}, author={Egbert J. Bakker}, year={2013} }