To the End of the Earth and Back Again; Or, Whose Odyssey is It Anyway?


Traditional accounts of Homer’s Odyssey often focus on the “facts” that it: 1) it is a “sequel” to the Iliad — and thus 2) the second great (and second greatest) work of Western “literature” — which 3) tells the story of Odysseus’s ten-year homecoming from the Trojan War, although it 4) begins “in media res” (in the middle of things) with the problem of the suitors on Ithaca and Odysseus’s captivity with Calypso, rather than at “the beginning” with the fall of Troy. Indeed, many a reader’s experience with, and understanding of, the Odyssey is crucially influenced by their expectation that the text will conform to thes “facts”. But is this the most useful way of approaching this important work?

 In this lecture, I will outline some of the consequences of reading the Odyssey with these expectations in mind and why these expectations may be unwarranted. Most importantly, however, I will suggest how an approach to the text as a stand-alone work can yield a significant and perhaps unexpected reading that is both more personal and more profound than traditional ones.