The Return of Ulysses: A Cultural History of Homer's Odyssey

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9780801888694: The Return of Ulysses: A Cultural History of Homer's Odyssey
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This broadly conceived and enlightening look at how Homer’s Odyssey has resonated in the West offers a thematic analysis of the poem’s impact on social and political ideas, institutions, and mores from the ancient world through the present day.

Proving that the epic poem is timeless, Edith Hall identifies fifteen key themes in the Odyssey and uses them to illustrate the extensive and diverse effect that Homer’s work has had on all manner of inquiry, expression, and art. She traces the text’s pervasive thread of influence from the tragedies of classical Athens and the burlesque of Aristophanes to its contemporary artistic reinterpretations in literature, theatre, opera, popular music, film, and science fiction. In considering the mark of the Odyssey on the modern global world, Hall looks at how the poem affected colonialism and the frontier mentality in the American West, how it engendered contemporary attitudes toward sex, death, war, philosophy, violence, and race, and the ways in which the Odyssey forms the backbone of modern-day psychology.

Accessibly written and timely, The Return of Ulysses establishes the Odyssey as the founding text of Western Civilization and offers a major contribution to the study of Homer’s epic poem, as well as modern insight into its cultural reception and continuing imprint on society.

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From the Inside Flap:

From the bewitching song of the Sirens, to the cave of the one-eyed Cyclops, to his final revenge against the treacherous suitors of his wife Penelope, the adventures of Ulysses/Odysseus are among the most durable stories in human history. The travels and travails of Homer’s resourceful hero have thrilled countless generations of listeners and readers, who for almost three millennia have breathlessly followed his voyage home from the "ringing plains of windy Troy" to the island of Ithaca. But why has the appeal of the Odyssey proved so remarkably resilient and long-lasting?

Edith Hall explains our enduring fascination with this epic tale in terms of its extraordinary openness to adaptation and reinterpretation. Not only has the narrative been read to reflect a wide range of intellectual and aesthetic agendas, but it has been perhaps uniquely fertile in generating new artistic forms. Creative responses to the Odyssey have included the tragedies of classical Athens and the burlesque of Aristophanes as well as more recent genres such as travelogue, science fiction, the novel, opera, film, children’s books, and detective stories. Hall traces fifteen key themes in the Odyssey to illuminate the innumerable ways it has affected the cultural imagination, showing how works as diverse as Joyce’s Ulysses, Monteverdi’s Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria, Suzanne Vega’s Calypso, the Coen brothers’ O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Daniel Vigne’s Le Retour de Martin Guerre, and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey demonstrate that Odysseus is truly a versatile hero. The travels of Homer’s charismatic wayfarer across the waters of the wine-dark Aegean are journeys not just into the mind of one of the most inspiring of poets; they are equally a voyage around the boundaries of a narrative which, perhaps more than any other, can lay claim to being the quintessential global phenomenon.

About the Author:

Edith Hall is a research professor of Classics and Drama at Royal Holloway, University of London. She is the author, coauthor, editor, or coeditor of a number of books on classics, myth, and the ancient world, including Agamemnon in Performance, 458 BC to 2005 AD, and Cultural Responses to the Persian Wars.

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