1947- The Odyssey : an epic of return / William G. Thalmann. p. cm. — (Twayne's
masterwork studies ; 100) Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 0-
8057-9424-7 — ISBN 0-8057-8564-7 (pbk.) 1. Homer. Odyssey. 2. Epic poetry ...
Author: William G. Thalmann
Publisher: Macmillan Reference USA
Category: Literary Criticism
Homer's two great epic poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey, stand as cornerstones not only of Western literature but also of Western thought and culture, for although readers of two millennia have imitated or opposed these works' paradigm of character and action, few have ignored it. Where the Iliad strikes a heavy tone of tragic grandeur, the Odyssey evokes an atmosphere of adventure and fate. The latter work's key figure, Odysseus the restless wanderer, pervades our language and our thinking: his self-defining journey of experience and maturation has remained one of the world's most explored subjects of artistic expression. In his cogent reading of the Odyssey William G. Thalmann argues that, like its hero, the text is impossible to reduce to a single summary or set of oppositions. As presented in Homer's narrative, the polarities of nature versus civilization, war versus peace, action versus word, and force versus metis (intelligence) are fraught with ambiguity. Thalmann singles out in particular the precarious nature of metis, which imbues Odysseus with constructive intelligence but also a dangerous duplicity. Similarly, Thalmann contends that in all his travels Odysseus both inflicts pain and himself suffers after having saved his own life via his cleverness. Aside from its explorations of human character, however, the poem quite simply tells a wonderful story. Odysseus's myriad adventures during his 10-year struggle to get home to Ithaka have the powerful appeal of folktale and fairy tale: the poem's narrative, Thalmann asserts, offers the pleasure of desiring an end that is delayed by obstacles in the outer world and the necessity for intrigues on Ithaka, with the simultaneous assurance that the end will come, and that it will be a happy one. Thalmann perceptively identifies traces of class and gender inquiry in Homer's epic. The poem seems to open up questions about the upholding of a system by which those at the top of society are maintained by the labor of those below, Thalmann maintains; in due course, however, these questions are closed off with the ideal solution of the return of the righteous king, promising prosperity for all. Additionally, Thalmann detects in Penelope an independence and importance rarely accorded women in Greek literature or Greek life; her like-mindedness with Odysseus is emphasized and their marriage characterized as a collaboration between them. What makes Homer's text so relevant to our times, Thalmann concludes, is its suffusion with contradiction and elusiveness. Odysseus, after all, is a hero with a constantly deferred future, and the poem's ending preserves the tension between his two conflicting sides, for when peace is at hand our hero, overcome with battle fury, assaults the relatives of his enemies. Ultimately, Thalmann finds that, happy ending notwithstanding, Homer's masterpiece depicts man's complex and often insidious relationship with the world - a world wherein that which passes for truth seems like fantasy, and lies contain no monsters or miracles but are indistinguishable from the reality of experience.