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Composed sometime between the seventh and eighth centuries B.C., Homer's Odyssey is one of the oldest works of world literature and the ancestor of virtually every narrative that involves a difficult journey home.
The longing to return home is for Odysseus is the longing of a man to recover his identity as a king, husband, and father after having spent ten years in the Trojan war. The effort to return home involves him in a perilous journey thwarted by the hostility of gods, giants, seducers, and the waywardness of his own and his sailors' passions. Meanwhile his home in Ithaca is invaded by a host of men who in their zeal to take over his wealth and kingdom waste his substance and attempt to force Penelope, his wife, to marry one of them and thereby rob Odysseus and his son Telemachus of all that is theirs. Not knowing if Odysseus is dead or alive, both Penelope and Telemachus are under constant threat. Telemachus sets out to find out if his father is still alive while Penelope, faithful to her husband, must use her considerable wit and guile to keep the suitors at bay. The unfolding drama at Ithaca is cross-woven by the fabulous events of Odysseus's arduous journey.
Will he get home? What will he find there in the way of welcome if he does? Will he be acknowledged after ten long years of absence? Questions such as these animate the narrative and make this epic of adventure and family the inspiration for works of literature concerned with recovering one's identity by founding or returning home as various as Virgil's Aeneid, Dante's Divine Comedy, and James Joyce's Ulysses.
The course will focus on the strange world of Homer's epic, the brilliance of its story-telling, and the extraordinarily vivid characters that this ancient work presents us in all their wondrous ambiguity.
Emily Wilson's translation of the Odyssey is the first complete translation by a woman. It is brilliantly readable, clear, accurate, and as swift in its progression as Homer's ancient Greek original, an absolute triumph of scholarship and poetic sensitivity.
Required text: The Odyssey by Homer, translated by Emily Wilson
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