Homer’s Writing Style in “The Odyssey”

I just read Homer’s The Odyssey for school this year, for something called Great Books, which is a combination of English and History.  Essentially, you study the time period a book was written in, read the book, and write about it.  This is the paper I wrote about The Odyssey.  Enjoy!


I recently finished reading The Odyssey for school, and I really enjoyed it! One of my favorite things about it is Homer’s writing-style. Right away I noticed something unique about it. I have only read one translation, so I do not know how much of the writing-style is Homer’s, and how much is the translator’s. Some of it, however, could not be the translator’s. The order of the events, for example, is obviously from Homer. And it is slightly confusing.

The Odyssey starts with a council among the gods, who are discussing whether or not they should let Odysseus return home. After deciding yes, the author follows Athene, as she goes to Odysseus’ home, and speaks with his son, Telemachos. The spotlight then shifts to Telemachos for a few books, before it lands on another council of the gods.

From there, we finally get to Odysseus himself for the first time on Kalypso’s island. After he leaves there, he comes to the island of the Phaiakians, where we hear what happened to him before Kalypso’s island, as he tells his host of his adventures. From there, however, the storyline is pretty straightforward.

But there were other things about his writing-style that I noticed were quite unique as well. One example is at the beginning of Book Fourteen, when Homer writes from a fascinating point of view. Up to that point, he writes as an omniscient third-person. However, on page 211, instead of saying “the swineherd, Eumaios said,” Homer instead writes “Then, O swineherd Eumaios, you said to him in answer. . .” speaking directly to Eumaios. He uses this same phrase several times after this, most often when speaking of (or to) the swineherd.

Another interesting use of perspective is when Homer describes events as the author (still as an omniscient third-person), and one of the characters later describes the event from his own point of view, using exactly the same words. This was slightly annoying at times, but one time I appreciated this was when Odysseus is at home in disguise (talking to Eumaios, actually) and making up a story about where he came from. In his story, he tells of a storm in which his ship was destroyed, using the very words Homer used to describe a real event. I think it shows that Odysseus was copying his real journey, in his made-up story—which it would be natural for him to do, especially considering he had had some quite exciting adventures!

The Odyssey was very descriptive. Homer describes everything in great detail. These careful descriptions of people and places were gorgeous, but many of them were repeated so many times that by the end of the poem they completely lost their thrill. This expression, for example, was used more times than I can count: “when the young Dawn showed again with her rosy fingers (80).” This phrase, as well, was used at almost every meal that Homer describes: “They put their hands to the good things that lay ready before them. But when they had put away their desire for eating and drinking. . . (31).” Every time he describes a ship, he describes the next one in exactly the same way. Every time he describes a man, the next man is described the same way. Many of the men are called “god-like” or “thoughtful”, while many of the women are “shining among women” or “shining among goddesses”. Several exceptions to this are “resourceful” which is only used to describe Odysseus; and “circumspect” which is only used to describe Penelope, Odysseus’ wife.

This description of Kalypso’s island, however, only appears once, towards the beginning of the poem; and I think it is quite lovely:

“She was singing inside the cave with a sweet voice as she went up and down the loom and wove with a golden shuttle. There was a growth of grove around the cavern, flourishing, alder was there, and the black poplar, and fragrant cypress, and there were birds with spreading wings who made their nests in it. . . and right about the hollow cavern extended a flourishing growth of vine that ripened with grape clusters. Next to it there were four fountains, and each of them ran shining water, each next to each, but turned to run in sundry directions; and round about there were meadows growing soft with parsley and violets, and even a god who came into that place would have admired what he saw, the heart delighted within him. (90)”

 

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