“Alcidamas called the Odyssey a ‘fine mirror of human life’ ”
καλὸν ἀνθρωπίνου βίου κάτοπτρον
The Center for Hellenic Studies, the Kosmos Society and Out of Chaos Theatre has been presenting scenes from Greek tragedy on the ‘small screen’ since the beginning of the US lockdown in March. As our director Paul O’Mahony has put it, since we are “unable to explore the outside world, we have no option but to explore further the inner one.”
“He was like someone speaking many lies similar to the truth.”
ἴσκε ψεύδεα πολλὰ λέγων ἐτύμοισιν ὁμοῖα·
Homer, Odyssey 15.398–401
“Let us take pleasure in calling to mind each other’s terrible pains
while we drink and dine in my home.
For someone may even find pleasure among pains
when they have suffered many and gone through much.”
νῶϊ δ’ ἐνὶ κλισίῃ πίνοντέ τε δαινυμένω τε
κήδεσιν ἀλλήλων τερπώμεθα λευγαλέοισι
μνωομένω· μετὰ γάρ τε καὶ ἄλγεσι τέρπεται ἀνήρ,
ὅς τις δὴ μάλα πολλὰ πάθῃ καὶ πόλλ’ ἐπαληθῇ
Now that we have finished all of the extant Greek tragedies, we are turning to a truly epic day: 24 hours of performances of the Odyssey around the world. We will start at 4 pm EST (9 PM UK) today (December 8th) with book 1 and each book will be performed by a different group around the world, culminating in a dramatic reading of book 24 at our usual time, 3 pm EST on Wednesday. December 9th. Check out the list of participants.
We know less about the performance of Homeric epic than we’d like to. The evidence of singers in the poems and references in works like Plato’s Ion imply that episodes of each epic were performed independently. Similar evidence supports the idea of competitive, monumental performances of the Iliad and the Odyssey at festivals like the Panathenaia. While good evidence supports a performance of the poems in a festival contest with rhapsodes working in sequence, many have also argued for a three-part performance of the Iliad, with breaks happening at thematically significant moments.
Whatever the context and length, the most salient thing of Homeric epic in performance was the presence of the audience, of people enjoying these narratives together. We can’t gather for a symposium or crowd into an amphitheater for a festival, but even remotely we can share the same words at the same time. So, for one day we invite you to escape your isolation into a worldwide community, taking the Odyssey on a global tour.
Homer, Odyssey 6.205-210
“We live at a great distance from others amid the much-sounding sea,
Far away, and no other mortals visit us.
But this man who has wandered here, who is so ill-starred,
It is right to care for him now. For all are from Zeus,
The strangers and the beggars, and our gift is small but dear to them.
Come, handmaidens, give the stranger food and drink;
Bathe him in the river, where there is shelter from the wind.”
οἰκέομεν δ’ ἀπάνευθε πολυκλύστῳ ἐνὶ πόντῳ,
ἔσχατοι, οὐδέ τις ἄμμι βροτῶν ἐπιμίσγεται ἄλλος.
ἀλλ’ ὅδε τις δύστηνος ἀλώμενος ἐνθάδ’ ἱκάνει,
τὸν νῦν χρὴ κομέειν· πρὸς γὰρ Διός εἰσιν ἅπαντες
ξεῖνοί τε πτωχοί τε, δόσις δ’ ὀλίγη τε φίλη τε.
ἀλλὰ δότ’, ἀμφίπολοι, ξείνῳ βρῶσίν τε πόσιν τε,
λούσατέ τ’ ἐν ποταμῷ, ὅθ’ ἐπὶ σκέπας ἔστ’ ἀνέμοιο.”
Translations: Will vary based on group
“So she spoke, and his longing for mourning swelled within him—
He wept holding the wife fit to his heart, a woman who knew careful thoughts.
As when the land appears welcome to men as the swim
Whose well-made ship Poseidon has dashed apart on the sea,
As it is driven by the wind and a striking wave.
Then few men flee from the grey sea to the shore
As they swim and the bodies are covered with brine on their skin,
They happily climb on the shore, escaping evil.
So welcome a sight was her husband to her as she looked upon him
And she would not pull her white arms away from his neck.”
ὣς φάτο, τῷ δ’ ἔτι μᾶλλον ὑφ’ ἵμερον ὦρσε γόοιο·
κλαῖε δ’ ἔχων ἄλοχον θυμαρέα, κεδνὰ ἰδυῖαν.
ὡς δ’ ὅτ’ ἂν ἀσπάσιος γῆ νηχομένοισι φανήῃ,
ὧν τε Ποσειδάων εὐεργέα νῆ’ ἐνὶ πόντῳ
ῥαίσῃ, ἐπειγομένην ἀνέμῳ καὶ κύματι πηγῷ·
παῦροι δ’ ἐξέφυγον πολιῆς ἁλὸς ἤπειρόνδε
νηχόμενοι, πολλὴ δὲ περὶ χροῒ τέτροφεν ἅλμη,
ἀσπάσιοι δ’ ἐπέβαν γαίης, κακότητα φυγόντες·
ὣς ἄρα τῇ ἀσπαστὸς ἔην πόσις εἰσοροώσῃ,
δειρῆς δ’ οὔ πω πάμπαν ἀφίετο πήχεε λευκώ.
Homer, Odyssey 21.407-409
“Just as a man who knows both lyre and song
easily stretches a string on a new peg
as he attaches the twisted sheep-gut to both sides
just so, without haste, Odysseus strung the great bow”
ὡς ὅτ’ ἀνὴρ φόρμιγγος ἐπιστάμενος καὶ ἀοιδῆς
ῥηϊδίως ἐτάνυσσε νέῳ περὶ κόλλοπι χορδήν,
ἅψας ἀμφοτέρωθεν ἐϋστρεφὲς ἔντερον οἰός,
ὣς ἄρ’ ἄτερ σπουδῆς τάνυσεν μέγα τόξον ᾿Οδυσσεύς.
Cast And Crew
Artistic Director: Paul O’Mahony (Out of Chaos Theatre)
Director of Outreach: Amy Pistone (Gonzaga University)
Dramaturg: Emma Pauly
Executive Producer: Lanah Koelle (Center for Hellenic Studies); help from Madeleine Cahn
Producers: Keith DeStone (Center for Hellenic Studies), Hélène Emeriaud, Janet Ozsolak, and Sarah Scott (Kosmos Society)
Poster Artist: John Koelle
Poster Designer: Allie Marbry (Center for Hellenic Studies)
“Just as when someone hides a firebrand in black ash
On the farthest edge of the wilderness where there are no neighbors
And saves the seed of fire when there is no other way to kindle it,
Just so Odysseus covered himself in leaves. Then Athena
Poured sleep over his eyes so he might immediately rest
From his exhausting toil, once she closed his dear lashes.”
ὡς δ’ ὅτε τις δαλὸν σποδιῇ ἐνέκρυψε μελαίνῃ
ἀγροῦ ἐπ’ ἐσχατιῆς, ᾧ μὴ πάρα γείτονες ἄλλοι,
σπέρμα πυρὸς σῴζων, ἵνα μή ποθεν ἄλλοθεν αὕοι,
ὣς ᾿Οδυσεὺς φύλλοισι καλύψατο. τῷ δ’ ἄρ’ ᾿Αθήνη
ὕπνον ἐπ’ ὄμμασι χεῦ’, ἵνα μιν παύσειε τάχιστα
δυσπονέος καμάτοιο, φίλα βλέφαρ’ ἀμφικαλύψας.
Upcoming Episodes (Go to CHS Project Page for more information)
December 9 Performing Epic: The Odyssey
with Suzanne Lye (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), Leonard Muellner (Brandeis University), Sheila Murnaghan (University of Pennsylvania), and Greg Nagy (Harvard University); translation by Stanley Lombardo, courtesy of Hackett Publishing Company
December 16 Cyclops, Euripides
with Carl Shaw (New College of Florida)
December 23 Series Finale: Frogs, Aristophanes
Odyssey 11.126–129 (Teiresias’ prophecy)
I will speak to you an obvious sign [sêma] and it will not escape you.
Whenever some other traveler meets you and asks
Why you have a winnowing fan on your fine shoulder,
At that very point drive the well-shaped oar into the ground
σῆμα δέ τοι ἐρέω μάλ’ ἀριφραδές, οὐδέ σε λήσει·
ὁππότε κεν δή τοι ξυμβλήμενος ἄλλος ὁδίτης
φήῃ ἀθηρηλοιγὸν ἔχειν ἀνὰ φαιδίμῳ ὤμῳ,
καὶ τότε δὴ γαίῃ πήξας εὐῆρες ἐρετμόν