What’s the Odyssey About?

Cicero, Brutus 72

“For the Latin Odyssey is just like some creation of Daedalus and the plays of Livius are not worth reading twice.”

nam et Odyssia Latina est sic1 tamquam opus aliquod Daedali et Livianae fabulae non satis dignae quae iterum legantur.

Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Philosophers 6.27

[Diogenes] was amazed that scholars were studying Odysseus’ sufferings but
remained ignorant of their own.

τούς τε γραμματικοὺς ἐθαύμαζε τὰ μὲν τοῦ Ὀδυσσέως κακὰ ἀναζητοῦντας, τὰ δ᾽ ἴδια ἀγνοοῦντας.

Ovid, Tristia 2.375-6

“What is the Odyssey about except about love,
A woman alone, pursued by many suitors while her husband’s gone.”

aut quid Odyssea est nisi femina propter amorem,
dum vir abest, multis una petita procis?

Aristotle, Rhetoric 1406b

“Alcidamas called the Odyssey a ‘fine mirror of human life’ ”

καλὸν ἀνθρωπίνου βίου κάτοπτρον

Michael Apostolios, Proverbia 14.56

“I will make your house a wooden horse”: this means I will make it disappear. Themistokles’ groom said this. It comes from the Wooden Horse at Troy, the one Odysseus used to take the city.”

Ποιήσω τὴν οἰκίαν σου Δούρειον ἵππον: ἤτοι ἀφανίσω αὐτήν· ἱπποκόμος εἴρηκε τουτὶ Θεμιστοκλέους· εἴληπται δὲ ἀπὸ τοῦ ἐν τῇ Τροίᾳ Δουρείου ἵππου, ᾧ ᾿Οδυσσεὺς τὴν Τροίαν ἐπόρθησεν.

Plato, Laws 658d

“But I think that we old men might listen happily to someone reciting the Iliad and the Odyssey well and quickly declare that they were completely victorious! Who, then, would rightly be the winner—that’s the next issue, right?”

Ῥαψῳδὸν δέ, καλῶς Ἰλιάδα καὶ Ὀδύσσειαν ἤ τι τῶν Ἡσιοδείων διατιθέντα, τάχ᾿ ἂν ἡμεῖς οἱ γέροντες ἥδιστα ἀκούσαντες νικᾷν ἂν φαῖμεν πάμπολυ. τίς οὖν ὀρθῶς ἂν νενικηκὼς εἴη, τοῦτο μετὰ τοῦτο· ἦ γάρ;

Dio Chrysostom, 55 On Homer and Socrates 8

“Homer didn’t think it right to tell where he came from, who his parents were, no even what he should be called. Nope—instead, he’s happy if we don’t know the name of whoever composed the Iliad and the Odyssey.”

Ὅμηρος μὲν γὰρ οὐδὲ ὁπόθεν ἦν εἰπεῖν ἠξίωσεν οὐδὲ ὧντινων γονέων οὐδὲ ὅστις αὐτὸς ἐκαλεῖτο. ἀλλὰ ὅσον ἐπ᾿ ἐκείνῳ καὶ τὸ ὄνομα ἠγνοοῦμεν ἂν τοῦ γράψαντος τὴν Ἰλιάδα καὶ τὴν Ὀδύσσειαν.

Here’s a post On Not Reading Homer. And, conversely, one on Reading Homer.

“L’Odyssée” by Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres, 1850

One thought on “What’s the Odyssey About?

  1. This is excellent. I am so impressed by the cogent choice of quotations and epigrams, understated obvious intelligence, and good judgement. My favourite ‘read’ every morning. Excellent Work! Thank-you.

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