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  • A close encounter with a man-eating giant,

  • a sorceress who turns men into pigs,

  • a long-lost king taking back his throne.

  • On their own, any of these make great stories,

  • but each is just one episode in the "Odyssey,"

  • a 12,000-line poem spanning years of Ancient Greek history, myth, and legend.

  • How do we make sense of such a massive text

  • that comes from and tells of a world so far away?

  • The fact that we can read the "Odyssey" at all is pretty incredible,

  • as it was composed before the Greek alphabet appeared in the 8th century BCE.

  • It was made for listeners rather than readers,

  • and was performed by oral poets called rhapsodes.

  • Tradition identifies its author as a blind man named Homer.

  • But no one definitively knows whether he was real or legendary.

  • The earliest mentions of him occur centuries after his era.

  • And the poems attributed to him seem to have been changed

  • and rearranged many times by multiple authors

  • before finally being written down in their current form.

  • In fact, the word rhapsode means stitching together,

  • as these poets combined existing stories, jokes, myths, and songs

  • into a single narrative.

  • To recite these massive epics live,

  • rhapsodes employed a steady meter,

  • along with mnemonic devices,

  • like repetition of memorized passages or set pieces.

  • These included descriptions of scenery and lists of characters,

  • and helped the rhapsode keep their place in the narrative,

  • just as the chorus or bridge of a song helps us to remember the next verses.

  • Because most of the tales were familiar to the audience,

  • it was common to hear the sections of the poem out of order.

  • At some point, the order became set in stone

  • and the story was locked into place as the one we read today.

  • But since the world has changed a bit in the last several thousand years,

  • it helps to have some background before jumping in.

  • The "Odyssey" itself is a sequel to Homer's other famous epic, the "Iliad,"

  • which tells the story of the Trojan War.

  • If there's one major theme uniting both poems, it's this:

  • do not, under any circumstances, incur the wrath of the gods.

  • The Greek Pantheon is a dangerous mix of divine power and human insecurity,

  • prone to jealousy and grudges of epic proportions.

  • And many of the problems faced by humans in the poems are caused by their hubris,

  • or excessive pride in believing themselves superior to the gods.

  • The desire to please the gods was so great

  • that the Ancient Greeks traditionally welcomed all strangers

  • into their homes with generosity

  • for fear that the strangers might be gods in disguise.

  • This ancient code of hospitality was called xenia.

  • It involved hosts providing their guests with safety, food, and comfort,

  • and the guests returning the favor with courtesy and gifts if they had them.

  • Xenia has a significant role in the "Odyssey,"

  • where Odysseus in his wanderings is the perpetual guest,

  • while in his absence, his clever wife Penelope plays non-stop host.

  • The "Odyssey" recounts all of Odysseus's years of travel,

  • but the narrative begins in medias res in the middle of things.

  • Ten years after the Trojan War, we find our hero trapped on an island,

  • still far from his native Ithaca and the family he hasn't seen for 20 years.

  • Because he's angered the sea god Poseidon by blinding his son, a cyclops,

  • Odysseus's passage home has been fraught with mishap after mishap.

  • With trouble brewing at home and gods discussing his fate,

  • Odysseus begins the account of those missing years to his hosts.

  • One of the most fascinating things about the "Odyssey"

  • is the gap between how little we know about its time period

  • and the wealth of detail the text itself contains.

  • Historians, linguists, and archeologists

  • have spent centuries searching for the ruins of Troy

  • and identifying which islands Odysseus visited.

  • Just like its hero, the 24-book epic has made its own long journey

  • through centuries of myth and history

  • to tell us its incredible story today.

A close encounter with a man-eating giant,

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B1 US TED-Ed odyssey odysseus homer narrative epic

Everything you need to know to read Homer's "Odyssey" - Jill Dash

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    asd851112 posted on 2019/07/24
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