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Heroism, Suffering, and Change
Classical Studies Faculty Research
  • Erwin F Cook, Trinity University
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Today I will address the issue of identity in the Odyssey. To do so I need to make a few general observations about the structure and content of the poem. It is immediately apparent that the Odyssey is organized by three narrative sequences: the story of Telemachus in Books 1-4, including his journey to Pylus and Sparta, the journey of Odysseus from Ogygia to Scheria in Books 5-12, and the return of Odysseus and his revenge on the suitors in Books 13-24. It is well recognized that Books 1-4 recount Telemachus’ coming of age, and that his journey plays a vital role in this process. I would like to suggest that all three narratives involve personal transition. Such transitions are what cultural anthropologists since the pioneering work of Arnold van Gennep call ‘rites of passage’. Whereas Telemachus acquires his adult identity, Odysseus is reintegrated into human society on Scheria, and reclaims the heroic identity that has been denied him for over eight years on Ithaca.
Citation Information
Cook, E. (1998). Heroism, Suffering, and Change. In D. Boedeker (Ed.), The Illiad, the Odyssey and the Real World: Proceedings from a Seminar Sponsored by the Society for the Preservation of the Greek Heritage and Held at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C., on March 6-7, 1998 (pp. 47-63). Washington D.C.: Society for the Preservation of the Greek Heritage.