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Homeric Time Travel
Classical Studies Faculty Research
  • Erwin F Cook, Trinity University
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In a recent pair of articles I argued that the Odyssey presents itself as the heroic analogue to, or even substitute for, fertility myth.1 The return of Odysseus thus heralds the return of prosperity to his kingdom in a manner functionally equivalent to the return of Persephone, and with her of life, to earth in springtime. The first paper focused on a detailed comparison of the plots of the Homeric Hymn to Demeter and the Odyssey;2 and the second on the relationship between Persephone’s withdrawal and return and the narrative device of ring-composition.3 In my analysis of ring-composition, I concluded that what began as a cognitive and functional pattern, organizing small-scale narrative structures, evolved into an aesthetic pattern, organizing large blocks of narrative, before finally becoming an ideological pattern, connecting the hero’s return to the promise of renewal offered by fertility myth and cult. In the story of Persephone, the pattern of withdrawal, devastation, and return that brings renewal takes place within cyclical time. But, I also hinted that the same pattern can also be re-imagined in linear time as a return of the past, and specifically the heroic age.4 In what follows, I will argue that the Odyssey involves just such a return, of the heroic age in linear time, and in two, complementary ways. My central claim, then, is that epic performance is a kind of time travel that involves both the internal characters and the external audience. The idea of ‘return’ has thus exerted a centripetal force on the narrative so that return is a narrative ring-structure, representing a spatial journey-pattern by the protagonist(s), that has assimilated to itself complementary, cyclical and linear temporal processes. Abetting this assimilation is the underlying idea that return brings with it renewal for the community.

Citation Information
Cook, E. F. (forthcoming). Homeric time travel.