the ledge files
the ledge - nl - uk
publisher: , ca. 700 v.Chr.

translated as:
The Odyssey
publisher: Querido, Amsterdam,

refered to by:
The Iliad

James Joyce

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the ledge - flash version*


The Iliad and the Odyssey can be found on every list of the world's greatest books. From the beginning of Western literature, readers have appreciated these two epic poems for their ability to make us reflect on the full range of human concerns and emotions as well as for sheer entertainment. The influence of these poems on the work of other writers is so pervasive that to be familiar with the characters, themes, and episodes of the Iliad and the Odyssey is to be familiar with some of the most significant motifs of subsequent literature.

Each poem is dominated by an extraordinary man and his fate. Though the stories are self-contained, the brief, brilliant life of the warrior Achilles at Troy in the Iliad contrasts sharply with the endurance of long-suffering Odysseus. While Achilles excels on the battlefield, Odysseus is the strategist, manipulating circumstances to the best advantage, moving behind and through the scenes as a diplomat and trickster. We see in the Odyssey these characteristics flourish not only in making war; they are also critical in the multifarious world beyond the battlefield and its clear-cut ranks of adversaries.

When Odysseus and Achilles meet in the House of the Dead, in the exact middle of the Odyssey, the contrast between them is stunning. The living Odysseus has risked his life to come to this place beyond all earthly boundaries in order to acquire the knowledge to complete his journey home. The shade of Achilles is despondent, deprived of the narrow arena of war by which he was defined and his fame was secured. Each hero has sought happiness through action in different ways - Achilles in a concentrated blaze of glory, sacrificing youth and life for fame that will last forever; Odysseus by striving to experience the full range of possible worlds. When Homer has them meet in the House of the Dead, the place of final resolution for all mortals, he seems to be asking us to consider a fundamental question: What is happiness, and what kind of life is conducive to it?

Choose any prominent theme in the Odyssey - fathers and sons; the relationships of men and women, especially husbands and wives; the responsibilities of leadership; piety; the obligations and transgressions of hosts and guests; the relation between revenge and justice - and it is possible to chart a course through the entire book with that particular theme in mind. However, each thread of the story is woven with so many others that focusing on one soon brings into view the entire warp and weft of the story's fabric. Like its hero, Odysseus, and its heroine, Penelope, the Odyssey eludes attempts to reduce it to a few simple meanings, less because it is so ambiguous than because it is so complex.

In essence, the story of Odysseus is straightforward. A veteran of a long war, ten years away from his wife, son,
and realm, he sets out to return home with his men. As the result of calamities, some brought on by himself and others beyond his control, he wanders for ten more years, along the way experiencing the breadth and depth of the world. Finally, after his men are lost, he is alone. At last he returns, kills the unwelcome guests who have laid waste his wealth and besieged his wife, seeking to marry her; resumes his role as father, husband, and son; makes peace in his kingdom; and then drops from sight as the poem abruptly comes to a stop, if not an ending.

The way the story is told, however, is anything but straightforward. Even the 'man of twists and turns' announced as the protagonist in the first line of the poem is not identified by name until twenty-three lines later. There are stories whose truth lies in their directness; others, in their oblique approach. The Odyssey proceeds by indirection, like the many tall tales Odysseus tells to gain credibility among strangers, and even among those closest to him. Through flashbacks, simultaneous events, reminiscences, narratives by those whose stories have no witnesses, through rumor and legend, the Odyssey moves toward the single-minded goal of its central character - homecoming and reunion. The structure of the poem seems to emphasize that no homecoming is straightforward, and that every return raises complex questions about what has changed and what has remained the same - for both the one who returns and those who remained at home. What, we may ask, remains the essence of the ' man of twists and turns' that allows him to maintain his identity as Odysseus?

This indirection reaches its pinnacle in the lengthy Book 19, during the conversation between the disguised Odysseus and his wife, Penelope. In the middle of Odysseus' invented autobiography, which touches her deeply enough to make her weep, the narrator interjects, 'Falsehoods all,/ but he gave his falsehoods all the ring of truth' (p. 397). Her feeling for the stranger is strong before she even knows that he is her husband. On the surface, Odysseus' way of approaching Penelope after so many years is strategic; if he were to reveal himself too soon, he would risk failure in ridding his household of her suitors. More than that, he seems to be a suitor himself, winning again Penelope's love and loyalty because of what he is, not who he is. The facts of his tale are false; the sentiment is true. At the end of Book 19, as if by intuition, Penelope proposes a way to resolve the predicament of her unwelcome suitors - the contest of the bow and targets, which only Odysseus is likely to win. Has she recognized Odysseus? Homer is silent on this point, as if to make us ask ourselves where truth lies and how our shifting interpretations of fact and evidence can bring certainty and settlement.



The Odyssey
ca. 700 v.Chr.
Homer's epic about Odysseus and his encounters with both natural and divine forces on the ten-year voyage home to Ithaca - and his beloved wife, Penelope - after the Trojan War. (see The Iliad[/i)

The Odyssey
Homer, ca. 700 v.Chr.

The Iliad
ca. 750 v.Chr.
Homer's Iliad tells the story of the darkest episode in the Trojan War. At its centre is Achilles' withdrawal from the fighting and his return to kill the Trojan hero, Hector. The tragic events are interwoven with moving descriptions of the ebb and flow of battle. (see Odyssey)

Don Quixote
Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, 1605 / 1615

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The Ledge
editor-in-chief: Stacey Knecht,
Thanks to: De digitale pioniers and
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Copyright: Pieter Steinz, Stacey Knecht
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