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The Return of Ulysses

, 304 pages

23 b&w illus.

June 2008



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The Return of Ulysses

A Cultural History of Homer's Odyssey

2009 Outstanding Academic Title, Choice

This broadly conceived and enlightening look at how Homer’s Odyssey has resonated in the West offers a thematic analysis of the poem’s impact on social and political ideas, institutions, and mores from the ancient world through the present day.

Proving that the epic poem is timeless, Edith Hall identifies fifteen key themes in the Odyssey and uses them to illustrate the extensive and diverse effect that Homer’s work has had on all manner of inquiry, expression, and art. She traces the text’s pervasive thread of influence from the tragedies of classical Athens and the burlesque of Aristophanes to its contemporary artistic reinterpretations in literature, theatre, opera, popular music, film, and science fiction. In considering the mark of the Odyssey on the modern global world, Hall looks at how the poem affected colonialism and the frontier mentality in the American West, how it engendered contemporary attitudes toward sex, death, war, philosophy, violence, and race, and the ways in which the Odyssey forms the backbone of modern-day psychology.

Accessibly written and timely, The Return of Ulysses establishes the Odyssey as the founding text of Western Civilization and offers a major contribution to the study of Homer’s epic poem, as well as modern insight into its cultural reception and continuing imprint on society.

Edith Hall is a research professor of Classics and Drama at Royal Holloway, University of London. She is the author, coauthor, editor, or coeditor of a number of books on classics, myth, and the ancient world, including Agamemnon in Performance, 458 BC to 2005 AD, and Cultural Responses to the Persian Wars.

"Edith Hall has written a book many have long been waiting for, a smart, sophisticated, and hugely entertaining cultural history of Homer’s Odyssey spanning nearly three millennia of its reception and influence within world culture. A marvel of collection, association, and analysis, the book yields new discoveries on every page. In no other treatment of the enduring figure of Odysseus does Dante rub shoulders with Dr. Who, Adorno and Bakhtin with John Ford and Clint Eastwood. Hall is superb at digging into the depths of the Odyssean character to find what makes the polytropic Greek so internationally indestructible. A great delight to read, the book is lucid, appealingly written, fast, funny, and full of enlightening details. It is at once a serious investigation of a cultural phenomenon, an extended education in the humanities, and an invitation to a lifetime of trailing its seafaring hero."

"Only Edith Hall could have written this richly engaging and distinctive book. She covers a breathtaking range of material, from the highest of high culture to the camp, cartoonish, and frankly weird; from Europe to the U.S.A. to Africa and the Far East; and from literature to film and opera. Throughout this tour of the huge variety of responses that there have been to the Odyssey, a powerful argument emerges about the appeal and longevity of the text which reveals all the critical and political flair that we have come to expect of this author. It is all conveyed with the infectious excitement and clarity of a brilliant performer. The Return of Ulysses represents a major contribution to how we assess the continuing influence of Homer in modern culture."

"Edith Hall’s The Return of Ulysses undertakes the formidable task of surveying the cultural reception of the Odyssey from late antiquity to the present. By tracing echoes of the poem in literature, painting, and music, noting its impact upon discourses of race, class, gender, and colonization, and identifying reflections of the myth in modern systems of philosophical and psychological thought, the author shows that it is arguably the founding text of Western civilization. Today, the Odyssey has lost none of its cultural power or resonance. Having found a new home in popular culture and contemporary media, it speaks with especial urgency to non-Western émigrés in a culturally fragmented world. Hall’s rich appraisal will be greeted as the definitive investigation of a fascinating and many-sided phenomenon."

"In The Return of Ulysses, Edith Hall has given us a brilliant, cultured, and far-reaching tool for interpreting the Odyssey, and for reading, watching, and listening to the words, images, and music that have come into being in the refracted light of the Homeric poem. Taking us from Virgil to Cavafy, Circe to Dorothy—the first female quester—and Polyphemus to Batman, Hall’s work ranges in masterful ways among the times, places, ideologies, and theoretical frameworks that constitute the reception world of the epic to which all later epics are generically most connected. The book is written in a lively, witty, and hip style, wearing with impressive ease its enormous learning and cultural breadth. Edith Hall points the way, sometimes with elaboration, often with suggestive brevity, to the many pathways leading from and back to this familiar but always changing poem. The Return of Ulysses does not disappoint and has much to offer that will both teach and delight."

"British scholar Edith Hall takes 15 aspects of the Odyssey and traces their permutations from ancient times to today. The result is engrossing and enlightening."

"Hall is the optimistic traveller par excellence and leads us on a stimulating journey, roving far and wide through both time and space in pursuit of her hero."

"[Hall] fills her pages with sharp and often surprising observations about the 'Odyssey' and its spiritual children. She devotes much attention to film ('The Searchers,' 'The Natural,' 'Cold Mountain' and many others), but even reflected in this modern medium, she realizes, the 'Odyssey' owes a measure of its allure to its sheer, echoing antiquity. Reading her good-humored and accessible book is like conversing across the ages."

"Hall's study of the Odyssey is thorough, entertaining and well referenced. She offers many ways for the reader to relate Homer's epic to more modern works of literature, art and film, thus bridging the gap between old and new."

"The book sparkles with the excitement..."

" The Return of Ulysses is a sweeping tour of almost all one could wish to demonstrate about the spell of Homer."

"A true cultural treat awaits readers with ears and eyes attuned to both the higher and lower reaches of culture and in want of expert crosscultural, socioliterary criticism. Nostalgia may not generally be what it used to be, but Professor Hall has made a herculean stab at convincing us that there can be exceptions."

"Edith Hall takes us on a tour of global culture high and low, mostly from the last hundred years, to demonstrate how Homer's great poem continues to permeate our sensibility and imagination. She is an informative and enthusiastic guide."

"Though conversant with Homeric scholarship and the imperatives of postmodern literary criticism, Hall never burdens her prose with theoretic jargon... A goldmine of fascinating information on the persistence of thematic archetypes first formulated in Homer's great epic. Highly recommended."

"An extraordinary wide-ranging, clearly written, instructive, and engaging survey of the cultural reception of the poem from antiquity to the early twenty-first century."

"The scope of the book is breathtaking and Hall, Odysseus-like, deftly navigates across the rich landscape she unfolds before us, guiding us through its landmarks with a style that is clear, engaging, and at times outright funny."

"A monumental overlook at the Homerian classic from all angles and a work which should keep the brain busy through just about any outer circumstance."

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