The odyssey, p.1
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The Odyssey


  The publisher and the University of California Press Foundation gratefully acknowledge the generous support of the Joan Palevsky Endowment Fund in Literature in Translation.






  University of California Press, one of the most distinguished university presses in the United States, enriches lives around the world by advancing scholarship in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. Its activities are supported by the UC Press Foundation and by philanthropic contributions from individuals and institutions. For more information, visit

  University of California Press

  Oakland, California

  (c) 2018 by The Regents of the University of California Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Homer, author. | Green, Peter, translator.

  Title: The Odyssey / Homer ; a new translation by Peter Green.

  Other titles: Odyssey. English (Green) Description: Oakland, California : University of California Press, [2018] | Includes bibliographical references and index.

  Identifiers: LCCN 2017029463 (print) | LCCN 2017032327 (ebook) | ISBN 9780520966871 (eBook) | ISBN 9780520293632 (cloth : alk. paper) Subjects: LCSH: Odysseus, King of Ithaca (Mythological character)--Poetry. | Epic poetry, Greek--Translations into English.

  Classification: LCC PA4025.A5 (ebook) | LCC PA4025.A5 G74 2018 (print) | DDC 883/.01--dc23

  LC record available at

  Manufactured in the United States of America

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  Select Bibliography



  Translating Homer--a cherished project that I for half a century thought had been set aside far too long ever to be undertaken--has reached its conclusion for me with this book. As I came to realize when working on the Iliad, the experience gained during those many decades when I was otherwise engaged proved invaluable. Others will decide whether the wait was worth it; I can only say that I am pretty sure the result would have been much less satisfactory had I been able to embark on this task any earlier.

  I've lost count of the times over the years that I have read both poems, either with students or for my own private pleasure; but when it came to translation, each of them, the Odyssey in particular, still had some unexpected discoveries in store for me. While tackling the Iliad, I was already looking forward to moving on to its lighter, technically less formulaic and morally more individualistic sequel. I thought from my long acquaintance with their texts that the Odyssey would not only be more enjoyable but by far the easier of the two to translate. As I explain in my Introduction, however, I was in for a considerable surprise. I found as translator that the Odyssey was a far more challenging, demanding, and ambiguous proposition both conceptually and linguistically. From start to finish, I had to work far harder, not only to find the mot juste, but also not seldom--and a good deal more often than in the Iliad--simply to nail down with any precision what the Greek was in fact attempting to convey. This does not imply a very flattering picture of my prior grasp of the text; but I comfort myself with the old translators' truism that however many times you have read a foreign classic, you only begin to really understand it when you apply yourself seriously to its reproduction in your own language.

  A deep personal loss has had an incalculable effect on the present work. For over forty years, everything I have written has benefited more than I can easily express from an ongoing mutual discussion of the progress of our respective areas of work with Carin, my late, and sorely missed, wife, best friend, fellow classicist, colleague, and treasured critic. This book has had neither the stimulus of her ideas nor the wise restraint of her advice, and I am only too well aware of how much it has lost in consequence. She knew and loved the Odyssey, and I'd like to think she might have enjoyed this translation.


  My acknowledgments, as always, are few but heartfelt. I owe a sizable debt to the late Martin West, from whose wise insights, not least in his last published book, The Making of the Odyssey, my own work has benefited so much. I am grateful, as always, to the University of California Press, which for many years has patiently put up with my oddities, for once more taking a chance on a Homeric translation from so unpredictable--and now solidly nonagenarian--an author. My thanks yet again to Peter Dreyer, copy-editor and long-time friend, for ironing out my inevitable inconsistencies, and to Paul Psoinos for his erudite and ultra-careful proofreading, a thankless task that too often goes unthanked. Another dear friend, Barbara Hird, has not only endowed my Odyssey, as she did my Iliad, with a superb index, but has more than lived up to her well-earned reputation for saving us from embarrassing disasters. Last, but very far from least, my treasured in-house editors, Eric Schmidt and Cindy Fulton, have kept things going smoothly even at times when such disasters seemed inevitable and more than once saved me tactfully from my more than usually absent-minded errors. To have had such clever and amiable people once more working on my behalf has been a rare privilege and pleasure.

  Map 1. Mainland Greece

  Map 2. Asia Minor and the Eastern Mediterranean



  Claudius Aelianus (c. 170-c. 230 C.E.), a Roman freedman from Praeneste, writer (in Greek) of miscellanies


  Ael., On the Nature of Animals


  Aeschylus (525-456/5 b.c.e.), Greek tragedian


  Aesch., Eumenides


  Aethiopis: Lost Cyclic epic sequel by Arktinos of Miletos to the Iliad, ending with the death of Achilles; summary and fragments survive


  Apollodorus of Athens, grammarian (c. 180-c. 120 B.C.E.); certainly not, however, the author of the Bibliotheke (Library), a manual of mythology attributed to him, by a (probably) near-contemporary forger


  Epitome to Apollod., Bibliotheke

  Ap. Rhod.

  Apollonius Rhodius, Hellenistic author of the epic poem Argonautika


  Ap. Rhod., Argonautika


  argumentum, i.e., argument (in the sense of a precis or synopsis)


  Athenaeus of Naukratis in Egypt (fl. c. 200 c.e.), author of the Deipnosophistae, or Learned Banqueters, his sole surviving work, a fifteen-book account of a symposium, or drinking party, mostly notable for its excerpts from classical works now otherwise lost


  Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World, edited by R.J.A. Talbert et al. (Princeton, NJ, 2000)


  A Commentary on Homer's Odyssey. vol. 1: Introduction and Books i-viii, ed. A. Heubeck et al. (Oxford, 1988); vol. 2: Books ix-xvi, ed. A. Heubeck and A. Hoekstra (Oxford, 1989); vol. 3: Books xvii-xxiv, ed. J. Russo et al. (Oxford, 1992)


  Cypria or Cypriaka: Lost Cyclic epic attributed to Stasinos or Hegesias, covering the causes and early years of the Trojan War; summary and fragments survive

  Diod. Sic.

  Diodorus Siculus, of Agyrium in Sicily (c. 100-c. 30 b.c.e.), universal historian, author of a Bibliotheke [Library]








bsp; H., Iliad


  H., Odyssey


  Herodotus, of Halicarnassus and Thurii (c. 485-c. 420 B.C.E.), historian of the Persian Wars


  The Homer Encyclopedia, 3 vols., ed. M. Finkelberg (Oxford, 2011)


  Hesiod, epic/didactic poet (fl. c. 700 B.C.E.)


  Hes., Catalogue of Women


  Hes., Theogony


  Hes., Works and Days


  Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite


  Journal of Hellenic Studies


  Little Iliad: Lost Cyclic epic attributed to Lesches of Lesbos, covering the final stages of the Trojan War; summary and fragments survive


  The Oxford Classical Dictionary, 4th ed. rev., ed. S. Hornblower et al. (Oxford, 2012)


  Pliny the Elder, Gaius Plinius Secundus (23/4-79 C.E.), equestrian procurator and literary scholar


  Pliny, Historia Naturalis, a thirty-seven-book encyclopedic Natural History


  Plutarch of Chaeronea, c. 40-c. 120 C.E., philosopher and biographer


  Plut., Life of Theseus


  Sack of Ilion: Lost Cyclic epic in two books attributed to Arktinos of Miletos, covering the capture of Troy; summary and fragments survive


  Thucydides of Athens (c. 460-c. 395 B.C.E.), author of an (unfinished) history of the Peloponnesian War

  Xen., An.

  Xenophon, Anabasis



  The change of atmosphere that greets anyone turning from the Iliad to the Odyssey--which surely may be thought to reflect a parallel transformation in both the poet's own world and the world, however remote, that he or she was striving to recapture--is total and immediate, like the sudden emergence of sunlight after a long grey winter. A decade of grinding, relentless, destructive, and seemingly unending formulaic warfare is at last over, and the social code that enforced it shows unmistakable signs of breaking up. The surviving victorious Achaian veterans may face unforeseen hazards on their way home, and, like returning warriors of any age, may find worse personal problems facing them at home than any they left behind on the battlefield; but nevertheless wider horizons now confront them, there is scope for individualism and adventure. The unknown beckons enticingly for exploration, old myths and exciting new discoveries coalesce, there is a sense, however evanescent, of freedom in the air. The result is a heady mixture of Bronze Age memories and the opening up of the old world's unknown magical frontiers to intrepid voyagers. The Clashing Rocks may no longer be impassable; even Hades may be reached in a black ship (10.501-2); and old legends like those of the Sirens and the Lotus-Eaters may take on physical, if still elusive, reality somewhere out in the newly explored west.

  All these features are present in the Odyssey as we have it and substantially contribute to making its narrative so vivid and compulsive throughout. The readability is also much enhanced by what can be seen as a striking modernity of vision, not least in comparison with the Iliad. The Odyssey, unlike its predecessor, has a strong sense of context. It is highly conscious of and very often interested in describing the scenery and background of whatever action may be going on. An early, memorable, and--as far as the story goes, quite unnecessary--instance of this is Kalypso's remote island abode, duly scrutinized by Hermes on arrival. He might have contented himself with noting, when he found the nymph at home, singing as she worked at the loom, that "a great fire/was ablaze on the hearth: the fragrance of split cedar/and citron wood burning spread far over the island" (5.58-60: smells, too, we note, are of interest). But he goes on to list the various birds of sea and land that nest around, as well as Kalypso's garden vine, her four gushing springs, "and beyond them soft meadows of blossoming violets and celery" (5.72-73), detail for detail's sake.

  Scene after scene gets similar observant treatment. Sometimes, indeed, this contributes to the action, as when Nausikaa carefully describes Odysseus' route into the Scherian capital and her father's house, and what he will see along the way (6.255-315): the harbor with its array of moored ships, the place of assembly, Poseidon's temple, the grove of Athene with its poplar trees--all interspersed with shrewd social advice on how to behave so as not to attract too much attention. Odysseus' fearful struggle in the sea after shipwreck (5.291-457), during which Both knees now lost their strength and his strong hands too: the salt deep had crushed his spirit, all his flesh was swollen, seawater oozed in streams out through his mouth and nostrils. Breathless, speechless he lay, barely stirring (453-57) is described throughout with extraordinary power. The island of Ithake, not surprisingly, gets careful scrutiny: its ruggedness and unsuitability for horses (4.601-8, 9.21-27), the harbor of Phorkys and the cave of the nymphs (13.95-112), the town spring with its encircling poplars (17.204-11). Scenes of country farming are described in detail: as M. L. West says (2014, 52), "this is a man who has lived on the land and knows it at first hand." The account of the Kyklops' cave offers a highly knowledgeable picture of its owner's dairy-farming practices (9.219-23).

  An equally full picture is provided of the farmstead and piggery looked after by the loyal swineherd Eumaios. Its thorn-topped stone wall is described in detail. We learn the number of sows and hogs, and their disposition in a dozen large sties (14.5-20). As Odysseus approaches, Eumaios is sitting outside his house, cutting up oxhide for a new pair of sandals. Four fierce guard dogs run barking to attack the stranger: an experienced countryman himself, Odysseus drops his stick and sits down, while Eumaios calls the dogs off and showers them with stones (14.21-36). Like so much in the Odyssey, this could be a scene from a movie.

  It is also a reminder of this composer's interest in dogs. When Odysseus, after a twenty-year absence, comes home disguised as a ragged vagrant, his old hunting hound Argos, lying near death in the filth of the courtyard, is too weak to do more than feebly wag its tail and cock its ears in recognition of its master--and Odysseus, still very much incognito, cannot even acknowledge the gesture (17.291-327). Briefly and tellingly sketched, this is among the most moving moments of the entire poem.

  We are not only told that the suitors invade and virtually take over Penelope's domain in the absence of her husband: we both see and hear them at it, as Athene (disguised as Mentes the Taphian) does when she arrives to give instructions to Telemachos: There she found the bold suitors. They at the time were amusing themselves with board games out of doors, seated on hides of oxen they themselves had slaughtered, while heralds and henchmen were busy on their behalf, some mixing wine and water for them in bowls, while others were swabbing the tables with porous sponges and setting them out, or carving meat in lavish helpings. (1.104-12) Again, as so often in the Odyssey, the impression given is much akin to that of an introductory or tracking shot in a film. This is the kind of world that we know, we feel, reinforced by "the naturalism and verisimilitude with which [the composer's] characters tend to act and talk" (West 2014, 53). Think of Alkinoos (13.20-22) pacing to and fro aboard the Phaiakian ship that will ferry Odysseus home, making sure that the various gifts accompanying him are packed under the benches in such a way that they do not impede the oarsmen; or, during dinner (8.62-7, 105-8), the way the herald Pontonoos takes care that the blind minstrel Demodokos knows exactly where to find, not only his lyre, but also the food and drink awaiting him; or the sophisticated informality of Helen (4.120-82, 220-32), speculating to Menelaos on the identity of their guests and dosing the wine with a relaxing social drug when the conversation shows signs of becoming fraught; or the giggling, chattering realism of the maids (18.320-36, 20.6-8), whose vulgar pertness and lascivious habits so infuriate Odysseus (20.6-21). The insults of the maid Melantho and his angry response are as near conversational realism as epic diction can allow,
and show full awareness of the variability of individual emotions.

  It is, perhaps, the dialogue of the Odyssey that establishes the clearest distinction between it and the formal, indeed formulaic, exchanges of the earlier Iliad. There is often a surprisingly lifelike resemblance to the confusion, broken sequences, and occasional illogicalities of a recorded discussion: that involving Telemachos, Peisistratos, Menelaos, and Helen (4.71-295), well analyzed by West (2014, 63), is typical. Questions, as in life, are not always answered directly or immediately. Two people will talk across, and about, a third (e.g., at 16.56-89 and 23.88-116). It is a truism of ancient portraiture that it aims to catch not physical actuality so much as an idea, a concept with which the artist associates his subject. With the Odyssey we come perceptibly closer to that actuality than does the Iliad.


  There is an interesting, and significant, progression discernible in the opening lines of the surviving epics from antiquity. The composer of the Iliad takes a state of mind, wrath (menis), as his theme and appeals to the goddess (unnamed) to sing it, presumably using him as her instrument. The Odyssey, by contrast, picks on a particular man (andra) as subject and invites the Muse, rather than the goddess, not to sing, but to tell, his story. When we reach Apollonius of Rhodes, the sophisticated Hellenistic author of the Argonautika, he may be starting from Apollo (whatever exactly that means), but he is composing the work himself and goes back earlier than the Trojan War for his theme. By the time we reach the Aeneid, even the allusion to the god has been dropped: Arma uirumque cano, Vergil announces, I do the singing: war and this man--another survivor, Trojan this time, from that same remote war--form my subject. From millennia of oral anonymity as a vox dei, the poet has at last fully emerged as an individual in his own right, with all that this implies for the world as he portrays it.

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