The Odyssey

Homeric Formalism

"Much that is terrible takes place in the Homeric poems, but it seldom takes place wordlessly... no speech is so filled with anger or scorn that the particles which express logical and grammatical connections are lacking or out of place." (from "Odysseus' Scar" by Erich Auerbach)

In his immaculately detailed study comparing the narrative styles of Homer to those of the Bible, Erich Auerbach hits upon one of the most notable intrigues of reading Homer, namely his unrelenting sense of epic form and rhythm. The stories that unfold in the works of Homer are filled with passion and fury, but this never effects the meticulous regulation of his narrative. One of the chief questions regarding the works of Homer is to what effectual end he follows this formula so explicitly. In both The Iliad and The Odyssey, the reader recognizes patterns and formulae that combine to make up the Homeric template.

The reader can first recognize Homer's formulaic style on a specific scale in the repetition of phrases and epithets. Odysseus, throughout both The Iliad and The Odyssey is almost never mentioned without a reference to his cunning or "many designs". Likewise, throughout The Iliad the city of Troy is almost...

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