The Nietzsche Reader

Nietzsche on Homer: Borne Back Ceaselessly into the Past

Nietzsche’s short work Homer’s Contest is part of his attempt to develop an axiology that reinstates morality within the realm of aesthetic existence, grounding lofty ideas like “good” and “evil” within a naturalistic framework. In this essay, he puts forth an interpretation of the structure through which Homeric values are expressed. Contest, Nietzsche tells us, is a distinctly Greek phenomenon which posits quite simply that “every talent must develop through a struggle,” (Nietzsche, 98). As he investigates the contest underlying Homer’s worldview, Nietzsche discovers a search for aims and ends that esteem the value of human life even in light of exceptional struggle. One could describe Nietzsche’s project in this work as selfish in the sense that he hopes to reinstate what is in his view a worthy framework while fundamentally changing its ends. Still, his evaluation of Homer’s project offers a useful lens to understand the fragile nature of the homecoming towards which Odysseus so desperately struggles.

The concept of contest is useful both in approaching an interpretation of Homer’s overall values, and in interpreting the actions of the Odysssey’s major protagonist, Odysseus. Whether or not Homer himself wrote the Odyssey he...

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