The Odyssey

Narrative and Thematic Techniques in Books 9 and 19 of the Odyssey

'What could be finer than listening to a singer of tales?'

Book 9 opens with what might be termed an apologia on the part of the poet: 'what could be finer / Than listening to a singer of tales' (9.2-3)1. Odysseus eulogises Demodocus, the blind bard, and at the same time Homer eulogises his own art of storytelling an art that I will examine in the course of this essay, through two books that hold particular thematic prominence in the Odyssey. The first of these, Book 9, involves Odysseus' encounter with Polyphemus, the man-eating Cyclops, while in the second, Book 19, the hero, now in the guise of an old beggar, meets with his wife, Penelope. Both challenge and stretch the protagonist, be it emotionally, physically or mentally, and in the process of doing so the episodes emphasise and augment many of the pervasive thematic and narrative features of the epic.

As the protagonist of course, Odysseus is himself a galvanising force within the poem. Even when he is not occupying the foreground of the narrative, as in the Telemachy, Odysseus provides a centre for the actions and words of those on whom Homer does choose to focus. Penelope's enduring grief, Telemachus' voyage, and the presence of the Suitors...

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