Homer: Journalist or Poet?


I’ve had a couple of encounters in the last week with the “literalist” branch of Odyssey readers, including seeing a $45 book (whose title I forget) that purports to be a proof of the journey’s itinerary using modern geological methods.  Whew!  The fact that there can be these divisions after all this time renews my respect for Homer. I also just listened to the series of lectures by Elizabeth Vandiver listed in the previous post, who has the view that there probably is a kernel of historical fact behind the Trojan War and Odysseus’s subsequent return, but which was then extensively elaborated upon by Homer, whoever he or she was.

This makes sense to me also, but at the same time it doesn’t really matter at all whether the “events” actually happened; what matters is their timeless allegory of a shattered soul seeking reunification.  I feel the same way about those who insist upon a historical Jesus.  Whether or not there was a man/god of that name who lived 2000+ years ago should not blind us to the great spiritual wisdom contained in the New Testament and the allegory of the non-existence of death.  (For anyone interested in a complete exposition of this view, I recommend The New Man, by Maurice Nicoll.  Out of print, and possibly hard to find, but worth the search.)

I’m sure this divide will continue.  But as Emerson says in The Transcendentalist: “Every materialist will be an idealist; but an idealist can never go backward to be a materialist.”

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