From Villain to Hero
Odysseus in Ancient Thought
Publication Year: 2011
Published by: University of Michigan Press
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The philosopher: such is the name the twelfth-century Byzantine bishop Eustathius time and again gives Odysseus.1 The man of many turns, the most versatile of all Greek heroes both in Homeric epic and in his later incarnations, by the twelfth century could also boast of a long journey across philosophy, and one that was bound to continue, down through the ages, even to the modern world...
Chapter One: “Odysseus was not . . .”: Antisthenes’ Defense of an Abused Hero
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Our inquiry begins with Antisthenes (circa 445–365 BC), Socrates’ disciple, to whom we owe the first extensive endorsement of Odysseus’ actions and character. Antisthenes probably inherited his appreciation for Odysseus from his teacher. Socrates’ admiration for Odysseus indeed cannot be doubted,1 and in a later period was contrasted with Anytus’, his accuser’s, negative view of the...
Chapter Two: Plato’s Odysseus: A Soldier in the Soul
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The dialogue begins as a discussion between Socrates and the Sophit Hippias over the characters of Achilles and Odysseus. Asked which one is the better hero and how he distinguishes them, Hippias states that Achilles is "the best"...
Chapter Three: Yearning for Excellence: Odysseus in Cynic and Stoic Thought
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We now step onto more familiar territory: Odysseus in his Cynic and Stoic garb is a well-known figure to readers acquainted with the hero’s reception in antiquity. If we believe the available sources, Diogenes, the father of the Cynic movement, was an enthusiastic admirer of Odysseus. The same is likely to be true for Zeno, the founder of the Stoa, of whom we know that he wrote five books of...
Chapter Four: King, Friend, and Flatterer: Odysseus in Epicureanism and Beyond
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Is, then, Seneca correct to say that the Epicureans applauded Odysseus for “praising the condition of a state at peace where life is spent in feasting and song?” Other sources maintain that they unfairly exploited Odysseus’ eulogy of feasting in Odyssey 9 to uphold their theory of the supremacy of pleasure. For instance, the allegorist Heraclitus (Hom. Probl. 79.2–3) argues that Epicurus stole...
Chapter Five: Between Contemplation and Action
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The image of a moralized Odysseus gained in publicity toward the end of the first century BC: witness Virgil’s reliance on it in the Aeneid to describe the charismatic leader who quiets the storm; Horace’s mocking exploitation of the same image in his Satires to portray the type of the legacy-hunter; and his endorsement of it in his “pedagogic” Ep. 1.2. Perhaps the most telling indication of the popularity of an...
Epilogue: Odysseus’ Virtus and Thirst for Knowledge in the Renaissance
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Echoes of the ancient discussion over Odysseus’ drive to contemplation in relationship to his duties in the world are heard again in the allegorical interpretation of the Odyssey offered in the sixteenth century by the French scholar Jean Dorat, who taught the poets Pierre de Ronsard and Joachim Du Bellay and quite likely influenced their own treatments of Odysseus (the best known of which...
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Publication Year: 2011