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Reviews The Odyssey: An Epic ofReturn, by William G. Thalmann; xii and 153 pp. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1992; $22.95 cloth, $17.95 paper. William G. Thalmann's The Odyssey: An Epic of Return is the hundredth volume of the Twayne Masterwork Studies, a series that attempts to offer the nonspecialized reader scholarly, yet easily accessible, introductions to literary masterpieces of the Western world. This study ofHomer's Odyssey, which covers topics as varied as the historical circumstances of the poem's composition, its critical reception from the fifth century B.C.E. to the twentieth century, its overall structure, but also the meaning of individual lines, could easily have degenerated into a study guide in less skillful hands. Fortunately, Thalmann's classical erudition combined with his intimate knowledge of and sensitivity to Homer's epic have produced a genuinely useful book that helps situate The Odyssey in the Greek worldview while at the same time investigating its undiminished popularity in our times. Thalmann divides his study into an initial section on The Odyssey's literary and historical context followed by an interpretative reading. He finds that this epic reflects contemporary events, such as the power struggles among aristocrats in the eighth century and Greek colonial activity. Its unique contribution to epic poetry is its celebration of "participation in family and community, not only as defense against the uncertainties of life but also as the realization of what it means to be fully human" (p. 11). Scholars have been troubled by the hero, whom they have sometimes considered virtuous, sometimes deceptive, and by questions of whether the poem was composed by one author or is merely a compilation of oral ballads, and by the poem's literal and allegorical meanings. The Odyssey's true subject is "the process of ending," (p. 31) or return. Odysseus is guided by three concepts characteristic of the Classical Greek mentality: hora, or the proper timing of action; kleos, the fame merited by heroic deeds; and metis, or cleverness. The Odyssey also reflects the early Greek tendency to view reality in terms of polar oppositions. Thus, the gods seem at oncejust and capricious; to understand life, the hero must encounter death. A series of similar or contrasting episodes, such as the twin departures of Philosophy and Literature, © 1994, 18: 131-198 132Philosophy and Literature Telemakhos and Odysseus, allusions to the homecomings ofAgamemnon and Menelaos, the utopias of Kalypso and the Phaiakians, structure the first eight books and draw our attention to the poem's obsession with the conflict between culture and barbarism. The chapter on Odysseus' sea wanderings suggests that the seemingly disparate adventures actually form pairs treating similar dangers the hero must overcome. For example, both the Lotus Eaters and Kalypso wish to induce forgetfulness, while Aiolos resembles Kyklopes in his unhealthy isolation. The recounting of these adventures through flashback emphasizes present time, but also the rapidity with which present becomes past. Such a concept of time requires an epic form to preserve the memory of great deeds for future generations. Thalmann believes strongly that the sea adventures are linked to Books 13-24 of The Odyssey because of the reappearance of previous themes and even episodes (e.g., the underworld) in the story of Odysseus' revenge. Even the final scene, in which the hero seems to reject the peace he has established and to launch into new battles, plays upon a fundamental ambiguity in Odysseus' character, evident throughout the epic. He is both "the warrior and the man of self-control" (p. 122), restorer of civilization, yet nature's antagonist. Given the protagonist's complexity, "The only appropriate conclusion is one that draws attention to its inconclusiveness" (p. 123). The Odyssey: An Epic ofReturn offers many original, well-founded observations on Homeric language and symbolism. It reminds us, moreover, that, however this epic came into existence, it is not a haphazard composition. In his concluding remarks on the poetry of the Odyssey, Thalmann suggests what may be the true reason for The Odyssey's undying popularity with Western audiences. It is, in a sense, the perfect epic. It relates great deeds in a manner that gives coherence to the fluctuating fortunes of...