- Introduction:Early Recognition in the Odyssey
This special issue deals with Homer's Odyssey and more specifically with a specific question concerning the second half of the Odyssey (books 13-24), which in Homeric scholarship has been much debated since P. W. Harsh's 1950 article "Penelope and Odysseus in Odyssey XIX." That debate centers around Odyssey 19 when Odysseus disguised as a beggar is brought before his wife Penelope who questions him concerning the whereabouts of her husband. This debate centers around whether Penelope recognizes the beggar as her husband at this point (book 19) or even earlier but plays along with his disguise in order for both to secretly come up with a plan (the contest of the bow) to eliminate Penelope's suitors. To date most readers of the Odyssey would delay this recognition between husband and wife until Odyssey 23 when Penelope tests the beggar (the test of the bed) who by now has revealed himself as her husband to her disbelief. In this issue a number of scholars take John B. Vlahos to task who attempts to make the case for early recognition in the Odyssey by stressing that Penelope might even have recognized her husband earlier than book 19.
John B. Vlahos, a retired lawyer whose 76 page article is featured in this issue, began to question Penelope's recognition of Odysseus after enrolling in a course on the Odyssey taught by Richard Martin at Stanford University in 2001. Encouraged by Professor Martin to pursue his hunch that Homer does not describe everything occurring in the Odyssey but rather expects the reader to consider carefully the text, Vlahos began his own ten-year odyssey to locate the point at which Penelope recognizes the beggar as her husband. A native speaker of modern Greek, Vlahos began his study of Homeric Greek at Stanford and immersed himself in Homeric scholarship. He first turned to the ancients in an attempt to discover how they interpreted the Odyssey only to find that no exegesis survived from antiquity. After years of rummaging through ancient texts at the Green Library at Stanford, Vlahos concluded that our contemporary interpretation of the recognition question stems from Byzantium through Eustathius's commentaries. Taking Eustathius's commentaries to task, Vlahos contends that Eustathius had overlooked many important passages in the Odyssey and had misinterpreted others. Supported by Richard P. Martin, Mark Edwards, Barbara Clayon, Donald Letainer, Edwin D. Floyd and a number of other scholars, he arrived at the conclusions presented in the article printed in this issue.
Responding to Vlahos's defense of early recognition in the Odyssey, are five Homerists: Bruce Louden, Steve Reece, Scott Richardson, Naoko Yamagata, and Edwin D Floyd. Bruce Louden in his essay, "Is There Early Recognition between Penelope and Odysseus?; Book 19 in the Larger Context of the Odyssey," takes a structural analytical approach to reject early recognition between Penelope and Odysseus in Book 19 by arguing that the refusal of a variety of both human and divine individuals to recognize Odysseus is one of the poem's favorite uses of irony, which is related to the thematic use of theoxenic myth. Steve Reece in his neoanalytic essay, "Penelope's 'Early Recognition' of Odysseus from a Neoanalytic and Oral Perspective," prefers an approach he labels as "neoanalysis with an oral twist." He argues that behind the Odyssey as we know it, there existed other versions of Odysseus's return in which Penelope recognizes [End Page ix] Odysseus much earlier than we find in our present Odyssey. These other versions according to Reece lingered in the minds of both the performer and his audience during the Odyssey's composition and as a result have left vestiges in the text we read today. Scott Richardson in his contribution, "The Case for the Defense," sees Vlahos's case as "quite plausible." Putting the recognition scene off until much later in the epic, according to Richardson, does not do justice to Homer's talent for indirection and subtlety. Naoko Yamagata, in "Penelope and Early Recognition: Vlahos, Harsh and Eustathius," accepts the viability of Vlahos's interpretation but explores details in Vlahos's argument, which she feels require some...