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Reviewed by:
  • The Epic Journey in Greek and Roman Literature ed. by Thomas Biggs and Jessica Blum
  • Clayton Schroer
The Epic Journey in Greek and Roman Literature. Edited by Thomas Biggs and Jessica Blum, eds. Yale Classical Studies, Volume 49. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. 2019. Pp. xiv + 323. Hardback, $99.99. ISBN 978-1- 108-49809-8.

“Arms and the exile,” wrote C. S. Lewis in his incomplete translation of Vergil’s Aeneid;1 Lewis’ rendition of the famous incipit shows us that wandering and the journey lie not just at the beginning of the Greek literary canon (Odysseus’ nostos), but indeed recur throughout the Greek and Roman textual traditions. Having gathered papers from a series of conferences and colloquia held at Yale University in 2014, our editors Thomas Biggs and Jessica Blum have done well to bring us this useful and learned examination of over 2000 years of classical journeys. 12 contributions roam all the way from Odysseus’ journey beyond the Ocean to NASA’s Voyagers probing the limits of our solar system.

The conceptual power of Odysseus’ nostos binds many of the essays together as they examine how the epic journey is refracted through various texts and genres—not just epic, as one might suspect from the book’s title. Admittedly, the collection suffers one flaw typical to its genre, namely that it is difficult to discern a single, coherent approach to the journey; many of the chapters, while provocative and compelling on their own, are difficult to describe in relation to one another. While this does not detract from the quality of the essays, given my abbreviated space, I will describe and respond to a few of the particularly successful chapters from each of the book’s 4 sections.

Noteworthy in Part 1, “Odyssean Journeys,” is Alexander Loney’s piece on “Pompē in the Odyssey.” Loney observes that Odysseus’ successful attempts at nostos are won through collaboration rather than heroic self-determination; when Odysseus attempts to exert his will over others, such as in his attempt to remain awake on his 10-day trip from Aeolia, he fares more poorly than when he goes to sleep and allows the Phaiakians to convey him home (55). Loney’s observation reveals that even in a genre like epic, there is a danger of rigid self-determination when one meets with many and diverse “others” on the road. Jessica Blum follows up on this point nicely by showing the many ways in which Valerius Flaccus’ Argonauts impose their own “martial epic script in the face of the multigeneric landscape” (61) of the peoples they encounter on their journey. What ensues in the Argonautica is a sometimes gross over-exaggeration of epic’s traditional ethics of virtus, resulting at times in civil war (77–80). An ethics of virtus, however, [End Page 114] presupposes a guiding, ancestral tradition providing both exempla and witnesses to heroic deeds. And yet, since the Argonautica takes place so early in mythic time, the “Argonauts have no tradition to which to return” (65), leaving Valerius’ characters and audience uncertain whether “the ethical guidelines of the past remain valid” (64).

Particularly standing out in Part 2, “Gendered Maps,” is Emily Baragwanath’s essay on “Heroes and Homemakers in Xenophon.” Baragwanath argues that “finding Home” in Xenophon’s Anabasis is a process achieved “by forging relationships…especially [with] women” who are sources of “survival and salvation” in the nostoi of men (111). Women like Hellas in Anabasis 7 become a home away from home for an Odysseus-like displaced Xenophon (126–7). The Women of Xenophon’s text reveal not just the possibility for new homes but indeed for new, Panhellenic identities that eschew traditional geopolitical divisions (118–19). Alison Keith’s “Women’s Travels in the Aeneid” takes a somewhat different approach, showing that journeys in Vergil’s epic are traditionally masculine acts; women who undertake a journey do so at their own peril (Dido) or become otherwise aligned against the aims of Aeneas’ journey. Keith’s discussion of Andromache and the Trojan Women (140–4) reveals them to be aligned not with Aeneas’ victorious and teleological journey but rather with a...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2327-5812
Print ISSN
0009-8353
Pages
pp. 114-116
Launched on MUSE
2021-11-16
Open Access
No
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