Homer's Odyssey and the Near East

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The Odyssey's larger plot is composed of a number of distinct genres of myth, all of which are extant in various Near Eastern cultures (Mesopotamian, West Semitic, Egyptian). Unexpectedly, the Near Eastern culture with which the Odyssey has the most parallels is the Old Testament. Consideration of how much of the Odyssey focuses on non-heroic episodes – hosts receiving guests, a king disguised as a beggar, recognition scenes between long-separated family members – reaffirms the Odyssey's parallels with the Bible. In particular the book argues that the Odyssey is in a dialogic relationship with Genesis, which features the same three types of myth that comprise the majority of the Odyssey: theoxeny, romance (Joseph in Egypt), and Argonautic myth (Jacob winning Rachel from Laban). The Odyssey also offers intriguing parallels to the Book of Jonah, and Odysseus' treatment by the suitors offers close parallels to the Gospels' depiction of Christ in Jerusalem.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This is a rewarding book. L[oudon] is a literary critic blessed with analytical insight … His studies have ranged widely, without superficiality; and his capacity for illuminating comparisons manifests itself throughout."
G. L. Huxley, Hermathena

"The study of the densely woven fabric that holds together Aegean and Near Eastern cultures since the Bronze Age continues to fascinate researchers and readers. This book is a welcome addition to recent studies, which are advancing this field by moving past the rather impressionistic and cataloguing approach that prevailed in previous decades … Louden’s nuanced and not unidirectional line of comparative work opens up new perspectives for Hellenists, as well as biblical and Near Eastern scholars … it will be a useful reference for future research."
Carolina López-Ruiz, Classical World

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521768207
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 1/31/2011
  • Pages: 366
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Bruce Louden is Professor in the Languages and Linguistics Department at the University of Texas at El Paso. His previous books are The Odyssey: Structure, Narration, and Meaning (1999) and The Iliad: Structure, Myth, and Meaning (2006).

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Table of Contents

Introduction; 1. Divine councils and apocalyptic myth; 2. Theoxeny: Odyssey 1, 3, 13–22, and Genesis 18–19; 3. Romance: the Odyssey and the myth of Joseph (Genesis 37, 39–47); 4. Helen and Rahab (Joshua 2), Menelaus and Jacob (Genesis 32:22–32); 5. Ogygia and creation myth, Kalypso and Ishtar; 6. Argonautic myth: Odysseus and Nausikaa/Circe, Jason and Medea, Jacob and Rachel (Odyssey 6–8, 10–12, 13.1–187, Genesis 28–33); 7. Odysseus and Jonah: sea-monsters and the fantastic voyage; 8. The combat myth: Polyphemos and Humbaba; 9. Catabasis, consultation, and the vision: Odyssey 11, 1 Samuel 28, Gilgamesh 12, Aeneid 6, and the Book of Revelation; 10. Odyssey 12 and Exodus 32: Odysseus and Moses, the people defy their leader and rebel against God; 11. The suitors and the depiction of impious men in wisdom literature; 12. Odysseus and Jesus: the King returns, unrecognized and abused in his own Kingdom; 13. Contained apocalypse: Odyssey 12, 13, 22 and 24, Exodus 32 (and Genesis 18–19); Conclusion.

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