Homer’s Rosy-Fingered Odyssey

21 Jan 2019

The first thing that strikes me about the first four books of The Odyssey is its use of repetition as an organizational device within the text. As an introduction to each new act, Homer writes, “Now when the child of morning, rosy-fingered Dawn, appeared […]” (Homer 800 BCE.) Homer repeats this phrase or a similarly worded phrase about the coming of morning as a kind of shorthand to let his audience know that he is beginning on a new segment of the narrative. According to New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry & Poetics, “Homer uses these prefabricated metrical building-blocks to facilitate rapid composition of long narrative poems in an oral setting” (B.G. and T.V.F.B. 378-379.) But the repetition of Homer’s phrase could have other implications as well.

When discussing repetition of a particular ritual in The Odyssey, Jennifer Clavore, in “Poetry and Repetition,” states, “The repetition marks the ritual as ritual, as repeatable; it exists as a form out of time, to be fulfilled in time” (Clavore 31.) Following Clavore’s logic the repetition of the coming of morning and the near exact repetition of the wording of the phrasing indicates that Homer is pointing out the special significance of the coming of day and the sunrise in particular. The repetition could be a promise that the morning will come as it always does and it could have similar meaning to the contemporary saying “tomorrow is another day” signifying the possibility of getting a fresh start despite the difficulties one may have had in the past. According to Andrew Szegedy-Maszak, Homer’s epic poems were originally intended to give moral and religious instruction (Szegedy-Maszak 95.) Therefore, the phrase, “the child of morning, rosy-fingered Dawn,” with its personification of the dawn could easily be an allusion to whichever Greek God who is responsible for bringing about the morning as The Odyssey is chock full of Gods that take active interest in the dealings of individual mortals such as Telemachus and Ulysses.

Of the many parallels between the text of Homer’s Odyssey and Joyce’s Ulysses, the appearance of the Gods amongst the humans stands out to me. Chapter one of Joyce’s novel spends much of the text in parodying and blaspheming the Catholic Church which is the dominant religion in the Ireland of the text, yet Steven Daedalus feels that the old woman who delivers the milk to them is a goddess. Joyce writes, “Old and secret she had entered from a morning world, maybe a messenger. […] A wandering crone, lowly form of an immortal serving her conqueror and her gay betrayer, their common cuckquean, a messenger from the secret morning” (Joyce 1922.) Steven’s godly messenger stands in stark contrast to Telemachus’ visitation from Minerva who comes in the form of Mentes, the chief of the Taphians and later in the form of Mentor, both characters of high esteem (Homer 800 BCE.) Telemachus’ visitation from the Goddess in the form of heroic characters reflects on his royal status and hints at his possibility of his own heroic transformation. However, Steven’s visitation by a Goddess in the form of a crone shows that he likely has a much more humble fate in store for him. Interestingly, in the quote about Steven’s visitation by the crone there is a mention of “secret morning” that calls back to Homer’s repeated phrase, but I am not sure yet what this emergence of “secret morning” means within Joyce’s text.

Works Cited

B.G., and T.V.F.B. “EPITHET.” New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry & Poetics, Jan. 1993, pp. 378–379. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lfh&AN=18911809&login.asp?custid=magn1307&site=lrc-live&scope=site&custid=magn1307.

Clarvoe, Jennifer. “Poetry and Repetition.” Antioch Review, vol. 67, no. 1, Winter 2009, pp. 30–41. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lfh&AN=36066764&login.asp?custid=magn1307&site=lrc-live&scope=site&custid=magn1307.

Homer. The OdysseyThe Internet Classics Archive, classics.mit.edu/Homer/odyssey.3.iii.html.

Joyce, James. UlyssesThe Joyce Project : Ulysses : Pigeonhouse, 1922. m.joyceproject.com/chapters/telem.html.

Szegedy-Maszak, Andrew. “Why Do We Still Read Homer?” American Scholar, vol. 71, no. 1, Winter 2002, p. 95. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lfh&AN=6390922&login.asp?custid=magn1307&site=lrc-live&scope=site&custid=magn1307.

2 thoughts on “Homer’s Rosy-Fingered Odyssey

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s