Homer’s Odyssey in a Global Context -- Online Program

UVA College of Arts and Sciences and Center for the Liberal Arts present

Homer’s Odyssey in a Global Context -- Online Program

The Odyssey Workshop is co-sponsored by the UVA Center for the Liberal Arts and the Clay Endowment of the UVA Institute of Humanities and Global Cultures.
Ancient image with snake

This workshop will explore selected topics in Homer’s great epic Odyssey from global perspectives with a view to deepening study of a poem often taught to K-12 students. Topics will range from the comparative perspective offered by a Serbian epic of return parallel to the Odyssey, to notable episodes in the poem seen through a broader lens, namely the Cyclops Polyphemus against the background of one-eyed monsters in other cultures, and the enchantress Circe both in Homer’s telling and in artistic and literary receptions.

The program will include three 20-minute talks each followed by general discussion, with a brief break after each presentation, and then smaller breakout discussions to brainstorm about how to apply these perspectives to the classroom and otherwise to discuss teaching Homer’s Odyssey.


Tyler Jo Smith

Professor of Classical Art/Archaeology and Director, Interdisciplinary Archaeology Program

“In the Eye of the Beholder: Homer's Cyclops and other One-Eyed Monsters”

The confrontation between Odysseus and the Cyclops Polyphemus in Odyssey book 9 is striking in many ways. Both Greek and Roman artists capitalize on the grotesque aspects of the Cyclops' behavior as well as the clever means by which Odysseus and his men make their escape. This presentation will introduce these ancient images, consider the origins of the Cyclops as a mythological figure, and discuss the phenomenon of the one-eyed monster from myths and cultures across the globe including Ireland, India, and the Philippines.

Ivana Petrovic

Hugh H. Obear Professor and Chair of Classics

“The Song of Milman Parry and the Odyssey or How to use ‘The Song of Milman Parry’ in the classroom in order to explain the oral formulaic composition theory”

In the 1930s, Homeric scholar Milman Parry attended performances of local Yugoslav bards and recorded a large number of songs. He studied the local oral epic tradition and by analogy explained the nature of Homeric language. Parry's student, Albert Lord, further expanded and refined his teacher’s theory (hence the so-called ‘Parry-Lord Oral-Formulaic composition theory).

However, Parry’s travels through Ex-Yugoslavia also became a subject of an oral traditional song, which is available in the original Serbian and in English translation as Appendix 6 of Lord’s book The Singer of Tales. In this poem, the local bard Milovan Vojčić tells a story about Parry’s voyage from America to Yugoslavia on the ship Saturnia, meticulously charts Parry's exploration of  Vojčić’s ‘heroic homeland,’ describes Parry’s desire to learn about ‘the glorious history’ from the local bards, and how in the process Parry ‘became enamored of the songs,’ the local landscape, and its history. The poem casts Parry in a role analogous to that of Odysseus and Vojčić in the role of the Homeric singer Demodocus. The poem is not directly influenced by the Odyssey, but it draws on the rich local tradition of ‘return songs’ and so represents a comparative parallel to Homer’s Odyssey.

John F. Miller

Arthur F. and Marian W. Stocker Professor of Classics

“Visions of Circe”

Odysseus on his travels famously encounters Circe, a divine enchantress who momentarily turns his men to pigs and entertains them on her island Aeaea, and Odysseus in her bed, for a year. This talk discusses Odysseus’ encounter with Circe in Homer and some later representations of the character: 1) Madeleine Miller’s recent novel Circe, a reimagining of the figure from Circe’s own point of view which expands upon her life story with appeal to other Greco-Roman myths, such as Medea, the Argonautica, Pasiphae, Scylla and Glaucus, and Telegonus, the son of Circe and Odysseus. 2) an enigmatic depiction of Circe on vases from a cult-center near Thebes, which raise the question of whether there was prejudice against skin color in classical antiquity; 3) the collage ‘Circe’ by the African-American artist Romare Bearden, which outfits the enchantress in West African dress as part of a series that refigures the Odyssey with black characters.


10:00 – 10:10             

Introductions by John Miller

10:10 – 10:30

Tyler Jo Smith, “In the Eye of the Beholder: Homer's Cyclops and other One-Eyed Monsters”

10:30 – 10:45             

Q&A session

10:45 – 10:50             

5-minute break

10:50 – 11:10             

Ivana Petrovic, “The Song of Milman Parry and the Odyssey or How to use ‘The Song of Milman Parry’ in the classroom in order to explain the oral formulaic composition theory”

11:10 – 11:25             

Q&A session

11:25 – 11:30             

5-minute break

11:30 – 11:50             

John F. Miller, “Visions of Circe”

11:50 – 12:05             

Q&A session

12:05 – 12:10             

5-minute break

12:10 – 12:50             

Small Group Breakout Session

12:50 – 1:00               

Evaluations and goodbyes


November 14, 2020 10:00am to 1:00pm


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