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‘Tell me about a complicated man’: Odysseus in Athens in the Fifth Century BC

TURNER, DEVAN (2024) ‘Tell me about a complicated man’: Odysseus in Athens in the Fifth Century BC. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.



This thesis explores the presentation of Odysseus in fifth-century Athenian tragedy. It seeks to explain why Odysseus was so appealing to Athenian dramatists in this period and how these writers transformed the character received from Homer and other Epic Cycle poems into one more relevant to a fifth-century audience.

To answer these questions, I analyse both extant and fragmentary plays in which Odysseus is a principal character or is significant to the plot, paying particular attention to vocabulary and lexical choices. Each chapter is centred around a particular character or group with whom Odysseus is shown in conflict: Palamedes, Achilles, Ajax, the Trojans, Philoctetes, and the Cyclops. This thesis gives a more complete picture of the fifth-century Athenian reception of this epic character. Additionally, it offers new insights into certain plays, particularly the dual Odysseus of Sophocles’ Ajax and the metatheatricality of Euripides’ Cyclops. Fragmentary material also shows us less typical presentations of Odysseus which challenge some standard ideas about how his presentation deteriorates ethically over the fifth century. On the contrary, fragments of lost tragedies show us that some of his more disreputable appearances came early in the century. Analysis of fragmentary material also questions the standard view of the consistency with which Euripides treats Odysseus harshly.

Odysseus is the epic hero most suited to a fifth-century polis, especially a democratic polis whose institutions relied so much on the power of speaking well. Furthermore, Odysseus was associated in epic with the military recruitment of various heroes, and this role became more relevant in an imperial polis that relied on maintaining the support of its allies. Therefore, by analysing Odysseus’ presentations across fifth-century tragedy, we can also see ways in which tragedians dealt with issues relevant to their audience.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:Odysseus; Athens; Tragedy; Fragments; Drama
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Classics and Ancient History, Department of
Thesis Date:2024
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:21 May 2024 12:14

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