The Homeric Style, "Odysseus' Scar"
Be sure you
read Genesis 22:1-19 before studying this discussion.
Next reread Odyssey
"It would be difficult,
then, to imagine styles more contrasted than those of the two equally ancient and equally
epic texts. On the one hand, externalized, uniformly illuminated phenomena, at a definite
time and in a definite place, connected together with lacuna in a perpetual foreground;
thoughts and feelings completely expressed; events taking place in leisurely fashion and
with very little of suspense. On the other hand, the externalization of only so much of
the phenomena as is necessary for the purpose of the narrative, all else left in
obscurity; the decisive points of the narrative alone are emphasized, what lies between is
non existent; time and place are undefined and call for interpretation; thoughts and
feeling remain unexpressed, are only suggested by the silence and the fragmentary
speeches; the whole permeated with the most unrelieved suspense and directed toward a
single goal (and that extent far more of a unity), remain mysterious and 'fraught with
-- Erich Auerbach, Mimesis
|Note, for example, that Homer can never let us be
in doubt about anything involving Odysseus, while Genesis leaves much open to
mystery. Homer must even recall what happened to Odysseus in the past rather than leave it
On the other hand, Genesis does not
explain to us Abraham's every motive. We are left to infer his obedience, fear, and love
for both God and his son.
The conflict in Homer's work is between characters and explicit
struggles. The conflict for Abraham is internal: he struggles with himself.
Equally, the gods in The Odyssey are predictably human,
while the God of the Bible does not need to explain his every action to the reader. And,
while Homer's work is meant to teach us, Scripture makes a claim on our obedience:
Odyssey Book 19
suspense; digressions relax tension
in the present
present in every part of his progress
history defines us
left "unexternalized," because everything is talked about
left unexplained; motives are unclear
connection is left unhighlighted
scene is foregrounded: local, temporal present
have alternating emotions
are multi-layered, conflicted
more in the realm of myth than history
claim to history
to teach and entertain
our reality be fitted to this reality.
below the surface conflict
adapted from Auerbach, Erich. Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in
Western Literature. Trans. Willard R. Trask. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1953.