Thursday, July 27, 2006


Då jag blir oändligt okoncentrerad när jag måste sätta mig och skriva, vill jag även delge er en artikel på salon med den något provokativa och aningen löjliga titeln "The Odyssey": The original chick lit?". Många av dessa rön har jag sett i andra sammanhang, de är knappast unika för den recenserade boken:

"As the English historian and linguist Andrew Dalby reminds us in his new book "Rediscovering Homer," most of what was understood about the Homeric epics, for most of Western history, was wrong or misleading. Conventional ways of thinking about history and legend, about authorship and the oral tradition, about the structure and language of the poems, and about what they actually say, have clouded men's minds for generations -- and continue to do so today, Dalby thinks, even in an age of more rigorous scholarship.

Dalby's headline-grabbing assertion is that Homer, if he ever existed, was certainly not the author of "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey," and not even the author of early drafts or proto-texts. The author was the person who decided to write down (or dictate) the legendary stories of the Trojan War and the wanderings of Odysseus as epic narratives, far longer than would be suitable for an evening's tale spinning. That author had at least the faint glimmering of an idea that would change the world: Writing a long poem on a stack of cured goatskins (the only available medium) might ultimately reach a larger audience than that available to the traditional poet-singers who traveled from place to place as after-dinner performers. Dalby thinks that author was probably, or at least plausibly, a woman."
"Dalby's argument that the author of the epics was a woman, probably an aristocratic wife, rests heavily on the oral theory, other recent developments in Homeric studies, and a couple of imaginative leaps. But it isn't a completely new idea. Samuel Butler (whose 19th century translations of "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey" are probably the best freely available on the Internet) shocked other Victorian scholars with his 1897 treatise "The Authoress of the Odyssey," in which he identified "The Iliad," with its treatment of warfare, bloodshed and honor, as a manly yarn and the "The Odyssey," with its heightened focus on human relationships, the domestic realm and the subtle play of sexual power, as the Western world's earliest example of chick lit.

It's possible that Dalby is guilty of the same kind of oversimplification, or at least a simplistic view of gender and its literary consequences. When he writes that the poet presents Helen and Andromache (Hector's wife) in "The Iliad," or steadfast Penelope in "The Odyssey," as complicated, insightful and largely sympathetic characters, he is surely correct. Furthermore, both poems offer unflinching depictions of sexual relations in a world where women are literally property and must use their domestic and erotic power subtly while presenting the appearance of total subservience."
"A wealthy wife who was skilled in the poetic tradition, and who had slaves to perform most of her expected domestic chores, would have been in an ideal position to devote herself to composing and writing a lengthy epic. She could have paid for the goatskins and the scribe, and would have inconvenienced no one except herself with her weeks of literary work. "Such a woman, if she were as perceptive as the poet of the 'Iliad' and the 'Odyssey' must have been," Dalby writes, "might have realized that a new potential audience undreamed of by male singers -- an audience of women -- existed and could be reached with the help of writing."
"Dalby makes the valid points that Helen and Andromache supply important moments of commentary in "The Iliad," and that Penelope, who without ever leaving home outwits the suitors and her own headstrong son Telemachos, is the co-heroine of "The Odyssey." I think a perceptive male writer could have managed all that, and I'm not sure Dalby gets anywhere with his claims that the poet "subverts" epic and gender in a distinctively female manner. But when you return to the text after reading Dalby, and encounter again the poems' flashes of psychological insight, and their brutal sexual frankness, it's hard to resist the feeling that a woman is addressing us."

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