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Classics Essay - Friday 21st September 2012
"Homer is an excellent story-teller." Do you agree with this view? Use examples from
Odysseus' encounter with the Cyclops in Book 9 of The Odyssey to support your
This essay will underline my opinion of the above view. I will make points which argue in Homer's favour or against it
and will discuss each appropriately, supplying evidence from Book 9. I'd like to begin by defining `excellent' in the
context of story-telling as `with flew or no flaws in maintaining an interesting storyline by making it vivid, dramatic
and interesting.' I shall finalise the argument with a conclusion.
To begin with, Homer uses dramatic irony to involve us. This is a literary technique which entails the audience being
aware of something that at least one of the on-stage characters is oblivious to. When trying to deceive Polyphemus
in order to make an escape from his cave, Odysseus calls himself `Nobody' (line 366). We as an audience are aware
of the falsity of this statement but the Cyclops is totally unaware. We can also feel closer to Odysseus as we are
cognitively levelled with him in our knowledge of what is going on in his plan, in contrast to how we would be if we
believed what he named himself, as Polyphemus does. Some may find this deception (and, by implication, the
dramatic irony itself) tedious and predictable but I believe this could be deliberate in order to make Polyphemus
seem less intelligent and Odysseus more cunning. Through the means of dramatic irony, Homer has succeeded in
making us feel further involved and therefore we can sympathise with what is happening.
Furthermore, Homer makes the story appeal to the senses in order to engage us. This is where touch, taste, sound,
sight and smell are described. The blinding of Polyphemus is described in thorough detail. The Cyclops' eye `hiss[es]
round the olive stake,' (line 390) showing sound; his eye `stream[s] with blood,' (line 398) appealing to sight; the
stake has a `sharpened end,' (line 382) describing touch. As you can see, Homer has considered wisely how to make
this scene most effective. The result is superb: we feel wholly as if we are there and react with revulsion and fear
because we can figuratively feel, hear and see what is going on i.e. it is more vivid. This shows Homer's tremendous
talent of captivating an audience and thus his adeptness at composition.
In addition, Homer creates an appropriate balance between fantasy and reality in order to maintain a plausible
storyline. For example, the Cyclopes are fictionalised by making them `pitiless' (line 274) and `monst[rous]' ( line 356)
man-eating giants. Even to most reasonable Greeks this would be unbelievable. Some may say it is ineffective to
make them out to be as such but, with the imagery being so vividly presented in The Odyssey, it proves to be
efficacious. Homer also balances this by implementing certain plausible characteristics of the Cyclopes, such as
making them goatherds and shepherds. This makes them more relatable to us and therefore we appreciate their part
more. So, in this way, Homer has created a fair balance between reality and fantasy, both of which are valuable
assets of stories.
Yet another virtue of Homer's storytelling is his proficiency of alternating pace. This is where the speed of a story is
increased and decreased to evoke dramatic effect. Throughout Book 9, Homer (narrating as Odysseus) builds and
breaks tension by telling fast-flowing scenes at one point and slow-flowing scenes at the next. Odysseus, having
seen two of his men eaten before him, considers `draw[ing] [his] sharp sword' (line 300) and attacking the Cyclops,
creating suspence. However, this lasts only for a short duration until `Dawn appear[s], fresh and rosy fingered' (line
306) and the story continues at a slower pace. In this way, suspence is maintained, we are constantly captivated and
we can really get involved in what is happening. Usually, the more important and action-packed parts are told
quicker, therefore emphasising them. Homer successfully uses this technique to give a suspenceful, fascinating story.
Changes of location make the story more interesting. `...to Ismarus', `...from Ismarus', `...rounding Malea' and
`...past Cythera' (from lines 40 83) are all evidence of frequent setting alterations by Homer. Some may consider
The Odyssey to be too mobile, so to speak, as it includes continuous changes of location and it is therefore difficult to
become settled in our heads as to what is happening. However, this confusion may be deliberate as it gives us the
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Odysseus and his men would have, having to keep sailing and never reaching home. It also allows us
to explore more surroundings. This makes it more interesting. In this way, we are attentive to Homer's stories.
Also, Homer utilises the effectiveness of pathos in his story-telling. This is a quality in writing which evokes sympathy.…read more