The Unknown Odysseus

Alternate Worlds in Homer's Odyssey
Thomas Van Nortwick

The most accessible and thorough reading of the dual nature of Odysseus


The Unknown Odysseus is a study of how Homer creates two versions of his hero, one who is the triumphant protagonist of the revenge plot and another, more subversive, anonymous figure whose various personae exemplify an entirely different set of assumptions about the world through which each hero moves and about the shape and meaning of human life. Separating the two perspectives allows us to see more clearly how the poem's dual focus can begin to explain some of the notorious difficulties readers have encountered in thinking about the Odyssey. In The Unknown Odysseus, Thomas Van Nortwick offers the most complete exploration to date of the implications of Odysseus' divided nature, showing how it allows Homer to explore the riddles of human identity in a profound way that is not usually recognized by studies focusing on only one "real" hero in the narrative. This new perspective on the epic enriches the world of the poem in a way that will interest both general readers and classical scholars.

". . .an elegant and lucid critical study that is also a good introduction to the poem."
---David Quint, London Review of Books

"Thomas Van Nortwick's eloquently written book will give the neophyte a clear interpretive path through the epic while reminding experienced readers why they should still care about the Odyssey's unresolved interpretive cruces. The Unknown Odysseus is not merely accessible, but a true pleasure to read."
---Lillian Doherty, University of Maryland

"Contributing to an important new perspective on understanding the epic, Thomas Van Nortwick wishes to resist the dominant, even imperial narrative that tries so hard to trick, beguile, and even bully its listeners into accepting the inevitability of Odysseus' heroism."
---Victoria Pedrick, Georgetown University

Thomas Van Nortwick is Nathan A. Greenberg Professor of Classics at Oberlin College and author of Somewhere I Have Never Travelled: The Second Self and the Hero's Journey in Ancient Epic (1992) and Oedipus: The Meaning of a Masculine Life (1998).

Jacket art: Head of Odysseus from a sculptural group representing Odysseus killing Polyphemus in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Sperlonga, Italy. Photograph by Marie-Lan Nguyen.

Praise / Awards

  • "Something fresher and more welcome is Thomas Van Nortwick's The Unknown Odysseus, an elegant and lucid critical study that is also a good introduction to the poem."
    —David Quint, London Review of Books

  • "The book is a success. The Unknown Odysseus provides an excellent point of entry for a general audience and would work well in an undergraduate course as an ancillary guide to the poem. Though it is not aimed at a specialist audience, I certainly benefited from its insights."
    -Bill Beck, Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Look Inside

Copyright © 2008, University of Michigan. All rights reserved. Posted October 2008.

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News, Reviews, Interviews

Read: Review in The Prisma | 08/24/2020
Read: Review in Bryn Mawr Classical Review | 04/09/2021

Product Details

  • 160 pages.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Ebook
  • 2010
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-02521-3

  • PDF: Adobe Digital Editions e-book (DRM Protected)

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  • Odyssey, Homer, epic hero, classical literature, narrative form, art as a reflection of human experience, identity and self-knowledge, power and gender, post-modern theories of the self, fame as isolating; anonymity as liberation