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Barron's Booknotes-The Odyssey by Homer

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STYLE

Greek epic poetry was written in dactylic hexameter. Each line had five dactylic feet and a sixth spondaic foot consisting of two strong beats. Longfellow's "Evangeline" is written in dactyls: "This is the forest primeval.". Because this beat gets sing-songy in English, Fitzgerald and other verse translators use the most common meter of English poetry, iambic pentameter: "I pledged these rites, then slashed the lamb and ewe," varying it to avoid monotony.

Epithets are descriptive tags attached to persons, places, or things: rosy-fingered Dawn, sandy Pylos, wine-dark sea. These helped the poet-composer fill out a line of verse without throwing off his meaning. Epic similes are long comparisons used to make the poet's meaning vivid. Odysseus returning home to rout the suitors is compared to a lion finding fawns in his den and attacking them. Some of these epic similes are set pieces that give the poet a breather. Irony heightens the drama of the story. The audience often knows Odysseus is actually present, but the characters do not. Repetition is part of oral tradition. The ears lose anything spoken only once, so the poet repeats.



POINT OF VIEW

Everything in the story is told by Homer, speaking as a mouthpiece for the Muse, faithfully retelling the legends of the past. So when a character talks, his or her words come through Homer and the conversation tends to be in long, rather formal speeches rather than quick dialogue. The poet-narrator's eyes see past and present as equally interesting and valuable. Sometimes a dramatic scene-such as the bathing of Odysseus' feet by Eurykleia when she sees his scar and discovers his true identity-will be interrupted by a long story from the past about how he got the scar.

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Barron's Booknotes-The Odyssey by Homer
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