Odyssey, Homer, Class Critique, Adorno and Horkheimer, Mythology


The ‘Homeric Question,’ or the question of who Homer was, has long preoccupied the minds of the Western world (Foley 2). Due to the amorphous nature of oral tradition and the lost histories of ancient Greece, it is likely that this question may never be answered to satisfaction. However, what historical data we do have allows us to synthesize a composite character of who Homer might have been and, more importantly, what he represented. As we will explore, records reveal that the mythology of ancient Greece arose from the lower rungs of the social ladder; storytellers were often members of the lower class who bore witness to class disparities and social injustice. Relying on the philosophical framework developed by Adorno and Horkheimer in the Dialectic of Enlightenment, and historical scholarship of the Homeric world and Ancient Greece, this paper investigates Homer’s Odyssey as an artifact of testimony from members of the lower class. Examining class hierarchies, servitude, and the oppression of women, I locate Adornian ruptures within the Odyssey where the narrator unveils a level of class consciousness and ultimately transforms mythology into a subversive, rather than reinforcing, mechanism of power. This is a critical re-conceptualization of the Odyssey, in the way that it extends the understanding of mythology beyond an object of ancient storytelling into the grounds of critical testimony of social stratification.

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