News & Articles
2011-2012, Volume 4
The Many Riffs on The Odyssey
In The Poetics, Aristotle wrote of the pleasure generated when the audience recognizes the connection between a representation and the object it represents. “Aha!” we say, “This equals that.” That delicious tension between the original and the riff is part of what makes retellings of The Odyssey so popular. Please enjoy this glimpse of the company Enda Walsh’s Penelope keeps.
O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Written and directed by the Coen brothers, 2000
This film reimagines Odysseus as a bumbling but charming escapee from a 1937 chain gang. In one scene, a nod to the original in which the witch Circe turns Odysseus’ men into pigs, it appears that George Clooney’s character has been transformed into an animal. This later generates one of the best lines in all of cinematic history: (said through clenched teeth) “Do not. Seek. The treasure... We thought . You was. A toad.”
Written by James Joyce, 1922
Portions were first published as a serial from 1918 to 1920. Ulysses
turns the ten year journey of Odysseus into one day in the life of Leopold Bloom. Well, one day, plus enough streamof-
consciousness, puns, digressions and leaps to fill a lifetime. Joyce apparently claimed that he “put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant,” and that would earn the book “immortality.” So far, so good.
Book written by Charles Frazier, 1997
Film directed by Anthony Minghella, 2003
tells the story of a wounded Confederate soldier who deserts and walks home to reunite with the love of his life. There are a number of echoes of The Odyssey
, including blind men who give advice and women who nurse strangers back to health. Spoiler alert: it does not end happily.
The Simpsons: Tales from the Public Domain
Written by Andrew Kreisberg, Josh Lieb & Matt Warburton. Directed by Mike B. Anderson, 2002
In the segment “D’oh Brother, Where Art Thou,” Homer Simpson delivers the Trojan horse, eats his men when they are turned into pigs, and slaughters the suitors before retiring to Moe’s bar. The episode also includes riffs on Joan of Arc
. The next time you hear someone complain about pop culture destroying society, refute him with this episode. On second thought, don’t mention it at all: it might prove the point.
The Penelopiad: The Myth of Penelope & Odysseus
Written by Margaret Atwood, 2005
Finally getting her say after nearly 3,000 years, Penelope shares her perspective on the events of The Odyssey
. She’s assisted in the effort by a chorus of twelve maids who use various poetic forms from kiddie rhymes to ballads to express their views. In the original, these maids were hanged by Telemachus for their disloyal act of sleeping with the suitors. This horrific killing is the major event of Atwood’s version, and includes the suggestion that the maids were raped by the suitors. A stage version was presented at Stratford-upon-Avon in 2007.