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Laurel
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THE ODYSSEY--Was this book written by a woman?

[ Edited ]
One of the translations of The Odyssey that I've been reading is Samuel Butler's prose translation. In the preface he says that the translation 'is intended to supplement a work entitled "The Authoress of the Odyssey", which I published in 1897.' His contention is that 'the poem was entirely written by a very young woman, who lived at the place now called Trapani, and introduced herself into her work under the name of Nausicaa.'

Timothy B. Shutt, in his excellent Portable Professor lectures Monsters, Gods, and Heroes: The Epic in Literature, proposes a little theory of his own--that Homer's daughter or granddaughter served as his scribe and wrote down The Iliad and then later wrote The Odyssey herself, 'from a woman's point of view.'

I don't know how serious Shutt is with his proposal, but Butler is dead serious. Is The Odyssey written from a woman's viewpoint? Is there any woman on earth who could have written this book? (I know a woman could write whatever she wanted to write, but I guess the question is, would she?)

Give us your thoughts as we move along.

Message Edited by Laurel on 04-03-2008 09:28 AM
"Truth must of necessity be stranger than fiction, for fiction is the creation of the human mind, and therefore is congenial to it." ~~G.K. Chesterton
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Re: THE ODYSSEY--Was this book written by a woman?

Personally, I think it's akin to the "Queen Elizabeth wrote Shakespeare's plays" conspiracy theories.

And yes, there are people who seriously argue that just as Butler seriously argues for a female Homer (and Bloom argues for a female author of the Book of J).

One basic fallacy I see in all these theories is that they take the attributes of modern female authors and assume that authors three thousand years ago living in totally different societies with totally different views of the roles and responsibilities of women would have had basically the same literary characteristics.
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Homer and Tolstoy

I keep thinking of Homer when I read Tolstoy and of Tolstoy when I read Homer. Those who think that The Iliad and The Odyssey must have been written by two different people site the difference in style and content, and I keep thinking, Look at all the differences between War and Peace and Anna Karenina.
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Re: THE ODYSSEY--Was this book written by a woman?

The question that Peppermill brought up, and that I have, too, is, Why would a woman want to write this? Is it in any way written from a woman's viewpoint? Why would those men think it is a woman's point of view?



Everyman wrote:
Personally, I think it's akin to the "Queen Elizabeth wrote Shakespeare's plays" conspiracy theories.

And yes, there are people who seriously argue that just as Butler seriously argues for a female Homer (and Bloom argues for a female author of the Book of J).

One basic fallacy I see in all these theories is that they take the attributes of modern female authors and assume that authors three thousand years ago living in totally different societies with totally different views of the roles and responsibilities of women would have had basically the same literary characteristics.


"Truth must of necessity be stranger than fiction, for fiction is the creation of the human mind, and therefore is congenial to it." ~~G.K. Chesterton
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Re: THE ODYSSEY--Was this book written by a woman?

And, of course, in the end, we have to ask, so what?

Of course we will never know who "wrote" the Iliad and Odyssey, or exactly when or how. (Barring, our course, our finding a stone tablet that says something like "My Uncle Homer just finished writing the Iliad, and my aunt Penelope is now working on the Odyssey." When we do make such a find, I'll worry about it then.)

But even if one is convinced that a woman wrote the Odyssey, so what? Would the story be different? Would the events, the motivations of the characters, the actions of the gods be different?

Would War and Peace be a different book if we found that a woman had written it? Or Hamlet? Or Beowulf, which is more likely?

Oh, sure, it would give several generations of scholars something more to scratch out their PhD theses and tenure papers about. But are any of us really going to read the poem differently depending on whether a man or woman wrote it?

And why not also argue about the age, profession, etc. of the author, since those might be just as relevant as the gender?
Would it affect your understanding of Telemachus if you decided the Odyssey was written by a 17 year old Spartan soldier trying to keep warm in a tent on the campaign in Macedonia or a seventy year old crippled and blind poet living in luxury on the earnings of a lifetime of reciting poetry in the houses of the rich and famous? If not, why not? And if not, why care whether the writer was that old blind poet or a young girl just coming into puberty whose knowledge of marital relations and the allure of sexual passion was purely theoretical?


Laurel wrote:
The question that Peppermill brought up, and that I have, too, is, Why would a woman want to write this? Is it in any way written from a woman's viewpoint? Why would those men think it is a woman's point of view?



Everyman wrote:
Personally, I think it's akin to the "Queen Elizabeth wrote Shakespeare's plays" conspiracy theories.

And yes, there are people who seriously argue that just as Butler seriously argues for a female Homer (and Bloom argues for a female author of the Book of J).

One basic fallacy I see in all these theories is that they take the attributes of modern female authors and assume that authors three thousand years ago living in totally different societies with totally different views of the roles and responsibilities of women would have had basically the same literary characteristics.





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Re: THE ODYSSEY--Was this book written by a woman?

"Would it affect your understanding of Telemachus if you decided the Odyssey was written by a 17 year old Spartan soldier trying to keep warm in a tent on the campaign in Macedonia or a seventy year old crippled and blind poet living in luxury on the earnings of a lifetime of reciting poetry in the houses of the rich and famous? If not, why not? And if not, why care whether the writer was that old blind poet or a young girl just coming into puberty whose knowledge of marital relations and the allure of sexual passion was purely theoretical?"

LOL. First, I agree with the statement: "Personally, I think it's akin to the 'Queen Elizabeth wrote Shakespeare's plays' conspiracy theories." And that is even though I have absolutely no credentials to support that viewpoint.

Second, I am really more interested in the so-called feminist criticism of the Odyssey than who wrote it, although I do find it rather interesting that Butler took that view, and am a bit curious as to why. So, if Laurel gets a bit of that in this thread, could be interesting.

Third, while I agree with Eman on authorship, I am curious as to the meaning of these words:

"One basic fallacy I see in all these theories is that they take the attributes of modern female authors and assume that authors three thousand years ago living in totally different societies with totally different views of the roles and responsibilities of women would have had basically the same literary characteristics."

Can you elaborate?

Fourth, the lead paragraph quoted above suggests exactly why we are curious about the subject of authorship -- it impacts our credibility relative to the tale. And, when we don't know, we tend to construct the author!

But, I do hope we will put our focus on discussing the story itself, even though Laurel "accuses" me of raising the topic. :smileysad:

Everyman wrote:
And, of course, in the end, we have to ask, so what?

Of course we will never know who "wrote" the Iliad and Odyssey, or exactly when or how. (Barring, our course, our finding a stone tablet that says something like "My Uncle Homer just finished writing the Iliad, and my aunt Penelope is now working on the Odyssey." When we do make such a find, I'll worry about it then.)

But even if one is convinced that a woman wrote the Odyssey, so what? Would the story be different? Would the events, the motivations of the characters, the actions of the gods be different?

Would War and Peace be a different book if we found that a woman had written it? Or Hamlet? Or Beowulf, which is more likely?

Oh, sure, it would give several generations of scholars something more to scratch out their PhD theses and tenure papers about. But are any of us really going to read the poem differently depending on whether a man or woman wrote it?

And why not also argue about the age, profession, etc. of the author, since those might be just as relevant as the gender?

Would it affect your understanding of Telemachus if you decided the Odyssey was written by a 17 year old Spartan soldier trying to keep warm in a tent on the campaign in Macedonia or a seventy year old crippled and blind poet living in luxury on the earnings of a lifetime of reciting poetry in the houses of the rich and famous? If not, why not? And if not, why care whether the writer was that old blind poet or a young girl just coming into puberty whose knowledge of marital relations and the allure of sexual passion was purely theoretical?


Laurel wrote:
The question that Peppermill brought up, and that I have, too, is, Why would a woman want to write this? Is it in any way written from a woman's viewpoint? Why would those men think it is a woman's point of view?

Everyman wrote:
Personally, I think it's akin to the "Queen Elizabeth wrote Shakespeare's plays" conspiracy theories.

And yes, there are people who seriously argue that just as Butler seriously argues for a female Homer (and Bloom argues for a female author of the Book of J).

One basic fallacy I see in all these theories is that they take the attributes of modern female authors and assume that authors three thousand years ago living in totally different societies with totally different views of the roles and responsibilities of women would have had basically the same literary characteristics.



"Seize the moments of happiness, love and be loved! That is the only reality in the world, all else is folly. It is the one thing we are interested in here." -- Leo Tolstoy
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Re: THE ODYSSEY--Was this book written by a woman?



Peppermill wrote:
Third, while I agree with Eman on authorship, I am curious as to the meaning of these words:

"One basic fallacy I see in all these theories is that they take the attributes of modern female authors and assume that authors three thousand years ago living in totally different societies with totally different views of the roles and responsibilities of women would have had basically the same literary characteristics."

Can you elaborate?

I can try.

As far as we know, we have no writings by women from ancient Greece prior to the time of Sappho, and not much from her (assuming she was indeed a woman). And we have very little female writing, at least that I'm aware of, from then up to about the 17th century AD. Certainly not enough, unless there are a lot of writers I'm not aware of, to be confident that we know in their own words and not as presented by male voices how they thought and how they wrote.

So we don't have any information about how ancient Greek women thought, what their views on life were, what they thought about children, families, the gods, etc., other than what men tell us.

So how do we decide, on internal evidence, whether we think a work of literature was written by a woman? The usual way is to say that "so and so seems more to reflect the feminine than the masculine point of view, or the feminine rather than the masculine way of putting points forward."

But how do we know what the feminine point of view as represented by the feminine rather than the masculine voice was in Ancient Greece, or how women wrote then? We don't. We have no such evidence at all to go in. So we basically extrapolate from what women today think and how women today write. But that assumes, and I think it a HUGE leap across an unbridgable chasm, that women three thousand years ago thought the same way or expressed themselves the same way as women today do.

That's the basic point I was making. It's like trying to guess whether the Iliad was written by a soldier or a stonemason when we have no other writings from the time by either a soldier or a stonemason to compare it against.
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Re: THE ODYSSEY--Was this book written by a woman?

Thanks, Eman. I think I understand the argument you are making -- and it seems a sensible one. If/when I encounter the arguments of others, it provides a good baseline. This is not an area I have ever pursued -- and don't intend to now, although it seems that the subject apparently may just show up in exploring the Odyssey.

Everyman wrote:

Peppermill wrote:
Third, while I agree with Eman on authorship, I am curious as to the meaning of these words:

"One basic fallacy I see in all these theories is that they take the attributes of modern female authors and assume that authors three thousand years ago living in totally different societies with totally different views of the roles and responsibilities of women would have had basically the same literary characteristics."

Can you elaborate?

I can try.

As far as we know, we have no writings by women from ancient Greece prior to the time of Sappho, and not much from her (assuming she was indeed a woman). And we have very little female writing, at least that I'm aware of, from then up to about the 17th century AD. Certainly not enough, unless there are a lot of writers I'm not aware of, to be confident that we know in their own words and not as presented by male voices how they thought and how they wrote.

So we don't have any information about how ancient Greek women thought, what their views on life were, what they thought about children, families, the gods, etc., other than what men tell us.

So how do we decide, on internal evidence, whether we think a work of literature was written by a woman? The usual way is to say that "so and so seems more to reflect the feminine than the masculine point of view, or the feminine rather than the masculine way of putting points forward."

But how do we know what the feminine point of view as represented by the feminine rather than the masculine voice was in Ancient Greece, or how women wrote then? We don't. We have no such evidence at all to go in. So we basically extrapolate from what women today think and how women today write. But that assumes, and I think it a HUGE leap across an unbridgable chasm, that women three thousand years ago thought the same way or expressed themselves the same way as women today do.

That's the basic point I was making. It's like trying to guess whether the Iliad was written by a soldier or a stonemason when we have no other writings from the time by either a soldier or a stonemason to compare it against.
"Seize the moments of happiness, love and be loved! That is the only reality in the world, all else is folly. It is the one thing we are interested in here." -- Leo Tolstoy
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Re: THE ODYSSEY--Was this book written by a woman?

On the other hand, I don't know of any serious female writers who think TO was written by a woman.  It seems to be that because there are quite a few criticisms of men in it, certain men have concluded that it posits a female viewpoint.   But as you say elsewhere Laurel, many authors, especially good ones, write from entirely different points of view and even as a different sex.  That being said, I quite like the idea of Homer having a daughter or grand-daughter who assisted him with the 'feminist' bits:smileyhappy:.   

Laurel wrote:
One of the translations of The Odyssey that I've been reading is Samuel Butler's prose translation. In the preface he says that the translation 'is intended to supplement a work entitled "The Authoress of the Odyssey", which I published in 1897.' His contention is that 'the poem was entirely written by a very young woman, who lived at the place now called Trapani, and introduced herself into her work under the name of Nausicaa.'

Timothy B. Shutt, in his excellent Portable Professor lectures Monsters, Gods, and Heroes: The Epic in Literature, proposes a little theory of his own--that Homer's daughter or granddaughter served as his scribe and wrote down The Iliad and then later wrote The Odyssey herself, 'from a woman's point of view.'

I don't know how serious Shutt is with his proposal, but Butler is dead serious. Is The Odyssey written from a woman's viewpoint? Is there any woman on earth who could have written this book? (I know a woman could write whatever she wanted to write, but I guess the question is, would she?)

Give us your thoughts as we move along.

Message Edited by Laurel on 04-03-2008 09:28 AM


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Re: Ancient female writers.

Here is a list of some female writers of antiquity:-
 
 
Pythagorous' Mathematics school ,in particular, had many influential women mathemeticians and philosophers who wrote learned treatises, including Theano, his wife, and his daughters Damo, Arignote and Myia.
 
 
The Pythagoreans were persecuted for their 'cult' and many of their literary works were destroyed but they and their works are referred to by contemporary male authors such as Iamblichus. Theano (600BC) is credited by him of writing treatises on physics, mathematics, medicine and child psychology. 
 
 
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Re: Ancient female writers.

Reading the Wikipedia article, and even assuming (which one can't always) that it is reasonably accurate, I can see why little is known about these women writers. Apparently very little survives, and of that, it's not in every case certain that it was actually written by a woman or that the woman it's attributed to was a real person. There is nothing, apparently, even remotely of the scope of the Iliad or Odyssey by any of these authors surviving, and nothing suggesting that any work of that scope or quality ever existed. Much of what is listed as attributed to them is short fragments of lyric poetry, non-fiction fragments, and sex manuals.

And none of these authors were working in the centuries during which Homer is believed to have written.

Doesn't give me, at least, any sense that there is a basis for the theory that a woman was writing Odyssey-length poetry at the time the Odyssey was written.
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Re: THE ODYSSEY--Was this book written by a woman?

I thought the Muse was the author of The Odyssey.
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Re: THE ODYSSEY--Was this book written by a woman?

Excellent point!

Timbuktu1 wrote:
I thought the Muse was the author of The Odyssey.


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Re: THE ODYSSEY--Was this book written by a woman?

But since the Muse can't write, somebody had to write it all down.

Timbuktu1 wrote:
I thought the Muse was the author of The Odyssey.


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Re: THE ODYSSEY--Was this book written by a woman?

Ran across these comments by Eva Brann, herself a woman and a noted Homer scholar, last night.

"Samuel Butler claimed in The Authoress of the Odyssey, a book which is as perceptive in its reading of the poem as it is ridiculous in its conclusion, that the poet was Nausicaa, the young princess of the Phaeacian fairyland... This claim is like saying that the apotheosis of girlhood, Countess Natasha Rostov, is the authoress of Tolstoy's War and Peace because this novel, the modern counterpart of the Iliad and the Odyssey together, displays a "womanly instinct" in its apprehension of men."
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Re: THE ODYSSEY--Was this book written by a woman?

Amanuensis or awomanuensis?

Everyman wrote:
But since the Muse can't write, somebody had to write it all down.

Timbuktu1 wrote:
I thought the Muse was the author of The Odyssey.





"Truth must of necessity be stranger than fiction, for fiction is the creation of the human mind, and therefore is congenial to it." ~~G.K. Chesterton
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Re: THE ODYSSEY--Was this book written by a woman?



Everyman wrote:
But since the Muse can't write, somebody had to write it all down.

Timbuktu1 wrote:
I thought the Muse was the author of The Odyssey.







A scribe? ;-)
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Re: THE ODYSSEY--Was this book written by a woman?


Timbuktu1 wrote:

Everyman wrote:
But since the Muse can't write, somebody had to write it all down.

Timbuktu1 wrote:
I thought the Muse was the author of The Odyssey.


A scribe? ;-)

T -- if you left out the - you would get the yellow smiley face.
;-) versus :smileywink:
"Seize the moments of happiness, love and be loved! That is the only reality in the world, all else is folly. It is the one thing we are interested in here." -- Leo Tolstoy
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Re: THE ODYSSEY--Was this book written by a woman?



Peppermill wrote:

Timbuktu1 wrote:

Everyman wrote:
But since the Muse can't write, somebody had to write it all down.

Timbuktu1 wrote:
I thought the Muse was the author of The Odyssey.


A scribe? ;-)

T -- if you left out the - you would get the yellow smiley face.
;-) versus :smileywink:





Thanks Pepper, I tried it before but I'll try it again and see what happens...:smileywink:
:smileyhappy: :smileyhappy: Hmmm.
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Re: THE ODYSSEY--Was this book written by a woman?



Timbuktu1 wrote:


Peppermill wrote:

Timbuktu1 wrote:

Everyman wrote:
But since the Muse can't write, somebody had to write it all down.

Timbuktu1 wrote:
I thought the Muse was the author of The Odyssey.


A scribe? ;-)

T -- if you left out the - you would get the yellow smiley face.
;-) versus :smileywink:





Thanks Pepper, I tried it before but I'll try it again and see what happens...:smileywink:
:smileyhappy: :smileyhappy: Hmmm.




Hooray! Thanks!!!!! I had no idea! :smileyhappy: