COLLOQUIUM: Rachel Lesser, Gettysburg, "Female Ethics and Epic Rivalry: Intertextuality between Penelope in the Odyssey and Helen in the Iliad"

Thursday, October 26, 2017 - 4:30pm to 6:00pm

402 Cohen Hall

In book 23, lines 213–224 of the Odyssey, Penelope explains her slowness to acknowledge Odysseus’s identity with her dread of being deceived like Helen, who, as she asserts, would not have slept with a foreign man if she had understood the grievous consequences. In this passage, Penelope evokes the Iliadic Helen and interprets her as Paris’ remorseful paramour, and she asks her internal and external audiences to notice how she has consciously avoided Helen’s failure of perspicacity. While other scholars have explored the ethical contrast between Penelope and Helen as she appears within the Odyssey itself, this paper argues that the Odyssey poet puts Penelope in an intertextual dialogue with Helen of the Iliad that constructs the two women as similar, yet ethically distinct. I contend that their intertextuality, which manifests on the levels of language, motif, and larger narrative structure, contributes to the widely acknowledged epic rivalry between the Odyssey and Iliad traditions, and can be understood as a female counterpart to the competing heroisms of Odysseus and Achilles, which have been observed by many scholars. My argument takes into account the methodological problems of identifying intertextuality between early Greek epics, and considers what this female intertextuality suggests about the compositional relationship of the Odyssey and Iliad