Discussion Series: The Homeric Odyssey and the Cultivation of Justice

The Homeric Odyssey & the Cultivation of Justice

Welcome to “Homeric Odyssey and the Cultivation of Justice”, an online lecture series organized and led by Professor Gregory Nagy, the current director of Harvard University’s Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington, D. C. In the creation of this project he has been actively assisted by Teaching Fellows who have taught with him the undergraduate Core Curriculum course “The Concept of the Hero in Greek Civilization.” “Homeric Odyssey and the Cultivation of Justice” is an exploration of the Homeric Odyssey, with a particular emphasis on the heroic search for the goal of social justice. In the poetic imagination, this goal is pictured through the metaphor of a beautifully cultivated garden. Homeric poetry links this paradisiacal metaphor with the hero’s efforts to win back his or her own “soul” (psyche). The Odyssey itself is such a heroic journey of a soul.

In ancient Greek song culture, as exemplified by the Odyssey, the goal of such a heroic quest is imagined as a garden fertilized and even animated by the hero whose body is ultimately buried within its hallowed ground. This image is directly linked to the historical fact that heroes were not only the subject of song in the ancient Greek world but also objects of religious cult.

The cult heroes of the ancient Greeks were believed to be upholders of social justice precisely because their bodies were buried in the local earth of the communities that worshipped them as the direct source of fertility and prosperity. The image of the paradisiacal garden is the eventual outcome in stories of a hero’s immortalization in song. The Odyssey is such a story, and Odysseus is such a hero.

The series consists of four units, and features reading of the Homeric Odyssey (in the beautiful English translation of Samuel Butler), lectures by the professor and teaching fellows, and questions to consider as you read. Previous experience with ancient Greek Literature is emphatically not required, and new-comers to Homer are heartily encouraged to explore this site! There are no prerequisites for this series, and all materials are available in English over the internet. To repeat, knowledge of Greek is not required.