BMCR 1997.05.14

Triumph of Odysseus

, The triumph of Odysseus : Homer's Odyssey books 21-22 : introduction, text, and running vocabulary.. Joint Association of Classical Teachers' Greek course. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. xii, 87 pages. ISBN 9780521465878. $18.95.

The first volumes of the very successful JACT Greek Course appeared from Cambridge University Press in 1978: the elementary-level Reading Greek: Text and Reading Greek: Grammar, Vocabulary and Exercises. Two attractive, intermediate-level anthologies soon followed: A World of Heroes: Selections from Homer, Herodotus and Sophocles (1979) and The Intellectual Revolution: Selections from Euripides, Thucydides and Plato (1980). A separate volume, Greek Vocabulary (1980), includes all the “learning vocabulary” for both the elementary and intermediate portions of the Greek Course; one of its express purposes is to make the intermediate readers serviceable even for students who have not learned their Greek via the JACT course.

A third intermediate-level text, produced by Peter Jones and Alan Beale, is now added to provide a bigger dose of continuous narrative from Homer—all 935 lines of Od. 21-22, taken from the Oxford Classical Text edition. ( A World of Heroes contains all of Il. 22 and the last 293 lines of Il. 6.; the last section of Reading Greek: Text has about 180 lines of Od. 6.)

The Triumph of Odysseus is similar in appearance and presentation to the earlier JACT readers. An eleven-page Introduction includes a section on “Odyssey Books 13-20″ to prepare the student for Books 21-22. “The Art of Homer” treats stylistic traits typical of oral compositions: formulaic repetition, paratactic sentence structure, simplicity of plot, prominence of descriptive ornamentation. Also outlined are higher-level, narratological matters: perspective/focalization, ring composition, pairing of characters, etc. There is brief discussion of the vividness of Homeric characterization on all social levels and delineation of the contours of the moral world of the Odyssey. A compact explanation of “Homeric Metre,” a short, well-selected bibliography of materials appropriate for “Further Reading,” and a list of “Dramatis personae” conclude the Introduction.

The passages from Homer are then presented in the familiar format of the earlier anthologies: clumps of text, ranging between about twelve and forty-five lines, each with a rather explicit heading, sometimes three or four sentences in length. Following every passage is running vocabulary; perhaps ten percent of the items are starred as learning vocabulary. A beneficial departure from the other readers is the listing of entries in order of appearance rather than alphabetically. Otherwise, there is no annotation of the text whatever. A four-page glossary of learning vocabulary closes the book.

Production values have evidently fallen off at CUP since the publication of the previous JACT Greek Course volumes. The quality of the paper is poor. The illustration program in itself is well-conceived: mostly vase painting, some sculpture and site views, some non-classical art (Fuseli and Edward Lear), and a diagram of conjectural arrangements of the axes in the contest of the bow. But distribution and page-layout of the illustrations leave much to be desired: for example, one is printed upside down (54) and four are bunched together on two facing pages (62-63). In general, the utility of the pictures is much diminished in this book by their often thumbnail size and the dark and grainy quality of reproduction. In all three readers, the font sizes for main text and especially running vocabulary are too small.

One must be grateful for another intermediate Greek textbook option, and instructors using the JACT Course will want to give The Triumph of Odysseus serious consideration. Others may balk at assigning a slender, rather poorly turned out paperback that costs $18.95 (plus the price of the Greek Vocabulary volume) and furnishes less than half the text to be had in either of the other JACT readers, priced at $19.95. I myself would be inclined to have students interested in Homer spend a little more and use G. Autenrieth’s Homeric Dictionary (rpt. Oklahoma 1958) together with W.B. Stanford’s “Macmillan Red”Odyssey (2nd ed. 1958) or a volume in the “Cambridge Green” series—R.B. Rutherford’s Odyssey 19 and 20 (1992), A.F. Garvie’s Odyssey 6-8 (1994), C.W. Macleod’s Iliad 24 (1982)—or J. Griffin’s Iliad 9 from Oxford (1995).