BMCR 2008.01.30

Omero mediatico. Aspetti della ricezione omerica nella civiltà contemporanea. Atti delle Giornate di Studio, Ravenna, 18-19 gennaio 2006. NEMO. Confrontarsi con l’antico, 7

, Omero mediatico : aspetti della ricezione omerica nella civiltà contemporanea : atti delle giornate di studio, Ravenna, 18-19 gennaio 2006. Nemo ; 7. Bologna: D.U. Press, 2007. 247 pages : color illustrations ; 24 cm.. ISBN 9788895451053 €32.00.

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

The present book is the seventh volume of the “NEMO-Confrontarsi con l’antico” series, edited by Eleonora Cavallini.1 Omero mediatico gathers the papers delivered during a conference held in Ravenna in January 2006. As Martin M. Winkler was unfortunately unable to attend the conference, his paper was read by Cavallini and is now included in the proceedings, both in the original version and in Italian.

The title deserves some explanation, which Cavallini supplies in her introduction — as does Iannucci in his paper on Tolkien. Cavallini (p. 5) writes about a “brand-new Homer, and the legacy of Homeric tradition in modern media and contemporary society”, also mentioning that “scholars in different fields and with different skills have analysed how Homeric epic is translated into literature, figurative art, cinema and the music world”.

Iannucci writes instead (p. 209) about a specific goal: “re-reading Homer following the common thread linking the different papers delivered at the conference and collected in the book of proceedings, the title of which is, under certain aspects, somewhat disquieting”.

One may wonder whether the media mentioned, i.e. literature, figurative art, cinema and music, all deserve the name ‘media’ in the same sense, but this would lead us too far afield.

The book deals with the following topics: a) literature (four papers: Lucrezi, Cerri, Cavallini, Brillante); b) cinema (three papers: Aloni, Ieranò, Winkler); c) the indefinite zone between literature and cinema (one paper: Iannucci); d) music and musicology (two papers: Bozzato, Zoni); e) figurative art (one paper: Boni); and, last but not least, f) Homer in comics and cartoons (one paper: Manca). The present review will follow the same order, as Cavallini does in her introduction, although it does not match the actual sequence of papers in the book.

a) Literature.

Francesco Lucrezi tackles a well-known topic, i.e. the fundamental role of Dante’s Ulysses in Primo Levi’s experience in a Nazi concentration camp ( Se questo è un uomo). In fact, Homer (or, better, the Homeric Odysseus) is not actually part of Levi’s picture or of his literary memory. The Homeric Odysseus stands instead for the brave hero (p. 12) whose human fate comes to a good end. Lucrezi thus concentrates on Dante — and Ulysses as his “alter ego” — and on Primo Levi, “the ultimate Ulysses, the anti-Ulysses swallowed up in a senseless journey into nothingness, towards nothingness”. The paper, which is not entirely in line with the volume’s basic theme, includes two drawings, which are Lucrezi’s own renderings of Ulysses’ ship.

Giovanni Cerri’s paper thoroughly analyses Giovanni Pascoli’s poem “L’ultimo viaggio di Ulisse” (“Poemi Conviviali”, 1904) in philological, literary, and philosophical terms. A number of scholars have detected, with philological accuracy, the intertextual references in the modern poem. Cerri, however, claims that they have not covered the whole, copious range of possibilities implied by the poem or, for that matter, the poet’s intentions. In Pascoli’s view, he argues, Ulysses is the archetype of contemporary man (p. 15). Cerri also links “L’ultimo viaggio di Ulisse” to another poem by Pascoli, “Il ritorno” (“Odi e inni”, 1906) and identifies (p. 28) an additional key to the poem in Ulysses’ oneiric condition. Ulysses’ psychological situation causes the hero to yearn for places deeply embedded in his own memory, to the point that he falls asleep and dreams of them. Cerri defines such phantasmagoria as “pre-pirandelliana”.

Eleonora Cavallini deals with the relationship between Cesare Pavese and Homeric epics and concentrates on the rewriting of myth and the translation of the Iliad. As Pavese’s correspondence with Mario Untersteiner (who expressed great appreciation of Pavese’s “Dialoghi con Leucò”, 1947) shows, he was interested in myth as viewed from an ethnological perspective. Although the “Dialoghi con Leucò” do not have much to do with Homeric characters and heroes (p. 166), Pavese urged Untersteiner to undertake a new Italian translation of the Iliad (p. 161). The project was carried out in 1950 by Untersteiner’s young pupil Rosa Calzecchi Onesti. Her translation, according to Pavese, “was neither a neoclassic version (such as Monti’s or Pascoli’s) nor mere prose. It was indeed an almost literal translation in which Italian verses matched Greek ones”.2 In the final section of her paper, Cavallini urges scholars to continue research on Pavese’s cultural legacy and to discover the “other side” of Homer, i.e., the less neoclassic one.

Carlo Brillante (who co-authored with Maurizio Bettini a work on the myth of Helen)3 analyses Hofmannsthal’s drama “Die Ägyptische Helena”. Two versions of the myth can be identified. In the Iliad, the Homeric Helen appears in Troy, while the Odyssey shows her back in Sparta together with Menelaus . In Euripides’ tragedy, instead, an ‘eidolon’ goes to Troy while the real Helen is in Egypt. Hofmannsthal not only connects both versions in new ways, but also re-positions Menelaus as the core component of the drama and assigns to Aithra, Helen’s maid in the Iliad, the role of sorceress. To Menelaus, Helen is at first merely a siren made of air (Luftsirene),4 but in the end he recognizes his wife. It was only for his sake that Helen had been ‘duplicated’.

b) Cinema.

In his very innovative, creative paper, Antonio Aloni looks for a connection between Giuseppe Tornatore’s movie of 1988, “Nuovo Cinema Paradiso” (1990 Oscar, Best Foreign Film), and the Odyssey theme. He begins by underlining the ‘nomen-omen’ hidden in Tornatore’s name, which may be translated as “one who returns”, a sort of Odysseus. Aloni also points out a significant ‘movie within the movie’: a long quotation of the Polyphemus episode from Camerini’s Ulysses. Two charts provide a comparative summary of the structure of the Odyssey and of “Nuovo Cinema Paradiso”.

A particular comparison involves identifying Totò (the main character in the movie) with Telemachus and Ulysses, while Totò’s mother has her match in Penelope. Aloni’s comparisons are persuasive, and the reader may recall Hanna Roisman’s comparison of Odysseus and Verbal Kint in The Usual Suspects.5 Aloni also establishes a parallel between Totò’s girlfriend Elena and Nausicaa (p. 49). However, in the film’s longer (uncut) version (174 minutes) the chance encounter between a grown-up Totò and his old flame seems to disrupt this parallelism.

Giorgio Ieranò has produced novel considerations on a well-worked topic: the Odyssey theme in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. He takes some hints from Kubrick himself and screenwriter Arthur C. Clarke (author of the short story The Sentinel), but remains uncertain (p. 65) as to whether the film’s title makes specific reference to Homer. As he rightly concludes, “Odyssey” could simply mean, as it usually does in common usage, a dangerous and exciting adventure. As the late Augusto Placanica wrote,6 the metaphorical use of ‘odyssey’ meaning a series of adventures was adopted at the end of the 19th century to replace the more common expression ‘an iliad of misfortunes’. In his concluding remarks, Ieranò recalls Leopold Bloom’s dream in Joyce’s Ulysses and quotes a significant passage: “He would somehow reappear reborn above delta in the constellation of Cassiopeia”. David Bowman, too, is reborn at the end of Kubrick’s movie.

Martin M. Winkler’s essay focuses on “the visual translation of Homer’s texts, illustrated by Troy as an adaptation of the Iliad and by the Italian TV movie Odissea (Franco Rossi, 1968) as the most accomplished version of the Odyssey” (p. 77). Although Troy, the movie, was heavily criticized, especially by scholars,7 Winkler is supportive of its director Petersen, who “had studied Greek and Latin and had read and translated parts of the Iliad as a student at a traditional Gymnasium in Germany” (p. 77). He goes on to show that Homer’s text is rendered with great precision in its similes and sounds, as indicated by the poet himself. While Rossi grants some anthropomorphic presence to the Homeric Gods — their voices are heard in the film although their images are only represented in the form of ancient statues —, Petersen limits their presence to statues along with their repeated mention in the dialogues (p. 82).

Winkler concludes his essay by calling as a ‘witness’ Horace, the Latin poet who held no prejudice against modern life and balanced his evaluation of the old and the new by finding praiseworthy qualities in both (p. 85). He ends with a parody of the Odyssey‘s beginning, i.e. “with an intentional (and non-metrical) misquotation from Homer: Kinema moi ennepe, Mousa, polytropon!”. Cinema, Jean Cocteau’s tenth Muse, will thus be content.

c) Literature/Cinema.

Alessandro Iannucci attempts to show several connections between his chosen topic and the title of the book of proceedings. He concentrates his analysis on Tolkien’s epic work with Peter Jackson’s movie trilogy The Lord of the Rings (p. 217), and he argues that a reading of Tolkien can provide new insights into the modern reception of the Homeric texts. He concludes his essay (p. 225): “In our media society, Homeric continuity acts not only at the level of reception and reworking of an ancient text, but rather through new and contemporary versions of the myths brought forth by the Iliad and the Odyssey, as meant for a new audience. We thus find that the trilogy’s director chose the more ‘mediatic’ narrative way represented by the Iliad, while Tolkien mostly trod in the direction of Homer’s Odyssey“.

d) Music and musicology.

Alessandro Bozzato’s essay deals with Louis Andriessen’s musical compositions for the opus Odyssey (1995), a collage of dance and readings from Joyce’s Ulysses (or, in the Italian version, from Sylvia Plath’s Three Women). Andriessen’s work consists of three musical movements devoted to Calypsos, Circe and Nausicaa. Bozzatto also has some theoretical observations on form and content in cinema and in music, and the relationship between text and music.

Elisabetta Zoni takes readers back to the early 1900s (1910), to meet a writer important for both literary and musical history, namely Alfred Döblin and his “Gespräche mit Kalypso über die Musik”. Calypso has indeed much to do with music, which Döblin considers as a means of communication, persuasion and emotions. Near the conclusion of her essay, Zoni recalls Calypso’s three faces, that is woman, music and mother, as represented by the symbolist painter Ferdinand Khnoppf in Orpheus (1913).

e) Figurative arts.

Claudia Boni’s essay examines the modern iconography of some Homeric female characters: Athena, Andromaca, Odysseus’ women (Calypso, Nausicaa), Circe, the Sirens, Penelope and Helen. Boni analyses 31 illustrations which are, of course, her personal selection from the vast quantity of material available.

f) Comics.

Massimo Manca begins with an “excusatio non petita” (p. 227): How can a scholar not be afraid to tackle a topic like comics, which, albeit quite intriguing, is not that common in scholarly studies? Manca should feel no fear. Just recently Antonio Stramaglia wrote a very interesting and well-researched essay about comics and the ancient world.8 In fact, Manca’s piece is one of the most to-the-point papers in the book under review. It includes a wealth of well-documented information concerning an innovative, popular aspect of the way Homeric works have been received. There is no need to mention here the recent movie 300 — if you allow me the expansion from comics to a film based on a comic. We are all aware that cinema has long since developed into an important “medium of salvation” (of the classics).9 The same might prove true for comics, which Manca describes as (p. 228) “a communicative medium, encompassing different genres, as well as diverse levels of expressions and targets that are prone to endless change”.

“Omero mediatico” bears witness to a novel interest by Italian scholars in the topic of ‘classical tradition in modern culture and its mediation through modern media’. Although some of the essays included in the book are not wide-ranging, in that a number of them focus on very specific segments of cultural, i.e. literary and artistic, history, all are based on sufficient research and include current bibliographies. Unfortunately, as often happens with collected essays, a general index of names and works and bibliography are not included. A few misprints, albeit minor, escaped the proofreader’s attention.10 To sum up, the book is recommended to readers who wish to broaden their knowledge of Homeric reception in the contemporary world.


E. Cavallini, “Introduzione”

Francesco Lucrezi, “Il canto di Ulisse: Omero, Dante, Primo Levi”

Giovanni Cerri, “Pascoli e l’ultimo viaggio di Ulisse”

Antonio Aloni, “Il ritorno di Tornatore”

Giorgio Ieranò, “Ulisse alla deriva: l’epopea tragica di Stanley Kubrick”

Martin M. Winkler, “Leaves of homeric storytelling: Wolfgang Petersen’s Troy and Franco Rossi’s Odissea” – “Foglie di narrazione omerica: Troy di Wolfgang Petersen e l’ Odissea di Franco Rossi” (Ital. trans.)

Alessandro Bozzato, “Omero nella musica lirica contemporanea. Le Odysseus’ Women di Louis Andriessen”

Elisabetta Zoni, “La retorica degli dei. Calipso maestra di musica in Alfred Döblin”

Claudia Boni, “Figure femminili omeriche nella pittura contemporanea”

Eleonora Cavallini, “Cesare Pavese e la ricerca di Omero perduto (dai Dialoghi con Leucò alla traduzione dell’ Iliade)”

Carlo Brillante, “L’Elena Egizia di Hofmannstahl: una rilettura del mito greco”

Alessandro Iannucci, “Achille nella ‘Terra di Mezzo’. Da Tolkien a Omero”

Massimo Manca, “Omero a fumetti”.


1. The sixth one: A. Boschi et alii, I Greci al cinema. Dal peplum ‘d’autore’ alla grafica computerizzata, Bologna: d.u. press, 2005, was reviewed by James J. Clauss, BMCR 2006.02.02.

2. Calzecchi Onesti’s translation may now seem old-fashioned: Maria Grazia Ciani, Giovanni Cerri, Guido Paduano have produced more modern translations. Some previously unpublished letters between Calzecchi Onesti and Pavese concerning the Homeric translations have been edited by A. Neri, Tra Omero e Pavese: lettere inedite di Rosa Calzecchi Onesti, Eikasmos 18 (2007), pp. 429-447.

3. M. Bettini-C. Brillante, Il mito di Elena. Immagini e racconti dalla Grecia a oggi, Torino: Einaudi, 2002.

4. T. J. Sienkewicz, “Helen. Scapegoat or Siren?” Classical Bulletin 56 (1980), pp. 39-43.

5. H. M. Roisman, “Verbal Odysseus: Narrative Strategy in the Odyssey and in The Usual Suspects”, in M. M. Winkler (ed.), Classical Myth and Culture in the Cinema, Oxford: Oxford U.P., 2001, pp. 51-71.

6. A. Placanica, Storia dell’inquietudine. Metafora del destino dall’Odissea alla guerra del Golfo, Roma: Donzelli, 1993, pp. 3-30.

7. For more positive appraisals, see M. M. Winkler (ed.), Troy: from Homer’s Iliad to Hollywood Epic, Oxford, 2006; E. Cavallini, “A proposito di Troy”, in A. Boschi et alii, I Greci al cinema. Dal peplum ‘d’autore’ alla grafica computerizzata, Bologna:, 2005, pp. 53-79.

8. A. Stramaglia, “Il fumetto e le sue potenzialità mediatiche nel mondo greco-latino”, in J. A. Fernandez Delgado, F. Pordomingo, A. Stramaglia (eds.), Escuela y Literatura en Grecia Antigua, Cassino: Ediz. dell’Univ. degli St. di Cassino, 2007, pp. 577-643.

9. G. D. Hadzsits, “Media of Salvation”, The Classical Weekly, 14 (1920), pp. 70-71.

10. E.g.: p. 10: Virgilo, corr. Virgilio; p. 69: inziamo, corr. iniziamo; p. 163: 1,380, corr. 1,280; p. 167, n. 35: ἀκούοιος, corr. ἀκούσιος; p. 213, n. 13: Qurino, corr. Quirino; p. 219: inventati, corr. inventate; p. 222: concluione, corr. conclusione.