The Odyssey: Book 1, the invocation

Detail of painting The Muses Urania and Callio...

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Book 1 opens with an invocation of the Muse. Specifically, Homer would be invoking Calliope. For the audience, this serves to identify which story is being told, as well as setting the scene. Normally, I’m not going to go through in detail in the sense that I won’t translate the poem nor go through it with an emphasis on translation, but a detailed discussion of the invocation is in order because it sets the stage for the poem.

Starting the poem with the word ἄνδρα tells us that the story is mostly about “(that) man”. Thus from the poet’s point of view, the story he is telling is very much about Odysseus— although of course others are involved.

First 9 lines of the Odyssey in GreekThe second word μοι is the dative pronoun. With ἔννεπε (the imperative of “to tell” or “to tell about” but traditionally rendered “sing”) this means both “tell me” and “tell through me”, the latter being dative of means rather than a simple usage of the dative for an indirect object. The enclitic nature of μοι would also link it to ἄνδρα and so the first foot of the line could be taken as dative of possession, “my man”, in the sense of our hero. To an ancient Greek audience, it would have meant all these things.

The epithet of Odysseus is πολύτροπος, meaning “of many turns or devises”. The dominant characteristic associated with Odysseus is that he is wily or crafty, a man of many devises.

Troy is called ἱερόν which means both “strong” and “holy”. One may notice that Homer says “who suffered many things when he had sacked strong/holy Troy.” The use of the singular active is important and supports my reading that Odysseus had to flee for his life because he had devised the means of sacking Troy. Clearly the language links suffering much and sacking Troy. Moreover the next line says that “many people saw the city and came to know his mind”. What else could this mean but that people knew his part in the fall of Troy?

The rest of the invocation describes his wanderings, leading into he next part– which mentions he is on the island of Calypso.

One may notice that the poet begins the invocation with”me” in the dative and ends it with “us” in the dative. Here he asks the Muse to tell “us”, the audience, about Odysseus.

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