Carol Dougherty: Improvising the Self in Homer's Odyssey

Carol Dougherty, the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Classical Studies at Wellesley College, presents the 2013 Martin Ostwald Memorial Lecture.

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Carol Dougherty, the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Classical Studies at Wellesley College, presents the Martin Ostwald Lecture. She discusses "Improvising the Self in Homer's Odyssey," arguing that Odysseus is not just an improviser of song but also of himself. Odysseus, after all, is the Greek hero most known for qualities - ingenuity, verbal dexterity, cleverness - that might well be called improvisational. Reading the Odyssey within the context of recent work in "improvisatory studies" will show that in addition to working his way out of tight spots, Odysseus invents and reinvents himself throughout the poem. In representing Odysseus as an improviser at both the poetic and thematic level, the Odyssey thus articiulates a notion of identity that is not essential, fixed and unitary, but rather performed, inherently unstable, and perpetually refashioned in response to the unexpected opportunities and obstacles that life in archaic Greece provides.

Learn more about William R. Kenan Jr. Professor Emeritus of Classics Martin Ostwald and the lecture named in his honor in the Bulletin