O Homer, Where Art Thou? Adaptations of the Iliad and Odyssey: Ancient and Modern

Cover of O Brother Where Art Thou

Curated by Catherine Mardikes, Bibliographer for Classics, the Ancient Near East and General Humanities

What do The Penelopiad of Margaret Atwood, the Coen brothers’ O Brother, Where Art Thou, and James Joyce’s Ulysses have in common? They were all inspired by the Odyssey of Homer.

The Iliad and the Odyssey have fascinated us for nearly 3,000 years, inspiring authors of all ages to produce a variety of creative and distinctive adaptations. Some writers have simply retold the stories in abridged form, maybe for a younger audience or simply to emphasize the most dramatic segments.  Others have retold the tales, but set them in a different time period, sometimes far into the future or in a different setting miles from the Mediterranean.  Retelling the events of the Iliad and Odyssey from another’s point of view has been a favorite vehicle for adaptation.  These narratives, either viewed through the eyes of one of the main characters or through completely made up figures, often purport to correct the Homeric account.  Sometimes an elaborate hoax serves as a narrative frame.  And, of course, parodies are an amusing nod to Homer and always delight.

Stories from the Iliad and Odyssey have also been favorites with illustrators, both ancient and modern.  In the exhibit comic books and graphic novels are displayed alongside photographs of ancient marble panels with captioned scenes of the Homeric epics carved in low relief and a series of Roman wall paintings depicting the colorful events  of Odysseus’s voyage.

While the epics may have begun with the voice of a singing bard, they have found their way into a wide array of new media: on a stage as a play, musical, or opera, over the air waves in radio programs and television shows, and onto the silver screen from silent film to Hollywood blockbuster.

This two-case exhibit was designed as a companion exhibit to “Homer in Print: The Transmission and Reception of Homer’s Works,” running from January 13 – March 15, 2014 in the Special Collections Research Center Exhibition Gallery in the Joseph Regenstein Library, First Floor.