Homer expert says ‘Iliad’ and ‘Odyssey’ complete each other

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Camille Pecha
Contributing Writer

Homer scholar Kathryn Hohlwein delivered an engaging lecture in Lynch Auditorium on the inclusiveness of Homer’s depiction of life to an audience largely composed of freshmen on Nov. 10.

In her lecture, “Seeing Life Steadily and Seeing it Whole: On the Iliad and the Odyssey,” Hohlwein emphasized the importance of considering the “Iliad” and the “Odyssey” as literary works that combined, produce one unified vision of reality.

She said that Homer’s appeal stems from his ability to see “life steadily and [see] it whole.”

Homer is “fearless and unflinching” in his depiction of battle and death and of the imperfect nature of humans, she said. But he also includes tender depictions of domestic life and mimics the repetitiveness of daily life, she added.

Hohlwein is a strong advocate of the benefits of reading both the “Iliad” and the “Odyssey.” Quoting a former student, she said, “The ‘Iliad’ teaches us that we’re all going to die; the ‘Odyssey’ teaches us that even though this is true, we’re still in this life.”

Without the other, the vision of each poem is incomplete, and it is in the completeness of his vision that Homer’s appeal lies, Holhwein said.

Freshman Abigail Borah characterized the talk as “a coming-together.”

“Hohlwein said: Here is Homer; take him; make him your own,” she said.

As the founder of the The Readers of Homer (TROH) – a non-profit that organizes all-night readings of Homeric poems in cities across the globe – Hohlwein is in a unique position to understand Homer’s universal, timeless appeal.

She has seen residents of African cities, whose own children have been abducted, become deeply moved by the scene in which Priam begs for the body of his son from Achilles, the murderer, during readings of the “Iliad.”

She has also seen U.S. war veterans become deeply moved when listening to Homer’s works. In fact, Hohlwein said she has not yet been able to stage a reading of the “Odyssey” with U.S. war vets due to psychologists’ fears that the reading would exacerbate post-traumatic stress disorder.

Before retiring, Hohlwein taught literature in English departments for 35 years, including 30 years of teaching a graduate course called “The Homeric Imagination” at California State University in Sacramento.

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