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It has been a commonplace among anthropologists since Malinowski that during the performance of traditional stories the listening community experiences the primordial past when the gods still appeared freely to humans. Significantly, this involves not a return to the past, but a return of the past. The Odyssey not only depicts its own hero as a character from the heroic past, in which the gods were intimately involved with the heroes who fought at Troy, but also as one who brings the past with him when he returns home to an Ithaca that represents a greatly diminished present. In so doing, the Odyssey reproduces the metaphysics of its own performance, so that singing the epic is represented as a deeply religious act that restores the ancestors to life and equally restores the modern condition to past greatness.


Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Association of Literary Scholars, Critics, and Writers.

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Oxford University Press


Oxford, UK

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Literary Imagination

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