The twenty-four books that constitute Homer’s epic poem, The Odyssey, were orally passed down for hundreds of years being recorded and written down. The chiastic structure used within the epic poem is likely to have acted as an oral mnemonic device which allowed the poem to be easier to compose, remember and pass down to generations. To successfully analyse The Odyssey, it is important to consider this chiastic structure.
What is Chiasmus?
Chiasmus is a rhetorical figure in which the words, structure or concept of a text are repeated in reverse order to form a pattern similar to ABBA or ABCBA.
Where is Chiasmus shown in The Odyssey?
The sequence of events in book nine to twelve as shown by the diagram below.
In Book Nine, Odysseus is presented as telling the Phaeacians about his difficult wanderings. He describes how he escaped, yet lost six of his crew, from the wrath of the Cicones and was swept to the land of the Lotus-eaters under a storm controlled by Zeus. Odysseus’s men are given the intoxicating fruit of the lotus by the natives of the island and as soon as they eat this fruit, they lose all thoughts of home and long for nothing more than to stay there eating more fruit. This temptation to forget home is reflected in book twelve when the seductive song of the Sirens weakens the men, including Odysseus, despite their attempts at blocking their ears with beeswax and tying themselves to the ship. In both of these situations, Odysseus and his companions rely on each other to ensure their safety by forcibly opposing the potential danger.
The next similarity between book nine and book twelve is the discovery of a monster in a cave, during which six men are killed, and Odysseus’ attempt at defeating the monster. In book nine, this monster is the Cyclops and in book twelve this monster is the Scylla.
In both books, Odysseus encounters a god of nature: the wind god in book nine and sun god in book twelve. In addition, he sleeps and is disobeyed by his companions in both books.
Lastly, in book nine and book twelve Odysseus is a lone survivor as all his companions are lost. In book nine, Polyphemus prays to his father, Poseidon, for vengeance on Odysseus and his men. Therefore, a storm is conjured and all the men, excluding Odysseus, are killed in a similar way to how his crew are killed in the storm in book twelve.
Thank you for reading this post on the structure of The Odyssey. If you have any further thoughts, let me know in the comments!