Navigating Life: the Odyssey
"CUSP Core Connections"
Wednesday, October 5, 2016
3rd Floor Lecture Hall, School of Journalism
The bardic origins of the Homeric Odyssey are evident not least in the thrills and spills that the poet builds into the storyline of this breathless adventure of homecoming: scary monsters and super-creeps vie with seductive Siren voices and episodes of carnal indulgence in a narrative of endless twists, turns and trials. We all know that Odysseus eventually makes his way back to Ithaca, where Penelope faithfully awaits him after his twenty-year absence. Beyond the excitement of Odysseus’ travels, however, what might the Odyssey be said to be about? To what extent is the surface narrative a symbolic projection of deeper ideas and provocations about life? In pondering such questions, this presentation moves from riding the Homeric waves of navigation at sea to considering the Odyssey as a remarkable meditation on how to navigate life more generally.
I have taught at Columbia since 1992. Professor of Classics, specialist in Latin literature, especially Ovid, but also in the Stoic philosophical writings of Seneca, that poisonous power before the throne of the still more odious Emperor Nero. But my interests extend now to the Renaissance in Venice: I have just completed a book for Oxford University Press on Cardinal Pietro Bembo (1470-1547), on his preeminence as an outstanding Renaissance practitioner of the Latin language, and on his importance in the socio-cultural milieu of 15th century Venice.