Characterization, Human Choice, and Divine Planning
in the Odyssey and Other Ancient Literatures

Andrew Porter

            Since the time of Bruno Snell, a greater ferment, even tumult, over the question of human choice and decision-making has been evident in the secondary literature of Homer. Yet, in the work of such people as Shirley Sullivan the existence of human choice, with limitations, has been re-affirmed. However other questions persist enigmatically to elude clear definition and definitive pronouncement, as suggested by commentators such as Richard Janko. How does character relate to the act of human choice? What is the relationship between human choice and divine will and activity, if both are present? And if a pattern for human choice and divine will is discernable within the Odyssey, is this same pattern also demonstrable in other ancient literatures?

            This presentation will begin by briefly outlining evidence for the existence of human choice in Homer. Human choice will be intimately linked with portrayed character within the plot of the poem. With this background established, I will discuss pertinent examples from within the Odyssey of a parallelism in activity between divine will and human choice and will suggest that in the Odyssey, an outcome in human society is the result of both of these seemingly bi-polar activities. At this point the presentation will underscore that a similar pattern of characterization, human choice, and divine planning exists in other literatures, Hellenic and Near Eastern. Comparative examples will highlight this central motif. In the course of our discussion, a pattern will emerge which, despite contextual variations, suggests a common viewpoint. This pattern will include:  1.Hubristic action and its effects, including 2.The characterization of the offending parties, 3.Warning(s), 4.Unresponsiveness to warning(s); and 5.Eventual, inevitable, and planned divine punishment. It will be suggested that Homer shares a common concept of human choice and divine planning with cultures which form part of the ideological background of his oral tradition. Our discussion will close with an emphasis on the expansive and inclusive nature of oral poetry, which was able to envelop in a meaningful way the multi-faceted traditions of its constituency. 

            I will work from a handout containing an outline, evidence, citations, and bibliography, so that I can concentrate on a brief presentation of my central thesis. Below is an outline of the discussion:

1. Introduction and Central Question

2. Characterization, Human Choice, and Divine Planning

3. Thesis: A Collateral yet Coterminous Pattern

4. The Structure of this Central Pattern in the Odyssey

5. A Comparative Study of this Central Pattern in Other Literatures

6. Conclusions and Dialogue

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