Homer and Hollywood: The Iliad and the Odyssey in Film

Gregory N. Daugherty

Randolph-Macon College

This paper will be discussion of a course which I taught in the Randolph-Macon College honors program in January of 2005 and 2006. This is the catalogue description:

The Iliad and the Odyssey of Homer are classics of Greek and Western Literature and have had an enormous impact on high culture in the lofty reaches of great art, music, literature and performance. They deserve such a position and every educated person should learn how to read, comprehend and profit from them. They were also extremely popular and accessible throughout antiquity, and were enjoyed in their own right as smashing good yarns, riveting stories and entrancing performance pieces. This course will not only read and examine all of both works and place them in their appropriate context as literature of the heroic, oral and tragic traditions, but will also explore their themes and images as pop culture entertainment – both then and now by examining several films which attempted to either tell the same story or used the themes and plots of the epics in different contexts.

I will briefly describe the structure of the course and the films which I chose to show. Those viewed in 2005 included: Helen of Troy (1956) Robert Wise, Director; The Trojan Horse (1961) Giorgio Ferroni Director; Helen of Troy (2003) John Kent Harrison Director; Troy (2004) Wolfgang Peterson Director; The Searchers (1956) John Ford Director; Blade Runner (1982) Ridley Scott Director; Platoon (1986) Oliver Stone Director; Unforgiven (1992) Clint Eastwood Director; Ulysses (1954) Mario Camerini Director; Contempt (1964) Jean-Luc Godard Director; Homer, Sweet Homer (1995) Ken Harrison Director; Odyssey (1997) Andrei Konchalovsky Director; Homecoming (1948) Mervyn LeRoy Director; Ulee's Gold (1997) Victor Nunez Director; O Brother, Where Art Thou? Joel Coen Director; Cold Mountain (2003) Anthony Minghella Director. I will discuss (and illustrate with some clips) the most and least successful, the students least and most favorite and the lineup changes for the second offering of the course in 2006.

The class was taught during a one month term and the students were not permitted to take another course at the same time. We met for discussion of the texts and the previous day's movie for two hours each morning and reconvened in the afternoon to watch an entire film, the longest of which was 177 minutes. At the end of the film, we would have a brief discussion and then the students would do a free response writing exercise in a journal, ten of which would be graded. There were some traditional papers and memorization requirements, but the final project was to make a Homeric themed movie "pitch" to some local film professionals. The focus of my discussion will be on the pedagogical benefits and shortcomings of using film and non-traditional assignments to enhance the understanding of the texts of the Iliad and the Odyssey

AV requirements: VHS player and TV


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