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Brann's book serves beautifully as an adjunct to the reading of Homer. As I imply in my title, I found myself sometimes disagreeing with her interpretation but even then her learning has to be acknowledged.
Let me start off by pointing out what she offers to the first time reader of The Odyssey as well as to someone who has read it several times in their life.
First, if you are like me and ignorant of the Greek, reading Brann will make you realize how much of the story, the art of Homer you are missing. She points out many times how the names of individuals reflect their character (The grandfather of Odysseus, a notorious pirate, thief and raider is named Autolycos, The Wolf Himself). She points out how certain words in Greek have multiple meanings that translators must choose between inevitably missing out on some of the slippery insight offered in the original. For example, when Odysseus returns to Ithaca(see the Fagles translation, Book 13, Lines 295-6), the goddess Athena tells him that "I knew deep down that you would return at last, with all your shipmates lost". This phrase about Odysseus' "Returning" (Brann points out helpfully that 'returning' is practically a technical term in The Odyssey) occurs several times throughout the epic. The thing is that the word translated "lost" can also mean "destroyed" or "killed". The certainly changes the meaning of the line applied to Odysseus.
Secondly, Brann is a very thoughtful reader who concentrates her intelligence on all aspects of the story. The Odyssey is not told linearly. We start off very much toward the end of the tale. Much of the story is told by Odysseus to other characters. Brann provides time lines that point out symmetries that might well be missed by inattentive readers (like myself). For example:
"Just when a middle-aged Odysseus tells a young princess that he will pray to her as a deity all his life, a youthful Telemachus tells an elderly queen that he will worship her as a divinty when he gets home" (Braan, p. 256) This sort of insight built upon a specific reading technique if useful not just for deepening our appreciation of what Homer is doing but in teaching how to read all books that are worthy of our concentrated reading.
Thirdly, Brann gives you an introduction into the way that Homer had penetrated the souls of many of the writers who make up the Western Canon and modern authors. In fact, I found myself wishing she would edit an anthology of all the writers and poets who have thought hard about and written passionately about incidents in Homer. She quotes many throughout her book: Shakespeare, Keats, Montaigne, Wallace Stevens, Auden, Pound, Edwin Muir, Tennyson, Rupert Brooke and ad infinitum. I guarantee you that some of the quotes are of such beauty as to send you scurrying off to look up the complete original. Bonus!!
So what are my doubts about Brann? She is what I would call a loose Straussian. This is not a bad thing-in my own way, so am I. As such, she is given over to the sort of hermeneutic oddities that Straussians love (and which occassionally make their books so important). For example, am I the only reader to notice that Brann's 48 chapters is the same number of chapters or books that are contained in The Iliad and The Odyssey as traditionally divided? This fact has no great meaning. It is just the sort of touch that Straussians love to bedevil us with.
More seriously, Brann early on in her book rejects the Homeric question as being besides the point. She finds it more interesting to just assume that Homer was one guy who largely created the two epics as we have them. She does not care particularly about the transition from oral performance to a final written product. All the contradictions that led so many to see in Homer a consortium of writers or traditions are to Brann just part of the way that Homer reveals his vision to us.
Now I happen to agree with her. It is far more interesting to read the epics that way. But it is an enormous assumption. I'm just saying.
My real problem with Brann has to do with aspects of her interpretations. She, to my reading, glosses over the whole dalliance with Circe by Odysseus in order to protect her image of Odysseus as a good husband. She glosses over the slaughter of the twelve maids far too easily. (And isn't there an obvious similarity to the twelve Trojan youths that Achilles sacrifices during Patroclus' funeral? Why is that never explored? But most importantly, Brann wants to write off Odysseus' journey into the "fairyland" of Polyphemos, the Sirens, Circe, Calypso, etc. as his soul's fairy tale version of his wandering around the Meditterean being a pirate for ten years (see Chapter 39). I don't buy that for a second.
But that's me. You may find her more convincing on that point. Since I am such a positive guy, I want to end off on one of her points of interpretation that I was both startled by and convinced of. Brann is sure that Penelope recognizes Odysseus from the moment she first hears his voice. She reads that whole wonderful sequence of scenes during which Odysseus (disguised as a begger) and Penelope discuss her situation and the possibility that Odysseus will return anytime soon. In Brann's reading the ending of The Odyssey becomes even more thrilling and tense with subtle signals between Penelope and Odysseus being exchanged and understood.
Brann is also excellent in making us understand the conflict between Odysseus and the suitor's families after the slaughter. He has just laid waste to a generation of the local nobility of Ithaca and the nearby islands. But the companions that he took to Troy and lost/detroyed on the way home were a previous generation of that same nobility. Some of his companions were father or uncles of some of the suitors. In that light, it is especially easy to understand that the local gentry want to put an end to him. One of the names that Brann likes to unpack the meaning of is Odysseus' own name. One of its meaning is to give suffering (Brann, p.143). Yet another important insight.
I will leave you with one last Homeric moment that Brann gave me. She points to one simile as Homer's most beautiful. It occurs when Penelope finally stops testing Odysseus and embraces him. Somehow, I had not read this moment attentively. Brann brought me back to it and to its image of a lover coming home to a loved one with the same feeling that someone who is shipwrecked feels when they come to land. Just speaking for myself, having Brann guide me back to reading that passage with the concentrated appreciation it deserves justifies her book all by itself.