Antisthenes’ Odysseus: its context in ancient literature and culture
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
Antisthenes’ Ajax and Odysseus speeches present the conflict between the Homeric heroes as they compete for the arms of Achilles. The use of mythic characters enables Antisthenes to demonstrate the opposing natures of the two contestants in speeches which are examples of forensic oratory. While each hero’s arguments are closely matched to the Homeric figures on which they are based, Odysseus, as the versatile hero, is shown as more closely aligned to the intellectual concepts of the fifth- and fourth-centuries. The ethical ideas raised bring the characterization of Odysseus into a contemporary intellectual context, and the attributes of his character in Antisthenes can be matched to other examples of forensic oratory. However, these speeches are of significance to the characterization of Odysseus beyond forensic oratory – they can be used as a framework from which to re-evaluate Athenian attitudes towards the figure of Odysseus, and his presentation in fifth- and fourth-century literature more generally.
In terms of characterisation, the speeches help to highlight parallels between Odysseus and the idealised Athenians in Thucydides – specifically from Pericles’ Epitaphios. Further to this, I argue that Antisthenes’ speeches help to identify themes in the characterisation of the Athenian hero Themistocles which are comparable to Odysseus. These examples show how a hero who represents intelligence and cunning was seen favourably, at least to a strand of Athenian intellectual discourse. In Odysseus’ characterization in drama, there is a continuation of the themes which are found in Antisthenes and elsewhere in classical literature. A better understanding of the reception of the hero of intelligence in the context of fifth- and fourth-century literature allows for a reassessment of Odysseus in drama, where the villainy of his character has been overstated by modern commentators.