Homer's Odyssey through Print

Students of Ada Palmer, assistant professor of history, have published a set of essays on the transmission of classical ideas through time. On Monday, February 29, 2016, Palmer and the students will celebrate this exciting accomplishment at a reception sponsored by the Renaissance Workshop and the Making History Work program. The regular workshop begins at 5 PM, and the book reception is at 6:30 PM.

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Homer among the Moderns: Volumes from the Bibliotheca Homerica Langiana is the offspring of Palmer's recent colloquium on the Renaissance (History 42503, spring 2015), which explored the revival of the lost arts of antiquity by Italian humanists. In her introduction, Beatrice Bradley, PhD student in English language and literature, said that the essays "demonstrate how the spread of Homer's texts across Europe shaped generations of readership, generations that gave rise to and formed our own conception of Homer." The twenty students authored twenty-three essays, edited the book, and prepared it for paper and online publication. They studied different versions of the Iliad and Odyssey over a nearly three hundred year period, ranging from a 1489 Greek edition of Homer's works to a 1773 English translation of the Iliad, that are housed in the Special Collections Research Center. The volumes are part of a rich trove of Homer editions and translations that M. C. Lang donated to the University of Chicago in 2007.

The colloquium attracted historians, philosophers, art historians, a theologian, and scholars of classical, romance, and English literature. Such broad expertise shaped the book's four sections. The first section on the material aspects of printing and publication covers everything from book size ("bulky incunables, comfortable octavos, accessible vernaculars") to public reception. Section two considers what is lost and gained, ideologically and stylistically, when Homer is translated into Latin and vernacular languages. Section three looks at how illustrations work with translations to shape readers' understanding of a text. The final section finds patrons and politicians using Homer's epics as means to nationalistic ends in Byzantium, Italy, France, and Scotland.

Homer among the Moderns offered graduate students hands-on practice in the art and techniques of publication as well as the intellectual craft of transmitting ideas. "Books have many makers," Ada Palmer said. Working in the Bibliotheca Homerica Langiana taught students that books and their ideas depend on scholars, artists, technicians, and translators, publishers and editors, collectors and librarians, politicans and patrons. Students made their "own modest contribution to the long Homeric tradition" by dipping into the stream of ideas that are scholarly essays.

Homer among the Moderns: Volumes from the Bibliotheca Homerica Langiana is available online; a limited number of hardback copies are available from Ada Palmer by e-mail request.

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Left to right: Ada Palmer (instructor), Camille Reynolds (history), Hilary Barker (art history), Goda Thangada (Classics), Ji Gao (romance), Margo Weitzman (humanities MA program), Brendan Small (graduate student at large), Nicholas Bellinson (social thought), Elizabeth Tavella (romance), Felix Szabo (history), Tali Winkler (history), Angela Lei Parkinson (divinity).
Student contributors not present: Beatrice Bradley (English), George Elliott (social sciences MA program), Javier Ibanez (English), Blaze Marpet (philosophy, Northwestern University), Jo Nixon (English) Medardo Rosario (romance), and Noor Shawaf (humanities MA program) and volunteer editorial assistants Mack Muldofsky (College common year) and Natalie Parrish (international relations MA program).

 

By Joanne M. Berens, MFA'93