The "Low" Style

Critics throughout history have complained about Homer's 'low' style here in comparison with the Iliad, censuring his 'realistic' treatment of his characters on the grounds that they are not heroic enough. With regard to the evidence, there is a strong case. For example, at XX.25-27, the great hero, our protagonist, is compared with a black pudding being cooked, in a simile which describes his agitated state. The emotional meeting he has with his dog Argus at XVII.290-327 is described in full detail, including mentions of dung and the dog's fleas, which many have felt to be demeaning to the epic tone, as well as being inherently unlikely on a chronological scale, as the dog would be ancient indeed to remember his master so well after 20 years. The facts are present, but is the view sound? There is no manifest reason why Homer should not adopt a different tone for each of his different poems, especially as their themes are different. Secondly, it would appear that his sympathies are often with the lowly and the downtrodden. It is noticeable that when Odysseus reaches Ithaca and talks with his faithful swineherd Eumaeus, when the latter is about to speak, the narrator addresses him in the second person, a technique not applied to the other characters. To target such an obscure figure for such importance, as well as elevating his role to one of considerable significance must have some meaning, as does the prominence given to the bards in the poem. Homer is probably deliberately showing his colours about his view of the importance of the 'small man' by doing this, and the generally lower style of the work reinforces this. The theme of the lowborn man who prospers in his niche of society if he is morally upright, as the case of Eumaeus shows, is mirrored by the lot of Odysseus in relation with the gods, to whom he is clearly inferior.

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