Of epic proportions : an examination of Polyphemus, narrative, and culture in Greco-Roman epics

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2021-05
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en
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Abstract
Polyphemus became a staple character throughout Greco-Roman epic, appearing in famous epics such as Homer’s Odyssey, Vergil’s Aeneid, and Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Using Jeffrey Jerome Cohen’s “Monster Culture (Seven Theses),” an essay meant to read monsters through the cultures in which they appear, it is understood that Polyphemus is a cultural foil and antagonist. While the tradition of Polyphemus’ cultural readings in the Odyssey is long, there is a lack of such scholarship for the Aeneid and Metamorphoses. Using Cohen’s theses to frame my reading, I aim to suggest my own cultural readings through examining the duality of Polyphemus in the narration of each epic by looking at moments where Polyphemus is both violent and evoking pathos. This duality is contextualized through both the literary association of Polyphemus with the mythical Golden Age, a time of ease and the pastoral but also a lack of cultural progression, and the metaliterary interaction with literary predecessors. Through analyzing the violence and pathos in each epic, I suggest a cultural reading of Polyphemus as a representation of Greco-Roman anxieties about the past and discuss the complexities of such associations.
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