In times of crisis, writers turn to Homer

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Circe. By Madeline Miller. Little, Brown and Company; 400 pages; $27. Bloomsbury Publishing; £16.99.

ON THE face of it, the dominant literary forms of the modern age and the classical one—the novel and the epic poem—are almost opposites. Where epics deal in types, novels depict individuals; where epics deliver action, novels provide motives and psychology. Epics look outward, at the fate of nations and the sweep of history; novels delve into the fabric of everyday life. Novelists have long regarded these differences as enticing, turning to Homer for their plots, setting modern sensibilities loose in his world or applying its lessons to their own. Writers tend especially to enlist Homer at times of crisis or uncertainty. Times like now.

Homer’s “Odyssey” gave James Joyce a framework for “Ulysses”, the age-old solidity of the original anchoring the divagations of Leopold Bloom on a single day in early 20th-century Dublin. Two slaughters…Continue reading

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