Michelle Kundmueller, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Old Dominion University, presents a thoughtful analysis of both Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey in her analysis of how we might want to think about human excellence and human failings not only in classical literature, but in our own time. In Homer's Hero: Human Excellence in the Iliad and the Odyssey (SUNY Press, 2019), Kundmueller, a political theorist, brings together literary texts and classic political theory texts, most notably Plato’s Republic, to shape her reading of the heroes of the Iliad and the Odyssey. Kundmueller argues that we should read these two Homeric texts together, and that we can learn from both of them, given the distinct emphasis in each text on human excellence, but also on human failings, and how the texts emphasize the public and the private, and the attraction that each sphere holds. Homer’s Hero shows the intertwined relationship between the Iliad and the Odyssey, not as the continuation of a story per se, but as reflective of each other, tracing themes and concepts that are presented as connected but differently emphasized by the heroes central to each text. The thrust of the Iliad is the question that surrounds the love of honor and the value this love provides for the individual and for the society. This theme is braided into the Odyssey, but is not the thrust of the Odyssey, which is more focused on the desire and longing for home and for human community. These themes are woven through both texts, as Kundmueller explains, but each text has a greater emphasis on its particular theme. These themes are as important to us today as they were when Homer was singing these tales in ancient Greece. And Homer’s Hero helps us think about these broader themes as it also compels the reader to consider how these heroes, but Odysseus in particular, embody human excellence, or fall short in trying to reach that capacity. Finally, Homer’s Hero explores how these themes and ideals are connected to the concept of politics, especially our thinking about what it is that politics provides for us, as citizens in community.
Lilly J. Goren is professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI. She is co-editor of the award winning book, Women and the White House: Gender, Popular Culture, and Presidential Politics (University Press of Kentucky, 2012), as well as co-editor of Mad Men and Politics: Nostalgia and the Remaking of Modern America (Bloomsbury Academic, 2015).
Lilly J. Goren is professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI.