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Eve of the Festival: Making Myth in Odyssey

Reviewed by John Henderson

This successfully revised Harvard dissertation, already mined for several papers, delivers an engagingly (if less than perfectly) presented reading of the image-packed negotiations between Odysseus and Penelope on the eve before crunch time. These elaborated up-close exchanges challenge every succeeding dialogue in narrative ever produced; book-length study needs no apology. Levaniouk signs up as confirmed ‘oral poetics of myth’ Gregorian Nagyar devotee (her supervisor, now editor), with quotes and references studding her text at most every turn; but the thrust of her book is surely to valorize Penelope’s corner in the interactive rhetorical bidding between queen and bum.

True, introductory and concluding chapters stake out the return of myth-ritual analysis (in Burkert style) and oral- traditional ‘parallels’ fringe the exposition passim (to the usual suspects of Vedic through Irish epic and modern Greek folksong, add Uzbek saga), but Levaniouk deploys a bunch of disarming modifiers to keep us all in the frame⎯even when she is treating us to resurrected/revenant ‘solar myth’ (‘Be that as it may …’ is particularly effective). But for most readers her main score is over Archery at the Dark of the Moon (Norman Austin’s classic targetting of the Odyssey on the same Eve) and comes from her handling of ‘recognition’ as foregrounded cooperative-competitive interaction of intimate gendered powerplay calling on micro-contextual tactics within the frame of envisaged outcomes.

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