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This article is taken from PN Review 225, Volume 42 Number 1, September - October 2015.

The View from Mount Eryx Horatio Morpurgo
Samuel Butler’s theory about the Odyssey, that it was written by a young woman living in Trapani, western Sicily, is now remembered, if at all, as a theory about the poet’s gender. But his idea was, then, more complex and is, at the moment, a lot more relevant than that. I’ll summarise. As he translated the poem, one episode in particular struck Butler as so immediate that it must have been drawn from life. ‘The eye of the poem’,1 he called it, the kernel from which the whole work had grown.

It is the scene of Nausicaa and her washerwomen, whom the castaway Ulysses, woken by the sound of their play, approaches on the beach, asking for hospitality. According to Butler, ‘Nausicaa’ was a self-portrait of the poem’s ‘authoress’. It was in Trapani and its environs that she found the material for her poem. Correctly understood, the Odyssey would be seen to include references to local scenery, as well as in-jokes at the expense of the poet’s father, in particular, and her home town more generally.

He returned obsessively to the stretch of coastline just north of the town, then given over to salt pans. This was where the storm-tossed Ulysses had swum ashore.

Butler’s closest friend later wrote: ‘I, knowing he had been at work on the Odyssey all day, used to try to get him off it by introducing other subjects […] As soon as I began to talk, he was silent, but he was not listening; he was ...

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