If the reputation of the Aeneid relative to the Homeric poems has fl uctuated greatly in the history of literary criticism, that of the Odyssey has consistently suffered by comparison to the Iliad.1 For many centuries, conventional wisdom viewed the Iliad as a profound poem about heroism, honor, and death, while the Odyssey was often seen as a more disparate collection of character studies and domestic vignettes. In antiquity, the difference between the poems is fi rst described explicitly by Aristotle (Poet. 1459b13-15):
The pathos of the Iliad is linked to its simple construction, while the complexity of the Odyssey is associated with its emphasis on “recognitions” and êthos.2 On the face of it, this dichotomy does not seem to embody any actual value judgment, only an analytical description of the structure and primary thematic mode of each poem. At a much later stage of the commentary tradition, the twelfth-century Byzantine scholar Eustathius transforms the Aristotelean distinction into a more direct comparison in his discussion of the proem of the Iliad (Comm. ad Il. 1.7.5-7):
While this certainly implies that the Iliad contains more of the qualities that we commonly associate with epic, there is still a clear attempt to weigh the relative merits of the two poems without explicitly privileging one over the other. The greater solemnity and heroism of the Iliad are balanced by the Odyssey’s superior clarity and character interest. Furthermore, Eustathius seems to contradict Aristotle directly in describing the Odyssey as the clearer (saphesteron) of the two poems.