Proof

Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein
Odysseus and Penelope, 1802
Oil on canvas

In a much-studied sequence of Homer’s Odysseythe old maid Eurýkleia bathes a beggar’s feet only to discover the precise scar that she knows to be of her lord, Odysseus. She responds, in a loud whisper:

“Oh yes! You are Odysseus! Ah, dear child! I could not see you until now — not till I knew my master’s very body with my hands!” (Homer, The Odyssey; trans. Robert Fitzgerald)

Famously, this passage has been discussed by the literary scholar Erich Auerbach as an example of proto-realism in Western literature, of the relationship between historicity, psychology, and text. This, of course, is in contrast (in Auerbach’s argument) to the Old Testament narrative, which has a different sort of relationship with history, psychology, and text. For Auerbach, Homer’s narrative forms the type of literature that aims at “mimesis,” the description of life in all its varied forms, whereas the Old Testament narrative forms the type of literature that aims at transformative truth. Continue reading “Proof”