Two years ago, I read Ulysses for the first time. Last semester, I did a course on this incredible book and I reread it. At the end of this course I had to write a paper and I just heard I got a very good mark for it, so yay!
As someone who studied Greek and Latin for a while, I have always been a bit intrigued by the intertextuality in Ulysses. I like intertextuality in general, it often feels like a nice literary puzzle. So when I had to choose what I wanted to do my paper about, I quickly decided to look at the relationship between Ulysses and Homer.
Now, I won’t bore you with all the technical details I analysed in my paper. What I do want to talk about, is the use of intertextuality. Because although I love analysing a work that way, I don’t like it when it becomes the main focus.
Ulysses is full of references to Homer, not just The Odyssey but The Iliad as well. I can spend a lovely afternoon reading about all those references or trying to find them out for myself, and thinking about the consequences for the story. But the problem with Ulysses, and with lots of other works that use intertextuality, is that this book is so much more complex. When you focus on intertextuality too much, you forget to do a feminist interpretation, or a postcolonial one, and if you specifically focus on Homer as an intertext, you might forget to look at Shakespeare and Dante! You don’t want your interpretation to become too narrow and miss all of these wonderful other aspects. This was one of the conclusions of my paper, that even though it can be clarifying to focus on an intertext, it is seldom the only key to a text. Always keep in mind that other interpretations are valid and necessary as well.
However, to me, Homer is still very important when reading Ulysses. Not only because Homer is important to me personally, but also because it helped me understand the text so much better. I read Ulysses in English, which is not my native tongue, and I found it quite difficult at times. Recognizing the intertextuality helped me understand the story better, the situations, the relationships between the characters. It gave me some support while I was trying to understand the text. And this can be done for any kind of interpretation: if you know more about another intertext or literary approach, use it! This is a complex text and it might come in handy.