Sacred Texts  Classics  Homer 
Buy this Book at

Poetry, by Alma-Tadema Lawrence [1879] (Public Domain Image)
Poetry, by Alma-Tadema Lawrence [1879] (Public Domain Image)

The Authoress of the Odyssey

by Samuel Butler


Contents    Start Reading    Page Index    Text [Zipped]

Today it is obvious to all but the most tradition-bound that women can achieve anything that men can. This was not so obvious in the last decade of the 19th century when Samuel Butler, a maverick classicist, proposed this unique theory that the Odyssey was written by a woman. This was, to say the least, a shocking proposal for his contemporaries. Aside from the perceived diminution of the role of 'Homer,' this was too far outside the box for most scholars. At the time Butler wrote, women couldn't vote or own property in many industrialized countries, and some female authors adopted male pseudonyms to get published. Biology was considered a limiting factor for the female sex, and historic contributions of women were ignored.

Based on textual analysis, geography, history and a bit of speculation, Butler came to the conclusion that the Odyssey was a sequel written several generations after the Iliad, by a woman residing in Sicily. Some of his best evidence is simple literary criticism--Butler's observation that women in the Odyssey are much better dimensionalized than the ones in the Iliad.

Although his specific theory of who wrote the Odyssey is still controversial (and probably unverifiable), today scholars are much more open to the idea of a separate authorship of the two epics. Butler's concept that the text of both epics was pieced together from pre-existing bardic material about the Trojan war is also considered an acceptable thesis. This is why this book is still read and discussed a century later, as a milestone in the history of thought about classical authorship, even though it was not completely vindicated.

It may seem a minor point, but it didn't help the establishment perception of this book that Butler insisted on using Roman equivalents for Greek deities (and the principal) throughout. Specifically, Mars = Ares, Minerva = Athena, Aphrodite = Venus, Jupiter = Zeus, and Ulysses = Odysseus.

Originally published in 1892 as a series of pamphlets, this etext is based on the second edition, published in 1922. Of interest in this edition is Butler's abridged (80 page) retelling of the story of the Odyssey, ironically, a great resource if you have to brush up on your 'Homer.' Samuel Butler also wrote the dystopian fantasy Erewhon, and, of course, his translation of the Iliad and Odyssey is also available at this site. NOTE: This etext uses Unicode extensively to present polytonic Greek, so consult the Unicode walkthrough if you have trouble viewing it.

--J.B. Hare, July 29, 2008,

Title Page
List of Illustrations
Chapter I. Importance of the Enquiry

Chapter II: The Story of the Odyssey

Book I. The Council of the Gods
Book II. Assembly of the People of Ithaca
Book III. Telemachus at the House of Nestor
Book IV. Telemachus at the House of Menelaus
Book V. Ulysses in the Island of Calypso
Book VI. The Meeting Between Ulysses and Nausicaa
Book VII. The Splendours of the House of King Alcinous
Book VIII. The Phæacian Games
Book IX. The Voyages of Ulysses: Cicons, Lotus Eaters, and the Cyclops
Book X. Æolus, Læstrygonians, Circe
Book XI. Ulysses in the House of Hades
Book XII. The Sirens, Scylla and Charybdis, The Cattle of the Sun
Book XIII. Ulysses is Taken Back to Ithaca
Book XIV. Ulysses in the Hut of Eumæus
Book XV. Telemachus Returns
Book XVI. Ulysses and Telemachus Become Known to One Another
Book XVII. Ulysses Maltreated by the Suitors
Book XVIII. The Fight Between Ulysses and Irus
Book XIX. Ulysses Converses with Penelope
Book XX. Theoclymenus Foretells the Suitors' Doom
Book XXI. The Trial of the Bow and of the Axes
Book XXII. The Killing of the Suitors
Book XXIII. Penelope Recognizes Ulysses
Book XXIV. The Suitors in Hades, Ulysses Makes Peace with Ithaca.


Chapter III. The Preponderance of Woman in the Odyssey
Chapter IV. Jealousy for the Honour and Dignity of Woman
Chapter V. Whether Penelope is Being Whitewashed
Chapter VI. The Character of Penelope, The Journey of Telemachus
Chapter VII. Further Indications That the Writer Is a Young, Headstrong, and Unmarried Woman
Chapter VIII. Ithaca and Scheria Are Drawn From Trapani
Chapter IX. The Voyages of Ulysses Shown to be a Sail Round Sicily
Chapter X. Further Details Regarding the Voyages of Ulysses
Chapter XI. Who Was the Writer?
Chapter XII. The Date Of The Poem
Chapter XIII. Further Evidence in Support of an Early Ionian Settlement at Trapani
Chapter XIV. That the Iliad Which the Writer of the Odyssey Knew Was the Same As What We Now Have
Chapter XV. Relation to other Poems of the Trojan Cycle and its Development by the Authoress
Chapter XVI. Conclusion