N.B. This is an old post from the previous iteration of this site. I’ve tweaked a few things here and there in the entry, but they are mostly unchanged. My previous website was more of a jobs site, so a lot of the entries are Classics-centric, and that won’t necessarily be the case going forward.
Welcome to my new website. χαίρετε, salvete, vel sim. — welcome! My research interests include Greek tragedy and Greek epic, but I also have a soft spot for Latin epic. Intertextual connections between genres and even languages — echoes of Greek in Latin, for example — also fascinate me. I’ve always found it fun and rewarding to dive into authors’ sources and/or inspirations (the Germans traditionally were masters at Quellenforschung).
Most of all, though, the concept of homecoming, or nostos (Gk. νόστος) has intrigued, puzzled, and interested me for a few years now. In my dissertation, I examined and argued for the presence of different, non-traditional types of homecoming at play in Sophoclean tragedy (the Oedipus plays in particular, but also the Ajax — more on that in a bit). Any scholar of epic will be familiar with the concept of nostos as one of the foundations of epic poetry. Nostos was generally the ultimate objective for a hero after finishing his war campaign, wherever that may be. Odysseus in Homer’s Odyssey ate, breathed, and slept nostos — the chief goal in the Odyssey is to see Odysseus safely home. Homecoming is important in the Iliad as well, wherein heroes pine for home and hope that they won’t die and be cheated of that homecoming. However, no one, at least no one who is brave, escapes the fray until the job is done and Troy falls, which does not occur until much later in mythical time, after more slaughter of great and lesser heroes alike.
In tragedy, though, homecoming often takes different shapes. I’d like to discuss a bit of my own research and findings here. In the Oedipus Tyrannus, as Oedipus tries to escape his “home” in Corinth in order to avoid slaying his father and marrying his mother, he does just that in his actual home of Thebes. Oedipus indeed returns, both in mind and body, to his true home at Thebes. I explored the psychological processes and ramifications of homecoming in this play, which have often been overshadowed by Freudian psychoanalytical interpretations. Later, as the exiled Oedipus wanders with his daughter Antigone, seeking refuge in the Oedipus at Colonus, Theseus proposes to settle Oedipus as a citizen at Colonus. Though commanded by his uncle Creon, Oedipus refuses to return home to Thebes, for Creon and the Thebans merely seem to want to leverage Oedipus’ proximity to Thebes selfishly as an apotropaic device for the city. Oedipus’ daughter Antigone, in her eponymous play, seeks a different kind of homecoming: first to return her brother Polyneices’ body to Theban soil, so that his soul can build a new home in Hades. Despite it being a treasonous and prohibited act, Antigone buries him anyway on pain of death. I argued in my dissertation that Antigone seeks a new home in Hades through suicide, and that, en route to Hades, her uncle Creon settles her in another temporary “home” in the subterranean cave where she is condemned to die. I selected the Ajax as a suitable comparandum to cap off the study, as it deals with a popular Homeric character and story, and could thus serve as a bridge between epic and tragic conceptions of homecoming. When Ajax resolves to commit suicide out of shame over losing the Judgment of the Arms, he styles himself as an explorer, a colonist in the gloom of Hades, and seeks a new home under the earth in death. Any hope for homecoming, successful or otherwise, of Ajax’s wife and comrades, is extinguished swiftly with his life.
These are but a few examples — homecoming is a very common theme in tragedy. Take Aeschylus’ Oresteia, for example, which deals with the disastrous aftermath of Agamemnon’s homecoming from Troy, and the terrible, atavistic corruption of the House of Atreus. I am working on exploring more aspects of homecoming in other parts of the corpus of extant tragedy. It’s certainly a fertile area of study.
A bit about my own interest in homecoming, then: home has always been an important idea and construct for me. I moved out of my parents’ house in 2005 to begin graduate school, and have lived at least 500 miles from home ever since. Hence, nostos has an important place in my own life — returning to see family and friends in my birthplace in Oregon — and I’ve found a way to apply that to my scholarly research. Home, wherever it may be, is usually the center of people’s lives, whether it has bad or good connotations. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a pretty great relationship with my family, so I always enjoy visiting them. As the years have gone on, and it becomes more difficult to make the trek from Florida to Oregon, I’ve not been able to visit home as often as I would like. The scarcity of these visits makes them all the more poignant when I am home, though. Ideally, we can make wherever we happen to be into a suitable “home” over time — many of you probably will have several “homes” as you move around over the years, and all are special in their own way.
All of us know the pain of being away from home, of missing family and friends, but hopefully we also appreciate when we are able to achieve our nostoi.
Thank you very much for reading, and please feel free to share your thoughts with me. I intend to write as often as I can on here, and I’m always thinking of ideas for posts.