Memories of Antiquity in Derek Walcott’s Odyssey: A Stage Version. A Case Study of Eurycleia
Derek Walcott’s Odyssey. A Stage Version is a work of reception that remembers ancient Greek mythology as much as or more than it rewrites ancient sources. Walcott’s references to the classics are at times immediately recognisable, at other times hidden behind layers of cumulative association, creating a unique experience for different members of his audience. Within Walcott’s interweaving of untranslated oral references to ancient Greek with Jazz, Shango invocations, and quotations from Horace, we witness the workings of remembrance; deliberate triggers to his audience’s memory of a transcultural tapestry of characters, narratives, and images, often without contextualising or expanding on his various allusions. In an adaptation of this type, the way in which one of the most pivotal female characters of Graeco-Roman epic, the nurse Eurycleia, is rewritten into the late twentieth century evokes a complex mode of reader-reception. In Walcott’s rewriting, Eurycleia is deliberately and overtly tied to Egypt, which was in Homer associated with mysticism and magic. This emphasises her power over both the narrative and the Ithacan household, while feeding into a larger web of references to African, Afrocentric and Caribbean literature and scholarship in Walcott’s Odyssey, including Martin Bernal’s Black Athena, Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and Caribbean religious rituals. This style of reception establishes a storyworld in which ancient Greek topoi are integrated with ideas and narratives from world history whereby Walcott performs a move away from an elite form of adaptation that prioritises knowledge of Graeco-Roman languages and contexts towards one that works through a wide and shifting set of global memories.
Keywords: Odyssey; nurses; classical reception; memory; Derek Walcott
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