Classical Quarterly 44 (02):530- (1994)

A number of recent papers have discussed the episode at Odyssey 10.156–72 in which Odysseus, on the third morning after landing on Circe's island, sees, kills, and transports a huge stag whose meat revives his men, who are exhausted in both body and spirit. Since the incident does not advance the main action, it invites interpretation, particularly since it is so richly elaborated. Naturally, it has received several: that the stag should be understood as a transformed human, and thus prefigures the rest of the episode; that the incident marks the liminality of Odysseus, who is about to lose some of his manhood in remaining for a year on the island; that the stag derives from the magical animal which, in folktale, often leads the hero into the Otherworld or the Underworld; and that it serves, both within its immediate context and within the narrative as told to the Phaeacians, as a figure for heroic action, removed from the battlefield and rendered ‘urbane’ by its emphasis on the cleverness with which Odysseus transports the dead animal rather than on the actual killing. I would like to point to a completely different aspect of the episode and to suggest that although some of these studies may be true pointers to its origin, its function within the narrative is straightforward and does not in itself demand such elaborate interpretation: the incident with the stag belongs to a series of incidents that test the ability of Odysseus and his crew to obtain meat, and so develop central themes of feasting, social order, and leadership
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DOI 10.1017/S0009838800043986
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