Samuel Butler, scholar, painter, pioneer photographer, and novelist (including 'Erewhon' and 'The Way of All Flesh'), was one of the less orthodox of Victorian intellectual provocateurs, who confronted powerful orthodoxies such as the Church, the academic establishment, and scientific Darwinism. During the last decade of his productive life (he died in 1902), his main concern became the 'Homeric question'. In his youth, he had been a classical scholar at St John's College, Cambridge; but 'The Authoress of the Odyssey'  is unlike any work of mainstream Victorian classics. His theory - that the Odyssey was written by a woman and (even more startlingly) by one who configured herself in the epic as the Phaeacian princess, Nausicaa - set him on collision course with all the 'orthodoxies' of the stuffy, patriarchal establishment of 'Oxbridge' scholarship. His exposition hesitates (brilliantly, or accidentally?) in the grey area between closely reasoned argument, eccentric tomfoolery and knowing polemics. The establishment never could determine whether to take it seriously or as an elaborate spoof of their own methodologies. Certainly, Butler himself never let on what his intentions were. Now, in an age when gender studies and reception theory have a compelling influence on readings of the classical world, this book has been made available again. It is a work that continues to challenge, provoke and amuse. With a new introduction by Tim Whitmarsh, himself a former Fellow of St John's College, Cambridge, Reader in Greek Literature at the University of Exeter.
Tim Whitmarsh (like Butler himself, a former Fellow of St John's College, Cambridge) is Reader in Greek Literature at the University of Exeter. He is author of 'Greek Literature and the Roman Empire' (Oxford University Press, 2001), 'A Cultural History of Greek Literature' (Polity Press, 2004) and 'Reading the Self in the Ancient Greek Novel' (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming).
If he can do it again at Bristol Phoenix Press, it will be an incredible achievement. The start is auspicious. Not many books on the Odyssey provide such fun. Tim Whitmarsh has provided an excellent, brief introduction to set the work in context.
JACT Journal of Classics Teaching Autumn