‘The chancy story of the Phoenician woman’: Reading Homer with Virginia Woolf

The Sing in Me, Muse series 2022-23

The last talk of this academic year in our series on the social, political and cultural relevance of the classics to our times.

2 November 2023, 6pm UTC (in person and online)

A talk by Barbara Graziosi

Based on Virginia Stephen’s notes on the Odyssey, Barbara Graziosi offers a new reading of chance, fate, and marriage in the Homeric poem and in Stephen’s first novel, The Voyage Out, written shortly before Stephen married Leonard Woolf. The aim of the exercise is threefold. First, the paper seeks to illuminate Stephen’s careful reading of the Odyssey (and the not so careful recent edition of her notes on it). Second, it shows how both her notes and The Voyage Out articulate a pointedly anti-Aristotelean conception of literature: as a reader of ancient epic and as a writer of new fiction, Stephen dismantles any easy alignment between plot and character, fate and desire. Third, the paper harnesses Stephen’s reading, and her writing, in order to show how Zeus’ plan and chance event, freedom and enslavement, homecoming and homemaking interlock in the Odyssey itself.

The seminar will be chaired by Isobel Hurst and Lucia Boldrini, co-convenors of the ‘Sing in Me, Muse’ series, and will be followed by drinks for those who attend in person.

The talk will be at Goldsmiths, Richard Hoggart Building, Room 137A.

(Click here for directions to Goldsmiths and for a campus map).

Those attending online will receive a Zoom link shortly in advance of the event.

Attendance is free, but booking is required. (When you book, please specify, when prompted, whether you plan to attend in person or online). BOOKING HAS NOW CLOSED. Watch the recording of the talk:


Barbara Graziosi is C. Ewing Professor of ancient Greek language and literature at Princeton University. She is best known for her work on Homeric epic, ancient concepts of authorship, and fictional (auto)biography as a mode of reading ancient literature. Her project Living Poets: A New Approach to Ancient Poetry, funded by the European Research Council, argues that the biographies and portraits of ancient classical poets often reveal the faces and lives of their later readers: https://livingpoets.dur.ac.uk/w/Welcome_to_Living_Poets. Among her books are Inventing Homer (Cambridge 2002), which argues that early stories about Homer reveal how archaic and classical audiences imagined the poet and understood his poetry; The Resonance of Epic, written with Johannes Haubold (London 2005), which investigates the relationship between Homeric epic and wider Greek views about the cosmos and its history; and, together with Emily Greenwood, the edited volume Homer in the Twentieth Century: Between World Literature and the Western Canon (Oxford 2007). Her most recent book, Homer (Oxford University Press 2016) has been translated into several languages, to which Chinese is about to be added. Together with Andrea Capra, she has just finished writing Classics, Love, Revolution: The Legacies of Luigi Settembrini, again for Oxford University Press. She regularly contributes to the Times Literary Supplement.