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Mise en abyme and Tragic Signification in the Odyssey: The Three Songs of Demodocus

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image of Mnemosyne

This essay highlights some aspects of the tragic conception of the Odyssey in assertion of its generic identity, focusing on the three songs of the bard Demodocus recounted in Book 8 of the epic and using mise en abyme as the primary exegetical tool. Mise en abyme, a narratological term denoting a certain part of a literary work of art that represents the work as a whole, functions in Demodocus' first song to mark the Odyssey as an epic in dialogue with the Iliad. The second song functions as a mise en abyme of both the content of the Odyssey and its poetic form. The last of the bard's songs enhances the perception of mise en abyme, viewing the Odyssey as an act of communication between poet and audience where the song and its responding listeners suggest emotional and cognitive reactions to the narratees of the Odyssey. This song also reflects the two earlier ones, and it is this dialogical relationship that leads to the epic's tragic signification.


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