Dr. Ingrid Holmberg, acting chair of the Department of Greek and Roman Studies, specializes in early Greek poetry. One of her longstanding research interests is in the significance of metis, or cunning intelligence, in those works.
She explains that in Homer’s Odyssey, for example, Odysseus uses metis to tell deceptive stories to protect himself from the people he encounters. Because the Ancient Greeks normally associated metis with women and the physically weak, Odysseus’ vulnerability on his travels allows an exploration of gender and metis while problematizing his heroism.
But metis also functions as commentary on the narrative itself through the embedding of numerous narratives that draw attention to the complex process of storytelling. “I think,” Holmberg concludes, “that the Odyssey is encouraging readers to read very carefully. There’s a way in which the text suggests you should be very careful about what how and why narratives are constructed.”
Holmberg notes that in addition to encouraging careful reading, classical works like the Iliad and the Odyssey can be useful to students who want to understand the roots of modern civilization: “If you’re going to go on in the humanities, having a foundation in classics can be very beneficial.” She points out that almost all the most important thinkers of European history were educated in classics, an education that influenced the works they produced: “If you don’t have a basic knowledge of Greek myth, Greek literature, Roman literature, you might not be able to engage as fully with those works.”