The Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library continues to produce handsome and readable facing-page translations of important texts, many previously unpublished. This volume follows the 2015 translation of the Allegories of the Iliad by the same scholars and in the same series. As Goldwyn and Kokkini note in their introduction, Tzetzes, who died in 1180, could count on an audience familiar with both the source epics and with his allegorical method. They characterize Tzetzes as “a misunderstood genius forced into poverty by an anti-intellectual and corrupt world” who nonetheless produced a significant body of work.
All of his work is characterized by allusive and ostentatious displays of learning, and one wonders who was paying attention, either at the time or over the centuries. With this translation in our hands, however, those displays open windows into the cultural and aesthetic milieu of twelfth-century Byzantium.
Many passages blend standard mythological relationships with inscrutable associations. This specular labyrinth makes the experience of reading Tzetzes a mash up of Joyce’s Ulysses and Finnegan’s Wake. Allusions and associations proliferate: Hesiod, Herodotus, Empedocles, Anaxagoras, Aristophanes, John of Antioch, John Malalas, Ptolemy. The reader is left seeking a rationale or through-line; the code or the key. The telos is definitely not Ithaca, but something in Tzetzes’s psyche to make the Odyssey the vehicle for his ambition.
James H. Morey
The Medieval Review