The Nostos of the Epic Heroes

This book is about nostos, the return home of a hero. Although the importance of this topic has long been recognized by scholars, this is the first full length book on nostos both across a range of tragedies and in the light of the diverse cultural background of the motif. It shows how the elements of Homer’s narrative were to be developed by later Greek poets, and particularly the fifth-century tragedians and the Hellenistic poets.


“Marigo Alexopoulou has taken it upon herself to provide a first attempt at a typology [of nostos-narratives], and has proceeded with commendable industry, verve, and enthusiasm. Her work is all the more noteworthy insofar as there has been, to my knowledge, no comprehensive work on nostos in Greek literature. In that respect, Alexopoulou’s work fills a real gap, and is to be welcomed as a prelude to further studies on this all-important topic.”– Prof. Vayos Liapis, Université de Montréal

“A central, and fascinating, theme of Dr. Alexopoulou’s work is that the return home is never a return to the same world as that from which the hero departed. She has the great advantage of being qualified to write about modern, as well as classical, Greek poetry, and I find particularly interesting the way in which she traces the tradition established by Homer right down to the poetry of Seferis and other twentieth-century Greek poets.” – Prof. Alexander F. Garvie, University of Glasgow

“The topic is an important one which has not previously been studied in such depth. Dr. Alexopoulou studies the varieties of nostos both across a range of tragedies and in the light of the diverse cultural background of the motif. Her work is a genuine contribution to scholarship in the field.” – Prof. D. L. Cairns, University of Edinburgh

Table of Contents

Foreword by Professor Vayos Liapis
1. Introduction
Nostos: a popular theme
Nostos and war
The seafaring experience
Wandering for philosophical, religious (theoria) or touristic ends
Colonisation, exile and ostracism
2. Nostos in Homer
Nostos as a story pattern
Nostos and ritual
The nostos narratives and its variants
The effects of absence
Nostos and oblivion
Nostos and death (katabasis)
Wandering (themes of bath, clothes and food mark Odysseus’ transition)
Return, disguise and deceptive stories
3. Nostos in Tragedy
Typical roles with their typical themes
The role of the woman (sleepless nights and dreams)
The motif of longing
Women and the failed nostos
The absent male figure
The theme of clothes
The theme of bath and bed
The theme of sacrifice
Nostos and athletic imagery
Nostos and recognition
Secret nostoi (deceit and/or revenge)
Nostos and tragic plot
Messenger-scene in nostos-drama
Nostos-drama and suspense
Welcome scene in nostos-drama
The idealistic nature of the nostos-drama
4. Nostos in Hellenistic Poetry
General on Hellenistic poetry
Nostos in Apollonius’ Argonautica
Departure – voyage to Colchis
The role of Medea in the return-story
Return voyage
Hellenistic epigram
Callimachus’ selected nostos-epigrams
5. Epilogue