‘Songs of Salvation to Salve the Soul’:  Kleos in O Brother Where Art Thou

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Notes

  1. 1.

    E. Coen and C. Joel, O Brother, Where Art Thou? (Faber and Faber Screenplays), London and New York, 2000. J. Siegel, ‘The Coens’ O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Homer’s Odyssey’, Mouseion Journal of the Classical Association of Canada, 7, 2008, pp. 213–45 (217), for example, has shown how the dialogue and set directions in the script reveal ‘conscious borrowings’ from the Odyssey such as the epic nature of the film, the role of the gods and specific episodes and characters such as the Sirens, Polyphemus, and the fistfight in the courtyard Odysseus’s victory in the great hall. P. Flensted-Jensen, ‘Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed: The Odyssey and O Brother Where Art Thou?’, Classica et Mediaevalia, 53, 2003, p. 13; J. T. Adams, The Cinema of the Coen Brothers : Hard Boiled Entertainments, New York, 2015, pp. 134–38 and T. Schirato and J. Webb, ‘Technology, Reason and Globalisation?—O Brother!’, Social Semiotics, 14, 2004, pp. 273–87 (277) also provide catalogues of connections between the Odyssey and O Brother Where Art Thou. W. C. Dimock, ‘Crowdsourcing Penelope: Margaret Atwood, the Coen Brothers, Richard Linklater’, Comparative Literature, 67, 2015, pp. 319–32 (327–28) describes connections between the Odyssey and Inside Llewyn Davis. See V. S. Roberts, ‘Homeric Heroes in Ethan and Joel Coen’s The Hudsucker Proxy (1994), The Big Lebowski (1998) and No Country for Old Men (2007)’, Journal of Religion & Film, 17, 2013, p. 40 for a discussion of Homeric heroes in the Coen films The Hudsucker Proxy, The Big Lebowski and No Country for Old Men.

  2. 2.

    Adams, The Cinema of the Coen Brothers: Hard Boiled Entertainments, (n. 1 above) p. 138 has pointed out the use of Homeric themes in O Brother Where Art Thou such as Odysseus proving his identity to Penelope and needing to continue his journey after his return home.

  3. 3.

    G. Nagy, The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours, Cambridge, 2013, pp. 26–30 and 50–59 discusses the concept of kleos in the Iliad.

  4. 4.

    See M. A. Katz, Penelope’s Renown: Meaning and Indeterminacy in the Odyssey, Princeton, 1991, pp. 3–6 for an overview of Penelope’s kleos in The Odyssey. This ability to win fame does not, however, extend to Penny in O Brother Where Art Thou. See Dimock, ‘Crowdsourcing Penelope: Margaret Atwood, the Coen Brothers, Richard Linklater’ (n. 1 above), p. 327 for a discussion of Penelope’s diminished role in the film as compared to The Odyssey.

  5. 5.

    See Nagy, The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours (n. 3 above), pp. 275–96 for the relationship between kleos and homecoming. P. Pucci, Odysseus Polutropos: Intertextual Readings in the Odyssey and the Iliad, New York, 1987, pp. 127–42 discusses the diverging understandings of the hero’s return home in the Iliad and the Odyssey.

  6. 6.

    Cited from G. Nagy, The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours Sourcebook, Cambridge, 2017.

  7. 7.

    Nagy, The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours (n. 3 above), p. 30.

  8. 8.

    R. Platte, ‘Gilding American History through Song Culture in O Brother, Where Art Thou?’, in Screening the Golden Ages of the Classical Tradition, ed. R. Platte, Edinburgh, 2018, pp. 65–82 (67) writes: ‘Man of Constant Sorrow’ is quintessentially Odyssean in its content and word play. Its descriptions of wandering, sadness and romantic loss resonate with the experiences and fears of the film’s protagonist as well as those of the ancient Odysseus in his own long, unhappy, wandering return to his wife and position of social legitimacy in Ithaca. Moreover, the title and refrain of the song invoke an ancient folk etymology of the name Odysseus, which invited puns due to its resemblance to the verbs odyssomai, ‘to hate,’ and odyromai, ‘to sorrow.’

  9. 9.

    Platte, ‘Gilding American History through Song Culture in O Brother, Where Art Thou?’ (n. 7 above), also notes that the dissemination of song via the radio marks a transitional point in the history of American folk music between individual musicians who performed informally in their own communities and professionals who performed for the radio just as Homer marks a transitional point between orality and literacy in the epic tradition. See Schirato and Webb, ‘Technology, Reason and Globalisation?—O Brother!’ (n. 1 above) p. 279.

  10. 10.

    J. Paul, Film and the Classical Epic Tradition, Oxford, 2013, p. 90 describes the connections between the film’s music and the Homeric oral tradition.

  11. 11.

    S. Goldhill, ‘Naked and O Brother, Where Art Thou? The Politics and Poetics of Epic Cinema’, in Homer in the Twentieth Century: Between World Literature and the Western Canon, eds. G. Barbara and G. Emily, Oxford, 2007, pp. 245–67.

  12. 12.

    R. D. Woodard, The Cambridge Companion to Greek Mythology, New York, 2007, p. 60.

  13. 13.

    Goldhill, ‘Naked and O Brother, Where Art Thou? The Politics and Poetics of Epic Cinema’ (n. 10 above), pp. 264–65 makes a similar observation. See also P. Salzman-Mitchell and J. Alvares, Classical Myth and Film in the New Millennium, New York, 2017, p. 71; B. Weinlich, ‘“Odyssey, Where Art Thou?” Myth and Mythmaking in the Twenty-First Century’, Classical and Modern Literature: A Quarterly, 25, 2005, pp. 89–108 (92).

  14. 14.

    M. M. Toscano, ‘Homer Meets the Coen Brothers: Memory as Artistic Pastiche in O Brother, Where Art Thou?’, Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies, 39, 2010, pp. 49–62 (58).

  15. 15.

    J. Garst, ‘Man of Constant Sorrow: Antecedents and Tradition’, in Country Music Annual 2002, eds. C. K. Akenson and J. E. Wolfe, Kentucky, 2002, pp. 26–53.

  16. 16.

    D. Goldmark, ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou? A Musical Appreciation’, Xavier Review, 23, 2003, pp. 31–41 (36) (as cited by J. Smith, ‘O Brother, Where Chart Thou? Pop Music and the Cohen Brothers’, in Popular Music and the New Auteur: Visionary Filmmakers after MTV, ed. A. Arved, Oxford, 2013, p. 138) notes that the song also reflects the film’s narrative because the three men are ‘flying away’ from the law as it plays.

  17. 17.

    Toscano, ‘Homer Meets the Coen Brothers: Memory as Artistic Pastiche in O Brother, Where Art Thou?’, (n. 13 above), pp. 55–56 describes these juxtaposed images as a ‘formalistic’ tool that shows the growing popularity of the Soggy Bottom Boys and the passage of time. Smith, ‘O Brother, Where Chart Thou? Pop Music and the Cohen Brothers’ (n. 15 above), pp. 137–38 notes the similar use of an image of a spinning record in the Coens’ Raising Arizona.

  18. 18.

    Weinlich, ‘“Odyssey, Where Art Thou?” Myth and Mythmaking in the Twenty-First Century’ (n. 12 above), p. 101 argues that this scene also echoes the Odyssey because it shows the Wharvey girls taking on their mother’s voice in much the same way that Telemachus takes on his father’s voice in the Odyssey.

  19. 19.

    See Salzman-Mitchell and Alvares, Classical Myth and Film in the New Millennium (n. 12 above), p. 69.

  20. 20.

    Paul, Film and the Classical Epic Tradition (n. 9 above), p. 91 points out other ways that this film is also connected to the classical epic tradition such as narrative structure and national myth-making.

  21. 21.

    A. A. L. Blanshard and K. Shahabudin, Classics on Screen: Ancient Greece and Rome on Film. Duckworth Publishers, 2012, p. 234.

  22. 22.

    Siegel, ‘The Coens’ O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Homer’s Odyssey’ (n. 1 above), p. 237 writes: ‘Like every mythic hero, Odysseus is motivated by the thirst for glory, more of which he earns with every victory. So, too, does George Nelson revel in his fame, earned by his record number of bank robberies and all-around bad-boy image. Both mock those who dare to think they have the power to vanquish them. George’s diatribe against the cops shares a similar tone and message with Odysseus’s final words to the Cyclops.’

  23. 23.

    M. Cormier, ‘Black Song, White Song: Salvation Through The Radio in The Apostle and Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?’, Journal of Religion & Film, 6, 2016, p. 3.

  24. 24.

    See Weinlich, ‘“Odyssey, Where Art Thou?” Myth and Mythmaking in the Twenty-First Century’ (n. 12 above), pp. 105–06.

  25. 25.

    A. Nayman, The Coen Brothers: This Book Really Ties the Films Together, New York, 2018, p. 144.

  26. 26.

    D. M. Pollio, ‘Baptizing Odysseus: “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” and Homer’s “Odyssey”’, The Classical Outlook, 85, 2007, pp. 23–7.

  27. 27.

    See Adams, The Cinema of the Coen Brothers : Hard Boiled Entertainments (n. 1 above), p. 146. Schirato and Webb, ‘Technology, Reason and Globalisation?—O Brother!’ (n. 1 above), pp. 279–82 discuss the incongruities between Everett’s belief in technology and the new order of things and the times when he adopts non-technological modes of thinking. See J. Keuss, ‘Remembering the American Radical Reformation’, in The Apostle and O Brother Where Art Thou? In Cinéma divinité : Religion, Theology and the Bible in Film, ed. P. Francis, London, 2005, pp. 239–52 for a discussion of film’s ideas of religious ‘affiliation.’

  28. 28.

    Toscano, ‘Homer Meets the Coen Brothers: Memory as Artistic Pastiche in O Brother, Where Art Thou?’ (n. 13 above), pp. 56–57 describes the connections between Everett’s baptism and the fulfilment of Tiresias’s prophesies.

  29. 29.

    H. Ruppersburg, ‘Oh, so Many Startlements: History, Race, and Myth in O Brother, Where Art Thou?’, Southern Cultures, 9, 2003, p. 22 points out, ‘For the Coens, the religious quest, one of the archetypal motifs of our culture, is another intercultural reference that they exploit for their own purposes. This is not a religious film, and it treats the religious elements with respect, skepticism, and irony. Yet it also offers religion as one way of explaining what occurs.’

  30. 30.

    See B. McFarlane, ‘The Philosophies of Comedy in O Brother Where Art Thou’, in The Philosophy of the Coen Brothers, ed. B. McFarlane, Kentucky, 2009, pp. 41–54 (52) for a discussion of some of the ambiguities of the film’s final scene.

    S. Baschiera, ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou? The Coen Brothers and The Musical Genre Contamination’, in Contemporary Musical Film, eds. K. J. Donnelley and C. Beth, Edinburgh, 2017, pp. 143–56.

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Rydberg-Cox, J. ‘Songs of Salvation to Salve the Soul’:  Kleos in O Brother Where Art Thou. Int class trad 28, 88–97 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12138-019-00533-3

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