Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

Odysseus Almost Makes It to Broadway: The Ulysses Africanus of Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson

Dr Robert Rabel.

This talk makes a critical assessment of a hitherto unpublished and largely unknown play by Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson entitled Ulysses Africanus, only two copies of which are known to exist. While Ulysses Africanus has been studied by musicologists interested primarily in Weil's music, no detailed study of the play's plot has yet been made. I will discuss how Maxwell Anderson makes clever use of the plot of the Odyssey and some of its basic themes. The plot concerns a recently free slave named Ulysses, who leaves his wife Penny and sets forth for a life of adventure during the American Civil War. In the course of his wanderings, he falls in with a Circe-like figure who ushers him into a scene redolent with suggestions of the Underworld, a scene corresponding to Odysseus' trip to the Underworld in Book 11 of the Odyssey. As a result of his adventures Ulysses becomes a theatrical entrepreneur, and in Act II he stages his own version of Homer's Odyssey, so that by staging a play within a play he becomes a reflexive counterpart of Weill and Anderson, just as Homer's Odysseus becomes a reflexive counterpart of Homer by using the experiences of his journey to become the narrator of the poem for the space of four books of the Odyssey (9-12). I will also discuss the play's remarkable anticipations of several later films inspired by the Odyssey, including the Coen Brothers' O Brother, Where Art Thou


Dr Robert Rabel  (United States)
Professor of Classics
Department of Modern and Classical Languages, Literatures, and Cultures
University of Kentucky

Professor of Classics and author of Plot and Point of View in the Iliad (University of Michigan Press, 1997) and numerous articles on Classical literature and its influence on modern film.

  • Homer’s Odyssey
  • Broadway plays

(30 min. Conference Paper, English)