Omeros and St Lucia
Derek Walcott’s Omeros is an epic story which fits well into the classical tradition. Its numerous echoes of Homeric writing combined with the use of characters’ names from Homer’s stories are clear evidence to the fact that there is a major parallel to Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. There is no debate in this obvious fact. Omeros and Derek Walcott’s writing, however, are much more than a mere reproduction of classical Greek and Roman themes. Arguing this fact is an insult to Walcott and his masterful work. There are specific references in Walcott’s writing which make this work more than a reproduction of someone else’s stories and ideas. Omeros, although it is inundated with references to the works of Homer, is primarily the story of the island of St. Lucia. This island is the home of Derek Walcott, and so there is a natural connection between the author and this isle. Numerous episodes in the pages reflect different parts of the history of this island. Omeros is still most definitely a work of the classical tradition, but it is Walcott’s reflection on the island of St. Lucia which occupies the majority of the pages of this epic poem. It just happens that he uses the classical method to tell the story of this island and its history.
Before going into the places where the story reflects the history of St. Lucia, it would be beneficial to go over a brief history of the island. It was first settled in around 200 CE by Arawak (or Aruak) Indians. However, by 800, they had intermingled their culture with that of the Caribs. Europe’s relation and discovery of this island is a bit hazy. One belief is that Columbus discovered the island in 1502, although the more widely accepted belief is that it was discovered by Juan de la Cosa around the turn of the Sixteenth Century. There were, however, no European contacts on this island until the 1550’s, when a pirate in the area intermixed with the local residents of St. Lucia. The first attempt at colonization of this island occurred in 1605, when a group on English colonists were blown off course and ended up on the isle. However, after a short stay the few who were still alive were forced to leave. In 1639, a second group of Englishmen also failed in their attempt at colonization. The French began to take an interest in the island, and in 1746 the first European settlement was created on St Lucia (Soufriere), and by 1780 there were twelve settlements on the island. The French and English had many battles near this island, including the Battle of Cul de Sac and the Battle of the Saintes, which has a significant impact in the pages of the poem. Major Plunkett, in his analyzation of the history of St Lucia, becomes very interested in an Ensign Plunkett, who (only in Omeros) is part of the Battle of the Saintes. Today, St. Lucia is a multicultural democracy which became independent from English rule in 1979.
This conflict of these two European powers is a theme which Walcott carries over to the story. In Omeros, Walcott uses Achille and Hector to show the struggle between these two nations. In one place, Walcott says, “...An island called Helen...,” Bk 2, XIX, i). Obviously, this is a clear reference to Helen being used as a figure of St. Lucia. He uses Achille and Hector’s mutual pursuit of Helen to signify France (Hector) and England (Achille)’s constant struggle for the control of St. Lucia. This struggle is seen from very early on in the story: “The duel of the fisherman/was over a shadow and its name was Helen” (Bk 1, III, i). When Hector sells his boat while Achille remains a fisherman, it makes reference to the Navy of England’s domination over that of the rest of the world. At first, we see that Helen is with Hector when she moves in with him in chapter XXII, just as the original control of the island was in the hands...
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