The Odyssey

The Odyssey

Literature's grandest evocation of life's journey, at once an ageless human story and an individual test of moral endurance, Homer's ancient Greek epic The Odyssey is translated by Robert Fagles with an introduction and notes by Bernard Knox in Penguin Classics.When Robert Fagles' translation of The Iliad was published in 1990, critics and scholars alike hailed it as a mas...

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Title:The Odyssey
Author:Homer
Rating:
ISBN:0143039954
Edition Language:English
Format Type:Paperback
Number of Pages:541 pages

The Odyssey Reviews

  • Stephen
    Aug 25, 2008

    So my first “non-school related" experience with Homer’s classic tale, and my most powerful impression, beyond the overall splendor of the story, was...

    these Greeks were a violent bunch. Case in point:

    So my first “non-school related" experience with Homer’s classic tale, and my most powerful impression, beyond the overall splendor of the story, was...

    these Greeks were a violent bunch. Case in point:

    "Their work was done here now." What a great line.

    Want more violence you say? How about slaughtering over 100 house guests for over-indulging in your hospitality? Can you say overkill!! And for the true splatter junkies out there, you can add in some casual rapes, widespread maiming, a score of people-squishing, crew members being chewed and swallowed, healthy doses of mutilation and torture, and one cyclops blinding. That should make even the most discriminating gore hound leg-humping happy. Yes...that's me...guilty.

    However, beyond the cockle-warming violence and mayhem, this is a rocking good story that I enjoyed (as in "smile on my face thinking this is genuinely cool”) much more than I expected to going into it. There is nothing dry or plodding about the story. Beautifully written, and encompassing themes of love, loyalty and heroism while commenting on many facets of the human condition. As important as this story is to literature, it is above all else...ENTERTAINING. In fact, without its massive entertainment factor, I'm pretty sure it's overall importance among the classics would be significantly reduced. Thankfully, there is no risk of that.

    Before I continue, I want to comment on the version I read/listened to because I think can be critical to people’s reaction to the story. There are a TRUCKLOAD of Odyssey translations out there and, from what I’ve seen, they range wider in quality and faithfulness to the original text than those of almost any other work of Western Literature. These versions can differ so much that I believe two people with identical reading tastes could each read a different translation and walk away with vastly different opinions on the work.

    The version I am reviewing (and from which the above quote is derived) is the

    translation which uses contemporary prose and structure while remaining faithful to the content of the original. I found it a terrific place for a “first experience” with this work because of how easy to follow it was. Plus, I listened to the audio version read by

    which was an amazing experience and one I HIGHLY RECOMMEND.

    In addition to the Fagles version, I also own the

    translation as part of my Easton Press collection of

    . While listening to the Fagles version, I would often follow along with the Pope translation and let me tell you....they are vastly different. While the overall story is the same, the presentation, prose and the structure are nothing alike. As an example, here is the same passage I quoted earlier from the Pope translation.

    Very different treatments of the same scene. In my opinion, the Pope language is more beautiful and far more poetic and lyrical than the Fagles translation. However, I am glad I started with the Fagles version because it provided me with a much better comprehension of the story itself. No head-scratching moments. Now that I have a firm grounding in the story, I plan to go back at some point and read the Pope version so that I can absorb the greater beauty of that translation.

    In a nutshell, I'm saying that you should make sure you find a translation that works for you. That’s my two or three cents.

    So Odysseus, master strategist and tactician (not to mention schemer, manipulator and liar extraordinaire), travels home to Ithaca after the Trojan War. Delays and detours ensue which take up the first half of the story. Most of these travel snags are caused by Poseidon, who is grudging on Odysseus for stick-poking Poseidon’s son (i.e. the Cyclops) in the peeper. Not to fear, Athena (goddess of guile and craftiness) is a proud sponsor of Odysseus and, along with some help for big daddy god Zeus, throws Odysseus some Olympian help.

    Odysseus’ travels are full of great summer blockbuster-like entertainment and at the same time explore all manner of Greek daily life as well as touching on many of their beliefs and traditions. It really is a perfect blend of fun and brain food. From his time on the island homes of the goddesses Calypso and Circe (who he gets busy with despite his “undying” love for his wife, Penelope...men huh?), to his run ins with the giant Laestrygonians and the Lotus-eaters (i.e., thugs and drugs) and his fateful encounter with the Cyclops, Polyphemus. Odysseus even takes a jaunt to the underworld where he speaks to Achilles and gets to listen to dead king Agamemnon go on an anti-marriage rant because his conniving wife poisoned him to death. Homer does a superb job of keeping the story epic while providing the reader with wonderful details about the life of the greek people during this period.

    The man had story-telling chops..

    Meanwhile, while Odysseus is engaged in the ancient greek version of the

    , back on Ithaca we’ve got a full-fledged version of the

    going on as over a hundred suitors are camped out at Odysseus pad trying to get Penelope to give them a rose. This has Odysseus’ son, Telemachus, on the rage because the suitors are eating, drinking and servant-boinking him out of his entire inheritance while they wait on Penelope. You might think that Telemachus could just kick the freeloaders out, but the law of “hospitality” was huge for the Greeks and the suitor-douches use it to full advantage.

    Well Odysseus eventually makes it back to Ithaca, alone and in disguise, after all of this crew have been eaten, squashed, drowned or otherwise rendered life-impaired. Not an easy place to live is ancient Greece. Odysseus proceeds to work a web of deceit and revenge against the suitors that is a wonder to behold. I’ll leave the final climax to you, but I will say that there was no free lunch in Homer’s time and the checks that people wrote with their bad behavior are paid in full.

    This was a fun, fun, fun read. I want to start with that because this is not one of those classics that I think is worth while only to get it under your belt or checked off a list. This was a great story with great characters and in a style that was both “off the usual path” but still easy to follow.

    Going back to my comments on the various versions of the story, I think this may end up being a five star read in one of the more flowery, densely poetic translations where the emotion and passion is just a bit more in your face. I am still thrilled to have listened to the version I did (especially as read by Gandalf) because I now have a firm foundation in the story and can afford to be a bit more adventurous with my next version.

    The tone of the story is heroic and yet very dark. The gods are capricious and temperamental and cause a whole lot of death and devastation for nothing more than a bruised ego or even a whim. The pace of the story is fast and moves quickly with hardly a chance to even catch your breath.

    It is a big epic story...it is THE BIG EPIC STORY...and its reputation is well deserved. A terrific read as well as one of the most important works in the Western canon. Definitely worth your time.

    4.5 stars. HIGHEST POSSIBLE RECOMMENDATION!!

  • Alex
    Jan 12, 2010

    "Okay, so here's what happened. I went out after work with the guys, we went to a perfectly nice bar, this chick was hitting on me but I totally brushed her off. Anyway we ended up getting pretty wrecked, and we might have smoked something in the bathroom, I'm not totally clear on that part, and then this gigantic one-eyed bouncer kicked us out so we somehow ended up at a strip club. The guys were total pigs but not me, seriously, that's not glitter on my neck. And then we totally drove right by

    "Okay, so here's what happened. I went out after work with the guys, we went to a perfectly nice bar, this chick was hitting on me but I totally brushed her off. Anyway we ended up getting pretty wrecked, and we might have smoked something in the bathroom, I'm not totally clear on that part, and then this gigantic one-eyed bouncer kicked us out so we somehow ended up at a strip club. The guys were total pigs but not me, seriously, that's not glitter on my neck. And then we totally drove right by these hookers without even stopping and here I am! Only a little bit late! By the way, I crashed the car and six of the guys are in jail. Ask for Officer Scylla."

    Eh...Homer's right. Odysseus' version is better.

    P.S. Do not try this story at home unless, when you get there, you're still capable of shooting your arrow into a narrow aperture.

    Fagles' translation is excellent - the new standard - and Bernard Knox's enormous introduction is the best Homeric essay I've ever read.

    A good companion read is Hal Roth's

    - maybe not the most eloquent of books, but he retraces Odysseus's voyage (as best he can) in his sailboat, which is a pretty rad idea. I recreated his route as a Google map

    with notes on each of the stops. I also wrote summaries of each book of the Odyssey for a book club discussion; I've pasted them in

    if you're interested.

  • Kalliope
    Apr 16, 2010

    I have read The Odyssey three times. The first was not really a read but more of a listen in the true oral tradition. During embroidery class one of us, young girls on the verge of entering the teens, would read a passage while the rest were all busy with our eyes and fingers, our needles and threads. All learning to be future Penelopes: crafty with their crafts, cultivated, patient and loyal. And all wives.

    The second read was already as an adult. That time I let myself be led by the adventures

    I have read The Odyssey three times. The first was not really a read but more of a listen in the true oral tradition. During embroidery class one of us, young girls on the verge of entering the teens, would read a passage while the rest were all busy with our eyes and fingers, our needles and threads. All learning to be future Penelopes: crafty with their crafts, cultivated, patient and loyal. And all wives.

    The second read was already as an adult. That time I let myself be led by the adventures and imagination of the ‘resourceful’ one. Relishing on the literary rhythm of the hexameters I particularly enjoyed the epithets used by the bards to keep the attention of the listeners...

    was my favourite. By then my embroideries were far away from my mind.

    This third time I read it in preparation for tackling Joyce’s take on Homer. And this time, with a more detached stance, I have been surprised by the structure of the work, the handling of time, and the role of narration. And those aspects I take with me in this third reading.

    Of the twenty-four books, the first four or

    , are preliminary. Acting as an overture they take place not too long before the main action. The following four are another preamble, which take place roughly at the same time as the previous four. The son and the father are getting ready to meet almost at the end of twenty years of their separation with ten at the war and ten coming back.

    Then, and this was my surprise, what I always thought of as the core of the Odyssey: the magical adventures with the Cyclops and Polyphemus, the Lotus Eaters, the Sirens, Circe and the trip to the Underworld, the Laestrygonias, Scylla and Charybdis, the Sun God etc, forming what is called the

    , are a very small part of the book. All of these eventful episodes take place along three years before the seven that Odysseus is amorously trapped by Kalypso. And these are narrated, after the fact, by Odysseus himself in just four more chapters (chapters nine to twelve). So, to what in my mind was the meat of the Odyssey is only 17% of the book. And if one recalls what a great deceiver Odysseus can be, one could always wonder at these fables.

    The rest, the remaining twelve chapters, or half of the book, is the actual Homecoming.

    What I have realized now is that The Odyssey is really about this Homecoming. And that is what we witness directly. All the enchanted adventures are told tales. Odysseus as the bard chanting his own stories in the court of the Phaeacians. A supreme teller since through his fables he has to build the image of the hero that his, possibly dangerous, audience see and do not see. Odysseus as myth and myth-maker. No wonder his epithet of ‘the resourceful one’.

    If the Homecoming had previously stayed in my mind as just an expected end, in which all the invective and riveting elements are drearily put at an end, as if one could already close the door and leave, the one I have read now surprised me by its dramatization. A different craft is at stage.

    The bard enacts the process of Justice performing through an act of Revenge. There is no layered telling of the tale. In the last half of the poem the pace and complexity of the various elements as they converge in the palace to play out divine retribution--in which success does not seem assured, not even to the great Odysseus who knows he has Athena’s support--, has seemed, this third time round, magisterial.

    And it is Penelope the patient, the apprehensive, the one who for twenty years has protected her mistrust with her weaving, the one who, with her threads, offers the needed opportunity that the resourceful hero is at pains to find. When she announces that she is about to end to the tapestry that has become her life, the beggar can then put also an end to the agony.

    Crafted Homecoming.

  • Riku Sayuj
    Sep 23, 2011

    I started this as I

    it is essential reading if I ever want to give a shot at reading

    . I was a bit apprehensive and spent a long time deciding on which translation to choose. Finally it was

    that convinced me to go for the

    ' version. I have no way of judging how good a decision that was.

    I started this as I

    it is essential reading if I ever want to give a shot at reading

    . I was a bit apprehensive and spent a long time deciding on which translation to choose. Finally it was

    that convinced me to go for the

    ' version. I have no way of judging how good a decision that was.

    First up, I enjoyed the book, even the droll parts. It was fun to repeatedly read Odysseus's laments and Telemachus' airy threats about the marauding suitors.

    But now that I have finished it, how do I attempt a review? What can I possibly say about an epic like this that has not been said before? To conclude by saying that it was wonderful would be a disservice. To analyse it would be too self-important and to summarize it would be laughable.

    Nevertheless, I thought of giving a sort of moral summary of the story and then abandoned that. I then considered writing about the many comparisons it evoked it my mind about the Indian epics that I have grown up with, but I felt out of my depth since I have not even read the Iliad yet.

    With all those attempts having failed, I am left with just repeating again that it was much more enjoyable than I expected. That is not to say that it was an epic adventure with no dull moments. No. The characters repeat themselves in dialogue and in attitude, all major dramatic points are revealed in advance as prophesy and every important story event is told again at various points by various characters.

    Even though I avoided it as much as I can, I could not at times avoid contrasting my reading experience with that of the epics I have grown up with and I remember thinking to myself that in comparison this reads like a short story or a novella. Maybe this impression is because I am largely yet unaware of the large mythical structure on which the story is built. I intend to allay that deficiency soon.

    The characters are unforgettable, the situations are legendary and I am truly happy that I finally got around to a full reading of this magnificent epic. It has opened up a new world.

  • Roy Lotz
    May 30, 2013

    To this day, the most interesting research project that I’ve ever done was the very first. It was on the Homeric Question.

    I was a sophomore in college—a student with (unfortunate) literary ambitions who had just decided to major in anthropology. By this point, I had at least tacitly decided that I wanted to be a professor. In my future lay the vast and unexplored ocean of academia. What was the safest vessel to travel into that forbidden wine-dark sea? Research.

    I signed up for a reading project

    To this day, the most interesting research project that I’ve ever done was the very first. It was on the Homeric Question.

    I was a sophomore in college—a student with (unfortunate) literary ambitions who had just decided to major in anthropology. By this point, I had at least tacitly decided that I wanted to be a professor. In my future lay the vast and unexplored ocean of academia. What was the safest vessel to travel into that forbidden wine-dark sea? Research.

    I signed up for a reading project with an anthropology professor. Although I was too naïve to sense it at the time, he was a man thoroughly sick of his job. Lucky for him, he was on the cusp of retirement. So his world-weariness manifested itself as a total, guilt-free indifference to his teaching duties. Maybe that’s why I liked him so much. I envied a man that could apparently care so little about professional advancement. That’s what I wanted.

    In any case, now I had to come up with a research topic. I had just switched into the major, and so had little idea what typical anthropology research projects were like. And because my advisor was so indifferent, I received no guidance from him. The onus lay entirely on me. One night, as I groped half-heartedly through Wikipedia pages, I stumbled on something fascinating, something that I hadn’t even considered before.

    Who is Homer? Nobody knew. Nobody could know. The man—if man he was—was lost to the abyss of time. No trace of him existed. We can’t even pin down what century he lived. And yet, we have these glorious poems—poems at the center of our history, the roots of the Western literary canon. Stories of the Greek Gods had fascinated me since my childhood; Zues and Athena were as familiar as Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf. That the person (or persons) responsible could be so totally lost to history baffled me—intrigued me.

    But I was not majoring in literature or the humanities. I was in anthropology, and so had to do a proper anthropological project. At the very least, I needed an angle.

    Milman Parry and Albert Lord duly provided this angle. The two men were classicists—scholars of ancient Greece. But instead of staying in their musty offices reading dusty manuscripts, they did something no classicist had done before: they attempted to answer the Homeric question with

    .

    At the time (and perhaps now?) a vibrant oral tradition existed in Serbo-Croatia. Oral poets (

    , they’re called there) would tell massive stories at public gatherings, some stories even approaching the length of the Homeric poems. But what was most fascinating was that these stories were apparently improvised.

    In our decadent culture, we have a warped idea of improvisation. Many of us believe improvisation to be the spontaneous outflowing of creative energies, manifesting themselves in something totally new. Like God shaping the Earth out of the infinite void, these imaginary improvisers shape their art from nothing whatsoever. Unfortunately, this never happens.

    Whether you’re a jazz saxophonist playing on a Coltrane tune, a salesperson dealing with a new client, or an oral bard telling a tale, improvisation is done via a playful recombining of preexisting, formulaic elements. This was Milman and Parry’s great discovery. By carefully transcribing hundreds of these Serbo-Croation poems, they discovered that—although a single poem may vary from person to person, place to place, or performance to performance—the variation took place within predictable boundaries.

    The poet’s brains were full of stock-phrases (“when dawn with her rose-red fingers shone once more”), common epithets (“much-enduring Odysseus”), and otherwise formulaic verses that allowed them to quickly put together their poems. Individual scenes, in turn, also followed stereotypical outlines—feasts, banquets, catalogues of forces, battles, athletic contests, etc. Of course, this is not to say that the poet was not original. Rather, it is to say that they are just as original as John Coltrane or Charlie Parker—individuals working within a tradition. These formulas and stereotypical scenes were the raw material with which the poet worked. They allowed him to compose material quickly enough to keep up the performance, and not break his rhythm.

    But could poems as long as

    and

    come wholly from an oral tradition? It seems improbable: it would take multiple days to recite, and the bard would have to pick up where he left off. But Milman and Parry, during their fieldwork, managed to put our fears at rest. They found a singer that could (and did) compose poems equal in length to Homer’s. (I actually read one. It’s called

    , and was recited by a poet named Avdo. It’s no

    , but still entertaining.)

    All this is impressive, but one question remained: how could the oral poems get on paper? Did an oral poet—Homer, presumably—learn to write, and copy it down? Not possible, says Alfred Lord, in his book

    . According to him, once a person becomes literate, the frame of mind required to learn the art of oral poetry cannot be achieved. A literate person thinks of language in an entirely different way as a non-literate one, and so the poems couldn’t have been written by a literate poet who had learned from his oral predecessors.

    According to Lord, this left only one option: Homer must have been a master oral poet, and his poems must have been transcribed by someone else. (This is how the aforementioned poem by Avdo was taken down by the researchers.) At the time, this struck me as perfectly likely—indeed, almost certain. But the more I think about it, the less I can imagine an oral poet submitting himself to sit with a scribe, writing in the cumbersome Linear B script, for the dozens and dozens of hours it would have taken to transcribe these poems. It’s possible, but seems unlikely.

    But according to Ruth Finnegan, Alfred Lord’s insistence that literacy destroys the capacity to improvise poems is mistaken. An anthropologist, Finnegan found many cases in Africa of semi-literate or fully literate people who remained capable of improvising poetry. So it’s at least equally possible that Homer was an oral poet who learned to read, and then decided to commit the poems to paper (or whatever they were writing on back then).

    I submit this longwinded overview of the Homeric Question because, despite my usual arrogance, I cannot even imagine writing a ‘review’ for this poem. I feel like that would be equivalent to ‘reviewing’ one’s own father and mother. For me, and everyone alive in the Western world today,

    is flesh of my flesh, blood of my blood. Marvelously sophisticated, fantastically exciting, it is the alpha and omega of our tradition. From Homer we sprang, and unto Homer shall we return.

    [

    I'd also like to add that this time, my third or forth time through the poem, I decided to go through it via audiobook. Lucky for me, the Fagles translation (a nice one if you're looking for readability) is available as an audiobook, narrated by the great Sir Ian McKellen. It was a wonderful experience, not only because Sir Ian has such a beautiful voice (he's Gandalf, after all), but because hearing it

    rather than reading it recreated, however dimly, the original experience of the poem: as a performance. I highly recommend it.]

  • Pink
    Mar 04, 2014

    Where do you start with a book such as this? An epic tale that has been around for almost three thousand years. I have no idea. What I do know is that I read it and loved it. I had little foreknowledge of the story and I haven't looked into the meanings or history too deeply. Instead I've tried to appreciate the story on it's own merits, getting swept away like Odysseus on the sea. There were quiet contemplative events and dramatic battles, personal struggles and wider societal issues. Gods and

    Where do you start with a book such as this? An epic tale that has been around for almost three thousand years. I have no idea. What I do know is that I read it and loved it. I had little foreknowledge of the story and I haven't looked into the meanings or history too deeply. Instead I've tried to appreciate the story on it's own merits, getting swept away like Odysseus on the sea. There were quiet contemplative events and dramatic battles, personal struggles and wider societal issues. Gods and heroes, kings and queens, nymphs and cyclops, a lot of deceptive weaving and a city full of ill fated suitors, what more could you want?

  • Renato Magalhães Rocha
    Apr 29, 2014

    It's impossible not to smile when you start reading such a classic and, after only the first few pages, you realize and completely understand why it's regarded as one of the most important works in literature. I'm always a little anxious when I tackle such important and renowned books for being afraid of not comprehending or loving them -

    and

    , for example - as they seem to deserve. Not that I'm obligated to like them, but I always feel such buzz comes for a reason and I

    It's impossible not to smile when you start reading such a classic and, after only the first few pages, you realize and completely understand why it's regarded as one of the most important works in literature. I'm always a little anxious when I tackle such important and renowned books for being afraid of not comprehending or loving them -

    and

    , for example - as they seem to deserve. Not that I'm obligated to like them, but I always feel such buzz comes for a reason and I try to at least find out why. With

    , once again, I find that the ones who have read it before me were right: it's amazing.

    I didn't have plans to read

    any time soon - I've never devoted much time to epic poems and this one has more than 12,000 verses -, but because I've been eying

    on my shelves for quite some time, I decided to prepare myself for it and read about Odysseus with a great group here on Goodreads. To call Homer's book simply "a preparation" for Joyce's work is now not only unfair, but also absurd to me. However, I'm glad that I finally read it, whatever the reason behind it was.

    tells the story of Odysseus's (Ulysses) journey back to his home Ithaca to return to his wife Penelope and son Telemachus after twenty years of absence. Our hero left his home to fight in the Trojan War - that alone lasted ten years - and encountered too many obstacles that kept him away for another ten years. Back in Ithaca, people had already lost hope that he could still be alive and his wife was being courted by suitors who wanted to marry her.

    Alongside the emotional and heartfelt story, what grabbed my attention here was the poem's style and structure. For a work that's believed to have been written in the 8th century BC, its quality and refinement certainly amazed me. Some of the story is told through flashbacks, some of it is told through different narrators and its narratives are non-linear, so I was positively surprised.

    I could try to write an analysis about the recurring themes on the book - vengeance, spiritual growth, hospitality - or try to decipher its symbolism - much has been written about Odysseus's bow, Laertes's shroud, the sea -, but I feel I would fail and wouldn't be able to do it in a deep level, especially after having read the great introduction and notes written by Bernard Knox.

    What kept me away from Homer's work was the fear that it would be too dense and heavy on mythology - it is mythological, of course -, making it hard for me to understand it. Although labored, the narrative is quite simple and easy to follow. Knox's notes were a great companion to fill in the details I needed to comprehend the book in a deeper level.

    Rating: it's my belief that a great book not only satisfy your expectations, but also inspire you to delve further into its writer's other works, similar subjects or even other books from the same time period.

    raised my interest about Greek mythology and

    , so I guess it served its purpose with high colors. Because of that, 5 glowing and beautiful stars.

  • [P]
    Aug 03, 2015

    My parents split when I was very young. The arrangement they made between them was that my brother and I would spend the weekends with our father, but would live, during the week, with my mother. One winter, when I was ten years old, it started to snow heavily and gave no indication of stopping any time soon. It was a Sunday morning and my brother and I were due to leave dad’s and return to what, for us, was home. The snow, however, had other ideas.

    To go home we had to catch two buses. The first

    My parents split when I was very young. The arrangement they made between them was that my brother and I would spend the weekends with our father, but would live, during the week, with my mother. One winter, when I was ten years old, it started to snow heavily and gave no indication of stopping any time soon. It was a Sunday morning and my brother and I were due to leave dad’s and return to what, for us, was home. The snow, however, had other ideas.

    To go home we had to catch two buses. The first was running late, but, otherwise, the ride, although slow, was pretty uneventful. We arrived in the centre of Sheffield sometime around one o’clock. It was then that things started to go awry. At the stop where we would usually catch the next bus, which was to take us into Rotherham, there was one already waiting. It did not, however, give the appearance of preparing to go anywhere; the engine was off and the driver was stood outside, smoking a cigarette. Being ten years old I did not want to ask the driver what was happening but I heard another potential passenger enquire as to when we would be allowed to board. ‘You won’t’ said the driver. ‘All buses have been cancelled due to the snow. I’m returning to the depot.’

    At this a strange kind of panic overcame me. My brother and I were halfway between my mother’s and my dad’s, with no phone and our fare the only money in our pockets. Typically, my brother wanted to wait it out. The buses would start running again soon, he said. But I knew that wasn’t the case. The snow had settled, and heavy spidery flakes were still bombing the city. Waiting would only make it harder to walk; and walking, I knew, was inevitable.

    To return to dad’s was, relatively speaking, easier; it was closer and the route was straightforward; but, as when after the split, when we were asked which parent we wanted to live with, we instinctively felt drawn to our mother, despite the inevitable hardships. And so, our decision made, we set off through the snow in the direction of home, following the route the bus would have taken. Yet time and distance, we found, are deceptive. What had taken 25 minutes on a bus, would, we thought, only take us an hour. But the bus wasn’t a young child; it wasn’t cold and tired and scared. On the bus, home had always seemed close, just around the next corner; but as we mashed through the snow it seemed impossible, unreachable; it seemed, after a couple of hours, as though it no longer existed; nothing existed, except the snow, which is all we could see.

    Two or three times my brother fell down, and I, almost without stopping, dragged him to his feet, shouting encouragement into the snow. At some point night fell too; and still the heavy spidery flakes came down, punctuating the darkness. By this stage I could not have said why I was doing what I was doing; instinct had kicked in; one foot followed the other, regardless. I remember coming to a distinctive spot, a part of the journey that, by bus, always felt significant, because it meant only another five or ten minutes until we reached home. But on foot, mashing through thick boot-clinging snow, that last leg, which was up hill, seemed monstrous.

    Eventually we made it, of course. As we descended the hill on the other side we were met by my mother and her then boyfriend, who, we were told, could not bear to wait any longer and had started to walk to meet us on the way. And there it was: home; which is, I found, not a physical building, but the look in my mother’s eyes as she ran to greet us.

    [Odysseus in the Cave of Polyphemus by Jacob Jordaens]

    The point of this story is to illustrate how universal great literature is, for whenever I think back to that day, which is something that I do quite often, I am immediately reminded of The Odyssey, Homer’s immortal poem. My brother and I did not encounter any Sirens, or Lotus Eaters or Cyclops, but our walk through the snow was, in principle, a fight to get home, to overcome adversity and return to the familiar and comfortable. And, on the most basic level, this is just what The Odyssey is about. Following the war at Troy, as he sought to return to Ithica, to his wife and son, Odysseus had stumbled from one disastrous situation to the next, until the great warrior found himself entrapped on an island for seven years by Calypso, a Goddess. Eventually, with the help of Pallas Athena, he is allowed to leave; and so continues his famous, epic quest.

    It may seem like an unusual thing to say about epic poetry, but there is a tremendous amount of dumb fun to be had when reading The Odyssey. The tricking of Polyphemus – who Odysseus gets drunk and subsequently blinds – is probably the most famous episode, but I also particularly enjoyed the beautiful witch Circe, who turns a number of the ship’s crew into pigs. To the modern reader, The Odyssey is a fantasy, having much in common with something like The Tempest or A Midsummer’s Night Dream or even fairytales; indeed, to highlight a more recent example, one can draw a number of parallels between Homer’s work and the Lord of the Rings saga. In this way, I would say that it has a broader appeal, is easier to digest, and certainly contains greater variety, than the brutal, relentless Iliad.

    Despite the weird creatures, the faraway lands, the quest, and the prominence of a great hero, the heart of The Odyssey is conventional and domestic, in that it is concerned with values such as love and friendship and the importance of family. Again, this is in contrast to The Iliad, where honour and death and war are the focus. When Telemachus, Odysseus’ son, goes in search of news of his father he is given hospitality from a number of Odysseus’ friends, and their sons and daughters and wives, who are willing to do all they can to help him. Penelope, meanwhile, is, even after a number of years, and not knowing whether her husband is alive or dead, still resisting the suitors who have almost taken over her house. In fact, she even plays a trick on them, promising to take a new husband only after she has finished weaving a shroud, while unpicking it each night to make sure that she never does.

    One thing I find refreshing about Greek myths, and by extension Homer’s work, is that women play such a strong role. It’s funny how hundreds of years later women would be seen as delicate, incapable creatures who need protecting by being locked up at home, and yet here their position, and personalities, are not dissimilar to the men’s. For example, Goddesses are worshipped and invoked just as much as God’s, and it is not the case that these Goddesses are concerned with flower arranging and children, they get their hands dirty, intervening and interacting with what is happening on earth, be that war or whatever. In fact, although The Odyssey is certainly Odysseus’ story [the clue is in the title], the second most important character is the grey-eyed Pallas Athena. Moreover, as noted earlier, Penelope, although upset that her husband is lost or dead, is no sap, while, conversely, the mighty Odysseus frequently bursts into tears.

    If you have read any of my reviews you will likely know that, when approaching translated literature, choosing the best translation is, for me, of paramount importance; so much so that there are books that I haven’t enjoyed in one translation, and later really liked in another. The question of which translation one should read becomes particularly critical when one is concerned with poetry. Part of me, I must admit, is resistant to the idea of translated poetry altogether, because I just cannot see how it can possibly bear any great or significant resemblance to the original. Yet I think this is less of a danger with epic, narrative poetry; with something like The Odyssey, the translator has a story to tell, and as long as he or she tells it faithfully they have done at least half the job right.

    For The Iliad I chose Robert Fagles’ critically acclaimed version. The reason for this is that I felt that his robust [you might uncharitably call it inelegant] style suited the material. I did, however, cringe frequently at some of his phrasing and word choices, which were far too modern for my taste. Therefore, for The Odyssey I went with Robert Fitzgerald, who, I believe, had a stronger ear for poetry and a more subtle touch. Yet, having said that, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend Fitzgerald’s rendering to the first time reader of Homer’s work. I think the popularity of Fagles’ translations has much to do with how accessible they are; the truth is that most people don’t care about the use of modern language in an ancient Greek text; in fact, the average reader would likely prefer language that is recognisable to them.

    In comparison, Firtzgerald’s rendering is more of a challenge. Don’t get me wrong, his work is still readable and is, for the most part, easy enough to get a handle on, but some of his choices are potentially alienating or disorientating. For example, character and place names are spelt in a way that most of us will not recognise [Calypso is Kalypso, Circe is Kirke, Ithica is Ithika etc]. In most cases, deciphering these is, as you call tell by my examples, not especially difficult, but occasionally the spellings are outright baffling. The worst I can recall is Sirens, which in Fitzgerald’s version is Seirenes. When one encounters something like this, one is, unfortunately, taken out of the text as you try and work out what or whom exactly we are dealing with.

    However, as previously hinted, the strength of his version is that it stands up as poetry. I can’t, of course, say that it is the best or most successful version, not having read them all, but it is consistently smooth, beautiful and stirring. There’s one line in it, which is repeated throughout the text, about the dawn’s ‘finger tips of rose,’ that I was particularly taken with, and which, moreover, I have seen elsewhere translated in such disappointing and clunky ways.

    [Odysseus and the Sirens by Herbert James Draper]

    Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the poem is the sophisticated structure. I expected that it would be episodic, and it is, but I did not anticipate a non-linear narrative. The Odyssey begins in media res, with a significant proportion of the action already in the past. As we enter the story, Odysseus has been missing for many years, the suitors are surrounding his house in an effort to take his wife, and his son is about to begin his own journey for news of his father. Therefore, for quite some time the main character is off-stage, so to speak. When he does appear, he spends much of his time recounting the details of his life following the war in Troy. So, we only have access to the most exciting, and the most famous, episodes as flashbacks.

    What this highlights is the important role that oral story-telling plays in the text. Throughout, Odysseus and many other characters tell tales, be they fictional or true, as a way or bonding or sharing information or entertaining each other, in the same way that we do now. I have always found this interesting, this seemingly universal, immortal desire to give voice to, and share, stories with other people. It is something, as the rambling introductions to my reviews attest, that I feel compelled to do myself. At one stage, Athena turns Odysseus into a beggar, and the hero creates for him an entire history, fleshing out and breathing life into the character he is playing. So there you have it: a book that shouts loudly about home and family and so on, but which, in a more subtle fashion, is equally concerned with, as well as being itself an example of, the joy and importance of communication and human interaction.

  • Glenn Russell
    Nov 27, 2015

    Ever since I first read Homer’s Odyssey and the adventures of Odysseus back in my school days, three of his adventures have fired my imagination: The Lotus Eaters, The Cyclops and the Sirens, most especially the Sirens. I just did revisit these sections of this Greek epic and my imagination was set aflame yet again. How much, you ask? I’d like to share this microfiction of mine published a number of years ago:

    The Sirens

    This happened back in those days when I was a member of an experimental perfo

    Ever since I first read Homer’s Odyssey and the adventures of Odysseus back in my school days, three of his adventures have fired my imagination: The Lotus Eaters, The Cyclops and the Sirens, most especially the Sirens. I just did revisit these sections of this Greek epic and my imagination was set aflame yet again. How much, you ask? I’d like to share this microfiction of mine published a number of years ago:

    The Sirens

    This happened back in those days when I was a member of an experimental performing-arts troupe down in Greenwich Village. We would read poetry, dance and act out avant-garde plays in our dilapidated little theater. For a modest charge people could come in and watch for as long as they wanted.

    Somehow, a business executive who worked downtown in the financial district heard of what we were doing and spoke with our director about an act he has all worked out but needed a supporting cast and that he would pay handsomely if we went along with him.

    Well, experimental is experimental and if we were going to be well paid we had nothing to lose. The first thing he did was pass out our costumes. In addition to himself, he had parts for three men and three women. The play we were to perform was so simple we didn’t even need a written script. He was to be Odysseus from Homer’s epic and three men would be his sailors. As for the women, we would be the singing Sirens.

    So, after he changed – quite a sight in a loincloth, being gray-haired, jowly, pasty-skinned and potbellied – we went on stage and he told the sailors how no man has ever heard the hypnotic songs of the Sirens and lived to tell the tale but he, mighty Odysseus, would be the first. He instructed the sailors to tie him to the ship’s mast. They used one of the building’s pillars and when he cried out as the Sirens sang their song the sailors, who had wax in their ears, were to bind him to the mast even tighter.

    Meanwhile, three of us ladies were on stage as the Sirens, in costume, bare-breasted and outfitted with wings. We began singing a sweet, lilting melody. Mike – that was the businessman’s name – started screaming and the sailors tightened the ropes that bound him. The sailors were glad their ears were plugged as Mike screamed for nearly half an hour.

    When the ship passed out of earshot of the Sirens, the sailors unbound mighty Odysseus and he collapsed on our makeshift stage, a mass of exhausted middle-aged flesh. The audience applauded, even cheered and we continued our performance of Odysseus and the Sirens every night for more than a week. Then one night Mike outdid himself. His blue eyes bulged, the veins in his neck popped and his face turned a deeper blood-scarlet than ever before. And what I feared might happen, did happen – Mike had a heart attack. We had to interrupt our performance and call an ambulance.

    We all thought that was the end of our dealing with Mike aka Odysseus until our director received a call from the hospital. Mike told her he was going to be just fine and would be back on stage next week. We called a meeting and everyone agreed that we would suggest Mike seek psychiatric help but if he insists on playing Odysseus, he will have to take his act elsewhere.

  • ❁ بــدريــه ❁
    Jan 01, 2016

    السلام عليكم أيها المحاربون !

    السلام ! السلام !

    قبل أن تجري دماؤكم أنهارًا

    ********** ********** **********

    الأوديسة طغى فيها روح الأنثوية الرقيقة العذبة ، مستمدة من

    " بنلوب " زوجة أوديسيوس و من " منيرڤا " ربة الحكمة و

    حارسة أوديسيوس

    تبدأ الملحمة بنهاية حصار طروادة وبدء عودة المحاربين

    إلى بيوتهم، لكن بسبب غضب إله البحر بوسيدون على

    أوليس ، تمتلئ رحلته بالمشاكل التي يضعها في طريقه

    بوسيدون أو بسبب تهور بحارته . يبقى في رحلته مدة

    عشر سنوات يواجه خلالها الكثير من المخاطر، وطوال

    هذه الفترة تبقى زوجت

    السلام عليكم أيها المحاربون !

    السلام ! السلام !

    قبل أن تجري دماؤكم أنهارًا

    ********** ********** **********

    الأوديسة طغى فيها روح الأنثوية الرقيقة العذبة ، مستمدة من

    " بنلوب " زوجة أوديسيوس و من " منيرڤا " ربة الحكمة و

    حارسة أوديسيوس

    تبدأ الملحمة بنهاية حصار طروادة وبدء عودة المحاربين

    إلى بيوتهم، لكن بسبب غضب إله البحر بوسيدون على

    أوليس ، تمتلئ رحلته بالمشاكل التي يضعها في طريقه

    بوسيدون أو بسبب تهور بحارته . يبقى في رحلته مدة

    عشر سنوات يواجه خلالها الكثير من المخاطر، وطوال

    هذه الفترة تبقى زوجته بينلوب بانتظاره ، ممتنعة عن الزواج

    رغم العروض الكثيرة التي تتلقاها ، خاصة بعد

    وصول أغلب المحاربين في حرب طروادة ما عدا زوجها

    تنتهي الملحمة بوصوله إلى إيثاكا وقيامه بالانتقام من

    الذين اضطهدوا زوجته بتلك الفترة .

    وبهكذا اكتملت لوحة ملحمة الإلياذة ..

    و التي زادها ترجمة دريني خشبة جمالًا

    ********** ********** **********

    تغن يا شاعر أولمب !

    ولترسل من جنتك نغمة تنتظم الأفلاك، ورنة تجلجل في الأفق

    وآهة تزلزل قلوب الجبارين !