By the way, I crashed the car and six of the guys are in jail. Ask for Officer Scylla. Homer's right. Odysseus' version is better. 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 We Followed Odysseus - 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 here, 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 the comments thread below, if you're interested.
The Odyssey by Homer
View all 44 comments. 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.
Relishing on the literary rhythm of the hexameters I particularly enjoyed the epithets used by the bards to keep the attention of the listeners Dawn of the rosy fingers was my favourite. By then my embroideries were far away from my mind. 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 Telemachiad , 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 Apologoi , 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. 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.
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.
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. View all 39 comments. I just did revisit these sections of this Greek epic and my imagination was set aflame yet again.
How much, you ask? 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.
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. 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.
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.
View all 24 comments. But how can I, a mere mortal, do justice to the most famous epic poem ever written? An encounter with a work of this magnitude should be shared, rather than reviewed. Homer is the great, great, great recurring grand-daddy of modern literature and this colossus is as immortal as the gods within it. And what a tale this must have been, way back in the 8th century BC.
‘The Odyssey’ and the Other - The Atlantic
Then, it was sung, rather than read, and I guess the first to bear witness must have been jigging about in their togas with unbridled excitement. My copy was transcribed to a Kindle, rather than papyri, and translated by none other than the genius that was Alexander Pope yep, I went old school on this. Such an amazing story, overflowing with an abundance of adventure. Poor Odysseus, having battled treacherous seas, wrathful gods, enchanting sirens and a Cyclops, then has to put up with big bad Poseidon weighing in with some nautical muscle and shipwrecking his boat!
Plagued by setback after setback, the journey home takes TEN gruelling years to complete! This is by no means a page-turner and some background knowledge is required to appreciate the finer points. Homer the poet, not the cartoon character has fuelled the imagination of countless authors throughout the centuries, and therefore it would be sacrilege for me to award anything less than five heroic stars.
View all 57 comments. I want to be saying, after multiple different revisions: This is the best I can get toward the truth. This new translation by Emily Wilson reads swiftly, smoothly, and feels contemporary. This exciting new translation will surprise you, and send you to compare certain passages with earlier translations. Wilson reminds us what a ripping good yarn this story is, and removes any barriers to understanding. We can come to it with our current sensibility and find in it all kinds of foretelling and parallels with life today, and perhaps we even see the genesis of our own core morality, a morality that feels inexplicably learned.
Related The Odyssey
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