The Odyssey

The Odyssey

Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turnsdriven time and again off course, once he had plunderedthe hallowed heights of Troy.So begins Robert Fagles' magnificent translation of the Odyssey, which Jasper Griffin in The New York Times Review of Books hails as "a distinguished achievement."If the Iliad is the world's greatest war epic, then the Odyssey is liter...

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Title:The Odyssey
Author:Homer
Rating:
Edition Language:English

The Odyssey Reviews

  • Alex

    "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

    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.

  • Glenn Russell

    Ever since I first read Homer’s epic describing the adventures of Odysseus back in my school days, three of those adventures 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? Here is my microfiction as a tribute to the great poet:

    THE SIRENS

    This happened back in those days when I was a member of an experimental performing-arts troupe d

    Ever since I first read Homer’s epic describing the adventures of Odysseus back in my school days, three of those adventures 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? Here is my microfiction as a tribute to the great poet:

    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.

  • Stephen

    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!!

  • Ana

    Oh Odysseus, how I love thee.. But, bro, you need to get a grip.

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