Odysseus. There was a man, or was he all a dream? 19.363
So. I’ve been finished with The Odyssey for weeks. But I keep thinking, can you ever really be finished with The Odyssey? Not only because of its impact on literature, but because Odysseus’s story seems so eternal, to me. It’s pervasive both in my mind and in culture.
I mistakenly believed I’d read the entire work in high school, but I now realize I’d only read selections, I remember the Circe and Scylla and Charybdis portions well. So I’d had a taste in high school, but with a focus on Odysseus’s adventures. Reading the entire work, I felt more deeply for his family, Telemachus his son and Penelope his wife. The precarious situation they’d been placed in, and their undying loyalty to their king.
Compared to The Iliad, which I read last year, The Odyssey seems more human to me, more concerned with the actions and desires of people. One of my favorite parts of The Iliad was the interferences of the gods, inserting their own agendas, helping out their favorite warriors, even to the point of pleading on their behalves. This was present in The Odyssey, but to a lesser extent, mainly Athena aiding her Odysseus, her favorite, Poseidon raging against Odysseus, and the occasional thunderbolt from Zeus. The focus is more on individual motivations, Odysseus’s search for home, Telemachus’s search for his father.
None of this is to downplay his adventures, which are fun and incredible. There is a reason Odysseus’s wit and cleverness are famous.
The structure is also fascinating, beginning towards the end of the linear story and Odysseus himself telling of his adventures and hardships towards the middle.
There is an incredible amount of thoughts regarding The Odyssey rumbling around in my head, thoughts I’m sure many, many scholars have already expounded on.
I should mention I read the Robert Fagles translation, and I recommend his translation highly, as well as for The Iliad. And a few quotes for the end:
Penelope on Odysseus’s return:
I’m stunned with wonder,
powerless. Cannot speak to him, ask him questions,
look him in the eyes . . . But if he is truly
Odysseus, home at last, make no mistake:
we two will know each other, even better–
we two have secret signs,
known to us both but hidden from the world.” 23.119-25
And my favorite, Odysseus’s mother Anticleia when he is visiting the underworld:
…this is just the way of mortals when we die.
Sinews no longer bind the flesh and bones together—
the fire in all its fury burns the body down to ashes
once life slips from the white bones, and the spirit,
rustling, flitters away…flown like a dream.
But you must long for the daylight. 11.249-54