Homer’s The Odyssey

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

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4 Responses to Homer’s The Odyssey

  1. Violet says:

    Fagles’ translation is lovely, isn’t it? I keep dipping in and out of The Odyssey. I think it’s one of those books that stays with you forever.

    • Fagles is incredible. I’m planning to read his translation of The Aeneid sometime this year, and I’m hoping to have time to compare some passages with the original Latin to further evaluate him as a translator, which I couldn’t do with The Odyssey or The Iliad since I don’t know any Greek.

      Like you, I’ve been rereading passages since I’ve finished it. I can’t seem to stop reading it!

  2. ellen says:

    sometimes i worry that “the odyssey” is more present in my mind because of the wishbone episode than the parts i read during high school. whatever, it doesn’t matter as long as i want to read it…right? and thanks for mentioning the translation you read – i was reading along wondering if you would get to that part. i’m living abroad and can’t get the fagles translation, so i think i’ll hold off until i can. it sounds like it’s worth waiting.

    • Haha! I have the same feeling with Wishbone adaptations and also with “dumbed-down” versions of classics for children. Sometimes I think I’ve read something, and it turns out I’ve read an abridged, illustrated version when I was a kid.

      Definitely try to get a hold of the Fagles translation! I haven’t looked to much at any others, but his is so readable and modern. I’m not sure where you are abroad, but try the Book Depository, they ship to a lot of countries, with free shipping!

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