The Odyssey by Homer
Having been an avid reader of classical literature for many years, it seemed the right time to tackle Homer. I already knew the story of the Trojan War, and to be quite honest, was prepared to be bored to tears by The Iliad. A 600 page poem about a 3000 year old war may not sound very appealing, but I was pleasantly surprised. The Iliad offers drama, adventure, suspense, and humor. It turned out to be both entertaining and amusing.
So even though I didn’t know what to expect of The Odyssey, after completing The Iliad, I was less apprehensive. After all, the war is now over. The Greek hero Odysseus is on his way home to his wife and family… so perhaps there will be a happy ending. But once again, I was in for a surprise.
The Odyssey is not really a continuation of The Iliad. Several years have elapsed since the Trojan War ended and most of the characters of The Iliad are dead… though some do reappear briefly in spiritual form along with many of the immortal Gods and Goddesses.
And upon digging in a little deeper, there is reason to believe that “Homer” could have merely been a pen name used by two different authors. Authorities on the subject can cite major similarities in The Iliad and The Odyssey, but as a Greek literature novice, I noticed several obvious differences.
While The Iliad had a serious plot and masterful character development, it came across as a somewhat believable story of real people who were very superstitious. Then add the important element of humor in the mythical figures. The Odyssey appeared to be an entirely different style. It’s a series of dramatic adventures- each one more outlandish than the last- like a book of Aesop fairytales; giants, cannibals, a beautiful immortal nymph holding Odysseus hostage, a trip to the dark underworld of death, monsters, men turned into pigs, and premonitions and threats from various immortals. None of it believable in any sense of the imagination… and all of it lacking any sense of humor. So much of it was dry, and yes… boring. But then, is any sequel ever as good as the original?
The importance of this piece of literature however, cannot be ignored. It may be silly, childish, and superficial in a comic-book-hero kind of way, but it is truly original… a benchmark that laid the foundation for all further fiction. What must the readers have thought 2000 years ago to discover this colorful and adventurous tale? I cannot even imagine.
Regarding the translation, I will repeat what I said in my review of The Ilaid: I did research the various translations. Opinions vary on poetry versus prose, Latin/Roman based names versus the traditional Greek. Seeming to have gotten lucky, I already had on my library shelf The Iliad and The Odyssey translated by Robert Fitzgerald. His 20th century translation- while not rhyming- is smooth, lyrical, and poetic. It’s clear and modern without altering the feel of reading a traditional classic. Fitzgerald uses the Greek version in translating names… Kalypso instead of Calypso, Kirke instead of Circe, Aias instead of Ajax, etc, etc. which coincided nicely with my edition of Robert Graves book The Greek Myths which is also translated using the traditional Greek names.
All said, I found the experience of reading The Iliad and The Odyssey educational, challenging, and somewhat entertaining. However, I didn’t care for it sufficiently to re-study the different translations. One reading was enough!
Rated 4 Stars
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