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The Odyssey by Homer

I thought I had read The Odyssey when I was in high school.  Having just finished it, I realize that I knew the plot and the various exciting adventures of Odysseus from reading tons of mythology when I was a kid, but I had never actually read the epic itself.

The version I listened to was translated by Robert Fagles (who was the translator for the Aeneid we used in my Latin language class) and was read by Ian McKellen.  The translation was smooth and very readable, but yet still seemed to have the classical verse feel.  I generally dislike reading these classics in verse form since the line breaks interrupt the flow of the thought for me; it is intensely worse if in rhyming verse (which this was not).  But having GANDALF read the lines, easily tripping from his tongue, was wonderful.

Back to the content, a few thoughts:

  • The Telemachus’ frame story was much more rich and lengthy than I had imagined.
  • Many times, Homer alludes to the actions of the gods and goddesses in ways that could easily be attributed to chance, to natural events, and to “inspiration”.  I found this to be very charming.  I was also  intrigued by the repeated references to Athena transforming Odysseus, Laertes, and Telemachus into taller, more robust, more noble men.
  • One tiresome image was the repetition the break of day as “Dawn with her rosy fingers”.  I suppose that this might be a literary devise when reciting the epic, but its unvarying wording became grating a bit.
  • The actual adventures were rather short episodes in the story:  Calypso, Circe, the Lotus-Eaters, the Cyclops Polyphemus, the winds of Aeolus, the Sirens, and Scylla and Charybdis.  The vast share of the story is about Telemachus’s search for news of his father and the events after Odysseus lands on his home shores of Ithaca.
  • My image of Odysseus’ vaunted loyalty to his wife and his neverending desire to return to her was a bit tarnished, since he clearly has a physical relationship with Calypso and Circe (albeit pressed to it by the power of these women) and his untrusting testing of Penelope.
  • I was enthralled by the cast of commoners (the pig herder, the housekeeper) who truly exemplify some of the most noble character in the book.  I wonder if this was unusual for the time period?
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