|About the Book|
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...HOLY SHIT SNACKS these Greeks were a violent bunch. Case in point:...they hauled him out through the doorway into the court,lopped his nose and ears with a ruthless knife,tore his genitals out for the dogs to eat rawand in manic fury hacked off hands and feet.then once they’d washed their own hands and feetthey went inside again to join odysseus.their work was done here now.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...thats 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, Im pretty sure its overall importance among the classics would be significantly reduced. Thankfully, there is no risk of that.A NOTE ON THE TEXTBefore 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 Robert Fagles 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 Sir Ian McKellen which was an amazing experience and one I HIGHLY RECOMMEND.In addition to the Fagles version, I also own the Alexander Pope translation as part of my Easton Press collection of The 100 Greatest Books Ever Written. 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.Then forth they led [______], and beganTheir bloody work- they lopp’d away the man,Morsel for dogs! then trimm’d with brazen shearsThe wretch, and shorten’d of his nose and ears-His hands and feet last felt the cruel steel-He roar’d, and torments gave his soul to hell.They wash, and to Ulysses take their way:So ends the bloody business of the day.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, Im saying that you should make sure you find a translation that works for you. That’s my two or three cents.THE STORYSo 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 Amazing Race, back on Ithaca we’ve got a full-fledged version of the Bachelorette 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.MY THOUGHTSThis 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!!