The Odyssey

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The Odyssey – Homer

I had to study this text for my Classical and Biblical module last year and whilst it’s not the sort of material I usually blog about, I thought I’d write a post about it because I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it, and it’s actually a lot more accessible than most people think. The Odyssey tells the story of the Greek hero Odysseus as he tries to return home to Ithaca after the Trojan War, an epic journey that takes him ten years. Back home, he is presumed dead and his wife and queen, Penelope, is being inundated with marriage proposals from suitors, who are also taking advantage of the palace’s hospitality.

I assumed that The Odyssey would be boring and difficult to read, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. I had the Oxford World Classics edition, which is translated into prose, and so the poem reads almost like a novel. In fact, The Odyssey is often cited as one of the most significant precursors to the novel. The timeframe of the story is not linear and there are frame narratives along the way, so it’s necessary to pay close attention to that to avoid getting confused, but other than that I really wouldn’t describe The Odyssey as difficult to read. And it’s far from boring; there’s romance and adventure aplenty as Odysseus fights a cyclops, beds various goddesses and flirts with a young princess (whilst expecting his wife to remain faithful to him, even though she’s 99% sure he’s dead- double standards. But it’s Ancient Greece, what can you do?).

As well as being pleasurable, The Odyssey is also a great way to get to grips with various classical myths and legends, such as Scylla the Sea Monster and Clytemnestra’s murder of Agamemnon. I’ve always been interested in Greek myths, so this was a great way to learn more- some of the stories are incredibly juicy. Parts of it are also very modern and it’s an interesting reflection of Greek life, culture and society if you’re interested in history!

So if you’re interested in classical literature/myth and legend, fancy something a bit different or just want to sound well-read, I’d definitely recommend The Odyssey to you. It’s an easier read than The Iliad and is certainly entertaining, plus a prose translation means it’s not difficult to read if you’re new to classics and poetry. It’s a beautifully written work and is one of the oldest in the Western cannon. I certainly prefer it to The Aeneid, which I’d only recommend if you’re very interested in classics and history as it’s drier and more political, whilst The Odyssey is more sensual and entertaining. Plus, you can get a free version on the Kindle, so you’ve got nothing to lose (although I really do recommend the Oxford World Classics edition). Happy reading!

Have YOU read The Odyssey? What did you think? Please let me know in a comment!

Currently reading…

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Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

This is just a quick post about what I’m currently reading! Some of you may know Eugenides because he has won the Pulitzer Prize, others because of his other successful novel, The Virgin Suicides, which I confess I haven’t read. It’s a tale of a hermaphrodite named Cal (formerly Callie) but, in the tradition of the Greek epic, it’s not just Cal’s story. It begins with the tale of Desdemona and Lefty Stephanides, Cal’s grandparents, in order to explain why Cal is the way he is. But Desdemona and Lefty aren’t just husband and wife- they’re also brother and sister. If you don’t think of Desdemona and Lefty as brother and sister then their story is very sweet but because they are siblings their relationship is fairly difficult to grasp. How can brothers and sisters be attracted to each other? But that’s the beauty of literature- it pushes the boundaries and forces you to consider things that you normally wouldn’t think about, or perhaps avoid thinking about. 

Causation is a major theme within the novel. It is somewhat a re-invention of an epic, a hybrid of Greek and American. Cal often mentions going back to the beginning of things- stories, rivers, production lines. I really like this aspect of the book as it makes me wonder about when a story truly begins. You could trace it back to the beginning of time, I suppose. Really a ‘story’ is not a complete thing, it’s just a snapshot. Cal, however, is trying to provide us with more than that, perhaps because he wants to understand himself and to do that you have to go right back to the beginning.

Anyway that’s all from me tonight. Please let me know what you’re currently reading; I’m always interested!