I’ve always wanted to read The Odyssey by Homer* and I finally got to recently. The translation I read was the Penguin edition by Mr Riev. I actually gave it as a present to my friend but I had an essay to do and so I borrowed it and got to read it. Two birds. One stone.
I wanted to talk about some of the themes and what I thought about the Epic*.
Odysseus’s journey was fun. He meets Polyphemus a cyclops and he meets sirens. He meets a goddess, Calypso, and a witch Circe. He meets many different peoples on his journey. He gets to explore, albeit by accident, and it was fun to read. Adventure makes for good reading and good viewing. I’d love for The Odyssey to be made into a modern film, wouldn’t that be epic? (aha puny!)
I like the various myths that are incorporated. Of course there’s the direct link to Troy and the Trojan horse which we find out Odysseus came up with. We meet Helen and Menelaus. We meet the heroes who have fallen and they get a chance to speak, except Ajax who refuses to. The bard Demodocus also sings of Aphrodite and Ares and their affair and how they were caught. There’s a lot of myth in The Odyssey and it makes for good reading.
Each myth tells you something and takes you on a journey, and as Telemachus and Odysseus are the main characters you see the myths from a different point of view.
Some people love The Odyssey as they see it as a great love story. Odysseus goes to Troy and the battle takes ten years. He then spends ten years trying to get back to his wife Penelope. When he finally manages that their union is beautiful and seen as this great reunion of true love.
Penelope is seen as virtuous having waited twenty years for Odysseus even resisting the vile suitors. Odysseus is seen as determined, never giving up on going home no matter what obstacle obstructs his path.
Reading it for myself however I feel Odysseus is given too much credit. He slept with Calypso every night for seven years, although yes he was trapped there against his will and he did cry endlessly during the day. However he happily stayed with Circe for a year enjoying sexy times and feasts. Penelope however had to keep her legs closed for twenty years. Fair enough you want a loyal wife but be loyal yourself, don’t expect of her something that you can’t do.
Penelope stays loyal to Odysseus resisting the suitors even when it looks like Odysseus really did die on his journey. Telemachus was loyal to his father as well, trying to protect his property and travelling to find out what happened to him, even though Odysseus left when he was a baby.
They stay loyal to family throughout the whole Epic.
Eumaeus and Eurycleia also stayed loyal as servants, even in the face of the suitors. Well as much as they could. Loyalty seems to be a theme in the Epic and it even determines who lives and who dies in the end amongst the servants.
He’s an interesting character. He’s smart and determined, he traveled and explored all whilst trying desperately to get back home to his wife, family and kingdom. However he was proud and responsible for the deaths of all his crew men.
Take the Polyphemus incident. He waits for a gift as he is a guest, yes that was common at that time but dude, it was a cave and it was a cyclops what was he expecting? Then when they manage to escape he can’t take the fact that Polyphemus doesn’t know who he is so he tells him his name, great plan genius now he can call on his father Poseidon and curse you now that he knows your name! Did I mention that Poseidon is god of the sea and known as earth shaker? This causes the deaths of MANY.
There are many other incidents where Odysseus was too proud for his own good. It should not have taken them that long to get back to Ithaca, even before Polyphemus cursed him.
There’s also his lying and scheming characteristic. This didn’t bother me much, it made sense in some situations especially when he got back to Ithaca. If the suitors had known it was him they would have killed him. I don’t condone lying but I understand why he did it.
Speaking of the suitors he really killed them. But what was horrifying for me was when he “killed” Melanthius. That was awful! Like could he not have been more merciful? And then there’s the last book which some believe was a later addition because it doesn’t fit with the other books within the Epic. I have to agree, it was out of place. Why would Athene agree with Zeus and then allow the confrontation to happen? That made no sense.
All in all it’s a great Epic. It was disturbing in places but I liked how emotionally honest the characters were and I enjoy prose and speech that fits a meter, it makes anything sound smarter and prettier.
It is quite long so if you’re going to read it set aside some time. It’s seen as the birthplace for fiction so I feel as a writer other writers will enjoy reading it. Just to see how the narrative was constructed and other techniques.
If you’re into Shakespeare, myths and adventure, blood and vengeance this Epic is for you.
Until next time,
*Homer – a bard from long ago (around 12th to 8th centuries B.C.- biography.com), it is believed that he told this Epic. Told because before it was written it was told orally. However there is debate about whether Homer existed, if it was him who told it and if this was the only version of the story … yada yada.
*Epic – ‘…a long poem, typically one derived from ancient oral tradition, narrating the deeds and adventures of heroic or legendary figures or the past history of a nation.’ (definition from Google).