So this was OK. Not great. I think standards for action were lower then. Maybe I'm wrong. I thin Conan Doyle is much better. And Rider Haggard is weir...moreSo this was OK. Not great. I think standards for action were lower then. Maybe I'm wrong. I thin Conan Doyle is much better. And Rider Haggard is weirder. Plus: HG Wells? Anyway, the sequel, Rupert of Hentzau, was a little more grim, and good for that. Kind of not a high point. Also: Penguin introduction was awful. It reads like a book report.(less)
3/30 -- And another springtime reading winds to a close. I actually have about 20 pages left, all of Book 24. The final...more3/31 -- Such a strange ending.
3/30 -- And another springtime reading winds to a close. I actually have about 20 pages left, all of Book 24. The final books of the poem contain two of the most touching one-on-one scenes in literature. First is Odysseus' fireside conversation with Penelope after the suitors have departed. Second is his meeting with Laertes in the vineyard, in which Odysseus first lies about is identity, even to his own father. He must test everybody. Wihtout reading too much into the characters' psychology -- Homer is juggling ancient tropes, not modern sensisbilities -- there is something neurotic about our hero's compulsion to hide behind a persona. Is he merely being guarded? Or is this a trait that all Odysseuses possessed in Homer's time, just as Helen was beautiful and Ajax strong?
3/27 -- Get this: I left the book at work yesterday. Thank the gods for headphone music, else I'd've gone loco on the subway and treadmill. The lapse did give me the opportunity to read a few pages of the Iliad this morning on the train (I was bringing a copy to a colleague). Boy, what an intense piece of poetry! All rage and disease and violence and spite. If the Odyssey is like taking a long walk through springitme weather -- sometimes rainy, sometimes sunny, a little wind -- the Iliad is like sitting too close to a bonfire and staring into the flames for THREE WEEKS. Fun stuff.
3/26 -- If the makers of "24" or "Battlestar Galactica" were to adapt the Odyssey for a TV miniseries, I think they would best begin with Book 13, when Odysseus awakens on Ithaca after having been left ashore by the Phaeacians. From here on out, the tale unfolds slowly, covering only a few days (as opposed to the years compressed into the first 12 books) in a pageant of violence, deceit and revelation. I think too many screen adaptaions focus on the Ray Harryhausen aspects of the story; the close-up, personal conflicts and crises are what draw me back to Homer year after year: Telemachus' first meeting with Odysseus; Penelope's curiosity about her strange, old visitor; the death of a dog; the great spasm of violence as father, son and swineherd confront the suitors. Finally, Odysseus' meeting with his father may be the most emotionally wrenching moment in the entire work.
3/25 -- Still in the thick of the "fairytale" portion of the tale (Book 11). Notably, Odysseus takes a breather halfway through his account of the trip to Hades, during which he and his hosts, Arete and Alcinous, discuss timetables for departure and giftgiving. Gift exchange is a big deal in the Odyssey. (M.I. Finley's "The World of Odysseus" provides a helpful introduction to this and other aspects of the story.)
Also, I'm not the first to notice Homer's preoccupation with food, either. This year it's one of the aspects I'm taking special note of as I read. You can learn a lot about characters in the story by their eating habits. Polyphemus eats his food raw (and eats people! human people!); Odysseus's crew perishes after eating the cattle of the sun; the suitors try to eat Penelope and Telemachus out of house and home; Agamemnon's murder occurs at the banquet bench, a detail that escapes no one's notice. Food is everywhere.
3/24 -- I have arrived at the core of the work, at least from a pop-culture perspective. Books 8-12 describe those parts of the voyage that even non-readers are familiar with: the wooden horse, Lotusland, the Sirens, the Cyclops, Scylla & Charybdis (thanks, Sting!), Circe, Calypso, the trip to the underworld. Amazingly, these tales occupy less than a fourth of the Odyssey (85 pages in my edition). And they're all told in flashback. The Odyssey has a really nice way of compressing and reordering events. Don't give up after Book 12, though. The second half is when it gets really interesting as Homer's emphasis on character returns to the fore. There aren't any more monsters, there's just the taking of sides as the final slaughter approaches....
3/23 - Every spring for at least the past six years, I have read the Odyssey. I try to change translations each time (I don't read Greek) and once I just listened to the Fagles version on tape. (Tapes, children, are long strips of magnetized plastic ribbon containing recorded sounds and spooled around reels for easy playback.) this year is Lombardo's translation. I've read this one before. A little zippier than most and every now and then he uses a line from another poet ("screw your courage") to see if the reader is paying attention.
I finished Book 5 on the train this morning. To recap: When we left Telemachus at the end of Book 4, he was visiting Nestor and Menelaus seeking word about his father. Meanwhile, Calypso has finally released Odysseus from her island. He washes ashore on Scheria naked and freezing and buries himself in a pile of leaves to escape the cold (see "The Fugitive" with Harrison Ford for an analog).
Coming next -- Book 6: Nausicaa, the first cool teenage girl in literature.
You know, I'm not sure if I ever finished this book the first time around. I know I never read the sequels. In any event I'm reading it now because so...moreYou know, I'm not sure if I ever finished this book the first time around. I know I never read the sequels. In any event I'm reading it now because some friends of mine have a son who's interested in science fiction and fantasy and they asked me for recommendations. (less)