May 18, 10
Read from May 12 to 18, 2010
The Odyssey was probably my favorite book as child, with all of its fantastic adventures, memorable monsters and beautiful women. And Odysseus - wily, tough, but so very human Odysseus - was always my favorite hero. While I have returned to this story many times, rereading various translations, watching the movie adaptions and listening to Cream sing of the Tales of Brave Ulysses a thousand times, this recent adaptation has breathed fresh life into the story.
Armitage is a poet by trade, as you can tell by his lyrical script for a theatrical version of the story, which was actually performed on the BBC in 2004. As was the case with his excellent translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, he is a beautiful writer who treads carefully between modernity and anachronism. More importantly, he still manages to stay true to the themes of the ancient Greeks. His Gods are mighty, terrible and meddling, but refreshingly non-omnipotent. His humans are deeply flawed, or harshly punished if they are not, but so much more interesting and ultimately important than the Gods can ever hope to be. The chapter in which Odysseus travels to the land of the dead and communes with fallen brothers-in-arms and family members is particularly illustrative of this exultation and fascination with man himself: Odysseus’ sense of loss, and the tragic desolation of the dead, which the Gods can never experience, was absolutely devastating and an amazing piece of writing.
My only word of caution is that I believe that this book is best enjoyed by those who already know the story and, maybe, have already read one of the previous translations. However, even if you haven’t, it is simply too good a story to pass up. I loved this book and highly recommend it to all.