Riku Sayuj's Reviews > The Odyssey

The Odyssey by Homer
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May 14, 14

bookshelves: favorites, classics, epic-stuff, r-r-rs, translated, epics, great-books-quest, religion, spiritual, philosophy, history-civilizations
Recommended to Riku by: Ian Klappenskoff
Read from February 18 to 26, 2012


I started this as I was told it is essential reading if I ever want to give a shot at reading Ulysses. I was a bit apprehensive and spent a long time deciding on which translation to choose. Finally it was Stephen's review that convinced me to go for the Robert Fagles' version. I have no way of judging how good a decision that was.

This translation, by Robert Fagles, is of the Greek text edited by David Monro and Thomas Allen, first published in 1908 by the Oxford University Press. This two-​volume edition is printed in a Greek type, complete with lower- and uppercase letters, breathings and accents, that is based on the elegant handwriting of Richard Porson, an early-​nineteenth-​century scholar of great brilliance, who was also an incurable alcoholic as well as a caustic wit. This was of course not the first font of Greek type; in fact, the first printed edition of Homer, issued in Florence in 1488, was composed in type that imitated contemporary Greek handwriting, with all its complicated ligatures and abbreviations. Early printers tried to make their books look like handwritten manuscripts because in scholarly circles printed books were regarded as vulgar and inferior products — cheap paperbacks, so to speak.


First up, I enjoyed the book, even the droll parts. It was fun to repeatedly read Odysseus's laments and Telemachus' airy threats about the marauding suitors.

But now that I have finished it, how do I attempt a review? What can I possibly say about an epic like this that has not been said before? To conclude by saying that it was wonderful would be a disservice. To analyse it would be too self-important and to summarize it would be laughable.

Nevertheless, I thought of giving a sort of moral summary of the story and then abandoned that. I then considered writing about the many comparisons it evoked it my mind about the Indian epics that I have grown up with, but I felt out of my depth since I have not even read the Iliad yet.

With all those attempts having failed, I am left with just repeating again that it was much more enjoyable than I expected. That is not to say that it was an epic adventure with no dull moments. No. The characters repeat themselves in dialogue and in attitude, all major dramatic points are revealed in advance as prophesy and every important story event is told again at various points by various characters.

Even though I avoided it as much as I can, I could not at times avoid contrasting my reading experience with that of the epics I have grown up with and I remember thinking to myself that in comparison this reads like a short story or a novella. Maybe this impression is because I am largely yet unaware of the large mythical structure on which the story is built. I intend to allay that deficiency soon.

The characters are unforgettable, the situations are legendary and I am truly happy that I finally got around to a full reading of this magnificent epic. It has opened up a new world.
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Reading Progress

02/20/2012 page 65
12.0% "In preparation mode for starting on Ulysses. Ah, the things we do for love..."

Comments (showing 1-32 of 32) (32 new)

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Riku Sayuj Moonbutterfly wrote: "After I finish up reading about the Germans, I'm going to start on the Iliad. This has been a year of big books and series for me.

Great review."


Thanks :) I am starting on the germans..


message 2: by Ian (new)

Ian Klappenskoff Well done, Riku.

Remember, you did have to drag that recommendation out of me. ;)

I read the Iliad when I was at school and took ages, even though it felt great just to have it in my hands.

It's great that you did the Odyssey so quickly.

It will be interesting to see whether you derive any benefit from reading the Odyssey when you read "Ulysses".

I assume that a lot of readers in Joyce's time would have read Homer and their reading would have been informed by their familiarity.

Now that you've read it, I recommend that you watch the film "O Brother Where Art Thou?".

Riku wrote: "The characters repeat themselves in dialogue and it attitude, all major dramatic points are revealed in advance as prophesy and every important story event is told again at various points by various characters."

At this point in your review, I thought I had stumbled on a review of "1Q84".


Riku Sayuj Elizabeth wrote: "Does this mean you're reading Ulysses soon? "

Ya... unless i get some other excuse to put it off.


Riku Sayuj Shan wrote: "The Odyssey, eh? I think I've heard of it."

:) Good for you!


Riku Sayuj Ian wrote: "It will be interesting to see whether you derive any benefit from reading the Odyssey when you read "Ulysses".

Now that you've read it, I recommend that you watch the film "O Brother Where Art Thou?".

Riku wrote: "The characters repeat themselves in dialogue and it attitude, all major dramatic points are revealed in advance as prophesy and every important story event is told again at various points by various characters."

At this point in your review, I thought I had stumbled on a review of "1Q84". "


I will certainly try to talk about whether reading the classic had any impact on how I dig Joyce..

I have seen the movie - is it related in any way? Do I have to watch it again?

1Q84 eh? I had heard good reviews on it till now...


message 6: by Ian (new)

Ian Klappenskoff The film is loosely based on Homer.

It is a "must-see-again" ;)

I rated 1Q84 5 stars, and wasn't worried about the repetition.


Riku Sayuj Elizabeth wrote: "Riku wrote: "Elizabeth wrote: "Does this mean you're reading Ulysses soon? "

Ya... unless i get some other excuse to put it off."

Do it. It really is fascinating, if not always enjoyable. Um, how..."


I consider only Othello to have been satisfactorily read by me... I am strong enough to quote from most plays etc but, well, haven't really imbibed, so to speak.


Riku Sayuj Elizabeth wrote: "There's a chapter in Ulysses about Hamlet. I'm not sure what it would be like to read the book without that. Could be fine; might just inspire you to read it. :-)"

Oh thanks for the tip...


Petra X A person could spend half their life just reading all the books and plays that Joyce alludes to in order never to miss a reference when they finally approach Ulysses.


message 10: by Riku (new) - rated it 5 stars

Riku Sayuj Petra X wrote: "A person could spend half their life just reading all the books and plays that Joyce alludes to in order never to miss a reference when they finally approach Ulysses."

I wouldn't mind :)


Petra X Plan on reading it in old age then!


message 12: by Riku (new) - rated it 5 stars

Riku Sayuj Petra X wrote: "Plan on reading it in old age then!"

There is always an option to re-read it then.


Petra X Do people climb Everest twice?


message 14: by Riku (new) - rated it 5 stars

Riku Sayuj Petra X wrote: "Do people climb Everest twice?"

I know these two guys...


message 15: by Nandakishore (new)

Nandakishore Varma Riku, the similarities between Indian and Greek myths are striking. I understand your reluctance to "analyse" a great epic - however, I urge you to do so. Many analyses and retellings of the Mahabharatha has enriched the experience of the epic, I find.


message 16: by Riku (new) - rated it 5 stars

Riku Sayuj Nandakishore wrote: "Riku, the similarities between Indian and Greek myths are striking. I understand your reluctance to "analyse" a great epic - however, I urge you to do so. Many analyses and retellings of the Maha..."

Oh I analysed it to my heart's content for myself. I just didn't want to put it out here...


message 17: by Nandakishore (new)

Nandakishore Varma Riku wrote: "Oh I analysed it to my heart's content for myself. I just didn't want to put it out here... "

I suggest you do it. Don't worry, your analysis is as valid as anybody else's!


message 18: by Riku (new) - rated it 5 stars

Riku Sayuj Nandakishore wrote: "Riku wrote: "Oh I analysed it to my heart's content for myself. I just didn't want to put it out here... "

I suggest you do it. Don't worry, your analysis is as valid as anybody else's!"


I'll probably come back and do that after i read Iliad. Half knowledge is a dangerous thing, as they say.


message 19: by Riku (last edited Feb 27, 2012 04:44PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Riku Sayuj Moonbutterfly wrote: "The group "Classics and the Western Canon" is currently reading the Iliad. It's a great group in general if your interested. They started reading it in January, but I plan on following it once I fi..."

I might jump in too if i finish the coming of third reich fast enough... could you give me a link to the group?


message 20: by Riku (new) - rated it 5 stars

Riku Sayuj Moonbutterfly wrote: "Does this work?

http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/1..."


Yup! Sorry for the trouble.


David Sarkies I've been meaning to read Ulysses for a while, and when I discovered that it was based on The Odyssey, I am even more interested.


Karen Ullysses is so much more difficult than The Odyssey, it didn't really help me, but I read Ullysses- rejoiced when I was done with it.


message 23: by Riku (new) - rated it 5 stars

Riku Sayuj Karen wrote: "Ullysses is so much more difficult than The Odyssey, it didn't really help me, but I read Ullysses- rejoiced when I was done with it."

The Odyssey provides only the backbone. The rest of literature provides the flesh :)


message 24: by Alan (new)

Alan Well, Fagles was, along with James Merrill, the best literary student of my undergrad Shakespeare mentor, Baird of Amherst College. Fagles had a lisp, so Baid recommended he NOT go into teacheing--bu he did, got a job at Princeton, and wrote some fine transaltions. Not wuite the rhythmic punch of Fitzgerals, I think, but excellent in their way. As for Ulysses, as a narrative it's easier than Homer. But of course, stylistically, it's modernist, and tumultuous. Maybe the Italian authroities were right to think Joyce's Italian better than his English! (He taugh both, in Italy, and his test results were higher in Italian.)


message 25: by Alan (new)

Alan As for Ulysses/Odyss himself, I think that Vegil does him homage in his debate against Ajax, which Ulysses wins. Ajax may be the best fighter among the Greeks, but he lacked debate skills (so valued by the Romans, of course). The wily Ulysses is esp wily as a politician and debater--just like Clinton, Obama, and who else?


message 26: by Riku (new) - rated it 5 stars

Riku Sayuj Alan wrote: "Well, Fagles was, along with James Merrill, the best literary student of my undergrad Shakespeare mentor, Baird of Amherst College. Fagles had a lisp, so Baid recommended he NOT go into teacheing..."

Thanks for sharing that! Which is the best (english) translation of Homer you have read, Alan?


message 27: by Alan (new)

Alan Thanks for asking, but since I don't know Greek, I'm no real source of this (my nephew teaches it, so I should ask him). I prefer the Fitzgerald trans., but Fagles does capture some energy and contemporaneity missing there.
I do have preferred translations of the Aeneid (my teacher, Rolfe Humphries') and Pushkin's Evgeni Onegin (Elton, not Nabokov) and surely Ovid, Martial, Lucretius and others. (Many, again, by Humphries, who let me borrow his Seneca Thyestes off his shelf when I was a Freshman in his class at Amherst College.)


message 28: by Riku (new) - rated it 5 stars

Riku Sayuj Alan wrote: "Thanks for asking, but since I don't know Greek, I'm no real source of this (my nephew teaches it, so I should ask him). I prefer the Fitzgerald trans., but Fagles does capture some energy and con..."

Thanks. I have been looking for a copy of Chapman's Homer too. (though I am not sure if it was Chapman of the epic itself that inspired Keats so)


Karen Riku wrote: "Karen wrote: "Ullysses is so much more difficult than The Odyssey, it didn't really help me, but I read Ullysses- rejoiced when I was done with it."

The Odyssey provides only the backbone. The res..."


I agree, and I am not well versed in Shakespeare at all, my husband is but I can't get him to read Ullysses. I read it to prove I could, and I loved Leopold Bloom, but it was very difficult and I am not sure if Joyce wrote it for complete understanding in mind.
I read the Richmond Latimore translation of The Odyssey, beautifully written.


message 30: by Eric (new)

Eric Alan wrote: "Thanks for asking, but since I don't know Greek, I'm no real source of this (my nephew teaches it, so I should ask him). I prefer the Fitzgerald trans., but Fagles does capture some energy and con..."

Vide Guy Davenport's "Another Odyssey". Indispensable, and funny. Fitzgerald takes the more recent cake; Lattimore, for his severe literalism, is--as the rest of them--to be read, but not to be expected of much poetically; Chapman is great; Pope is great; Logue's Iliad is phenomenal.


Karen Eric wrote: "Alan wrote: "Thanks for asking, but since I don't know Greek, I'm no real source of this (my nephew teaches it, so I should ask him). I prefer the Fitzgerald trans., but Fagles does capture some e..."

It's the only one I have read, so I have nothing to compare and I did love it.


message 32: by Riku (new) - rated it 5 stars

Riku Sayuj Eric wrote: "Alan wrote: "Thanks for asking, but since I don't know Greek, I'm no real source of this (my nephew teaches it, so I should ask him). I prefer the Fitzgerald trans., but Fagles does capture some e..."

Quite a list! Thanks!


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