Stephen's Reviews > The Odyssey

The Odyssey by Homer
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's review
Sep 05, 11

bookshelves: easton-press, mythstories-and-legends, 1499-and-before, fantasy, poetry-plays-and-essays, quests, classics, classics-european
Read from September 03 to 05, 2011, read count: 2

So my first “non-school related" experience with Homer’s classic tale, and my most powerful impression, beyond the overall splendor of the story, was...HOLY SHIT SNACKS these Greeks were a violent bunch. Case in point:
...they hauled him out through the doorway into the court,
lopped his nose and ears with a ruthless knife,
tore his genitals out for the dogs to eat raw
and in manic fury hacked off hands and feet.
then once they’d washed their own hands and feet
they went inside again to join odysseus.
their work was done here now.
"Their work was done here now." What a great line.

Want more violence you say? How about slaughtering over 100 house guests for over-indulging in your hospitality? Can you say overkill!! And for the true splatter junkies out there, you can add in some casual rapes, widespread maiming, a score of people-squishing, crew members being chewed and swallowed, healthy doses of mutilation and torture, and one cyclops blinding. That should make even the most discriminating gore hound leg-humping happy. Yes...that's me...guilty.

However, beyond the cockle-warming violence and mayhem, this is a rocking good story that I enjoyed (as in "smile on my face thinking this is genuinely cool”) much more than I expected to going into it. There is nothing dry or plodding about the story. Beautifully written, and encompassing themes of love, loyalty and heroism while commenting on many facets of the human condition. As important as this story is to literature, it is above all else...ENTERTAINING. In fact, without its massive entertainment factor, I'm pretty sure it's overall importance among the classics would be significantly reduced. Thankfully, there is no risk of that.

A NOTE ON THE TEXT

Before I continue, I want to comment on the version I read/listened to because I think can be critical to people’s reaction to the story. There are a TRUCKLOAD of Odyssey translations out there and, from what I’ve seen, they range wider in quality and faithfulness to the original text than those of almost any other work of Western Literature. These versions can differ so much that I believe two people with identical reading tastes could each read a different translation and walk away with vastly different opinions on the work.

The version I am reviewing (and from which the above quote is derived) is the Robert Fagles translation which uses contemporary prose and structure while remaining faithful to the content of the original. I found it a terrific place for a “first experience” with this work because of how easy to follow it was. Plus, I listened to the audio version read by Sir Ian McKellen which was an amazing experience and one I HIGHLY RECOMMEND.

In addition to the Fagles version, I also own the Alexander Pope translation as part of my Easton Press collection of The 100 Greatest Books Ever Written. While listening to the Fagles version, I would often follow along with the Pope translation and let me tell you....they are vastly different. While the overall story is the same, the presentation, prose and the structure are nothing alike. As an example, here is the same passage I quoted earlier from the Pope translation.
Then forth they led [______], and began
Their bloody work; they lopp’d away the man,
Morsel for dogs! then trimm’d with brazen shears
The wretch, and shorten’d of his nose and ears;
His hands and feet last felt the cruel steel;
He roar’d, and torments gave his soul to hell.
They wash, and to Ulysses take their way:
So ends the bloody business of the day.
Very different treatments of the same scene. In my opinion, the Pope language is more beautiful and far more poetic and lyrical than the Fagles translation. However, I am glad I started with the Fagles version because it provided me with a much better comprehension of the story itself. No head-scratching moments. Now that I have a firm grounding in the story, I plan to go back at some point and read the Pope version so that I can absorb the greater beauty of that translation.

In a nutshell, I'm saying that you should make sure you find a translation that works for you. That’s my two or three cents.

THE STORY

So Odysseus, master strategist and tactician (not to mention schemer, manipulator and liar extraordinaire), travels home to Ithaca after the Trojan War. Delays and detours ensue which take up the first half of the story. Most of these travel snags are caused by Poseidon, who is grudging on Odysseus for stick-poking Poseidon’s son (i.e. the Cyclops) in the peeper. Not to fear, Athena (goddess of guile and craftiness) is a proud sponsor of Odysseus and, along with some help for big daddy god Zeus, throws Odysseus some Olympian help.

Odysseus’ travels are full of great summer blockbuster-like entertainment and at the same time explore all manner of Greek daily life as well as touching on many of their beliefs and traditions. It really is a perfect blend of fun and brain food. From his time on the island homes of the goddesses Calypso and Circe (who he gets busy with despite his “undying” love for his wife, Penelope...men huh?), to his run ins with the giant Laestrygonians and the Lotus-eaters (i.e., thugs and drugs) and his fateful encounter with the Cyclops, Polyphemus. Odysseus even takes a jaunt to the underworld where he speaks to Achilles and gets to listen to dead king Agamemnon go on an anti-marriage rant because his conniving wife poisoned him to death. Homer does a superb job of keeping the story epic while providing the reader with wonderful details about the life of the greek people during this period.

The man had story-telling chops..

Meanwhile, while Odysseus is engaged in the ancient greek version of the Amazing Race, back on Ithaca we’ve got a full-fledged version of the Bachelorette going on as over a hundred suitors are camped out at Odysseus pad trying to get Penelope to give them a rose. This has Odysseus’ son, Telemachus, on the rage because the suitors are eating, drinking and servant-boinking him out of his entire inheritance while they wait on Penelope. You might think that Telemachus could just kick the freeloaders out, but the law of “hospitality” was huge for the Greeks and the suitor-douches use it to full advantage.

Well Odysseus eventually makes it back to Ithaca, alone and in disguise, after all of this crew have been eaten, squashed, drowned or otherwise rendered life-impaired. Not an easy place to live is ancient Greece. Odysseus proceeds to work a web of deceit and revenge against the suitors that is a wonder to behold. I’ll leave the final climax to you, but I will say that there was no free lunch in Homer’s time and the checks that people wrote with their bad behavior are paid in full.

MY THOUGHTS

This was a fun, fun, fun read. I want to start with that because this is not one of those classics that I think is worth while only to get it under your belt or checked off a list. This was a great story with great characters and in a style that was both “off the usual path” but still easy to follow.

Going back to my comments on the various versions of the story, I think this may end up being a five star read in one of the more flowery, densely poetic translations where the emotion and passion is just a bit more in your face. I am still thrilled to have listened to the version I did (especially as read by Gandalf) because I now have a firm foundation in the story and can afford to be a bit more adventurous with my next version.

The tone of the story is heroic and yet very dark. The gods are capricious and temperamental and cause a whole lot of death and devastation for nothing more than a bruised ego or even a whim. The pace of the story is fast and moves quickly with hardly a chance to even catch your breath.

It is a big epic story...it is THE BIG EPIC STORY...and its reputation is well deserved. A terrific read as well as one of the most important works in the Western canon. Definitely worth your time.

4.5 stars. HIGHEST POSSIBLE RECOMMENDATION!!
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Comments (showing 1-30 of 30) (30 new)

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Karla (Mossy Love Grotto) I always liked The Iliad more, but The Odyssey is still tremendous. Only dry bits are Nestor's wheezing, endless tales. Guy never shuts up. :P


Stephen Karla (Mossy Love Grotto) wrote: "I always liked The Iliad more, but The Odyssey is still tremendous. Only dry bits are Nestor's wheezing, endless tales. Guy never shuts up. :P"

I was planning on giving the Iliad the same treatment as I have not read it since college either. I have the Pope translation of the book in my Easton Press collection but hear that the Fagles version is the place to start (for the same reasons that I mentioned in my review). Do you have a version you particularly like?


message 3: by Karla (Mossy Love Grotto) (last edited Sep 05, 2011 01:53PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Karla (Mossy Love Grotto) I've listened to an Fagles version (abridged) narrated by Derek Jacobi. Liked that one very much, same with the Robert Fitzgerald translation (book version). I had to read the Lattimore one in college and found it a tough slog.


Whispers from the Pirate's Ghost Whisper Next the Anead! Right? Gotta get a greek brother home right?


Lori (Hellian) Wow, Derek Jacobi, now that's a perfect match. I too prefer the Iliad more, at least when I read both in college. All those gods and goddesses bickering like 2 year olds, but the humans feel the consequences.


Stephen Karla (Mossy Love Grotto) wrote: "I've listened to an Fagles version narrated by Derek Jacobi. Liked that one very much, same with the Robert Fitzgerald translation. I had to read the Lattimore one in college and found it a tough s..."

I saw the Fagles version narrated by Jacobi and that would be my pick. Unfortunately, the version I found was abridged (which makes no sense to me). Hopefully, there is an unabridged version as well.

Thanks for the recommendations.


Stephen Hugh (The other Hugh) wrote: "Next the Anead! Right? Gotta get a greek brother home right?"

Yes, the The Aeneid is on the list as well.


message 8: by Karla (Mossy Love Grotto) (last edited Sep 05, 2011 02:01PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Karla (Mossy Love Grotto) Now you should branch out into the Greek dramas that are basically Homeric fanfiction by Sophocles, Euripides, Aeschylus... ;-)


Stephen Karla (Mossy Love Grotto) wrote: "Now you should branch out into the Greek dramas that are basically Homeric fanfiction by Sophocles, Euripides, Aeschylus... ;-)"

I have Easton Press editions of about a dozen of them and am planning on doing just that. I remember reading Lysistrata, Antigone and Agamemnon (maybe one or two others) and enjoying them, but it will likely still be a "new" experience when I revisit them since it has been so long and my tastes have changed.


Karla (Mossy Love Grotto) Good luck on the re-reads. Euripides' Medea & Sophocles' Electra are my favorites. I also liked The Frogs, despite the semester-long agony of reading it in Greek. (And struggling through the Greek will make a person appreciate ANY English translation!)


Stephen Wow...you read The Frogs in the original Greek. Kudos to you. That is an accomplishment.


Karla (Mossy Love Grotto) It was fun. Today I don't remember a bit of it. But fun at the time!


Daniel I agree with your sentiments: the Odyssey has some brutal moments (and the Iliad? Much more so!). I also like the Fagles translation for its accessibility. The rhyming couplets in Pope's translation are too distracting for my tastes.


Stephen Daniel wrote: "the Odyssey has some brutal moments (and the Iliad? Much more so!)..."

Nothing like a nice Greek blood bath.


Susinok Awsome review! I've read and re-read the Odyssey since 9th grade. It's my all time favorite Greek Epic.

The Fagles translation is really good, as is the Lord Ian McKellen narration.

The only thing that threw me out of the story was the repeated use of the phrase "get off Scot free". What Scot in Ancient Greece?


Karla (Mossy Love Grotto) Susinok wrote: "What Scot in Ancient Greece? "




Stephen Susinok wrote: "The only thing that threw me out of the story was the repeated use of the phrase "get off Scot free". What Scot in Ancient Greece?"

That didn't register with me while I was listening to it, but you're absolutely right. They should have used a better phrase.


Stephen Karla (Mossy Love Grotto) wrote: "Susinok wrote: "What Scot in Ancient Greece? "

"


LOL...well played, Karla.


Karla (Mossy Love Grotto) I couldn't resist.


Stephen I can see why. A set up like that doesn't come around very often.


message 21: by Kate (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kate I'm a huge fan of this one too! I'm so glad you enjoyed it. I'm currently reading The Suitors By Ben Ehrenreich which is a modern retelling and to be honest very well done with great attention to detail, in case you're interested, that is.


Stephen Kate wrote: "I'm a huge fan of this one too! I'm so glad you enjoyed it. I'm currently reading The Suitors By Ben Ehrenreich which is a modern retelling and to be honest very well done with great attention to d..."

Thanks, Kate. That sounds intersting. I am big fan of retelling/reimaginings when they are done well. I will check it out.


message 23: by Shelly (new) - added it

Shelly Great review, Stephen. I think it's time I read this.


Stephen Shelly wrote: "Great review, Stephen. I think it's time I read this."

Thanks, Shelly. You really should. It's a great read.


Christian I've seen the 1997 film - twice - and it was hands-down the most epic story of all time. Whether it went from blinding the cyclops to escaping death numerous times, The Odyssey never let me leave for a minute. Your review only further encourages me to read the book, and now, I'm definitely mind-set on doing so.


Stephen I'm glad, Chris, and thanks for kind words. I haven't seen the movie but I will check it out. Sounds terrific.


Eligah Boykin jr. Enjoyed your comments! You're the only one I know who has subscribed to the Easton Press '100 Greatest Books Ever Written' like me. I particularly liked how you perused 'The Odyssey' in oral and printed forms and different translations in order to glean full reading pleasure in all possible dimensions!


message 28: by Arshadul (new)

Arshadul Great man.


message 29: by Nicolyn (new)

Nicolyn Martin Review rocks, really helped me out. Totally want to read the Odyssey and more Homer now!!!!!


Larry Collins I've just finished reading the translation by Robert fitzgerald and I'm in a daze. It was beautifully translated ( to award credit where it's due ) but of course it all comes down to homer, the genius himself. Wish I could say that I lived in the time of homer...


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