Gary Hoggatt's Reviews > The Odyssey, with eBook

The Odyssey, with eBook by Homer
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May 11, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: all-fiction, audiobooks, classics, favorites
Read from April 23 to May 10, 2012

The Odyssey is the second oldest piece of literature in the Western canon, preceded only by Homer's own The Illiad, and it has been a favorite of mine for some years now, admittedly in part due to my own Greek heritage. The Odyssey is a classic for good reason, not just because it's ancient. It's filled to the brim with action, bravery, pathos, trial, and poetry. There's a reason I read it every few years, and not just because I'm part Greek. It's well worth reading in it's own right, and when you consider how much it informs the Western story-telling tradition, it's even more of a must read.

As the story is ancient and well-known, I'll recap it simply by saying it's the epic (literally) tale of Odysseus's ten year journey home to his wife Penelope and son Telemachus in Ithaca following the Trojan War, where he then sets right things wrongs that have occurred in his absence.

My focus in this review will instead be on the translation and audio production.

The version I listened to was Samuel Butler's 1898 translation. Butler uses Roman names for some of the characters (Ulysses instead of Odysseus, Minerva instead of Athena, Jove for Zeus, Neptune for Poseidon, etc.). This is the first translation I've read that's done that, but it didn't distract me, nor will it anyone who has a basic grasp of Greek and Roman mythology, something I expect many reading The Odyssey to come in with. Butler's translation is more prose than poetic. It flows well, and does an excellent job of capturing the emotional core of the story. The age of the translation and the language used helps give the tale a sense of antiquity, even if it's only 114 years old and not 3,000.

The audio version I listened to was Tantor Unabridged Classics' 2009 production, narrated by Simon Prebble. I first listened to, and greatly enjoyed, Prebble with his reading of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke, and he again does a fantastic job with The Odyssey. Prebble brings all the characters to life, from mighty Ulysses to the conniving suitors, to hard-hearted Penelope, to the faithful swineherd Eumaeus, each with their own distinct and fitting voice.

This is my first time listening to The Odyssey as an audio book, and I wish I had thought to do so earlier. As much as I've previously enjoyed reading the text, it truly comes to life when read by a skilled narrator like Prebble. Many of the odd quirks, such as repeated phrases or retold passages, make much more sense when listened to over the course of several days, since this is how the tale was originally told.

These devices help remind the listener of the tale so far, and the repeated phrases help the storyteller, who originally had to memorize the entire tale. When considered in that light, frequent references to "child of the morning, rosy-fingered dawn" or the details of banquets and how the attendees "laid their hands upon the good things that were before them" make much more sense.

Much like watching a Shakespearean play is much easier to follow and enjoy than just reading the text, so too with listening to a storyteller spin the tale of Odysseus. Even if you aren't usually an audio book fan, I highly recommend listening to The Odyssey, as it really will bring the story to life.

I highly recommend this production of The Odyssey. It's a fantastic presentation of classic, foundational story-telling. Butler's translation is excellent, and Prebble is a joy to listen to.

In researching some of the background for this review, I discovered that there's also an audio version of The Odyssey using Robert Fagle's 1996 poetic translation and read by Sir Ian McKellen. I absolutely plan to listen to that version soon. Between a modern poetic translation compared to the older prose translation of Butler and the involvement of McKellen, of whom I'm a huge fan, I can't wait to listen to that version. When I do, I'll be back with a review of it, of course.
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