Alex's Reviews > The Odyssey

The Odyssey by Homer
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"Okay, so here's what happened. I went out after work with the guys, we went to a perfectly nice bar, this chick was hitting on me but I totally brushed her off. Anyway we ended up getting pretty wrecked, and we might have smoked something in the bathroom, I'm not totally clear on that part, and then this gigantic one-eyed bouncer kicked us out so we somehow ended up at a strip club. The guys were total pigs but not me, seriously, that's not glitter on my neck. And then we totally drove right by these hookers without even stopping and here I am! Only a little bit late! By the way, I crashed the car and six of the guys are in jail. Ask for Officer Scylla."

Eh...Homer's right. Odysseus' version is better.

P.S. Do not try this story at home unless, when you get there, you're still capable of shooting your arrow into a narrow aperture.

Fagles' translation is excellent - the new standard - and Bernard Knox's enormous introduction is the best Homeric essay I've ever read.

A good companion read is Hal Roth's We Followed Odysseus - maybe not the most eloquent of books, but he retraces Odysseus's voyage (as best he can) in his sailboat, which is a pretty rad idea. I recreated his route as a Google map here, with notes on each of the stops. I also wrote summaries of each book for a book club discussion; I've pasted them in the comments thread below, if you're interested.
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Comments (showing 1-25 of 25) (25 new)

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Tamsen Ahh! The original Hangover!


Alex Ha! Totally.


Tasha absolutely fantastic >:)


Reganschell That made my day right there! Great.


Alex Thanks!


message 6: by Alex (last edited Jan 16, 2013 06:37PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex Here are some summaries I wrote of each book for a book club discussion, just for posterity.

Books 1 - 4: Telemachus
Telemachus' journey is the blue line on the map.

BOOKS I & II
Our story begins in media res, as Telemachus becomes a man. Athena spanks him, telling him to step up and kick these asshole suitors out of his house before Odysseus's impending return. (Which the suitors totally refuse to do, so I guess he's not a man yet.) He prepares to head off to Pylos and Sparta to try to track his father down.

BOOK III
Telemachus arrives in Pylos to hear the sad fate of Agamemnon, betrayed and murdered by Aegisthus, the man who stole his wife. Orestes, Agamemnon's son, revenged him by killing Aegisthus, plus his own mom for good measure. (ETA: See Aeschylus' brilliant Oresteia for more on this.) This serves as an inspirational story for Telemachus, who has failed to murder anyone.

BOOK IV
Moving on to Sparta, Telemachus hears the story of the Trojan Horse. Spartan King Menelaus also tells the story of his own return. Last Menelaus heard, Odysseus was imprisoned by Calypso. Back at the ranch, the suitors sensibly plot to murder Telemachus.


Alex Books 5 - 8: Odysseus's Introduction

This part of Odysseus's voyage is in purple.

BOOK V
We finally catch up with Odysseus, kvetching on the shore of Calypso's island. Hermes is sent to tell Calypso to let Odysseus go; she makes an interesting speech about how Zeus (and other men) gets to screw whoever he wants, while she has to give up Odysseus. (And indeed, throughout the poem, Homer seems to judge Penelope for tolerating the suitors while winking at Odysseus' many dalliances.) He sails to Scheria, where Poseidon notices and wrecks him.

BOOK VI
Athena decides to hook Odysseus up with local princess Nausicaa; they meet butt naked at a river. Athena has prettied him up a bit, which is sortof a dis when you think about it, but Nausicaa is suitably impressed.

BOOK VII
Odysseus sneaks into the the palace of Alcinous, the Phaeacian king. Without giving away his identity, he impresses the king with his manners and convinces him to supply him with a ship; they also offer to marry Nausicaa off to him, even though, once again, they have no idea who he is.

BOOK VIII
Alcinous throws a party for Odysseus, at which our hero dominates the games and nearly starts a fight. The blind bard Demodocus sings a couple of songs about Odysseus, who totally cries like a girl when he hears them.

It's sometimes guessed that Demodocus represents Homer himself and/or is the source for the whole "Homer was a blond nard" legend. Yeah, I meant to write "blind bard," but I was pretty entertained by those typos.

Anyway, Alcinous is all "Dude, what's up with you bursting into tears every time our bard sings about Troy?" And on that note, Odysseus takes over the story and things get weird.


message 8: by Alex (last edited Dec 07, 2011 11:34AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex Books 9 - 12

This part of the journey - the first, chronologically - is represented by the green line on the map.

BOOK IX
Odysseus is all "Check it out, I'm Odysseus! Here's what I've been up to..." In a huge info dump, Odysseus relates the story of his journey from Troy to the island of the Cyclops. Following a disastrous raid on the Trojan-sympathizing Cicones, he visits the temple of Apollo at Delos. While attempting to round the dangerous Cape Malea, he and his crew are sent off course by winds and current, ending up nine days later in the Land of the Lotos Eaters. After dragging his weeping, stoned sailors away, they recross the Mediterranean, landing near the Land of the Cyclops and subsequently getting themselves imprisoned and eaten in the cave of Polyphemus. Odysseus frees his men using his usual ingenuity, but is betrayed by his usual pride; his insistence on yelling his name and address at the blinded Polyphemus will have disastrous consequences.

After the Trojan Horse episode, the Cyclops episode is maybe the best evocation of Odysseus's nature as a trickster. His escape is clever, but it relies on deceit. (What would Achilles have done in this situation? He would have just fought the giant.) Polyphemus is in some ways a sympathetic character: see his speech to his favorite ram, as Odysseus clings underneath. Sure, he totally eats dudes, but so would I if I were a giant.

Odysseus is strong and brave, but he's also a tremendous liar. His primary weapon is guile. It's not for nothing that Dante puts him in the 8th circle of hell, the one for frauds.

Maybe tellingly, it's only now, as the great liar takes up his own story, that we start to see the appearance of fantastic monsters. We previously had the nymph Calypso, but she's a goddess - albeit a minor one - and in Homer's world, there's a big difference between gods and monsters. Divine interference in mortal affairs is common, taken for granted just like corporate manipulation is taken for granted today. Monsters like the Cyclops and Scylla & Charybdis, on the other hand, appear nowhere in Homer except when Odysseus is talking. Is it possible that his whole speech is chock full of lies? Could the real reason for his ten-year delay and the death of his entire 700-man force be more prosaic and less defensible? Is Odysseus history's first unreliable narrator? I like to picture the ancient crowd whooping with laughter as blind Homer acts out Odysseus's ludicrous story with exaggerated grimaces and hand gestures.

I'm hardly the thousandth person to take on this interpretation; it's generally considered a minority one, one of those "Interesting, but you might be trying too hard" arguments that get you a B+ on your term paper. On the other hand, there's no particular evidence against it, and it makes the Odyssey more fun for me. (And this is how I ended up at the review above.)


message 9: by Alex (last edited Apr 16, 2012 09:02AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex BOOK X
Odysseus continues on to the island of Aeolus, who gives him a bag of wind (lol fart joke) to help him get home. He's within sight of Ithaca when (in a weird trend for him) he falls asleep and his crew, thinking Aeolus' bag contains treasure Odysseus doesn't want to share, untie it, releasing a storm that carries them right back to Aeolus, who refuses to help a second time because you people are idiots.

Instead they sullenly row away to the land of the Laestrygonians, a race of giants who destroy all but one of Odysseus' ships and a fragment of his crew. They then stumble to Circe's island, where half of them are turned into pigs before Odysseus frees them through a combination of divine aid and his own charming way with the ladies. Odysseus is warned by Hermes not to sleep with Circe, but of course he does anyway. They hang out for a full year there; finally Circe sends him off by way of the Underworld.

BOOK XI
In Hades, Odysseus meets a who's who of Greek mythology and old friends. He's warned not to mess with the sun god's cows, and finally, scared by the mass of dead people wanting to chat, he runs back to Circe.

In these two books, it's clear that Odysseus' ragtag crew is teetering on the verge of mutiny. They disagree with many of his decisions and they no longer trust him. They frequently can't come to consensus on which course to take; Odysseus' entire fleet aside from his own ship insists on sailing to their doom with the Laestrygonians, and one of his mates yells at him for insisting on going back to Circe.

BOOK XII
Odysseus leaves Circe and heads past the Sirens to Scylla and Charybdis. Warned by Circe to choose Scylla rather than Charybdis, Odysseus somehow manages to blunder into both.

They sail on to Thrinacia, where a familiar story repeats itself: as with the Aeolian winds, Odysseus falls asleep and his men bring disaster on them all, this time killing the Sun God's cattle despite his repeated warnings. So here again, according to Odysseus, the deaths of his crew were totally not his fault. Odysseus's ship is destroyed in revenge and Odysseus, the sole survivor, washes up on Ogygia, the home of Calypso.


message 10: by Alex (last edited Jan 16, 2013 06:44PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex Books 13 - 24

BOOK XIII
Alcinous gives Odysseus a boat and crew, and the Phaeacians sail him home (while, once again, he sleeps). They're punished for helping him; their boat turns to stone as they return home, and the Phaeacians resolve never to help another traveler. This is an odd point in the story: one of the major themes elsewhere is the importance of hospitality. Why, here, are the Phaeacians punished for what everywhere else has been rewarded? Puzzling. Maybe just another reminder that the gods are capricious.

Odysseus, meanwhile, wakes up in Ithaca and hangs out with Athena, who fills him in on recent events - Telemachus is still out looking for him - and tells him it's time to kick ass.

We're now finally caught up, and the rest of the Odyssey will pass chronologically. Phew. We've also left Odysseus's narrative behind and returned to the omniscient narrator; with this shift we're back in a more realistic world. The gods are still everywhere, but the monsters are gone.

I'm gonna be blasting through the rest of the books pretty quickly, because...well, because for the most part they're not as much fun.

BOOK XIV
Odysseus runs into his swineherd Eumaeus, who shows his loyalty to him even though he doesn't know he's really Odysseus.

BOOK XV
Telemachus comes home at Athena's urging, warned by her of the ambush. Meanwhile, in yet another comment on hospitality, Odysseus tests that of oblivious swineherd Eumaeus; Eumaeus passes easily, because of course he's secretly the son of a king.

BOOK XVI
Odysseus shows himself to Telemachus and there's a tearful reunion. They make a plan. The suitors learn that their ambush has failed; Penelope disses them for plotting against her son.

BOOK XVII
Everyone converges on the palace, Odysseus still disguised as a beggar. He's treated poorly; we see that the hospitality of the suitors leaves much to be desired, as Antinous decks him with a stool.

The suitors have developed a few distinct personalities in the past few books; Altinous and Eurymachus are the biggest dicks, while Amphinomus isn't so bad as suitors go. This makes what's about to happen a little bit uncomfortable.

BOOK XVIII
Odysseus, still in disguise, beats up another beggar. Amphinomus gives him food as a reward, and Odysseus tries to warn him to get out of the palace, but fate holds Amphinomus there. Penelope shows up and extorts fancy gifts from the suitors; another stool is thrown in Odysseus's direction. Homer has now invented bumfighting and pro wrestling.

BOOK XIX
Odysseus and Telemachus hide the suitors' weapons. Penelope comes to Odysseus and asks him for news of himself, which is awkward. Her servant Eurycleia recognizes Odysseus by a scar, but he convinces her to keep mum about it. Penelope announces her famous plan to marry the first man who can shoot an arrow through twelve axe-holes.

BOOK XX
Penelope and Odysseus sleep poorly. The next day there's a big feast, at which a cow's foot gets hucked at Odysseus. Athena has more or less taken over at this point and will run the rest of the story as she pleases.

BOOK XXI
In one of literature's least subtle sexual metaphors ever, Odysseus is the only man in the palace who can send his shaft through the small hole. (Twelve, but who's counting?)

BOOK XXII
Carnage ensues.

BOOK XXIII
Penelope, who has managed to sleep through the entire battle, comes downstairs all "What the...? NU-UH!" but Odysseus proves it's really him by describing their bed.

BOOK XXIV
As the slaughtered suitors march off to Hades and Agamemnon complains about how Achilles' death was awesome and his was super shitty, Odysseus reunites with his father and Athena magically stops the suitors' families from avenging them. Everybody lives happily ever after, except the approximately 750* people who have died because they got involved with Odysseus.

Some people think Book XXIV is super lame and may be a later addition; they argue that the original Odyssey probably ended with Odysseus and Penelope reuniting.

* That's a real number: Hal Roth calculated the number of Odysseus's crew, to which I added the suitors and sundry other victims. It does not include the Trojan War or any of the deaths Odysseus caused by inventing the Trojan Horse plan. Odysseus has killed or been responsible for the deaths of a LOT of people.


message 11: by Christopher (new) - added it

Christopher H. I'm glad to see that The Odyssey made such an impression upon you ;-)

It never did hold a candle to The Iliad in my opinion, and Odysseus really is pretty much a heel.


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

Alex Yeah, you dig Iliad more? I'm an Odyssey guy, I guess. Iliad's fun and all, but I feel like Odyssey is...more complicated, I guess? Weirder?


message 13: by Christopher (new) - added it

Christopher H. Yeah, I "dig" 'The Iliad', and to me, it is much the more complicated. While 'The Odyssey' is more of a travel log to me. But, hey, to each his/her own.


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

Ruby Hollyberry Aeneid for me. <3 Virgil.


Jayme Team Odyssey!


Gavinrua You're a gas man. Your hilarious review delighted me no end.


message 17: by Kristina (new)

Kristina Love it!! Found this review on WorldCat and had to come read the rest. I think I'll follow all your reviews. What a hoot!


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

Alex Hi Kristina, very glad you liked it. :) What's WorldCat?


message 19: by Kristina (new)

Kristina They import reviews from Goodreads once in a while. I've had a few of mine imported from there, but I have been adding them under my screen name there anyway ZiggyZiggler (my harrier dog). It's a pretty cool site. You can enter your zip code or create an account and pick your fave libraries then search for ANY type of document or media in the world. It tells you what libraries have it, and whether they have the audiobook, ebook, CD, movie version, large print, etc.. 99% of the time I can rely on it. Seattle Public Library has a few bugs tho. Sometimes I check the Overdrive media site for their library anyway because I found books that their home page doesn't even show them having. The Snowman by Jo Nesbo and Children and Fire by Ursula Hegi are 2.

Anyhows, I have four library cards. Snohomish County, King County, Seattle Public and city of Everett. So, it makes it quick 99% of the time to track down what I want. Oh!! They also show all the local schools, colleges, etc. that have the materials. I hope you enjoy it!! Let me know.
Regards,

Kristina


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

Alex Cool, I should try that. I just spent time yesterday failing to locate a DVD performance of Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Author - maybe this would have helped.


message 21: by Kristina (new)

Kristina Alex wrote: "Cool, I should try that. I just spent time yesterday failing to locate a DVD performance of Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Author - maybe this would have helped."

It took about 2 seconds for me to find that every College and University holds the title in my area, but no DVD in my area. By clicking on visual material only, I found a evideo on filmsondemand.com
Best to you,

Kristina


message 22: by Kuba (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kuba your story was entertaining as well!! haha


message 23: by Lauren (new) - added it

Lauren Your adaptation is what made me check out your review, really entertaining. Thanks for the map as well! It was great for getting my bearings. I did all of the Iliad and part of The Odyssey in my Ancient Greek film study course and now I'm picking up the Odyssey to read the full thing.

Thanks again!


message 24: by Alex (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex Wait, ancient Greek film study? I don't get it. O Brother Where Art Thou? Is there a decent movie based on The Iliad?


message 25: by Camila (new) - added it

Camila Picardo great review!


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