Sunday, December 03, 2006

book of books - The Odyssey

The reason for reading Homer’s Odyssey was simply because I thought it would make reading James Joyce’s Ulysses easier. Being honest it did not do that because where there were references in Joyce they are either quite oblique or in the wrong order so unless you are really looking for them you miss them.

The surprising thing was that in its own right the book has a solid story and plenty of action at keep you interested and at some points reads like a script for a Sinbad the Sailor or Lord of the Rings film and at others like a who’s who of Olympian Gods.

Plot summary
Odysseus the hero has been marooned on an island for years after upsetting the gods on his way home from victory in Troy. Athena, Zeus’s daughter, looks him on with favour and so is allowed to leave his exile and head home and on the way tells of his adventures with Cyclops, sirens, spider legged six headed beasts and the Gods. But once home he discovers that suitors have moved into his palace and are waiting to marry Penelope his wife so he reveals his true identity to his son and with some old comrades who have remained loyal slaughter them all and things end happily ever after

Is it well written?
The text in set out in poetry form but it reads more like a piece of prose so that is sometimes a challenge. In style it reminds you of anything written in the same way, Dante springs to mind, and has the same dense text that makes you feel that half the time you are missing some crucial details. Having said that it is surprisingly easy to read and the story is gripping enough to make you want to stick with it, although at the end he does spin out the length of time it takes to reveal Odysseus is back and then dispatches the suitors.

Should it be read?
For most people the idea of going out and reading Homer for fun and not because some lecturer has told you to might seem odd. But this does link in with other texts, mot just Ulysses, and for that reason it is one of those books that has a wider relevance for someone who wants to get into literature so should be read.

Version read – there are numerous translations, even my local library stocked three, but I plumped for the Robert Fitzgerald translation in a Collins Harvill hardback

1 comment:

Brandon said...

I've always wanted to read Homer, but the thing that stops me is the matter of translation. I've seen it translated in both poetry and prose form. I'm a firm believer that no matter how good a work is, the translation can make or break it. Case in point, for me, is Dante's "Divine Comedy." I'd tried to read the Mendelbaum translation of Dante, but I just couldn't get into it. So I gave up on Dante until I found the Ciardi translation. He made Dante easy to read. Now I'm pretty much obsessed with Dante and have been for about two years.