Monday, March 14, 2016

The Odyssey - Homer

The Odyssey is one of the foundational works of Western Literature.  It's the fountainhead of every hero's journey and every road trip story.  It has a claim to be the inspiration for every story that is told in episodic form.  As a plus, it's completely readable.
I first read a version of the Odyssey when I was about ten years old.  The book told the story chronologically, starting with Odysseus hunting a boar when he was young.  It quickly told the story of going to Troy and winning the Trojan war.  The main focus was the journey home and the various difficulties faced there.  My dim memory has each adventure getting its own chapter.
This is very different than how the story is laid out by Homer.  The main focus in the actual work is the trouble that Odysseus's son, Telemachus,  and wife, Penelope, face while waiting for him.  The man has been gone for nearly twenty years and unscrupulous men are waiting to divide up his estate.  Will they kill Telemachus while doing so?
This is the main body of the story and it isn't close.  The entire Odyssey is divided up into 24 'books' or chapters.  The voyages of Odysseus takes up about four of them.  The tale of the land of the lotus eaters, a recognizable metaphor throughout the western world, takes about three paragraphs.  I couldn't help but think of what a modern editor would have thought if this manuscript appeared on their doorstep.  "Some good stuff, Homer baby, but maybe emphasize the action a bit more!"  Not that I was bothered by the way it was laid out.

The voyages do have some great stories.
  • The lotus eaters, which I mentioned above, serve as a great metaphor for the damage of loss of ambition.
  • The bag of wind shows the wickedness of greed and mistrust.
  • The sirens warn us of the powers of temptation and how planning ahead can save us.
  • The Cyclops story is maybe my favorite.  Odysseus and his men are trapped in an awful situation but Odysseus thinks his way out and tricks the Cyclops into think that No Man did it.
  • The journey to Hades is also pretty good.  It's legitimately spooky and I'm sure it's campfire aspect was played up in ancient times.
A great story and a well deserved monument.

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