Monday, January 20, 2014

The Odyssey by Homer (Translated by Stephen Mitchell)

Ok, so I cheated and read it in English. I guess I couldn't wait long enough for my Greek to be good enough. And really, I don't think I've enjoyed a poem this much is a long long time.

The Odysseus is essentially a narrative about how Odysseus makes his way back home. The poem actually starts sometime near the end, but as Odysseus makes his way back, he explains about his journey and we hear what happened before. At the same time, his son Telemachus, who was a baby when he left 20 years ago, is despairing of his mother's suitors and receives a message from Athena to go and find his father.

I don't know if it's a characteristic of this translation but the poem was extremely easy to read and very absorbing. All the characters are well-drawn and the story is exciting. Odysseus is a fallible human, but he's charming and you can't help but root for him (even though I already knew how the story ended). The chapters (or 'books' as they're called) just flew by once I started reading.

Before the book even starts, there's an introduction explaining what The Odysseus is about. I appreciated the author's note explaining how he chose the meter for the poem and how he translated it.

There's a lot of stuff I could say, but most of it has probably been said by scholars and people way more knowledgeable than me. The only thing I have to say is, if the thought of reading something "classic" scares you because you think it'll be difficult and hard to understand/get into, don't worry. I had some reservations at first - I'm not much of a poetry girl, but it melted away from the first lines.

My favourite lines though, come from Penelope. She says

"Our lives are so short, and when a man is hard-hearted

and acts in a hard-hearted way, then everyone hopes
that he suffers endless misfortunes while he is alive
and they curse him when he is dead - whereas with a kind man, 
his guests spread the fame of his generosity far
and wide, all over the world, and distant men praise him."

Sounds like words we can all live by.

Disclaimer: I got a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a free and honest review.

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