Tuesday, June 9, 2009
An Odyssey through Literature
Could you imagine being a part of a journey so astounding, so memorable, that your name would forever be associated with adventure? The story of Odysseus as told to us by Homer is a hero story that has it all: monsters, wars, murder, treachery, miracles, love, sex, and a hero that is "never without a loss." This work is so important, its impact so profound, that it has become acceptable to call any great journey an Odyssey.
OK, so I like this book. I'm not particularly fond of the translation I have by W.H.D. Rouse (not the translation pictured here). I first read this book back in Middle School, but we read a version called Ulysses which was the basic story simplified with a focus on the adventure part and less on the Telemachus and revenge parts. When I sat down to read the Odyssey, I discovered that the adventure section with the Cyclops and Sirens, Calypso and Circe, was barely a third of the book. I'll admit that I read that third, placed at the center of the story, the fastest, and am still cruising through the last 100 pages or so of the book. But the story is still great. Homer makes Odysseus a likable character, and despite his liaisons with a few immortal women, we can tell that Odysseus truly misses his wife and longs to see her again.
Before this book, I read The Wastelands by Stephen King, which is part of his Dark Tower series. I've been interspersing the Dark Tower with more classic works, to make myself feel better King. Although, I think King doesn't get as much credit as he deserves for being a decent writer, not just a decent horror writer. No matter what his critics may say about his subject material, he has literary skill.
I read the Iliad before that, and that was a difficult book for me to get through. Again, I think that might have had a lot to do with the translation. Whereas my version of the Odyssey is written in way too simple language, the version of the Iliad I read was too stuffy. I get the significance of the story, the fact that Hector is really the character we feel sorry for, and Achilles is pretty self-centered until the end. I also appreciate the way Homer examines the gods in the Iliad, showing them as petty and irresponsible. Homer shows us what makes a man a hero. I think a different translation would have sat with me better.