The Odyssey by Homer
3 stars – it was okay, but over my head
As some people know, the Odyssey is the somewhat official sequel to the Iliad, which I finished the day I started this. I found a podcast, Great Audiobooks, reading the book in two parts.
Read: Oct. 9 – Nov. 21, 2022
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Checked Off the Bucket List!
At first, I thought this book would follow Odysseus and his crew as he sailed back from Troy (as this is somewhat of a sequel to The Iliad, but that was not so. In fact, this story reminded me a lot of Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, since it’s a story within a story: Odysseus indeed went on his journey, but he tells the tale about midway through the book to other characters. The book actually starts after he is already imprisoned on Calypso’s Island, and shows his journey from there, letting him recount the other dangers he faced to a crowd of people before he returns to his island city of Ithaca, his wife, and his son.
Something about that book that really got me riled up was the group of suitors residing in Odysseus’ house. It seems that, after he fought for ten years at Troy and was lost at sea for another ten years, they all thought him dead, and many noblemen gathered at his home, seeking to wed his wife. They stayed there, drinking his wine and eating his food (on their way to eating him out of house and home) and when Odysseus’ son, Telemachus, told them to leave, they basically said “We outnumber you; you can’t kick us out,” which made me so aggravated, and thus they were excellent antagonists for Odysseus to face in the end.
Odysseus, the protagonist, wasn’t my favourite, but I suppose that’s because this is a classic and contains typical misogynistic views of women. Women in this book in general were treated as inferior – objects and frail beings – and I did my best to turn the other cheek as this is an old story, but it still irked me. I can see the reasoning behind Odysseus’ actions, and I can root for him, but there were some ways when it felt like he took his “cleverness” too far.
His son, Telemachus, was much nobler in my eyes. He is about twenty, just reaching maturity, and while he isn’t taken seriously by the suitors because of his age, he does what he can to deal with them and maintain his father’s wealth even as they waste it.
Some things I really liked about this book were actually because of Rick Riordan’s book, The Sea of Monsters, which draws obvious inspiration from this book (even referencing Odysseus within its pages). It took the monsters that Percy faced, along with other ideas, such as the secret unweaving of a fabric (funeral shroud or wedding veil) from the loom to stall for time. This is a method used by Penelope in this book to forestall having to marry any of the suitors, and it is used by Grover for the same reason. These similarities spurred some fond nostalgia for me, which really helped me get through the confusing style of writing. It was nearly as confusing as reading Shakespeare, the style of language difficult to translate into modern English.
I also had trouble with this book because while I could listen along to the Iliad and not have to worry about pronouncing new words, the book I have was translated by a different person than the typical Odyssey audiobooks, and thus the translations are different. As such, I had to read entirely on my own, which normally wouldn’t be a problem, but caused slight grief for me because of the aforementioned difficult language. I did, however, also listen to the audiobook version after reading my physical copy, so I have a better understanding of the story (now having finished it twice).
The quality of the writing was superb, and I agree with the many who believe that it was written by a different person from The Iliad, though both books are credited to Homer. The style is very different from the battle described in the other book, as is the story.
This is a Greek classic that I highly recommend to anyone wanting to be up to date on their history and culture. It’s one of those things that you have to read just for the sake of checking it off your list – especially if you have an affinity for Greek myths and legends like I do. I can’t believe it took me so long to read this book, but I’m glad I waited until at least now so I can attempt to understand it better.