“It recounts the story of Odysseus’ return to Ithaca from the Trojan war and tells how, championed by Athene and hounded by the wrathful sea-god Poseidon, Odysseus encounters the ferocious Cyclops, escapes Scylla and Charybdis and yields temporarily to the lures of Circe and Calypso before he overcomes the trials awaiting him on Ithaca. Only then is he reunited with his faithful wife Penelope, his wanderings at an end.” (Via Goodreads)
Maturity Rating: 14+
Translation by: E. V. Rieu (for Penguin classics)
I gave this book 3 stars because it had equally great moments and equally disappointing moments. The book started really slow with just over 100+ pages of wondering, wandering and discussing what happened to Odysseus and what to do with his estate now that he has been gone for 20 years. Finally, with the actual introduction of Odysseus, the pacing picked up and tales of Odysseus’s adventures and misadventures after the sack of Troy are narrated … and then slows once again wandering, wondering and preparing revenge against the Suitors who have been wasting away Odysseus’s estate and vying for Penelope’s, Odysseus’ wife, hand in marriage. But, having said that, I realised that as much as I wanted to see the ‘resourceful’ and ‘crafty’ Odysseus (as he is oft-referred to) in action, the book, in essence, is about longing for home, in particular, a soldiers’ return to home from war.
The final battle scene was foreshadowed from the very start with tales of Agamemnon being betrayed by his wife, Clytemnestra, and her lover and whose son eventually avenges his death. This, of course, is very much parallel to Odysseus, Penelope and Telemachus. Much of the story is leading up to the moment of Odysseus, backed by and favourite of Athene, getting revenge against the Suitors. Unfortunately, it dragged. A whole lot. To the point that I was thinking just get this over with or at least cut out the unimportant parts which made for a very confusing and scattered final battle.
Ironically, while it was Odysseus’s introduction that signficantly brought up my levels of excitement, I found that I much preferred Telemachus. Yes, Odysseus is sooo crafty, resourceful and intelligent that goddesses just lay themselves at his feet but much of his misadventures are a result of his own actions. Son and father are opposites to each other in this way because while Odysseus jumps into action and thinks later, Telemachus thinks so much that he has to be prompted by Athene to intervene and act. Mix the two and you get the perfect blend. But pick one? I’m going for ‘thoughtful’ Telemachus. Also, I’m sure Odysseus doesn’t need the loving as he loves himself so much he refers to him like this: “Any woman mourns when she loses her husband with whom she makes love and whose children she has borne, even though he is a lesser man than Odysseus, whom people speak about as if he were a god.” Oh, my God. Woooow. Woooow. (What up, meme reference! Lilly Singh reference*).
I have to bring up Odysseus’s infidelity as well. I’m not going to say much because, after all, we are dealing with a time of double standards. All I’m going to say is that he stayed at Circe’s for a year until prodded by his own men to leave while Penelope was expected to stay celibate in those 20 years, and basically forever. Come on, really? That’s such a harsh thing to do! No wonder, Queen Elizabeth I didn’t marry. Let’s take a moment to appreciate that we are now way past such oppressive times.
What I Loved
The adventures themselves were so exciting! The entrapment by Cyclopes in the cave, who is the one-eyed monster and son of Poseidon, and Odysseus’s escape strategy, was not only the highlight of this book but one of the best scenes in book history, in my opinion. I would recommend this to anyone (who is 14+) to read it for that alone. Another thing I also loved was the portrayal of the Greeks custom of hospitality and honoring guest-right which I found absolutely lovely. I’m not usually one for tradition but if there’s one tradition that should stay forever, then it is this.
The book quickly touches on and frowns upon Oedipus yet there is not a single (negative) comment on Alcinous marrying his niece Arete. Incest is incest! Also, Argus, Odysseus’s dog recognises Odysseus and “suddenly” dies. Nonsense. Come. On. Really? I don’t care if he’s been around just before Odysseus set sail for the Trojan war, why is he suddenly and conveniently dying after Odysseus has formed a plan to seek revenge against the suitors? We know what you did, Odysseus! *suspicious emoji eyes. *
Funny & Interesting
‘“You bitch!” Retorted the ready-witted Odysseus.’ (All hail Odysseus, The Burn-Master of House Savage Sassery, The First of His Name and King of Ithaca, Breaker of Caves, Father of… Telemachus).
Speaking of Game of Thrones, there is a mention of Tantalus who attempted to feed his son, who he had butchered, to the gods which reminded me of Arya and the Frey Pie. When people ask you what happened here, what are you going to tell them? The North remembers! (And that’s out of my system) (Not really) (1 year left till Game of Thrones returns).
Emily Wilson has also written a translation of Homer that offers a more sympathetic and respectful reading (for women) of The Odyssey. This translation itself is exquisite, and the language swept me away and into Ancient Greek but despite its beauty, there is too much sugar-coating and deflection of matters like slavery and the treatment of women in the translation and the author’s note (a fairly unconvincing deflection) too. But props to Penguin for their beautiful covers of classics, I have the blue hardcover one myself which makes me feel so I-have-my-own-library-at-home, top-hat and pipe equipped, sophisticated.
Whoever is interested in Greek mythology; this is classics meets gore (serious, heavy gore), fantasy, action and adventure.