Book Club Review: The Odyssey

wilson-odysseyTitle: The Odyssey
Author: Homer (tranlsated by Emily Wilson)
Genre: Classics, Greek Mythology
Publisher: W. W. Norton Company
Publication Date: November 7, 2017
Pages: 582
Format Read: Book
Standalone or series: Standalone
Where I got the book: Christmas gift
Date finished reading: March 7, 2019

Goodreads Description: The first great adventure story in the Western canon, The Odyssey is a poem about violence and the aftermath of war; about wealth, poverty, and power; about marriage and family; about travelers, hospitality, and the yearning for home.

In this fresh, authoritative version–the first English translation of The Odyssey by a woman–this stirring tale of shipwrecks, monsters, and magic comes alive in an entirely new way. Written in iambic pentameter verse and a vivid, contemporary idiom, this engrossing translation matches the number of lines in the Greek original, thus striding at Homer’s sprightly pace and singing with a voice that echoes Homer’s music.

Wilson’s Odyssey captures the beauty and enchantment of this ancient poem as well as the suspense and drama of its narrative. Its characters are unforgettable, from the cunning goddess Athena, whose interventions guide and protect the hero, to the awkward teenage son, Telemachus, who struggles to achieve adulthood and find his father; from the cautious, clever, and miserable Penelope, who somehow keeps clamoring suitors at bay during her husband’s long absence, to the “complicated” hero himself, a man of many disguises, many tricks, and many moods, who emerges in this translation as a more fully rounded human being than ever before.

A fascinating introduction provides an informative overview of the Bronze Age milieu that produced the epic, the major themes of the poem, the controversies about its origins, and the unparalleled scope of its impact and influence. Maps drawn especially for this volume, a pronunciation glossary, and extensive notes and summaries of each book make this an Odyssey that will be treasured by a new generation of scholars, students, and general readers alike.

My Review: The Odyssey was one of the first additions to my Goodreads TBR list when I first joined Goodreads in 2010. I’ve been hesitant to dive into this one, because I am not familiar with Greek mythology at all. I read The Theban Plays in high school, many moons ago, and that has been the only Greek literature I have read. Luckily, my Great Books book club chose The Odyssey for their March read, so I was finally pushed to read it. Plus, my book club specifically wanted to focus on the newest translation by Emily Wilson, which I was excited about.

The first topic we covered in the book club discussion was the topic of translation. It was interesting to look at how just changing a word or two could change the image of a character. If you look at the Sirens, you will see that some of the older translations make Sirens to be something like seductive women and very beautiful, when really Sirens are not at all beautiful. They seduce with their voices not with their looks. Also, Sirens are not mermaids but winged creatures. (Some more modern art portrays them as mermaids for some reason).

We discussed what we learned about hospitality in ancient Greece. If a stranger knocks on your door, they are welcomed in – no questions asked. Once you have supplied the stranger with food and wine, then you can ask the necessary questions of who the stranger is and where he came from. Most often you supply the stranger with gifts for his next journey as well.

Here are some of my personal thoughts:

  • The gods seem to simply be an excuse for humans to not take responsibility for any actions. When something good has happened, the gods have blessed us. If something bad happens, it is the gods’ fault.
  • Very little of this story focuses on Odysseus’ time after fighting in Troy. Only a couple books are dedicated to Odysseus’ narration of his time encountering monsters (cyclops, sirens, etc) and gods (like being held by Circe). Way too much of the story is dedicated to the horrible suitors, but maybe that was just a method of getting the audience to dislike the suitors enough to justify Odysseus’ revenge.
  • Throughout The Odyssey, you hear about Odysseus’ family’s grief over his absence. While Odysseus also has grief over missing his home, I couldn’t help but feel that his grief does not stem from missing his wife, child and parents, but that he simply missed his wealth, status and position in his kingdom. This feeling may have been emphasized through the ending. The story does not conclude with Odysseus’ reuniting with his wife, Penelope, but instead ends with him being reinstated as this powerful warrior in the kingdom, who is facing another potential war.
  • I get pretty annoyed with repetition in stories. Phrases like “Telemachus, son of Odysseus” and “rosy-fingered Dawn” really started to get to me by the end. However, someone did remind me that this started as an oral story and repetition is an important characterization utilized in oral narration.

This was a great introduction to Greek literature, and I was happy to be part of such a lively conversation about it. I was intrigued enough that I am looking forward to reading others, like TheIliad, Beowulf, or other more modern stories/retellings. For those who want to listen to this translation of The Odyssey in audiobook, Claire Danes narrates it! Here is an additional article related to this translation as well: Emily Wilson’s translation of the ‘Odyssey’ replaces Lattimore’s on Literature Humanities syllabus.

Recommendations from my book club for those who enjoy The Odyssey:

My Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ 

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