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The Odyssey -- Homer Print
Written by Mike Noel   
Wednesday, 09 July 2008

The Odyssey

One of the books that most students have to read (or at least used to have to read) is The Odyssey.  I believe that in the past most students were required to read this in the original Greek but now we have several English translations available.  Somehow I managed to avoid reading any serious classic literature in my education.  I'm not sure that was such a good idea and so I'm now trying to rectify that situation.  The Fitzgerald translation is supposed to be quite good.  That's the one I read.

My first impression of The Odyssey was not all that great.  It seemed like an interesting story but I didn't see why it has survived as "great literature" for nearly three thousand years.  No doubt I am missing something. I spoke with a co-worker about this and he suggested that The Illiad was much better.  I will have to check it out.

A couple things did strike me as interesting. I was a bit surprised by the interaction between the gods (including goddesses) and the humans.  I wonder if the story reflects the way that people really thought about deities at that time or if this was "fantasy" literature for that period.  The gods frequently spoke to the mortals.  Sometimes directly but more often the god took the form of a mortal and used that form to speak. This happened quite a bit and in most cases the mortal didn't recognize the god. 

I was also surprised at the frequent use of omens.  There seems to have been a rather sophisticated system for interpreting omens and people relied on this to guide their everyday actions.

As Homer wrote The Odyssey (I'll ignore the debate about authorship for now) and included these sorts of elements that's either because those were accepted ideas in his time and he was relating them, Homer was being satirical, or he was writing as fiction.  I don't know which it is but I suspect that it was the first option.  Everything I've heard indicates that society three thousand years ago was extremely superstitious. 

Back to the book.  It was interesting and I see how many of the stories found in The Odyssey have made their way into our culture.  Having read this book I suspect that in the future I'll recognize even more allusions to it as I see them.

Last Updated ( Sunday, 13 July 2008 )
 

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