Suggestions for Summer Reading
Review: The Odyssey by Homer
Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story
of that man skilled in all ways of contending,
the wanderer, harried for years on end,
after he plundered the stronghold
on the proud height of Troy.
He saw the townlands
and learned the minds of many distant men,
and weathered many bitter nights and days
in his deep heart at sea, while he fought only
to save his life, to bring his shipmates home…
The second oldest piece of surviving Western literature, Homer’s Odyssey exemplifies the timeless power of the written word. Within it lie the seeds of the traditions, atmosphere, and style in today’s literature and art. Its influence on both historic and modern culture in the West cannot be overestimated, with its monstrous creatures living on in a variety of modern guises.
While most people study The Odyssey in high school, I happened to miss it as I changed my allegiance as a Highlander to a Skyhawk; Heathwood scheduled for the 9th grade curriculum while Hammond planned it for the 8th grade. A couple of years ago, I decided to remedy this deficiency and, considering the original poem was composed and preserved in the oral tradition and was thus originally intended to be heard rather than read, I bought a copy on Audible in preparation for a long trip. The rhythm of poetry and the beauty of the descriptions swept me far away to the foreign lands of Ancient Greece, yet the plot was surprisingly relevant. This year, I returned to this classic for a more modern, conventional experience and obtained a physical copy of the text. This Folio Society edition did not disappoint!
Through Robert Fagles’s lyrical translation and Grahame Baker-Smith’s stirring images, I was again enraptured as Odysseus, king of the island of Ithaca, struggled against the monumental supernatural forces to return home to his family. While most people have not faced a succession of fantastical monsters and hazards – from the Lotus Eaters to the Cyclops, the Sirens, and the fearsome crags of Scylla and Charybdis – many can relate to the passionate need to return home and reunite with family against all obstacles … whether separated by war, jobs, or other individual circumstances. Bernard Knox’s introduction to this edition discussing the history, the language, and the nature of Odysseus as a hero was fascinating, and the index in the back listing all the characters was a very handy reference for keeping all the Greek names straight.
If you have read Ex Libris in the current June issue on “Percy Jackson and the Olympians,” reading The Odyssey is also a wonderful way to follow up with your children on the actual myths surrounding many of the characters in the novel series.
A seminal classical text, The Odyssey certainly remains as essential and as entertaining as it ever was, with Odysseus standing as a refreshingly complex figure, full of cunning and pride.
As Memorial Day passes by this week, heralding summer’s official launch, I highly recommend returning to this ancient classic, or experiencing it for the first time, as the perfect commencement to summer reading.
Buy this book here.