After the ten-year Trojan War ends the warriors return to their home lands. Odysseus’ journey is longer than most because he has angered Poseidon. He runs into one obstacle after another as he fights to return to his wife and son. He fights a Cyclops, travels to the land of the dead, narrowly misses the call of the sirens and spends years trapped on Calypso's island. When he finally returns to Ithaca his home is filled with suitors attempting to woo his wife.
I first read The Odyssey in high school, rereading it a decade later was a very different experience. This time I paid much more attention to Penelope’s story. She is such an incredible character. Her loyalty and patience is remarkable. Even though her husband has been gone for 20 years she still holds out that he is alive and will return to her. It made me wonder how long someone would wait nowadays. Obviously there were fewer communication options back then, but still a couple decades is a long time to hang on to hope.
Penelope is surrounded by suitors and keeps them at bay by telling them she’ll consider them once she finishes what she’s weaving. She weaves all day and then at night she undoes everything she’s woven. Margaret Atwood wrote an interesting novella about her story, The Penelopiad: The Myth of Penelope and Odysseus.
I enjoyed his son Telemachus’ journey. When his father leaves he is only a baby, but he’s grown to become a man in Odysseus’ absence and he longs to find his father. He isn’t sure if he should search for his father or stay and protect his mother, it’s a difficult decision.
For me, it’s important that Odysseus is not a god. He is just a mortal man. So many of the stories in Greek literature are about the gods or demigods. Odysseus is neither, he occasionally has help from the gods, like Athena, at other times he is persecuted by the gods, especially Poseidon, but he has none of their powers. He must rely on his intelligence and cunning to outsmart his captors.
BOTTOM LINE: An absolute must for classic lovers. It’s also one of the most accessible pieces of Greek literature and a gateway drug into that world.
p.s. This time around I listened to the Robert Fagles translation on audio and it was read by the magnificent Ian McKellen. I would highly recommend it!
Also, in the book they climb Mount Parnassus. I’m even more excited to visit the Parnassus bookstore in Nashville next month!