Homer, or Three Things to Love About The Odyssey

Blogger’s Note: Two long summers (and two even longer winters) ago, I agreed to my friend Jacqui’s challenge to read 15 Classics in 15 Weeks. I’ve wandered far and been adrift much longer than 15 weeks, but I have persisted — a bit like Greek hero Odysseus.

As darkness fell, the ancient tale well-told, he
Closed the book and to his chambers retired.
Beneath a warming mantle he pondered long
In his mind how best to share his far-flung
Thoughts with his godly companions who would
Soon join him online, until at last the bright-eyed
Goddess shed sweet slumber upon his sacred brow.
And there he slept throughout the ambrosial night.

And when the early-born, rosy-finger dawn smiled
Sweetly upon him, warming him awake with golden
Light, he rose and girded himself in cotton trousers,
Blue and well-riveted, and a shirt, tee in form, all
One bright green. Upon his contrary-minded legs
He made his way, duck-like, to the cold-floored
Hall in which great feasts were held. No servants
Found therein, he shed a well-hid tear at cruel
Misfortune, then with skilled fingers fumbled not
The filters nor the beans, but sought to brew
Strong coffee, and he did. The bitter black elixir
Fast consumed, he brightened, and his newly-wakened
Mind sent wingéd words from fingertip to keyboard.
The much-distracted Thorp, so slow to read, thought
Well, and quickly wrote and shared these words:

With no further ado, Three Things to Love About The Odyssey:

  • Manly Men Showing Emotion. These ancient Greek heroes were a heart-on-their-sleeves (or togas) lot, weeping, kissing, raging, and pleading with the gods. Bloody, violent, aggressive; romantic, generous, gentle. What’s not to love?
  • Oft-Hyphenated Modifiers and Superlatives. Godly Odysseus, whose father was like a god to the people, and whose own son was in form like the immortals, rises each day at the first appearance of the early-born, rosy-fingered dawn, straps fine sandals to his shining feet, grabs his double-edged sword of pitiless bronze, and … well, you get the idea.
  • Well Versed in Verse. The particular translation I picked up at the used book store is The Odyssey of Homer: A New Verse Translation by Albert Cook (W.W. Norton and Company, Inc., New York, 1967). I was looking for a verse translation, which seem to be difficult to come by. A bookstore clerk once asked why. I said because it was written as poetry. (Might as well have said, “It’s the ancient Geek in me.”) Anyway, what caught my eye was not only the fact that this was a verse translation, but the notes on the back say, “[Cook’s translation] is distinguished by its adherence to one simple principle: to reflect faithfully what Homer’s Greek says. To achieve this end, Mr. Cook has produced a translation that follows the original line for line — even to the preservation of important key phrases at the beginnings of the lines.” It’s true there is much repetition of phrases and descriptions, but it they almost read as sight words in the end; the reading moves swiftly and calls to mind that this was an oral work first and foremost. Well done.

Next up? Joyce’s Ulysses was on tap, but now I’m not sure. I’ll surprise you — hopefully in less than 11 months.

4 thoughts on “Homer, or Three Things to Love About The Odyssey

  1. This is awesome. I stand humbled by your Odyssey tribute poem, particularly “well-riveted” and “his godly companions who would/Soon join him online,” which I loved.

    In the end, your normal speed readings are probably better than reading them all in 15 weeks and then having to read nothing by Nancy Drew books and Us Weekly for three months to unwind…


  2. Thank you both, steadfast supporters. I was personally proudest of:

    … No servants
    Found therein, he shed a well-hid tear at cruel
    Misfortune, then with skilled fingers fumbled not
    The filters nor the beans, but sought to brew
    Strong coffee, and he did.

    It's funny, because it's *real* …


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