Book Review – The Odyssey by Homer (Robert Fagles Translation)

“We two will keep to the shelter here, eat and drink and take some joy in each other’s heartbreaking sorrows, sharing each other’s memories. Over the years, you know, a man finds solace even in old sorrows, true, a man who’s weathered many blows and wandered many miles.”

The-Odyssey-Fagles-LgWhere to even begin when reviewing something that has been studied for more than two millennia, translated into thousands of different languages, and interpreted in hundreds of different ways? It’s probably best to not say much at all and let the work speak for itself, so I’ll keep it short.

The Odyssey is among the oldest epic poems that have survived oral and written history and for anyone who has read it, they discover that there is something special here which speaks to the collective heart of humankind.

Debates have raged for centuries over just who Homer was, if Homer was at all. But when it comes down to the story we’ve received, there’s little debate as to its merit. The Odyssey is adventure, romance, horror, and fantasy. It peers into every noble and ignoble aspect of human character: a desire for justice coupled with a thirst for vengeance, arrogance born of healthy pride, and the tumultuous passage from youth to adulthood, to call out only a few experiences.

The name Odysseus holds a special meaning–“The Son of Pain.” Here was a man fated to experience trial after trial for ten years, far from home after the ten already spent fighting the Trojan War. His suffering was sometimes brought on by the gods, sometimes brought on by his associates, sometimes brought on by himself. Whether threatened by a cyclops who has no fear of the gods, lured by The Sirens who sing beautiful songs that hold him prisoner to his own past, or fighting against an overwhelming army of arrogant suitors squatting in his home, this Son of Pain is in constant battle against a hostile universe. It seems the Bronze Age Greeks had their own version of the Hebrew Job.

Though a matter of opinion, I think The Odyssey is more easily appreciated by the modern reader than The Iliad. The structure and themes parallel many modern novels. Where The Iliad was a slog at times, The Odyssey gripped me at every turn and could be said to have a more coherent plot. I’m sure much of that has to do, again, with Robert Fagles’ fantastic translation. If you haven’t read it yet, or have but it’s been a while, I urge you to pick up the Fagles version and immerse yourself.

The cliché finally makes sense. The Odyssey really is a story for the ages.

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-Phillip

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