Aug 22, 2007

The Odyssey by Homer

My love for Greek mythology began when I was 7 or 8 years old. My parents bought me a copy of Michael Gibson's Gods, Men and Monsters from the Greek Myths and I literally read it until it fell apart. It was in that book that I came across my first retelling of the Odyssey. Later, I watched – again and again, as children will – an animated movie based on the epic, and my love for it was further cemented. It is surprising, then, that it took me so long to read the original, but I made it at last

Most retellings of this story focus mostly on the tale Odysseus tells the Phaeacians, the tale of his journeys, so I wasn’t as familiar with everything that comes before and after that. It was nice to find details I’d never heard about before. Not surprisingly, the story is quite gory – the description of Melanthius’ fate, for example, is nightmare inducing at best.

Having read The Penelopiad earlier this year, I paid particular attention to the hanging of the twelve maids. Somehow they were portrayed differently than I thought they would be, less innocently, perhaps – which doesn’t mean, of course, that they deserved their cruel fate.

I really liked the part with the Old Man of the Sea. Also earlier this year I read The Saga of Erik the Viking, a YA book by Terry Jones, in which he uses this same mythological figure. It’s amazing how deeply this ancient epic is still engrained in the stories that are told today.

The part when Odysseus summons the spirits of the dead remains my favourite – it’s so sad, so powerful and so brilliantly described. I remember getting shivers when I watched that part of the animated movie as a child, and reading it now I experienced a similar feeling.

Another thing I still love after all these years is Athena herself. She was always my favourite of the Greek Goddesses – a fierce fighter, and an independent and intelligent woman.

The Odyssey is repetitive and formulaic in a way that reminds me of fairy tales – which makes perfect sense, of course, as both are stories that were initially passed on orally. Once the story is written down the repetitions are no longer necessary and become redundant, which can make it drag a little at times, but mostly I fond this epic very readable. The story is very interesting and the descriptions are very vivid. Even though I was mostly already familiar with the story, I always wanted to know what came next.

The Odyssey is listed among one of the greatest stories ever told, and for a reason. I’m very glad to have read it at last. I must make an effort to “The Iliad” next year.

Other opinions:
Rhinoa's Ramblings


  1. Great review Nymeth :) The Odyssey will always be a favorite of mine. I read it when I was a first year college student taking an Ancient Greek Literature class and I fell in love with it right away. It's truly one of the best examples of story telling that exists. I enjoyed The Iliad as well, but not nearly as much as The Odyssey...still worth a read though.

  2. Great review, Nymeth! I read this one years ago and really enjoyed it. My father has always been really into Greek mythology and so most of what I learned about the subject, I learned from him.

  3. I read this back to back with the Iliad this year and loved it. The Iliad was harder on me(very gory) but the Odyssey was storytelling at it's best.

  4. thats so cool. and really quite an achievement. it isn't always that easy to see these classics through...

    i've always been very curious about the odyssey. i've read quite a few chapters of the iliad when i did classics and really enjoyed that, so i'm sure the odyssey will be great fun!

  5. I have always loved the Odyssey, and it is one of those books that I go back to every few years. You might enjoy Robert Graves' book Homer's Daughter, which gives an interesting angle to the Odyssey story. Have you read it? I've been having a blast reading greek mythology stories to my kids this summer. It's amazing how they just soak it all up!

  6. I think I remember that you didn't like The Penelopiad, but I opened that link in a new tab to see if I'm right.

    I've mostly only read kids' versions of the Greek myths, too, while my husband has read them in the original Greek. I guess we know who's the smarter one in this marriage!

  7. Lovely review, even if I can't say that I share your admiration for The Odyssey. I think I did, actually, the first 2 or three times I read it, but the fourth time, in college, burned me out. I am still somewhat fascinated with Penelope, though.

  8. My elementary school library had a whole collection of books on the Greek myths and I devoured them. Then I found that my Dad had some ancient (to me) copies of the Iliad and the Odyssey and I devoured those too that have unfortunately been lost since. I haven't read the originals yet, but these stories are some of the ones I look back fondly on from childhood.

    Great review :)

  9. Chris: Ancient Greek Literature, now there's a class I'd love to take. If there's one thing I dislike about the education system here it's the fact that you have to declare your major before you start college, and then you can only take classes in that area. It'd be very enriching to take a class like that, I imagine, but here only Classics majors would be allowed :\ I imagine that The Iliad won't be as good, but like you said it should be worth it all the same.

    Literary Feline: Thank you :) I think it's so nice to be exposed to these ancient stories as young. Of course that one also enjoys them when older, but I think they seemed...bigger, somehow, when I first read the retellings in my childhood.

    Petunia: Yeah, I've heard that The Iliad is very gory and violent. Hopefully it won't be too much for me!

    Jean Pierre: I was actually surprised by how readable this one was. You really should give it a try!

    Darla: I haven't read it, no, but you've made me curious! I will look for it.

    Dewey: I think it was Petunia you were thinking of. I actually liked it a lot. It must be wonderful to be able to read The Odyssey in the original!

    Andi: Wow, you read it 4 times! I can imagine how it might become tiresome after a while. I want to revisit this story one day, but I will let quite a few years pass first.

    Kim: These myths made such a huge impression on me when I was a child. I think they are a great part of the reason why I became a lover of fantasy later on.

  10. Great review, Nymeth!! I've always love the stories of Greek and Roman mythology. I think I need to make a consentrated effort to read by The Iliad and The Odyssey soon!

  11. That's so strange Nymeth! I wouldn't like that at all :p I was a psychology major and took all kind of classes that didn't even count towards my major. I took tons of cool literature classes including the greek lit/asian lit/sci-fi, a great eastern philosophy class, and some really cool anthropology courses, all of which in reality I've incorporated into my role as a counselor. It's unfortunate that they don't let you take other courses, because they really do affect your career and shape you as a professional in more ways than you'd imagine. But then again, you seem to do a pretty good job at educating yourself ;) What is your major by the way?

  12. I love mythology as well and your post is really inspiring! I read this as a high school freshman (abridged, I'm sure), but one day I would love to revisit!

  13. Stephanie: Thanks! You do need to, it's very much worth the effort!

    Chris: Yeah, I don't like it much either. People become too specialized in one area while remaining ignorant about other things. Learning about different things is so enriching. Asian lit and sci-fi would be awesome classes to take! My major is English now - and that's another thing, if I hadn't been forced to pick at 17, I wouldn't have wasted years in the wrong major (well, wrong for me, of course) and I wouldn't have been forced to start from scratch later on.

    Trish: This is a story I see myself coming back to over the years. It's really worth revisiting.

  14. I'm glad you finished it and enjoyed it so much. I think my favourite part was when he spent time with Circe just before going down to meet the dead. Maybe it's just because my favourite painting by Waterhouse reminds me of her (The Magic Circle as well as the one of her with the bowl). I look forward to hearing what you think of The Iliad when you get around to it.

  15. Yes, that was me that didn't like the Penelopiad. I really didn't like it.

  16. Homer, now that guy could plot. :) I always think... you know the whole oral tradition thing and how these stories were told and retold, how would the guy next to Homer have told the story -- what variations were around at the time -- was there like a boring, regular, peasant type version? You know?

  17. I read both The Iliad and The Odyssey last year. This is what I thought of it. The Iliad is like climbing a mountain, and The Odyssey is like mountain biking down it. If you thought The Odyssey was repetitive, get ready. Nonetheless, they are both important and enjoyable reads. Have fun!


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