So. I’m reading The Odyssey. I’m not really sure why, but I do know that the Trish(a)s are behind it, somehow. At least this time we’re reading something good. After the fiasco that was The Brothers Karamazov, I, too, am surprised by my willingness to read a big, fat, translated, old book.
This week’s assignment was to read Books 1-6. I got off to a late start, but The Odyssey is very easy to read, and once I started, I soon caught up. And this easy to read business? Big surprise. I tried The Iliad about 15 years ago, and didn’t get very far. It was kinda boring (I know, lame word choice, but it’s so true). I’m not sure if it’s the fact that it’s 15 years later, or that Robert Fagles is da man when it comes to translating, but reading The Odyssey is (dare I say it?) entertaining.
Now I knew the basics going in…Odysseus (hereto after known as the Big O) is taking the long way home from the war in Troy. His patient wife Penelope waits at home, fending off suitors, while Odysseus tries and tries and tries to get back to Ithaca.
What surprised me, though, was that the book (poem? epic? what the heck do I call this thing?) doesn’t start with Big O, but with his son, Telemachus. Pissed off about the suitors who are eating his family out of hearth and home, and egged on by the goddess Athena, Telemachus sets off on his own journey to find out what happened to dear old dad. Is he alive? Dead? Where the heck is he?!?
Telemachus grabs a boat and sets off in search of his father. Our kind-hearted goddess Athena goes along for the ride, disguised as an old family friend, Mentor. First stop: Pylos. They drop in on King Nestor, who is busy sacrificing lots of bulls to Poseidon (and this is a really good idea…an angry Poseidon is not a good thing). Nestor last saw Big O at Troy, where he stayed behind with Agamemnon to perform some sacrificial rights (fat lot of good that did him). But Nestor sends Telemachus on his way to his next stop, Sparta, accompanied by his own son. At Sparta, good king Menelaus (I really want to call him Wenceslaus) tells Telemachus heroic tales about his father, but then confides that, last he heard, Big O was stuck on Calypso’s island.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch (Ithaca), the suitors are planning to ambush that insolent young whippersnapper Telemachus, and kill him. With him out of the way, they figure it’ll be easier to woo Penelope. Oh yeah, way to win a heart. Kill off your intended’s son.
Finally, we catch up to Big O himself. Seems he’s spent the last few years as a captive on Calypso’s island. By day he cries on the cliffs (boo-hoo, I just want to go home, boo-hoo, I miss my wife). Nights he spends in Calypso’s bed (wife? who cares about Penelope when I’ve got a hot babe in my arms). (And this is where I rant about the double standard…it’s okay for Big O to cavort with beautiful goddesses, because, you know, all’s fair in the quest to get home, but poor Penelope gets to stay home, pine for her husband who has been gone for a heck of a long time, weave on her loom, and faint when she hears that Telemachus left home…where’s the dignity in that? And yeah, I know it’s ancient times and women didn’t get to have any fun, but still, the fainting pisses me off every time.)
Back to the action. Hermes (yeah, that Hermes…the god) visits Calypso and convinces her to let Big O go. So he spends one last night in Calypso’s bed, builds a raft and sails off into a storm. His raft is destroyed and Big O washes ashore at Scheria, where he is (sort of) rescued by the beautiful (of course) princess Nausicaa (unfortunately, her name is a bit reminiscent of nausea). At the end of Book 6, she’s taking him home to meet the ‘rents.
One final note on the action: Poseidon (god of the sea and earthquakes). Good lord, does that dude ever have it in for Big O. No wonder he can’t get home. Evidently, I missed the reason behind all of the hate, but thanks to my trusty Spark Notes (yes, I have no shame), I found out that Big O blinded Poseidon’s son, whose name I can’t remember, because it’s approximately 20 letters long.
So, lots going on. We’ve got plenty of gods and goddesses, both of the helping kind (Athena) and the vengeful kind (Poseidon). Also, the selfish kind (Calypso). We’ve also got lots of kings. Everywhere you turn, there’s a king. I’m in need of a good map, because I have no clue where Big O has been, or where he’s going (other than he’s floating around the eastern Mediterranean). We also have a passive father (Laertes, father of Odysseus, who is mentioned plenty, but seems to have no interest in the haps) and wife (come on, Penelope, do something!).
This is totally like following a soap opera. Tune in next week for the continuing adventures of Big O Goes Home. Maybe I should start a pool…how many women do you think Big O will sleep with on his journey home?