I first read The Odyssey when I was a freshman in high school. I think it might actually have been the very first assigned reading that year, and I remember being excited for it, and liking the story, but having suuuuuch a hard time getting through it, because the translation I was reading was so dense. Looking back (and now having read this translation) I don’t actually think I liked it as much as I thought I did, and I have some definite opinions about the Greeks being huge jerks.
Mostly that they are huge jerks! I do NOT remember Odysseus and his crew being such brainless killers. Everywhere they go, they slaughter people, most of the time for no reason. They just raid a village (pillaging, raping, etc.) on their way home, just because they can. And the narrative clearly wants us to think this is normal and good. That really threw me.
The best thing about this particular edition is that Wilson wrote it so accessibly. There is an incredibly interesting foreword and section with translator’s notes where she talks about the history and the context of the poem that you really shouldn’t skip, and where she talks about why she chose to translate it in such accessible language, when most translators give it an intentionally elevated style to mimic the supposedly ancient feel. Wilson rightly points out that this is nonsense, because this poem comes directly from the oral tradition, where by necessity it was accessible, repetitive, and most often in plain language of the day. One of the aims of her translation was to try and mimic as closely as possible the style to recreate the experience for modern readers without any unnecessary constructed barriers.
I also did not remember that the parts that most people associate with The Odyssey (Circe, the Cyclops, Scylla and Charybdis) make up only about 25% of the book. Mostly it is Odysseus telling his story in somebody else’s halls, then going home halfway through and pretending to be a dirty beggar there, and listening to other people’s stories, before murdering all of his wife’s suitors without remorse.
I probably wouldn’t have picked this up without ElCicco’s lovely review. She does a much better job of talking about it than I do, so I recommend clicking and reading if you would like something more comprehensive.
I would rate the actual poem three stars. The fourth star is entirely for this edition, which I thoroughly enjoyed.
CBR Bingo: Throwback Thursday (Review an old favorite you haven’t read in a while.)