Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Odyssey by Homer: Wrap-up

I have greatly enjoyed the readalong of The Odyssey hosted by Trish from Love, Laughter, and Touch of Insanity, I only regret that it all went on at a busy time and I've gotten behind in posting and reading posts.  What a great group of participants!  I have been so enriched and entertained, and I can't wait to read everyone's thoughts for the last couple of weeks now that things have slowed down a teensy bit.

One of the things that kept us busy in November was an odyssey of our own -- to San Francisco.  We even traveled in our beat-up Honda Odyssey that has taken us on many previous adventures.  Although we did not face the trials that our scheming man-of-exploits did, we did take a short, chilly voyage to Alcatraz:

We weren't held captive, but we tried to lock a few of our crew in:

We were pretty smart and didn't kill any cattle, but we did visit with some livestock:

We feasted of course (without the sacrificial rites):

and tested our mettle by walking across the Golden Gate Bridge and back in the wind:

We didn't see any six-headed monsters, but we thought these jellyfish were pretty cool:

Really, the scariest thing we encountered was this giant Jelly Belly:

He looks pretty menacing to me.  Take away one eye and he's a dead ringer for Polyphemus.

But now back to Homer's Odyssey.  Like I mentioned in a past review of The Iliad, what I find most exciting about The Odyssey is how old it is.  We get this amazing peek at ancient Greek society and its people, and we get to try to figure out what makes them tick.  Sometimes, we feel a connection, and think that not much has changed over the millennia.  At other times while reading, we're flabbergasted at the things they deem to be valuable and moral, and we think, "What the heck is wrong with these people?" 

To the modern reader, the story of Odysseus' perilous journey and his domestic troubles is mired in contradictions that can be just plain irritating.  How is it that the people who seemingly read and believe in a sign from every eagle they see in the sky can't believe it when they are repeatedly told that Odysseus has returned?  How can they be so forgiving of Helen, saying it is the gods' fault she did what she did, but then slaughter all of the women who fooled around with the suitors?  Why does Zeus demand hospitality amongst mortals, but then allows Poseidon to punish the Phaeacians  just because they like to help wayward travelers?  And why, oh why, is it okay for Odysseus to have his flings with goddesses while Penelope spends three years weaving a freakin' shroud for her father-in-law to delay any kind of relationship with another man?

I know that there are answers and explanations for all of these questions, but they are still striking and cause a certain amount of exasperation.  It doesn't help that the characters and gods always seem to be lying or in disguise, and as a result they always need to be "testing" one another.  They make things so much more complicated than they need to be.  But then, don't we do the same thing?  I know I can be a bundle of contradictions myself, and I probably make life harder than it needs to be.  I am human, after all.

I think in the end what connects us most to the ancient Greeks is our zeal for entertainment, especially entertainment that reflects our core values.  Those values may have changed, as well as our mode of reception, but just as regular joes 3,000 or more years ago listened raptly to the bards reciting their songs, we flock to the theaters to experience the latest installment of Harry Potter, or a few years ago, The Lord of the Rings.  Only instead of the mighty warrior who proves that "might makes right," we revere and embrace the unexpected, humble hero whose greatest power comes from love.  We've come a long way, haven't we?*

*And in some cases, we have a long way to go . . .


  1. Oh that Jelly Belly is priceless. Love all the pictures!!

  2. Love San Francisco!

    I read Odyssey forever ago, and now need to read The Iliad. It remains to be seen if I get to it this month or not.

  3. I love the connection between your trip and the Odyssey! Awesome!

  4. What an Odyssey - a giant jelly belly, yikes!!!

  5. What a fabulous post! You combine terrific humor, family life, and literary analysis. I love your odyssey in the Odyssey, facing all your adventures.

  6. I love the blend of personal news and Odyssey thoughts!

    It is really cool that we can read this epic that was composed and shared so very many years ago. It gives us a glimpse of a society and culture so different from our own, yet so similar in some ways.

  7. Shelley--I've loved reading your updates (don't feel bad about being behind--I didn't make it around to everyone last week with the holidays). You've listed some great questions and I'm not sure that there is ONE answer to any of them. But that's why we still read these, huh? Because teachers can confuse their 15 year old students with problems that have no solutions.

    Thanks for also sharing your trip--looks like a blast! It was so gray and overcast when I went to San Francisco that we couldn't even see the bridge suspension lines while we were driving ON the bridge! So disappointing.

    Thanks again for reading with us. ;)

  8. I've never been to San Francisco. I'm so jealous! It looks like you had a great time.

    It's lovely to read your thoughts on the Odyssey. Their customs are so strange, but I guess to them, ours would be too. I did think the testing thing was so strange. Especially when Odysseus tested his weeping father. It seemed so cruel.

  9. A journey is a journey . . . but yours looks like a lot more fun (and fewer casualties).

  10. Congratulations on finishing the book. Your own odyssey looks like more fun.

  11. Looks like you had fun in my town of San Francisco - I love Alcatraz!

    Great job on finishing the Odyssey!

  12. This is such a great review of the book - you raise so many awesome points about entertainment and the frustration we feel about the different standards for characters. I never thought about Helen's treatment versus the different handmaids, but it's true - what is that?