50. The Odyssey by Homer, English translation T.E. Shaw (circa 800 BC) 239 p.

are we there yet?

It’s impossible to objectively judge a story like this. It was written three thousand years ago, in a world populated by people whose beliefs, values, attitudes, and outlook on the world were so fundamentally different from our own as to make them utterly alien. Furthermore, I was reading a story that had been translated through two different barriers: from Ancient Greek to English, and from poetry to prose.

It’s very verbose, very complex and very tedious. As I was reading, trying to penetrate the Greek names and long-winded sentences (look, I know what happens when someone gets drunk, you don’t need to feed me some meandering anecdote about a centaur that had too much wine) I was really only gaining a sort of vague outline of what was going on. And if that was the case I may as well have been reading the plot summary on Wikipedia.

Oh, right, an outline of the plot. You should know parts of it. Odysseus is trying to return home after going to the Trojan War, and it takes him twenty years because, well, he lives in dangerous times. It’s told in a convoluted, non-linear way that begins in media res and relies heavily on second-hand tellings and flashbacks, which is not at all endearing to a reader who is not enjoying himself in the first place.

All the stuff that’s really well-known and at least somewhat interesting – the cave of the Cyclops, the isle of Circe etc. – takes up about 20% of the book, while the rest is all concerned about whatever his wiener son Telemachus is doing back home, or what Odysseus himself does when he returns (two thirds of the way through the story).

Odysseus is a shitty leader who makes a lot of bad decisions, gets all his men killed and has his head shoved firmly up his own ass, constantly telling people how great he is at everything. He also has a pretty warped moral compass; for example, upon arriving home, after he bonds with Telemachus by slaughtering the 108 suitors who had been trying to woo his wife, he discovers that several of his housemaids had been having sex with the suitors during the TWENTY GODDAMN YEARS they’ve been there. I know, unthinkable, right? Odysseus is so infuriated by this that he orders them killed. As they are herded into a courtyard, weeping piteously, Telemachus speaks up, and for a minute I thought there was going to be some kind of sanity, but apparently young Telemachus, no doubt stroking his chin in deep thought, is concerned that the housemaids aren’t being punished enough, and orders for them to die in a slow and painful method. Then he and Odysseus cut a dude’s wang off and feed it to the dogs. You see what I mean when I talk about what different attitudes these people had.

So, to sum up, is the Odyssey an excellent tale for its time? Yes.
Is it an excellent tale for a modern reader? No – it hails from an incomprehensible culture, and our tastes are tailored to our own.
Is it worth studying for a student of literature? Yes – but do yourself a favour and google a synopsis.

Anyway, who cares, I made it to fifty books with 48 hours to spare.


Books: 50/50
Pages: 16, 272