The Harvard Classics Revisited: The Odyssey

I went beyond reading The Odyssey when I pulled this one off the shelf, wanting to understand it as I heard the story, I also downloaded a few of the Great Courses about the book. Whether or not Homer existed is still up for debate but one thing is clear, if he did exist, he was the first person to write down the tale of The Odyssey but he is not the first person to tell it. It was an oral history and handed down through oral story telling until pen touched paper.
The story is told in an odd way, starting out with Odysseus’ home and the situation with his wife and son. The king is gone and everyone wants to replace him. Once that scene is set, we go back to Odysseus where he is stuck on an island with a beautiful goddess and yet he wants to return home. The gods do not make it an easy trip for him and by the time he returns he has been gone for 20 years. Odysseus has to pretend to be a homeless beggar in his own home as he plots the bloodbath that will take place. This tale has been retold time and time again. Look at The Count of Monte Cristo or Oh Brother Where Art Thou for example. In these cases, the hero is gone from home and has to fight to return to his rightful place. The desire is home and it is here the reader learns what is important in life. Odysseus could remain on the island having sex for all eternity with a beautiful goddess that will never grow old but that is not the path of man. It may sound grand as a young man in your twenties but when you are older a little pillow talk is desirable.
There has been some talk about the Iliad being left out of the Harvard Classics and there is no record as to why that is. Even with Don Quixote it is published as part 1 and there is no part 2. Perhaps the Odyssey had the message that was desired and the whole story was not needed for the lesson to be learned. There have been several books written about Homer’s work and it would appear everyone took something different from the tale. There was an episode of Parts Unknown where Anthony Bourdain went to the Greek Isles and could see the places talked about in the classics. He made the statement “It was a tall tale. Something you would tell the wife when you have been gone for so long. Oh the sirens were hideous. All the women were ugly. I couldn’t wait to get back to you.” To which Tony’s host replied “you think he made it up?”
Is there any point in arguing if the Odyssey is true? I doubt the Greeks told the story because it was a history book. There is something more to be taken from the Odyssey and here is what I found. Duty comes at a cost. There is a difference between what is important in life and what life demands of you. Be careful who you are rude to. Slaughter your enemies until none are left standing. I’m sure there is much more to take from the text but this was just off the top of my head.
The odyssey is one of those stories I will likely go back to learning more about in the future. It seems to be one of those stories that always has more to tell. While I had interest in reading this book as a kid, I grew disinterested by high school and it wasn’t until recently that I thought about picking it up again. Like most books there is a time and place in one’s life to truly enjoy something and before now I don’t know if that would have happened. Like any tale I think it is filled with lies and half-truths. Was Odysseus riding around the seas with his men on constant booty calls. To the victors go the spoils and I think he was living it up, maybe too long. Of course, he is the hero of the tale and while we can speculate what was really going on, we will never know. The story is one to learn from, focus, stay the course, family first, don’t tempt the gods, and the list goes on. Should everyone read this? Yes, when they are ready. I find this is one of those books that people will not seek out but it will find you instead.

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