The Odyssey

Homer, Translation by Robert Fagles


Why The Odyssey and Mt. Olympus

I went with the most obvious book pairing for Greece. The Iliad and The Odyssey by Homer are considered the beginning of literature and probably the most known Greek books. In truth, I prefer The Iliad. However, I picked The Odyssey because it is the first and ultimate journey novel as it recounts the ten years it takes Odysseus to make his way home to Ithaca after the Trojan War which makes it more of a parallel to 52 Peaks . I first read this book in junior high and then read it later in my thirties and I think the translation by Robert Fagles is particularly well done.

Greek literature has a special place in my heart and I am overwhelmed by the influence it continues to have on the written word thousands of years later. I could have picked a lot of different books here, so I’ll give you a few additional suggestions. The Iliad would be the next logical recommendation. It’s a riveting story of the Trojan War with Achilles playing a large role. The plays by Euripides (Medea) and Aeschylus (The Oresteia) are the beginning of theatrical drama and comedy. The Greek lyric poet Sappho is one of the earliest and most known female writers in ancient history. The Histories by Herodotus (the “father of history”) is an excellent account of the Persian War. Thucydides wrote an excellent History of the Peloponnesian War. If you are looking for a more modern read, then I recommend The Battle of Salamis by Barry Strauss from 2005.  It’s a great narrative about a key turning point in the Persian War. Finally, any book of Greek Mythology can fill many hours quickly and it’s surprising how many stories and phrases we have come from the tales of the Greek gods and heroes.

More About The Odyssey

The Odyssey is one of two major ancient Greek epic poems attributed to Homer. It is, in part, a sequel to The Iliad, the other work ascribed to Homer. The poem is fundamental to the modern Western canon, and is the second oldest extant work of Western literature, The Iliad being the oldest. Scholars believe it was composed near the end of the 8th century BC, somewhere in Ionia, the Greek coastal region of Anatolia. In the English language as well as many others, the word odyssey has come to refer to an epic voyage.

The poem mainly focuses on the Greek hero Odysseus (known as Ulysses in Roman myths) and his journey home after the fall of Troy. It takes Odysseus ten years to reach Ithaca after the ten-year Trojan War. In his absence, it is assumed he has died, and his wife Penelope and son Telemachus must deal with a group of unruly suitors, who compete for Penelope’s hand in marriage.

The main part of the novel is Odysseus’ journey home. Odysseus played a large role in the ending of the Trojan War by conceiving of the idea for the Trojan Horse. Shortly after starting the return home, storms blow his ships off course and he ends up captured by a Cyclops. Odysseus escapes by blinding the Cyclops but foolishly reveals his name. The Cyclops Polyphemus is the son of Poseidon, the God of the Sea, and as revenge, Poseidon sabotages Odysseus for ten years and Odysseus only eventually finds his way home with the interference of his protector, the goddess Athena. During his long journey home, Odyssey encounters the witch-goddess Circe, spends seven years in captivity to Calypso, avoids the temptations of the Sirens, and sails through the duel threat of Scylla (the six-headed monster) and Charybdis (the whirlpool). Odysseus finally does reach Ithaca and has one of the most dramatic homecomings in all literature.