The Odyssey

by Homer

The Odyssey continues the story immediately after the sacking of Troy by the Greeks, so you can imagine it’s at least a bit exciting, picking this up so soon after finishing The Iliad. The hero, Odysseus, attempts to return to Ithaca, to his patient wife and son whom he left as an infant. Angering the god, Poseidon, the Earth Shaker, he’s met by numerous trials and tribulations, keeping him away from home twenty whole years after originally leaving for war. While The Odyssey relates this difficult journey, the majority of immediate conflict concerns the score of Suitors, the “best” men from all across Greece, looking to marry the missing hero’s wife, Penelope, all while overstaying their welcome in his castle, taking advantage of the hospitality expected by the Ancient Greeks, eating the family out of house and home.

One aspect of The Odyssey I found particularly interesting was the author’s choice to start the epic poem near the end of Odysseus’ journey. By doing so, Homer effectively builds up the hero’s trials by both hinting at what happened through rumours among men and brief discussions between gods, who relate what actually happened. As well, he establishes, early on, the troubles on Ithaca and the urgency with which Odysseus needs to return. Much like The Iliad, however, The Odyssey is not without its tiresome and repetitive passages; I’m under the impression that this is unavoidable with the oral form with which both were likely originally delivered, but, even with an understanding of this, long stretches of the poem are still difficult to get through.

After making my way through both famous poems, however, I’m once again left with an impression that this was a terrifying era. In this case, we’re shown a society with a general understanding of etiquette, but a lack of universal laws, where a man is expected to dole out punishment as he sees fit, based on his power and influence, his idea of fairness, his sense of justice. For all the strengths and faults of his work, the biggest impression Homer left on me at the end of it all is what constitutes the character of the hero: being courageous, generous, intelligent, and being a man of action. It’s qualities that seem to me not at all bad to strive for in even this modern world.