The Little Odyssey
You’ve retold The Odyssey, by Homer. It is titled The Little Odyssey. I’ve read it, by the way, and it’s beautiful. I’ve read at least three translations of The Odyssey and this is a good one.
But while I loved it, some people will say there are plenty of translations in print. Why do we need another one? How would you answer that question?
Well, yes. You’re right. There are several translations in print. This one is unique, however, in that it is a retelling rather than a translation and it is about half the length of the original. I wanted to create a version of The Odyssey that focused purely on the central story line. As you may be aware, The Odyssey of Homer contains many auxiliary stories to the central story line. These are artistically and critically important treasures that we must cherish but were, in many cases, consider opulent for this work. In contrast, The Little Odyssey focuses just on the struggle and key story line of the protagonist, Odysseus.
What about The Odyssey do you like the most?
That’s a good question but it’s rather like asking me to describe what I like most about the sea. There are so many ways to answer that question.
There is a consoling message there comforting to our human predicament. A consoling message of longsuffering, human weakness, redemption, the triumph of justice and even a similitude of resurrection and a second coming.
All these messages are, together, a microcosm of our animated struggle for completion. And so we wishfully identify with Odysseus who faced and overcame hardships with cunning versatility. We identify with him because he endured manifold, hideous trials, some by miscalculation, others by the malevolent providence of Poseidon on his arduous return from the Trojan War to his Kingdom of Ithaca and his queen, Penelope. He did not try to transcend his pain-filled, yearning love for Ithaca and Penelope. He completed his love for them by progressive suffering. And here is Homer’s crystalline message: we too will endure much suffering in our quest for completion.
So, we admire Odysseus for many reasons yet I feel these are the two primary reasons: first, he suffered magnificently as we often suffer alone in silence and so he becomes special kin to us; and, secondly, he overcame his hideous trials through longsuffering in ways that succeeded. He could have remained with mesmerically beautiful Calypso in her garden island. He could have remained with equally beautiful Circe in idylls of splendor. Rather, he chose Ithaca and Penelope and we love him for this.
Why? Why would we love him for this?
Should he have remained in either of these new lands with new wives, would we not love him still? No, we would not. Had he done so, he would not have completed himself. Self completion, although it is painful, is singularly why Odysseus is the worthiest of heroes. Therein lies the story’s immense value – this perennial epic, evergreen before millennia.
You wrote The Little Odyssey in rhyming iambic pentameter or what is known as heroic couplet. Why did you use heroic couplet?
Yes, heroic couplet. I chose it because it’s a sort of rhapsody of rhythm and rhyme. The rhythm being the meter of ten syllables in each line – the rhyme being the song-like end of two lines together.
Because of this rhythm and rhyme, heroic couplet seems to be in sync with our breathing and heartbeat and is, therefore, I feel, graceful and beautiful.
That’s fascinating. All attuned to the heartbeat! Much like music in that way, I suppose. All very interesting and fascinating.
The Odyssey is quite old, isn’t it?
Oh, yes. It’s very, very old. Most experts believe The Odyssey was written approximately 500 to 1,000 BC. Others feel it may be much older. Maybe 4,000 years old. During these ancient times, a poet recited or, perhaps, sang epic verse. These poem-stories were preserved by memory. They were presented orally giving audiences the rich, personal dimensions of voice, gesture and facial expression. This made their recitations powerfully dramatic. The poets were, in this sense, thespians. This exclusive oral presentation also made their hearing rare and, therefore, uniquely, profoundly entertaining and immensely valuable. In some cases, The Iliad would have been recited prior to its sequel, The Odyssey.
Now, The Iliad is commonly ascribed with masculinity because it’s about the contest of dominance amongst men and the corresponding glory and tragedy of the Trojan War. There can be little doubt as to The Iliad’s powerful influence upon Western Civilization. Of course, The Odyssey has had equal, if not greater, effect upon Occidental culture. It is, however, considered the feminine of the two stories since women have more prominent roles and it deals with family matters of hearth and home. So, although The Odyssey contains feminine dimensions compared to The Iliad, it is, when considered on its own merits, an appropriate balance of masculinity and femininity. This balance may have set a societal precedent, perhaps unmatched, in Western thought.
Yet, possibly the most important consequence of The Odyssey is, once again, Odysseus himself; for, I believe he was a forerunner and catalyst of the Greek Miracle and later the Renaissance since his distinction is versatility and resourceful intellectuality. Thus, we see the profundity of his character. It brazenly defies slavery, peasantry and commonness. It brazenly defies all else save fullness and completion. So, notwithstanding The Odyssey’s stunning beauty, Odysseus’ unyielding character is one of the compelling reasons each succeeding generation must be taught to revere and treasure this gift.
Besides an entertaining read, which it certainly is, what will readers receive from reading, The Little Odyssey?
Thank you. Right. I think it will be entertaining to the reader of classics.
What will they receive from it? Well, because this work is an abbreviation of The Odyssey, I feel it is ideal for the bibliophile seeking to enjoy a fresh look at a beloved classic as well as the uninitiated reader or student who, after reading it, may be inspired to read the full-flowered original.
Yet, there’s a much, much more important thing they will receive. I think they will see other sides and angles and ways of The Odyssey. If I did my duty, they will see some sparklings, some glimmerings of truth and beauty .