Sunday, May 27, 2012

30 Day Book Challenge - Day 10

Post 10 - Favorite Classic Book

For this topic, while there was for obvious reasons a real temptation to discuss that famous Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf, I ultimately decided to go with something a bit more well-known, namely the Odyssey of Homer.

Now, the Odyssey is a classic in every since of the word - many of most iconic images of Greek mythology, such as the Cyclops, the Sirens, Circe - even the Trojan Horse has its chronologically earliest mention here, rather than in the Iliad (in which it is not mentioned at all).

More tied to Odysseus himself, but no less fun to read about are instances such as the trip to the Underworld, and his stratagems against Penelope's suitors. Most of these episodes have been told, and retold, and are as familiar as they are fun to revisit.

But upon a deeper look, there's a bit more to The Odyssey than a fantastical Classical Grecian picaresque. The various episodes appear quite out of order, and when you sort through the digressions and flashbacks and shifts in viewpoint, a curious pattern emerges - all those famous incidents with incredible creatures appear in stories told by Odysseus (mostly to the Phaeacians), while the "real-time" sections deal with almost entirely mundane events, such as the intrigues aimed at dislodging The Suitors. There is an unspoken but definite possibility that Ulysses (renowned for his sneakyness) might not be an entirely reliable narrator about his adventures with giants and witches.

What's more, Odysseus' more fantastic adventures are neatly framed by the two huge storms, one at the beginning of his adventures (right before the Lotus Eaters) and the other at the end (as he makes his escape from Calypso's Island). This suggests that (assuming Odysseus is not just telling tall tales) the fantastic elements exist at a remove from the "real" world.

The potential for varied interpretations like these are no doubt just as important to the survival of The Odyssey as the ubiquity of the various incidents. However, even the deepest stories also need to be fun to tell and retell, and the genius of The Odyssey is that it manages to provide both.