I've lost count as to how many times I've read it in whole. There are many times when I will pull an edition off the shelf just to read a section. The Fagles edition (pictured) is my most well-loved copy, as it was the one I read from when I studied it in college. At the time, I didn't understand my professor's intention in having his class of freshman English majors read it for weeks on end when all the other classes were diving into Dickens, Brontes, and Austen. Where they read a novel a week, we pored over every line of Homer's The Odyssey. Reading my edition is like revisiting my time in his classroom. There are passages highlighted in purple, post-it notes marking reading assignments, and little notes jotted in the margins (as well as poorly drawn caricatures of my tweed-wearing professor). Now I am glad he made us study it. I only wish I got to study everything I read as deeply as I studied The Odyssey.
In any case, it is a book that has followed me in my life. It served as the inspiration for my place here on the internet and was the first book I marked off my list of 250. I haven't read it fully since then (nearly 4 years ago), so I miss it.
Most kids read an abridged version of The Odyssey when they are in school. Our district places the reading of it in our 9th grade year (along with To Kill a Mockingbird and Romeo and Juliet). The abridged version focuses mainly on Odysseus, a hero of the Trojan War who is struggling to come home after 20 years away. In the version our students read, it picks up with Odysseus telling his story and focuses on his battles against the various monsters of the Greek isles, his time with Circe, and his eventual return home to Penelope. Granted, those are some of the most interesting of the books included in the whole story, but they only comprise about half of the actual text (I think the actual number is 9....out of 24 books). The abridged version most are familiar with leave out the story and coming of age of Telemachus, Odysseus' son, and the well-detailed and drawn out homecoming of Odysseus to Ithaca (the last 12 books...so essentially HALF of the text).
I find that while I really enjoy Odysseus' exploits (you know, the murder, deceit, and that journey to the land of the dead), I also really enjoy Telemachus and his coming of age. Not to mention, the reuniting of Telemachus and Odysseus at home and the big "finale" of the story in Ithaca. Those are the pieces I'm glad I studied in college. I appreciate them more and find that they tell more of a story than defeating the Cyclops (that scene does have some wonderful imagery...).
Anyway, the whole story begins with the bard, those responsible for actually telling the tale in ancient Greece. The opening lines, according to Fagles, go like this.
“Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns
driven time and again off course, once he had plundered
the hallowed heights of Troy.
Many cities of men he saw and learned their minds,
many pains he suffered, heartsick on the open sea,
fighting to save his life and bring his comrades home.
But he could not save them from disaster, hard as he strove—
the recklessness of their own ways destroyed them all,
the blind fools, they devoured the cattle of the Sun
and the Sungod wiped from sight the day of their return.
Launch out on his story, Muse, daughter of Zeus,
start from where you will-sing for our time too.”
I love his call for inspiration-for the right words to tell the story of Odysseus as he should. And it really is the last two lines that grab me every time-that inspire me to want to read on and relearn the story of Odysseus and his son. Because from the beginning, we know that Odysseus is a man who has know heartache and struggle. He has lost his men and is simply trying to return home against all odds and the wishes of the gods. But he will persevere and return.
I love that.
It inspires me.
Now, I'm going to go read the rest of the first book and become absorbed in the tale all over again.