Odyssey – Homer (Stanley Lombardo, trans.)

Hackett Publishing, 1999
After the stories of shipwrecks and survival in Leslie’s book, I decided to complete my Homer duology and do the Odyssey.
It’s another fantastic translation by Lombardo, and brings the poem alive.
Knowing about the poem and actually reading it (for the first time, unlike the Iliad) are two different things, obviously. All the juicy, famous bits (Circe, Lotus Eaters, Cyclops, etc.) that have been passed down to us through art at literature are actually taken care of quickly, with the Lotus Eaters getting so short a mention I kept waiting for them to come back. For me, a lot of this surprise comes from reading Joyce’s Ulysses (10 years ago, blimey), who devotes a whole chapter (“Wandering Rocks”) to an option that Odyssius doesn’t even take. (I wonder how different my reading of Joyce would have been if I had read this first, despite using three navigational supplements alongside it.)
Such a different work than the straightforward Iliad, here full of time-shifts, false narratives, flashbacks. Disguises and tests of loyalty.
In a discussion the other night, my friend DJ mentioned that one of the book’s themes is hospitality, which indeed strikes me as correct. How to treat guests, and how to act when you are a guest is an idea returned to over and over, from the Oxen of the Sun and Circe back to Odyssius’s return, where his ill-treatment at the hands of the beggars makes his revenge much sweeter–though incredibly delayed.
My favorite moment, very personal, is the brief episode with the dog Argus, who waits twenty lonely, abused years for his master’s return, and is the only being that recognizes him in disguise. Once he has seen his master enter his home, the dog gives up the ghost. Homer handles this with great economy and emotion and little melodrama.
Like the Iliad, the epic ends in an unexpected place, with Odyssius about to go out again into battle, but called back suddenly by the gods. Don’t you think you’ve had enough of that, the gods ask, rhetorically.

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