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The Odyssey Reading Club -- Entry 1 -- Beginnings

Glenn Sumi (@glennsumi on Twitter) is a Toronto-based entertainment reporter/critic that I follow on Twitter. He and I have been known to have exchanges about Sondheim and, well, mainly Sondheim. Point is, though, today he made a comment wondering if 2012 would be the year that he finished The Odyssey, one of the two founding works of the Western canon (and, to my mind, the single greatest piece of literature ever). Being the classics nerd that I am, I immediately jumped it and said that I would read it with him, which, due to my inability to do such things by halves, has evolved into what we're calling The Odyssey Reading Club. (#OdysseyReadingClub).

The structure is simple. Beginning January 15th (or now, if you're impatient), we read one book (or chapter, if you're so inclined) of The Odyssey every two weeks, wrapping up with Book XXIV in mid-December. Yes, the pace is a bit slow, but that's what makes it manageable for everyone--even if you've never read any Homer, any epic poetry, or any classics at all, ~15 pages of Homer in 14 days is definitely manageable. So, I'm inviting you now to join in. Grab a copy, and read along. The schedule and a few translation options are below, but, I firmly believe that the power of this book is so great, that it's more important that you read it than how you read it. I will be updating my blog (I promise) with thoughts, questions, and guideposts as we progress, and I encourage you to do the same, whether on Facebook, in the comments here, on your own blog, on Twitter, or, God forbid, on Google Plus.

I encourage you to to listen to the Muse sing of the man of many ways who encountered many hardships and adventures as he returned home from the siege and destruction of Troy.

Schedule

For those of you who really like to plan, here's a schedule of which books are to be finished by what dates:
Book I January 29th
Book II February 12th
Book III February 26th
Book IV March 11th
Book V March 25th
Book VI April 8th
Book VII April 22nd
Book VIII May 6th
Book IX May 20th
Book X June 3rd
Book XI June 17th
Book XII July 1st
Book XIII July 15th
Book XIV July 29th
Book XV August 12th
Book XVI August 26th
Book XVII September 9th
Book XVIII September 23rd
Book XIV October 7th
Book XX October 21st
Book XXI November 4th
Book XXII November 18th
Book XXIII December 2nd
Book XXIV December 16th

And we're done!

A Note on Translation

Classics students and scholars have very strong opinions on translations.* Indeed, some view all translations as inherently inferior to the original. They may have a point, but let's not concern ourselves with that. Ger yourself a decent translation, preferably in poetry as opposed to prose, and dive in.

Some good choices are:
  • The translation done by Richmond Lattimore published by Harper Perennial is often cited as the most accurate, though that debate will always rage.
  • Robert Fitzgerald's translation, published by Vintage Classics, has sold over 2 million copies and is praised for its sense of Homer's poetry.
  • Penguin publishes Robert Fagles' excellent translation that reads like modern English poetry, bringing Homer's world alive for the modern reader.
Here you can find the opening passage of The Odyssey in all three translations. Check it out--maybe one speaks to you in a way that the others don't.

There are other poetical translations, but I think these three are considered to be the main choices. I'll be reading the Fitzgerald to start with, as that's the version I own from my days in college, but I shall very likely be consulting all three of them come December, because I am a huge effing nerd. Prose translations, however accurate they may be, just don't really work for me, though they may for you. There are free prose translations available online and as e-books, so if you're trying to save $10, you could consider those. Turning poetry into prose, however, always strikes me as similar to watching a film made in color in black & white--all the action may be the same, but you lose a great deal of the atmosphere.

Whatever translation you choose, however, the important thing is to read the book. It's survived essentially as is for 2500 years--and there is a reason for that. It's bloody amazing.

*One translation of Homer's Iliad which came out while I was in college, which sought to modernize some of Homer's archaic phrasings, was viewed as having gone too far and was dubbed by several of my professors as the "Yo, Achilles!" translation. They did not mean this as a compliment.

Comments

  1. I agree wholeheartedly re the prose version. I also read the Fitzgerald version in school (had to Google covers to make sure!) but my 1909 edition of Harvard Classics has the volume in prose and while it's a serviceable story, it's flat and lifeless.

    As you know I'll be taking on that new-fangled, "but what about the girls?" version by Prof. Fagles. (Plus I'm sort of a Ted Hughes fangirl and he gave it a nice review so there you go.)

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  2. I will be hopefully hitting the used bookstores (phrased that way intentionally) today or tomorrow. I must admit I have never read The Odyssey. Thus I am looking forward to this, but with no small amount of trepidation as well.

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