The Odyssey Readalong Wk 1 Bks 1-3


Welcome to The Odyssey Readalong!

Who’s with me?

My husband G. Grod is supposed to be but he can’t seem to finish reading Caitlin Moran’s How to be a Girl, but once he does he says he’s going to start The Odyssey, because he’s gung ho to read Ulysses next year.

As you may know by now, we’re weird like that in our family.

But, since I’m the moderator, I not only read the first 3 sections already, but also did a smidgen of research on them. This epic was written sometime between 600 and 800 BCE (that’s Before Common Era, because, especially since we’re talking about the Greeks it makes more sense to use this non-Christian descriptor even though Jesus was so important, whether he was the savior or not, that BCE and BC are the same.) That means it’s had longer than most works to be studied and debated. There is so much to know that I’ve decided I’m going to try and keep things simple, on a need-to-know basis for helpfulness in the upcoming Ulysses readalong.

About The Odyssey in general: it may or may not have been written by a poet named Homer, who may or may not have been the same one who wrote The Iliad, which was about the 10-year Trojan War, where The Odyssey is about Odysseus’ 10-year journey home from the war. There’s lots of argument for and against. One theory has it that The Iliad was by Homer, and the Odyssey by a child (Homer Jr.?) or apprentice. There are many translations, I’m reading the one by Lattimore since we had it in our house.

Book 1 opens with an invocation to Athene, goddess of wisdom.

Tell me, Muse, of the man of many ways, who was driven
far journeys, after he had sacked Troy’s sacred citadel.
Many were they whose cities he saw, whose minds he learned of,
many the pains he suffered in his spirit on the wide sea,
struggling for his own life and the homecoming of his companions.
Even so he could not save his companions, hard though
he strove to,; they were destroyed by their own wild recklessness,
fools, who devoured the oxen of Helios, the Sun God,
And he took away the day of their homecoming. Fom some point
here, goddess, daughter of Zeus, speak, and begin our story.

Book 1 is part of the first four books about Odysseus’ son, Telemachos. There is quite a lot here about a murder of Aigisthos, but I want to focus on the big O, who is being held as a sex captive by Kalypso on her hard-to-pronounce island Ogygia. Poseidon the powerful and moody sea god is angry with Odysseus and is impeding his trip home. We learn later it’s because O killed Polyphemus, a cyclopes and child of Poseidon.

Athene wants to move things along, so she goes to Ithaka, disguised as a guy named Mentes. Telemachos shows him/her hospitality, and she favors him and learns first hand how annoying all the suitors are who want to marry Odysseus’ wife Penelope and become king, because he’s been gone so long (20 years now ) they assume he’s dead. The suitors are eating all the food and partying and generally not being good guests. Athene hints to T that he should go find out for himself.

Book 2: Telemachos calls a meeting to complain about the suitor situation. The suitors complain because Penelope had tried to put them off by weaving a funeral cloak for Laertes, Odysseus’ father (who wasn’t even dead yet!) and every night she unraveled her work till a maid ratted her out to the suitors. Zeus sends eagles as a sign, but the crowd won’t agree on the meaning. A man named Mentor speaks up against the suitors (this is where we get that word from!) but the crowd is unmoved. Athene disguises herself as Mentor, tells T to get ready for a journey then disguises herself as T and goes about the town, recruiting for the ship, then T and Athene/Mentor and the new crew leave Ithaka.

Book 3: T goes to Pylos to get news of O from Nestor, who fought with O in the war. They arrive in a sacrificial dinner to Poseidon which they wisely do not disrupt. Lots of lines about Agamemnon and Menelaos, but I’m going to continue to not pay much attention to them other than that Odysseus waffled between which brother to follow home, and picked wrong because Menelaos and Nestor made it home. Nestor says lots of nice things about O and how T looks like O, and then Athene reveals herself as an eagle, and Nestor promises both a sacrifice of a gold-horned calf to her and horses to T for the road trip to Sparta to find out more about O.

Initial impressions: this is not a hard read, and is about Greek gods and goddesses and heroes, so full of ripping stuff. Interestingly much of the mythology is fresh in my mind from recent readings with my sons of the Percy Jackson series, which is good with some details, as in the Cyclopes being sons of Poseidon.

I’m not sure why it took so long for T to start complaining about the suitors, and why no one had gone to look for O before, but the story had to start somewhere, and 10 years plus 10 years is a nice round number.

What did others think and what questions do you have?

3 Responses to “The Odyssey Readalong Wk 1 Bks 1-3”

  1. David Vrieze Daniels Says:

    I’m with you that it isn’t a very hard read, and that was very surprising to me.
    I, unfortunately, must have been daydreaming during the Mythology units in H.S., because remember very little about them. The nice thing about reading the eBook version though it that I can quickly look them up.
    Interestingly enough, in my translation by Butler Athene is named Minerva. Which when I looked them up is the Roman equivalent of Athene. Any idea why Butler would have chosen that instead? Also, Athene is doing all of the leg work anyway, why doesn’t she just go save Odysseus? ;-)

  2. girldetective Says:

    Dave, that is ridiculous that Athena is Minerva. Homer was Greek. Interesting question why she doesn’t just wrest him from the clutches of Kalypso, but instead stirs up his son to get moving. Probably because that makes Telemachos more manly for the king succession?

  3. V Says:

    A story about a lost guy … and he doesn’t show up for the first three chapters. I had forgotten how much it is about Telemachus from the get-go. Perhaps if I had come off from reading the Iliad, but it has been a while. But I’d agree that it was easier to read than I thought. I’m reading the Fitzgerald translation, and I was expecting different spellings. Mainly, I needed a map, so I had to break out a college reference book for it. Roots of Western Tradition still paying off all these years later.