THE ODYSSEY by Homer (translator E.V.Rieu)

Penguin Classics (U.S.) 1992. Originally 750-700B.C.(!) ISBN Unknown

Homer wrote The Illiad and The Odyssey about 2700 years ago. The Illiad tells the story of the siege of Troy (in present day north-east Turkey), leading to the defeat of the Trojans by the Greeks. The Odyssey continues the story, specifically recounting the long delayed return of Odysseus, the King of Ithaca , to his island off the west coast of Greece.

Homer is fashionable once again with a film and new translations, however the E.V.Rieu edition ( Penguin Classics ) is a good one to look for. It's got a clean style and is easy to read, but most importantly, respects Homer's idiosyncratic but essential way of writing.

So who was Odysseus? He was the son of Laertes and Anticleia, and a hero in Homer's sense of being mortal but with divine characteristics. He was a renowned warrior but not quite of the stature of Achilles (son of a mortal and a God ) or Telamonian Aias, ( although he did win a contest with Aias for the armour of the dead Achilles and wasn't forgiven for it when they met in the underworld).

He was known for his cunning and was a great archer, only being beaten by Philoctetes in the archery practice at Troy. It was he who devised the strategy of the Trojan Horse to enter and capture the city, and who tried to persuade Achilles to fight, with gifts and the return to Achilles of Briseis (daughter of Briseus taken by King Agamemnon).

The Gods favoured him, particularly Pallas Athene, daughter of Zeus. It was she who spoke of the injustice of his exile on the island of Ogygia when the Gods discussed
the return of the Acheans (Greeks) from Troy.

Only Poseidon opposed him since it was Odysseus that had blinded Polyphemus the Cyclops (the son of Poseidon and a Sea Nymph). However, there was little that Poseidon could do since he was in Ethiopia when the other Gods decided to allow Odysseus to leave for Ithaca.

It was only on his return that Poseidon saw that Odysseus had left the island and decided to cause him as much trouble as possible. He is driven into a storm and only rescued from drowning by Ino, daughter of Cadmus "who was once a woman speaking like ourselves, but now lives in the salt depths of the sea ". She, " took pity on the forlorn and woebegone Odysseus...".

He swims exhausted to the shore..."All his flesh was swollen and streams of brine gushed from his mouth and nostrils. Winded and speechless he lay there too weak to stir, overwhelmed by his terrible fatigue", and is found there by the Phaeacians. They treat him as a guest, and hear the story of his first voyage that ended with his exile on the island with the Goddess and beautiful Nymph Calypso,and it is they that eventually help him to return to his island of Ithaca.

Here there is a natural dividing line in the book as Homer who is a superb artist with events and words describes the gradual awakening of the land to the return of its disguised master. - A point at which it is surely best to leave it up to him!

In the 1946 review of the E.V.Rieu edition in The Times Literary Supplement a critic wrote of , "this eternally fresh story from the youth of the world.", words which are just as true 50 years later.

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