The Odyssey is my comfort book. The book that I have fashioned my life after to a large extent. So much so that when I feel there is an unnameable crisis, of a personal or spiritual nature, looming I run to read excerpts from Homer’s epic.
There is something that reassures me about the adventures of Odysseus, as he braves cannibals, sirens and mythical beings to finally come home. His fortunes are never more than can be loaded into deep bowed well trimmed ships. Every island he runs ashore he explores curiously and with such a sense of adventure that one cannot but help wonder how restless he might get when finally he reached Ithaca after all his adventures.
The Consummate Conceited Trickster
Odysseus’s trials and turns at almost every point of his journey is his own fabrication. When Polyphemus, Poseidon’s cannibal Cyclops son stands fuming at the unknown trickster who has blinded him, Odysseus cannot bear to sail away anonymously. He has to gloat over his handiwork and proclaims his name as a final stamp of victory thus bringing upon him Poseidon’s wrath. Similarly, on Circe’s island, when he has the option to leave behind half his crew and sail off, he refuses to do so. He presses on because “he has to”. It is this restlessness and need to explore that takes Odyssey forward.
There is something about the scale of the epic that is mesmerizing. Odysseus is trapped in the Goddess Calypso’s island for around 7 years. 7 YEARS! That is a lot of time. Similarly, Odysseus and crew spend a year at Circe’s. And people wonder why he took 10 years to return to Ithaca.
The Lazy Man’s Guide to reading The Odyssey
Step 1: First grab hold of a copy of Gareth Hind’s graphic novel. It is, in my really layman’s opinion, very well composed. The illustrations and texts are as true to the epic as can be imagined. Odysseus is a chiseled, wise looking haggard with an impressive beard. The characters do not have a west coast accent and Poseidon’s storms are suitably menacing.
Step 2: Read through the graphic novel.
Step 3: Pick up one of the “acclaimed bigass” verse copy of The Odyssey (except maybe Robert Fagle’s version). I read it and it is atrocious. It trivializes the epic under the pretext of making it accessible.
Even today, Odysseus embodies the spirit of adventurers, entrepreneurs and other leaders in their fields. Odysseus’ vision, resourcefulness, gift of gab and personality saves his and his crews lives many a times. He cajoles, threatens and inspires those who follow him even though they know he himself is lost at sea. Isn’t that what great people do?
In today’s times Odysseus might have a less than splendid time with his adventures though. When charter lines are tightly monitored. Where alien landing is met with gun wielding patrolmen. Where there is hardly an unexplored race that explorer’s can approach without precognition.
Odysseus would still have ruled and conquered. I do not know how but Athena does not let her favorite languish in anonymity.