The Odyssey is my comfort book, a book that I have fashioned my life after to a large extent, so much so that, when I feel there is an unnameable crisis looming, of a personal or spiritual nature, I tend 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 go home. His fortunes are never more than can be loaded into deep bowed well-trimmed ships. Every island he runs ashore he curiously explores with such a sense of adventure that one cannot but help wonder how restless he might get when finally he reaches Ithaca after all his adventures.
The Consummate Conceited Trickster
Odysseus’s trials at almost every stage of his journey are his own fabrication. When Polyphemus, Poseidon’s cannibal Cyclops son, frustratingly fumes at the unknown trickster who has blinded him, Odysseus cannot bear to sail away anonymously. He has to gloat over his handiwork and proclaim his name as a final stamp of victory, 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, this need to explore, that takes The Odyssey forward.
There is also 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 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, eloquence, and personality, save him and his crews lives many a time. 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. When charter lines are tightly monitored, where alien landing is met with gun-wielding patrolmen and where there is hardly an unexplored race that explorers 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.