The Odyssey by Homer must be The Classic, being one of the oldest novels to survive history (written some 9 or 8 centuries BC).
I didn’t study literature in high school or university, so I did not have cause to read The Odyssey any early. As part of my own re-education and reading broadly, I decided to tackle the old text.
The version I read was very well translated. It wasn’t difficult to read, as such, and the prose was okay. But it was very obvious that it was written in a different time.
Even books written a couple of hundred years ago are written very differently.
Now, we seem to like more description, less dialogue, and a faster pace.
The slow pace of The Odyssey was the biggest difference in writing style. There was so much adventure in this book, and yet it was primarily told through dialogue. And the dialogue dwelt on aspects that would have been relevant centuries ago, whereas are not now. It was also repetitive.
The Odyssey is the sequel to The Illiad. The Illiad is a poem about the siege of Troy. The Odyssey is about Odysseus’ trip home after the siege of Troy – the kind go Ithaca. The siege kept him away for ten years. Then it took him an additional 9 years to get home!
The adventures include run-ins with gods, demi-gods, nymphs, monsters, cyclops, giants, and weather! Odysseus is also kept captured for a good part of that time with a goddess who wanted him for her lover, and to turn him into an immortal.
In many ways, it is a love story, and a story of knowing yourself and your values. Because despite all temptations, Odysseus just wants to get him to his wife and beloved Ithaca. He passes tests of his character, and ultimately has a home-coming.
Despite making it home, there are situations at home that he has to deal with, which have arisen over his absence. But his loving wife is still waiting for him. And Homer points out quite clearly about another wife who didn’t wait for the return of her husband from war, and the husband’s subsequence assignation – all leading to the doom of the wife and her lover. So the book contains lessons for the waiting wife …!
There is also a lot of emphasis put on ceremony, and welcoming a guest. There seems to be a process of cleansing, making an animal sacrifice and feasting, as well as a custom of making lavish gifts.
Over all, I am glad I read it, although it took me a long time to read (primarily because it was not compelling by being quite longwinded). Now I have that cultural understanding of the references to this book, as well as the themes it explores.