Here is a beautiful Penguin Classics edition of the timeless Odyssey by Homer. There always is a good reason to (re)read this eternal classic. The flawless and poetic language, the Greek culture, the avant-gardiste women’s role, and of course the cultural impact on our modern literature – from Margaret Atwood and James Joyce to Jean Giraudoux and André Gide.
Everyone knows the Odyssey. It is one of the most important foundational works of Western literature; the title has become a common noun. Even if you haven’t read the Odyssey itself, you have a sense of what an odyssey is. The homeward wanderer, the giants and witches that threaten to prevent his return, his faithful wife, his battle to reclaim his house. The Odyssey endures partly because it is a brilliantly told, highly engaging story, and partly because it addresses themes that people can still identify with. Although the world of Homer is vastly different from our own, and the heroic and supernatural elements of the tale place it firmly outside the naturalistic realm, the psychology of the characters still rings true, and fabulous events are easily interpreted as metaphors for the more mundane trials experienced by every human being.
The notion of life as a journey fraught with intrigue, temptation, romance and peril is so familiar that it has become a cliché, but it still has rich potential for original elaboration, and the Odyssey has inspired countless works which use elements of Homer’s tale for their own purposes. Some are retellings of the whole epic, ranging from simple adaptations, designed to make it briefer and more accessible without altering it in any important way, to radical up-datings. Some recount the story from another point of view, giving us a fresh perspective on the events. Some take a minor incident as the basis for a new, fully imagined story, one that overlaps only slightly with Homer’s Odyssey; some deviate from Homer’s account of events, proposing new outcomes. The most ambitious are grand re-imaginings that use the Odyssey as a framework on which to construct a new fully developed fictional world. Each of these derivitive works has its own integrity, like any work of literature, each also responds to the aesthetic standards of its period: constantly shifting notions of what a work of literature should sound like, and what function it should serve.