The Odyssey by Robert Fagles
Some Thoughts About The Odyssey
Robert Fagless translation is a jaw-droppingly beautiful rendering of Homers Odyssey, the most accessible and enthralling epic of classical Greece. Fagles captures the rapid and direct language of the original Greek, while telling the story of Odysseus in lyrics that ring with a clear, energetic voice. The story itself has never seemed more dynamic, the action more compelling, nor the descriptions so brilliant in detail. It is often said that every age demands its own translation of the classics. Fagless work is a triumph because he has not merely provided a contemporary version of Homers classic poem, but has located the right language for the timeless character of this great tale. Fagles brings the Odyssey so near, one wonders if the Hollywood adaption can be far behind. This is a terrific book.
Personal Review: The Odyssey by Robert FaglesI am not going to join in the debate on translation. I read the Fitzgerald a long time ago and enjoyed it very much. I just finished reading Fagles'
translation and was completely enthralled. Do not listen to anyone who tells you that one translation is closer to Homer (in some way which they rarely explain). Just find the one that grabs you by your reader's neck and pulls you in. The Odyssey is essential, charming and occassionally astounding. It's main characters are people who we recognize, who we some times understand and who sometimes are bizarrely foreign. I want to talk about some of my reactions to the book. In many ways, this review is more for people who have already read it. I would love some knowledgeable comments on the points I want to discuss. There many things about the book to puzzle over and ponder. Bernard Knox brings up one of the puzzles in his very useful introduction. I am talking about the whole issue of Odysseus' renown or fame. Many times throughout the book, either Telemachus or Penelope explains that the fact that Odysseus has disappeared is a problem. It seems almost as if it would be preferable to know that he died gloriously on the fields before Troy. The fact that his fame does not have a known ending seems to not only put Penelope in a difficult position vis-a-vis the suitors but to somehow diminish Telemachus in the eyes of the world. Telemachus in order to begin to gain his own renown has to be grounded in the renown of his father, Odysseus. And Odysseus, in the eyes of the world, is now a man without a stable renown. It is almost as if the Greeks saw the fame of an individual as we see their personality- it is a guide to their behavior and gives stability and meaning to all they do. Then there is the occassional shock of how the women are viewed throughout the book. Whether it is Helen referring to herself as a whore or the way that Telemachus talks to Penelope or his hanging of the maids or Odysseus being more than willing to stay with Circe for a year it is obvious that this is a deeply male world. By the way, that hanging is worth long consideration. These maids were little kids when Odysseus sailed off to Troy; they may well have had no memory of him whatsoever. The suitors have been acting with criminal disregard in the house for years. The maids may have been seduced or raped or somewhere inbetween. Their punishment is a slower, more torturous death than that of the suitors. And, yet somehow, the book gives the impression that this was justice served. And finally there is the character of Odysseus himself. He seems incapable of seemingly walking into any situation without first putting everyone in sight to some sort of test. This culminates in one of the last books where he views his father, Laertes, for the first time in twenty years. The piteous state of Laertes causes Odysseus to burst into tears, than to immediately engage in internal debate whether or not to test him, which, of course, he does. For what? For being appropriately distraut over the death of his wife and the disappearance of his son for twenty years? See what I mean about the characters being both familiar and strange in their psychologies? But for me, this is heart of the value of the book. We are all individuals, all human, all born in a culture and in history. The varieties of ways that the human, the individual, the cultural and the historical can mix in one person is not infinite. It may not even be inordinate. But there are wide and wild
variations. The Odyssey places that conundrum right in front of us in the course of a wonderfully exotic and enticing story. It is not for nothing that Odysseus is referred to many times as the man of twists and turns. He is not just a schemer. He himself is a puzzle, one that has bewitched and befuddled our cultural tradition for centuries. One that has befuddled me for the past two weeks. Again, I cannot recommend highly enough that you worry not about the translation issue and focus which translation is the most readable to you. Or maybe get several and read them at different times. And then write me a comment to explains your understanding of the issues I bring up or some of your own.
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