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The Odyssey (Penguin Classics)

The Odyssey - Homer, Robert Fagles, Bernard Knox There are already 41,000 reviews for this book, so the plot and characters have already been analyzed exhaustively. All I can add is my own personal experiences with this work.What I like about this book is that it really drives home how very different life was 3000 years ago. Look how far we've come as a species in that relatively "short" timeframe. To Homer, the world was so big, so mysterious, that even much of the Mediterranean was vitually unknown. Travel was so perilous, that Odysseus's return to Ithaca from the Trojan War (in modern-day Turkey... just across the Aegean, not even the Mediterranean Sea) was beset with so many dangers, so many obstacles, so many unknowns, that it merited an epic poem! Among Odysseus' many adventures are: tricking the Cyclops (son of Neptune, by the way), hearing the seductive song of the Sirens, visiting the dead in the Underworld, navigating the Straits of Messina, shacking up for several years with sex-maniac she-devil Calypso (oh! the horror!), and killing sun-god Helios' cattle. That's all just the first part of this work. The second half takes place when Odysseus has successfully arrived back in Ithaca. After so many years aways, he's barely recognizable (except to his faithful dog, Argus), and has to prove his identity. To make matters worse, half the town has been hitting on his wife, Penelope, in his absence. She has been resisting the suitors, but there is some drama mixed in, and Odysseus has to "win" her over again, in a William Tell-esqe arrow shooting competition. Taken as "just" a story, this is an imaginative and rewarding read. There are more creative monsters and gods than you can shake a stick at, as well as visitation of several important themes, including honor, faithfulness, perseverence, and a love story (Calypso notwithstanding). It would be no fair comparing this time-honored work to modern books, so let me offer this advice from my own limited experience with classical literature: the Odyssey is way more interesting and easy to comprehend than Homer's Iliad is shorter and easier than the Odyssey, but narrower in scope, and with less supernatural spectacles. If you're only going to read one classical Greek story, I would say pick this one.