The Odyssey by Homer: Book Review

For the one who has not read ‘Illiad’, ‘The Odyssey’ may set you on course an unchartered territory. ‘The Odyssey’ is the world of ancient Greek mythology where humans, Gods, and monsters cohabit magical islands and kingdoms. At the heart of it, is the chivalry and valour of one man – Ulysses. It is said that ‘Illiad’ and then the sequel ‘The Odyssey’ were composed by Homer in 8th century BC.

‘The Odyssey’ is set ten years after the end of the Trojan War. The protagonist Ulysses (or Odysseus) sets on his journey back home to Ithaca after the fall of Troy. The ‘Illiad’, ofcourse, is the book where the Trojan War happens but you can comfortably read ‘The Odyssey’ without the background. Or, you can do a quick Google on the characters and the sides these characters took during the war. That’s what I did; it helped to have a ready referral on various Gods, nymphs and Kings. This clarity added pace to my reading.

The Odyssey by Homer

So we begin, at the end of the ten-year-long Trojan War, Ulysses is unable to get back home on account of a curse from God Poseidon (Neptune) for blinding his son. Ulysses is lost in finding his way back through a labyrinth of islands, curses and magical beings.

An act of recklessness while travelling from Aeolus, where Ulysses and his men had taken refuge after escaping the land of Cyclopes gets them at Circe’s disposal in Aeaea Island. Circe, the witch-Goddess, an evil enchantress who turns men into pigs, in fact helps Ulysses and his men on their course to return home. However, Circe’s character is painted as malicious and it is Ulysses’ right-mindedness with a hint of help from Hermes, the messenger of Gods which saves him.

Now the journey ensues evading monsters and islands but fate washes Ulysses on Calypso, the beautiful nymph’s shore in Ogygian Island. Calypso enchants Ulysses and wants him to be her immortal husband. Calypso’s character has redemption in a speech where she indicts Hermes, who is sent by Zeus to tell her to free Ulysses. She says, ‘You (Gods) are always jealous and hate seeing a Goddess take a fancy to a mortal man, and live with him in open matrimony.’ However, in contrast to her passionate love for Ulysses, Homer says this man is in grief and spends his days on the rocks at the sea-shore weeping to return home.

Ulysses lives on this Island for seven years till his benefactor Athena or Minerva, daughter of Zeus who favours the Greeks, tries to influence the Gods to end Ulysses’ troubles.

While Calypso may be turned into an evil, it is actually the greed and intoxication overpowering Ulysses’ men on their return from Troy that sets them on course for doom.

At Ithaca, in the last ten years, Penelope and Telemachus, Ulysses’ son try hard to keep them safe from ‘the suitors’. The house is crowded by suitors trying to woo Penelope and in the meantime, robbing the house of its riches. Minerva disguised in different ways visits Telemachus, prompting him to undertake the journey to find his father. Telemachus undertakes the voyage to gather news regarding his father but is scared of the suitors in his house. It is Minerva, in a mentor’s voice who tells him to be as brave as his father.

More than Ulysses, one finds Telemachus given the centerstage as he grows up in the house full of suitors and finally comes of age. He can console his mother and with the help from Gods, undertake the journey to Pylos and Sparta in search of his father.

After the war, there was fallout between Menelaus and Agamemnon. And, then, Nestor of Pylos and Menelaus of Sparta had proceeded to Greece while Ulysses had decided to stay back with Agamemnon in Troy. Menelaus had captured Proteus, the prophetic old man of the sea during his journey to Sparta and he had informed him about Ulysses being alive and held captive by Calypso. With this news, Telemachus sets sail for Ithaca.

During the course of Telmachus’ visit to Pylos and Sparta, there are stories related to Trojan War that are narrated. There are references made by Queen Helen of Sparta in her court to Telemachus on how Ulysses infiltrated the walls of Troy and other tricks. This constant shift of the narrative from present to past and vice-versa, does create a stumbling block in the reading pace. There are songs by bards incorporated to enlighten the reader on various feats of the past and then there are moments when the Kings/ Queens/ Ulysses sit to recount the tales from the past.

It seems Penelope’s character is limited to being a wife in mourning, especially citing scenes where she is feeling sad when Phemius, the bard sings in praise of Ulysses to the suitors. But she stood her ground, raising her young son, barring off the suitors by her scheming plans. Obviously, she could not have defeated the 108 suitors with strength.

After being released by Calypso, Ulysses sets on the final course to reach home. While at sea, Poseidon spots him and stirs up yet another storm which washes Ulysses ashore on the island of the Phaeacians.  Alcinous, King of Phaecians on knowing the true identity of Ulysses provides to help him with a ship.

Ofcourse, what is left except the last leg of Ulysses reaching Ithaca, reuniting with his family and handling ‘the suitors’?

I had thought Hindu pantheon was confusing with so many Gods and Goddess. But, the Greek mythology is so exhaustive and it seems every page of ‘The Odyssey’ reveals a new God, their unique powers. The ever-plotting, conniving rulers of various states, the greed of men in war, man-eating monsters and Ulysses who seems to be the ideal man summarizes this epic to some extent. But above all, Ulysses’ story is bound together with the presence of strong female characters – Minerva, Penelope, Calypso and Circe.

‘I’m taking my blog to the next level with Blogchatter’s  #MyFriendAlexa’

16 thoughts on “The Odyssey by Homer: Book Review

  1. Such detailed review, loved reading this. I somehow am a fan of Greek mythology maybe because our minds are trained to read about so many gods in our books, or may be I am just fascinated by the world they show through movies.

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  2. I have deep interest in Greek mythology.. but my knowledge is limited to some movies and the Greek mythology from devdutt pattnaik… But I on this genre to find out more . Thanks to you seems like I found one interesting read for myself

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  3. This is a great review. I have read Iliad and this has been on my list forever. Greek mythology and gods fascinate me, ever since I read Percy Jackson. I have read Circe by Madeline Miller. It's an amazing book.

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  4. So true…the female characters are either vilified or sidelined. Probably this shows us how much we have progressed since 8th century BC and the importance of feminist movements in the past. Thanks for the comment!

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  5. Ha ha I cannot say I got through to end without skipping.. but honestly so many Greek god n powers is as confusing as Hindu gods n their Stories.. you have to share tips on how you manage to read these books. I am interested to learn reading.

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  6. At times I feel that Homer was keen on classifying women as a beautiful-cunning-into infidelity or virtuous-preserving fidelity. He covered up Men's lust for power behind women yet men were the heroes who fought battles bravely. While Helen was beautiful and strong her action to act of call of love is shown in Iliad, she has no voice all over till she leaves her marriage for PAris. Troy was already in eye of battle for powermongers and Helen gave an opportunity to pounce upon. She was collected as reward and abused. Penelope in this case, Odyssey is showing doing nothing but mopping over her husband and waiting, her action is all about putting suitors off. And true, it takes long to understand the endless list of Gods and their powers along with their inner desires. the similarities with Indian Gods are hard to ignore

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