Well, the Odyssey took kind of a back burner in my mind over the past week, sorry to say, but I did get through this week's reading. However, when Dawn with her rose-red fingers shown once more, I had a head cold, my phone and truck are broken, and, not to put too fine a point on it, but I'm amazed to find for the first time in my life I'm getting hate mail (not amazed that I'm receiving it, mind you, but that it took this long in the life that I've lead.)
Sorry to those who commented last week and I didn't respond (Sedge, you and I had the exact same experience with Librivox last week. Mom, that's hilarious that they cut like a fifth of the book for high school students!)
So, this week I took my old friend Charles Ardinger's very wise and helpful advice and took a trip to the library to find other translations of The Odyssey. Not that there was anything wrong with the Butler translation at all, but I thought that it would be interesting to find how other translations tell the story, what the differences are and so forth. It's turned into a very interesting experiment for me. Unfortunately, I could not find the Alexander Pope translation at my library (although they did have his Iliad.) What I came away with was the J.W. Mackail translation and the Robert Fagles translation. Mackail was a professor at Oxford in the 1930s, born in the mid-1800s and, not to cast aspersions (especially since he was also a fellow socialist), it reads more like a professor at Oxford who was born in the mid-1800s. Words like "aught" and "wiles." Painstakingly crafted verse. All of which is kind of neat, especially compared to Butler's prose translation, and certainly I will refer to it throughout to illuminate certain passages, but it's clearly not going to be my Odyssey of choice for personal reading. That distinction, my friends, goes to the Fagles translation, which reads like greased lightning. After Mackail and Butler, it reads like a Cadillac. It is modern English, verse, beautiful and flowing.
Just like I personally use the RSV when I read the Bible, I prefer how it reads, although for study, academic writing, and learning more about the layers of meaning of language in the text, it's always good to have several decent translations laying about.
You are not required to do this. This is me geeking out.
So, this week we start with the princess Nausicaa and her attending company of young, white-armed ladies happen upon naked Odysseus. I originally read this in the Butler, and then the Mackail, and it seems to me as if the Victorian editions constructed the language in this section in such a way that, to my modern eyes, it was simply that, they find Odysseus and he needs to bathe. In the Fagles version there is tremendous sexual tension in that scene, which makes perfect sense and, I might add, seems likely to be truer to the original text.
Odysseus goes to meet the parents. They talk a lot and listen to a man sing a song. Odysseus reveals his identity. All of which may not be in the high school edition.
Book IX is when it really starts cracking. Odysseus tells about being driven to the land of the Lotus Eaters who graze and eat the lotus all the live long day. Those of the men who try some of the lotus then lost their will do go home or really do anything but graze and eat lotus. My goodness, but that's a rich metaphor for so much of life and society! It's a short bit, but really a brilliant piece of literature!
Enter the cyclops or rather his goats or lambs. One of my favorite lines so far is when the men say "Let us make away with the cheeses." I'm having that printed as a bumper sticker.
The cyclops picks up men by the twos, bashes their brains out on the ground, and eats them. They were wearing red togas, worked in engineering and only appeared in this episode anyway. Presumably after the initial shock wears off, they get the cyclops drunk on wine. The cyclops falls asleep and Odysseus drives a giant stake through the eye of the cyclops. Then there's the "nobody's blinding me" joke.
My assessment of the Odyssey so far is that it's an exciting, epic adventure story with, like all ancient texts, some passages that kind of lag to the modern eye. Having an engaging translation helps immensely. I am really enjoying this book and I hope that you are as well.
Next week, we shall read through book 13, so we'll do a slightly shorter one again this week. Then I think we'll finish it in two bigger sections in the two following weeks. So, this next week we read through the section called (spoiler alert) Ithaca At Last!