Sing to me of the man, Muses, the man of twists and turns
driven time and again off course, once he had plundered
the hallowed heights of Troy.
(The Odyssey, 1.1-3)
Here we are once again, with the poet imploring the Muse to sing her song about the adventures ensuing the the fall of Troy. Having just finished rereading The Iliad which told of the rage of Achilles and the Trojan War, I find The Odyssey a much more congenial book, seemingly modern in structure and outlook, even as it tells of events before the beginning of history as we know it. It tells the journey of Odysseus on his way hhome from Troy, a journey that takes him ten years. Odysseus is a man who, according to none other than Zeus, "excels all men in wisdom," (1.79). Odysseus has offended Poseidon, the god of the seas, by blinding his son Polyphemus the Cyclops; and, Poseidon, in retaliation has driven Odysseus off-course and delayed his return home to Ithaca. Athena rouses the rest of the gods and takes up Odysseus case. It is thus that we find Athena going to Ithaca and, in the form of Mentes, helping Odysseus' son Telemachus as part of her plan. We also meet Penelope, the wise and patient wife of Odysseus, who has been fending off the suitors who have been pursuing her in Odysseus absence. Telemachus tells Athena: "And mother . . . she neither rejects a marriage she despises nor can she bear to bring the courting to an end -- while they continue to bleed my household white."(1.289-91). The situation is untenable and calls for action. With Athena's assurance that his father is still alive, Telelmachus may take the necessary action. We find ourselves in a very different kind of poem than The Iliad, but one that promises suspense and excitement. Key themes that appear and will reappear as we continue include the idea of the heroic journey, both for Odysseus and Telemachus, and the growth of the character of Odysseus, who is described by Athena as he endures his captivity under Calypso's power:
But he, straining for no more than a glimpse
of hearth-smoke drifting up from his own land,
Odysseus longs to die . . .
The Odyssey by Homer, Robert Fagles, transl. Viking Penguin, New York. 1996