Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Odyssey for Fun

Aagh, I've been reading so much literature about Christianity that it's starting to weigh me down--Guignebert is not for the faint of heart. Although the mystics are refreshing, it's no substitute for getting away from it altogether. For fun, I picked up The Odyssey (trans. Fagles), which I read through with a study group about twelve years ago. Take my advice--don't read it the first time like that--boring. I since had the good sense to read it on my own, as it should be read once, as a rollickin' adventure story! The whole epic is one exciting scene after another, plots and hunts and monsters, daring escapes! There's even a loyal dog.

Here's an example of what I mean in this scene shortly after Odysseus lands at the island home of Circe, a scene that might as easily have been written by Jack London or Jim Corbett as by Homer.

I was well on my way down, nearing our ship
when a god took pity on me, wandering all alone;
he sent me a big stag with high branching antlers,
right across my path--the sun's heat forced him down
from his forest range to drink at a river's banks--
just bounding out of the timber when I hit him
square in the backbone, halfway down the spine
and my bronze spear went punching clean through--
he dropped in the dust, groaning, gasping out his breath.
Treading on him, I wrenched my bronze spear from the wound,
left it there on the ground, and snapping off some twigs
and creepers, twisted a rope about a fathom long,
I braided it tight, hand over hand, then lashed
the four hocks of that magnificent beast.
Loaded round my neck I lugged him toward the ship,
trudging, propped on my spear--no way to sling him
over a shoulder, steadying him with one free arm--
the kill was so immense!

After the successful hunt, what do you think Odysseus' men do when they see the stag? Pfft. No, they don't sacrifice it to the gods.

My hardy urging brought them round at once.
Heads came up from cloaks and there by the barren sea
they gazed at the stag, their eyes wide--my noble trophy.
but once they'd looked their fill and warmed their hearts,
they washed their hands and prepared a splendid meal.
Now all day long till the sun went down we sat
and feasted on sides of meat and seasoned wine.
Then when the sun had set and night came on
we lay down and slept at the water's shelving edge

Men after my own heart!

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