Book Review: “The Odyssey” is an epic read

Colleen Kelly

For those of you wondering which classics are worth reading, Homer’s “The Odyssey” is an outstanding adventure and longtime favorite of mine.

Taking place nearly ten years after the famed Trojan War, greek hero Odysseus remains trapped on the goddess Calypso’s island as a live-in boyfriend of sorts. After some godly intervention, he finds himself free and in the care of the friendly Phaeacian royal family. Recounting his fantastical journey and misadventures leading to his stay with Calypso for the bulk of the story (including, but not limited to, cannibalistic cyclops, persuasive sirens and angry gods), Odysseus intends to return to his kingdom and reunite with his family.

“The Odyssey” is an ancient greek epic poem, but don’t let that put you off. This story is written lyrically and engagingly. It’s fast paced, full of humor, clever schemes and exciting action as Odysseus both outwits and outmaneuvers the enemies he meets along his mythic journey at sea.

A little backstory: Odysseus is the king of a small greek kingdom called Ithica. He spent ten years at war with the Trojans in Greece’s quest to reclaim the kidnapped famed beauty Helen. That entire story, Homer’s earlier work “The Illiad”, ends in Greece’s favor, though between his crew’s poor decisions and Odysseus’s talent for making enemies of magical beings, Odysseus and company spend the next decade fighting to return home from sea before Odysseus’s wife and queen Penelope are forced to remarry. So for a total of twenty years, Odysseus has been struggling to return home and never losing hope, which is insane when you think about it.

I have a love-hate relationship with Odysseus as a main character. On the one hand, the final two thirds of his story feel like ancient Greece’s “Ocean’s Eleven” (pun intended) with all of his smooth talking, quick thinking and awesomely weird obstacles to overcome. He’s brave, charismatic and above all clever, which means that even when the action slows down from time to time, suspense or humor are always there to even out the mood. On the other hand, his ego is big enough to warrant its own zipcode and he has zero problem cheating on his faithful wife numerous times over the course of his journey. But then again, a character doesn’t have to be completely likeable to a reader to be well-written, and Odysseus is one of the most well-written protagonists I’ve ever read. Other stand out characters for me are the goddess Athena, who acts like something of a mildly annoyed older sister to our hero while helping him escape death from time to time, and Penelope, Odysseus’s incredibly patient, cunning and loving wife maintaining their kingdom. What makes this story for me, though, are all of the references to greek mythology’s gods and monsters that add so many twists and layers to the story.

To be frank, there is a learning curve with this story. The translated, ancient writing styles of Homer are always awkward to read at first, but if you put in the effort it’s easy to fall into and find a rhythm with. I’ve yet to find a copy that doesn’t come with a glossary of names in the back, so don’t let strange names like Athena or Polyphemus intimidate you either. The characters are vast and complex, the story vivid, exciting and fantastical. So if you’ve ever been curious, now is your chance: embark on this outstanding adventure.

Verdict: 5/5 stars