The Odyssey

October 17th, 2007

If there's one thing about reading classics it's that they're instantly demystified and reduced to being judged on merit rather than reputation. Quite often this merit does not justify the reputation. So it is also with the Odyssey.

Homer's poem is a long story about a man's journey. He may have set the precedent for contemporary travel programs on tv, basically island hopping in the Aegean Sea. But I suppose what you expect (or I expect) from a classic work is a certain sophistication, a uniqueness, an outstanding quality. But there is little profundity to be found in the Odyssey. It goes along the lines of a fairy tale, expounding on the basic human qualities, but offers little depth.

It also illustrates the limitations of human imagination. It regularly astounds me just how incapable we are of imagining things without seeing in them most of ourselves. A monster with one eye? Not the most creative idea ever. And then you have the mythological gods who are no different from humans in fact, driven by the same urges, the same motives. And the only thing that makes them gods is their immortality and super natural powers, meanwhile mentally they are identical to us. At least our monotheistic religions have gods more sophisticated than that.

So what is it that makes Homer's work earn such a reputation? Other than being an insanely long poem.

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3 Responses to "The Odyssey"

  1. Brian says:

    It's not a very interesting book without a boatload of context, e.g. historical context and literary context. It wasn't just a story to people back then, it was how they actually viewed history and reality. It's a good window into a culture that existed thousands of years ago.

    As a story book there are a lot which are more exciting to us today and more relatable. Back then boat rides and monsters were really scary, today it'd be space ships or who knows what. But people are re-telling or re-inventing the Odyssey still today, albeit set against different backdrops, and it's kind of neat, given that the Odyssey is thousands of years old.

  2. numerodix says:

    Yes, I accept that argument. It's certainly important historically. But certain cultural artifacts stand the test of time. My question is what is it that makes the Odyssey worthwhile in the present, as a work of its own? Is it? Or is it just one in so many works that certainly played an important part in history, but aren't terribly worthwhile today, stacked against the tousands of years of history that has come after it?

    For instance, I read Plato a little while ago and that was a work that I think stands up to contemporary wisdom, ie. you can still learn something from it despite how old it is.

  3. erik says:

    Definitely one of those works that survive solely on their historical importance. The Odyssey's literary value (that being the purpose it was intended to serve when it was written) is negligible and has been for several centuries now.