Friday, February 29, 2008

The Odyssey: Research

Cover of the Classics Illustrated comic book, 'The Odyssey by Homer'To prepare for our upcoming Odyssey sailing trip, I thought it would be a good idea to refamiliarize myself with Homer's epic tale. I already knew that the Odyssey was the second of Homer's two epic tales, the first being the Iliad, his story of the Trojan War, as symbolized by the Trojan horse.

Tim Severin's book The Ulysses Voyage: Sea Search for the Odyssey provided excellent background, much of it based on E. V. Rieu's translation of the Odyssey, which was first published by Penguin Books in 1946. But at 448 pages, I wasn't prepared to spend the time it would take to even muddle through what is considered the most accessible of the translations. Heck, it took me almost a year to read Moby-Dick. I gave the Cliff Notes version a thought, but that seemed like cheating, just like it did in high school and college.

Then I remembered that when we were growing up, my brother Stuart and I used to have a copy of the Classics Illustrated comic book The Odyssey by Homer. I jumped on eBay and there it was. Of course, it's a collector's item now, so I paid quite a bit more for it than its 15-cent cover price. I think the copy Stuart and I had dated from the mid-1960s. The version that arrived in the mail had a copyright of 1951. Fortunately, it was packaged in a cellophane envelope with a cardboard backing, which made me hesitant to take it out and actually read it. It seemed like it might crumble into dust if I dared to turn the pages.

Classics Illustrated comic book, 'The Odyssey by Homer', showing the scene with the Sirens where Ulysses is lashed to the mastI sat down one evening a few weeks after the Odyssey comic book arrived and read it straight through, which only took about a half-hour. It was just the way I remembered it: rough artwork, primary colors, and stilted dialogue, but it touched on all the high points of the original story and held my interest to the end. To the right are the panels telling the story of Ulysses's encounter with the Sirens. Click the image for a larger view.

What became evident to me in reading the Odyssey story as an adult was how the mix of adventure and fantasy, real-life situations and purely imaginary ones, could be linked together in the context of a journey home from war to create a story that would hold up through the ages, from the time of Homer almost 2700 years ago to the present.

When I returned to reading the Severin book, it was with renewed interest, as I visualized the story as it may have taken place in the locations Tim Severin determined to be the most logical real-world landings for an actual sailing journey home from Troy to Ithaca.

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