Poetry or Prose? The Odyssey Messes With Your Mind

Diana is in a book club at school, which essentially seems to mean that they put kids in groups of three or four and give them a book to read. And this book club was supposed to be based on what you really like, in terms of books. Diana said she really liked fantasy books. And so she got placed in the book club in which they are reading…The Odyssey?

I am confused (but then again, I am often confused). Is it because it's epic? Or because there are Gods involved? Or am I just not getting it and the rest of you are nodding your heads and saying, "Oh yeah, sure, uh huh, The Odyssey, that totally makes sense for fantasy fans." Because I don't think of it as fantasy at all, not even classy fantasy. I just…don't.

And then this: I said, "Do you like it?" Because, you know, I wanted her to like it so I could walk around bragging about her sophisticated tastes. This is the person I have become, which is too bad. But it's all moot becuase she said, "No."

"No? You don't like it?"

"No."

"But what about the wine-dark sea?"

And she had no idea what I was talking about. It turns out they are reading a prose translation, that for some reason doesn't mention the wine-dark sea. It does talk about rosy-fingered dawn, for what that's worth, but…again, what?

I am confused by translating it into prose. (Also I have a cold—can you tell? That may explain the overall sense of dimness that pervades this post.) I think they figure that kids will want to read it more if it's in prose?

Except now they have a bunch of kids who like fantasy books reading a prose version of The Odyssey.

The other kids—all boys, if that is in any way significant—all love it. Some of them are reading it (though I don't know if it's the same version or translation or anything) for the second or third time. But Diana is holding fast to her resistance (it's quite the thing to have a daughter who is almost 14), and I am on the couch with a box of tissues trying to figure it all out, including my own (let's be honest) less-than-full-hearted adoration for The Odyssey.

Maybe that's the way out of the forest: I should reread it, right? And then I will understand everything. Is that how life works? I seem to have forgotten.

8 thoughts on “Poetry or Prose? The Odyssey Messes With Your Mind

  1. I don’t think The Odyssey is really the thing to read if you have a cold, personally. Maybe some nice Margaret Atwood or Nora Ephron, or an old New Yorker, or something.
    But then, who am I to set myself up against the gods? That does always seem to end badly. So maybe you should reread it.

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  2. I think it’s okay not to like it. Or, at least I hope so, because I never have either.
    When I have a cold, Margaret Atwood gives me the willies! I suggest Douglas Adams. He is an old friend in times of illness. 🙂

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  3. I’m glad you brought this up because it gives me a chance to rave, just rave, about Geraldine McCaughrean’s brilliant rendition, Odysseus.
    I read it aloud to my nine-year-old recently, and wow! What a terrific tale! We just lay in the window and read chapter after chapter. My husband kept coming in to see if lunch was ready, but we couldn’t get up to make lunch, we had to read on! What adventures! What will to live! What a hero! When we finished it, my son wanted to start over again at the beginning that very night, so his dad could hear it too. Odysseus is true to his gods, true to his men, and true to himself. (He’s even true to his wife and son, in his way.)
    And fantasy, oh my goodness — one-eyed giants, descent to hell and back, enchanted islands — are you kidding me?
    Now some folks might be inclined to pooh-pooh anything but the original poem in the original Greek, but I say pshaw to that. A great story well told needs no further justification, and that’s what McCaughrean delivers. True, it’s not the whole story, but folks who enjoy it may go on in time to read the original poem in the original Greek.
    That said, I wouldn’t have picked it for a fourteen-year old girl. Nope, not really. Not unless she enjoys huge seafaring adventures without many women to cheer for.

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  4. Back in the days when dinosaurs roamed the earth, I had no children and did laundry in my building’s fluorescent lit basement. You pretty much had to stay down there because there weren’t enough machines for tenants. If you wanted to do multiple loads you had to be ready to pounce for a free machine (and if you were even 1minute late someone would come and unceremoniously pull your stuff out and dump it). So, in those long stretches my (now) husband and I would hang out, he folding as I read out loud. And what was our best read aloud? Yes, that’s right. We read the Fagles translation. I think I read the Lattimore in college. Maybe it’s the reading out loud that makes it sing?

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  5. When I was a kid, probably around 10 years old, there was a radio series where they read the Odyssey out loud over several Saturday afternoons. It was a translation, obviously, but true to the original verse form. I loved it!
    My kids have lately enjoyed a couple of adaptations. Stickman Odyssey by Christopher Ford was a big hit, as was a weird little picture book I picked up used, called The Iliad and the Odyssey by Marcia Williams (http://www.amazon.ca/The-Iliad-Odyssey-Marcia-Williams/dp/0763606448)
    So my kids enjoy the story, love the graphic adaptations, but would they like the original in full text? I should find out. Maybe I’ll try it as our next read aloud and see what happens!
    I’m sorry Diana is stuck in a book club reading something she doesn’t like. It happens to us all at times 🙂

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  6. I love this post! I can see where it might not be the best fit for a book group especially I think they would need the right teacher to lead it. I remember it so clearly but out teacher made the book and my dad was an English major and helped in any areas not made clear in class. I love all of these suggestions and will be seeing if our library or order some of these for read aloud. I was looking for something for my 7 and 10 year olds and this might be perfect! Thanks!

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  7. There is no point to reading any version of the Odyssey without the “wine-dark sea,” and I’m an Odyssey lover because of the wine-dark sea, particularly the version translated by Robert Fagles. I think listening to Ian McKellen read it is wonderful, too.

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