hard to stop listening as it holds the imagination. and I must say this version has increased my appreciation of the story.
*warning: parentheses, italics, and spoilers abound* I think I’ve cleaned up the language, though. Mostly.
Don’t get me wrong: Sir Ian was terrific. I love him. It’s just that from now on if I say something like “I could listen to [so-and-so] read the phone book”, I will continue the sentence with “but NOT the Odyssey”. Also, sometime a little more than halfway through something went wonky with one of his recording sessions, and the speed of the read slooowwwed down. Just what I needed. Some parts were a bit muffled; the volume went up and down; maybe the production staff hated this as much as I did. The musical interludes dropped here and there throughout were strangely placed and jarring rather than adding any sort of dramatic flourish (they felt like a very earnest attempt at "really! It’s genuine Ancient Greek music! Honest!"); they didn’t divide sections of the story, but it seemed like they might have divided up those recording sessions. Which was just odd.
And also, don’t think I don’t respect the thing in the abstract. It’s a two-thousand-+-year-old thing, with a probable origin date in the BC’s – that’s tremendous. It’s impacted literature throughout that time – marvelous. I knew most of the bits of the story – Circe, Calypso, the sirens, the Cyclops, men into sheep, Scylla and Charybdis, the lotus-eaters, Penelope and the weaving, even O’s dog – and for the most part I’m glad I’ve now experienced the whole thing. I have already met up with two references to the thing in other books – and I just finished The Odyssey a couple of days ago.
My God – er, gods – it was painful.
Part of it is, yes, laying a Christian 21st-century viewpoint over the thing, and being disgusted by the caprice of the deities. Because good grief. Wikipedia calls Athena – no, sorry, bright-eyed Athena – “Odysseus' protectress”. With a protectress like her, who needs enemies? Great job, babe. Of course, if O hadn’t gotten massively cocky and blinded the Cyclops - and then introduced himself - he would have been okay. But noooo.
And that’s the overriding source of my hatred, or one of them: I hated Odysseus. My language got a little colorful as I listened to yet another fable cooked up for a loved one. I understand why he wouldn’t just hop back onto Ithaca and yodel “Honey, I’m home” – but to have to listen to four separate, elaborate, seriously over-detailed false stories (one for the swineherd (and how is someone whose father was a noble supposed to be happy being another guy’s swineherd?), Telemachus, Penelope, AND Laertes (whom I kept thinking ought to be a young guy out to defend his sister, of course)) was … painful. I may have wailed out loud when I realized he hit Ithaca and there were still about five hours to go in the audiobook. It would have been a lot less without the lies. Wait, five false stories – the old nurse got one too, but she didn’t buy it. I thought for sure Laertes would expire of the shock. (And don’t think I’m not holding the dog against … everybody.) (Was I supposed to admire or despise Penelope? She stayed true to O for 20 years, but she let the dog die; even Telemachus couldn’t decide whether to love her or hate her.) And why? To “test” them. “I will put my father to the test, see if the old man knows me now, on sight, or fails to, after twenty years apart.” REALLY? Okay, no, I get it – were they all faithful? (Though, after 20 years, if they hadn’t been, they could hardly be blamed; nowadays you’re declared dead after seven. Though, of course, they WOULD have been blamed, and would have probably ended up dead on O’s arrows. Or the gods would smite them. Or something.) (I don’t even want to discuss O’s poor mother.)
And … I’m sorry, Odysseus was just an overweening ass. Again, “Yay, we’re getting away from the Cyclops – with whom we wouldn’t have been in trouble if I had listened to, oh, everyone – let me taunt him like a Monty Python Frenchman. Oh. Your dad is who now? Oopsy.” And oh, yes, his durances vile with Circe and Calypso – how hideous. Man of troubles my ear. His mother dies of grief. His father withers away. His wife fends off 108 importunate jerks trying to get into her bed, raping her maids, and eating her out of house and home (while being reviled half the time by the suitors, and the other half by everyone else). O? Spends years banging nymphs and goddesses. “Long-enduring Odysseus” my ass.
Too, it may be a lifetime of steeping in Star Trek and British naval tradition talking here, but a captain who comes home having lost not only his ship but every single crewman is a piss-poor captain. He was attacked by the families of the suitors he killed – I was hoping he’d be attacked by the families of his sometimes-hideously-dead crew. (Not that most of his crew didn’t deserve to be eaten by various and sundry nasties; what a bunch of chuckleheads.)
And then, at (well, toward) the end, he kills all the suitors almost single-handed – and then tells his son and the serfs to gather up all the women who had slept with the suitors and mocked him and so on and kill them slowly and painfully. Wait, what? So they do. And of course I’m aware that I’m still imposing my point of view on the story, but … I was horrified. Yes, they betrayed Pen and O, fine, got it. But … women. I’m not used to the fight being taken to the women. (Um ... yay early equal rights?) Well, it wasn’t much of a fight – at least the suitors did get to fight back. The women could just cry and plead. The main thing, though, was that O didn’t do it himself. He did all the manly-man stuff – and left the dispatch of the women to the boy and the servants. Again, that just strikes me as the action of a piss-poor leader.
The second largest component of the pain of this thing was the translation by Robert Fagles. “Hate” is not too strong a word for how I feel about this. It’s a bit like the problem I had with Jules Verne a while back; part of me wants to give a different translation a try, but the most of me shudders at the thought of going through it all again. I don’t know if Fagles was trying to modernize it, or just had a tin ear – or, for all I know, this was a dead-on accurate translation (which I seriously doubt) – but to hear O say something is “not my style”, or that something cramped his style, made my flesh crawl. Why would Fagles use the word “appetizers” (over and over) instead of what another translation calls “delicacies”? I picture pigs in blankets and things on toothpicks. Fagles repeats often that the suitors are decimating O’s herds “scot-free”; the other translation I’m looking at uses “without repayment”. Oh, here’s a good one: the other translation says “please listen and reflect”. Fagles? “Listen. Catch my drift.” Ow. There was more. I don’t think it’s necessary to continue the list.
It was obvious to me that this must have begun as an oral epic, sung or recited; that makes sense of the constant repetition. However, even in audio form, to my present-day ear the constant repetition was like the proverbial clawed blackboard. Yes. I know dawn has rosy fingers. Stop it. And the recaps. Oh, the recaps. Here I thought that was a modern development for reality shows catering to the attention-and-short-term-memory-impaired. Nope. Example: three minutes after all the suitors are dispatched I got to hear the whole story again as the ghosts tell it, with the added bonus of hearing about Penelope’s weaving. Again.
And then, finally, the thing just … ended. I was sure I was going to have to sit and listen as O toted his oar inland (which just made me think of the song “Marching Inland”, which I suppose was inspired by this) and then, apparently, dropped dead when someone said “hey, what’s that thing?” At least I was spared that. But what a bizarre way to close it out.
And good lord, the amount of time spent lauding some jackass who got drunk and fell off a roof. I … wow. I’m kind of surprised there wasn’t a paean to some idiot who tripped over the laces of his sandals.
So, to sum up, I’m glad I listened to it… rather in the same way I was glad to have wisdom teeth extracted. It was necessary, it was good for me, I hated the whole experience and never want to do that again.
I haven't touched any Homer since high school and with Ian McKellen as narrator it was a great way to get back into it. Great for long drives if you really like to switch things up.
Yes - although Fagle's translation is modern, it IS a 2500 year old poem, and reading can be dry. McKellen does a great job of making the characters and speeches sound real.
The narration by Ian McKellan was superb, but the sound quality of the recording almost made me stop several times. Unusual for Audible.
If you are looking to expand your knowledge of Greek culture this may be a good fit but for most people this Will be a very bad read. This is a translation of a poem in Greek for Greeks. If you aren't almost as knowledgable about the Greek gods, heroes, and culture as an Ancient Greek citizen, this book will be very difficult due to the pace at which it introduces characters...often with little to no backstory, or backstory that you don't understand because the backstory itself needs some backstory. Because it is written for ancient Greeks it assumes it's reader has the knowledge of an Ancient Greek citizen. Only read this if you are very interested in ancient culture or you are required to read it for school.
Ian McKellen does a fantastic job! The sound quality is not stellar and halfway through the book (around five hours and twenty minutes in) his voice goes deeper and the pace is slowed. Almost as if I changed the "Playback Speed" on my iPod. Only I did no such thing. Very disappointing. But that only lasts until about seven hours and fifteen minutes in. I have yet to finish it, but I wanted to let people know about this as soon as possible!
I agree with others about the excellence of the translation and the reading by Ian McKellen. As for the recording, I think I have an explanation for the deeper voice and slower pace of one section of it. This section is the famous Book 11, in which Odysseus visits the kingdom of the dead and speaks with its denizens. I think the special voice effects, which were probably intended by the producers of the recording, are meant to match the funereal subject matter. I'm not sure if this effort entirely works, but it's probably not a glitch in the recording process.
A lover of audiobooks of all kinds, since childhood, when long car journeys were accompanied by Discworld stories. @ReineDesLivres (Twitter)
Homer's epic tale of Odysseus' long journey home from the Trojan war needs the right voice to tell this story of bravery, tragedy, desire and danger, of love and seduction. McKellan is the perfect choice for this task, narrating with both a light touch (for the descriptions) and creating compelling drama during the conversations, confrontations and excitement. You'll be enchanted by this audiobook, whose 13 hours will fly by in engrossed delight.