(P) and ©1996 Penguin Books USA Inc.
"To re-create a world where everything is living...is very nearly as difficult as to create it. Fagles does this with triumphant assurance; every arrowhead flashes lightning, every bush burns; Homer is with us." (James Dickey)
Audiophile since the days I had to check 'em out on rickety cassette tapes at the local library. Currently working the other side of production as an author of romance and scifi/fantasy.
Ladies and Gentlemen, this book has been sold to us all wrong. Show of hands: who among you has heard mention of either The Iliad or The Odyssey and rolled your eyes over yet another "classic" work of fiction forced on unsuspecting high school students meant to bore us into submission? Dudes, this is seriously one of the most exciting books I've ever read. It's practically a ... Um, who's the current go-to action hero actor? Anyways, this is the movie he would star in. It's like if you took Quentin Tarantino to ancient Greece, told him to find inspiration, then let him go gonzo on the script without limits.
What's weird is that I thought I hadn't read this, somehow escaping it through my academic career. What I realized later was that I had read parts of it in my "Gender in the Classical World" honors lit class my freshman year of college. (I remembered only when I came on the tale of Circe. I remember having a quiz on this and failing horribly, because I didn't understand the context, but let's not go into a discussion of how poorly my high school prepared its students for the world of higher education.) Even then, I didn't enjoy the book, because the focus was on analyzing. No fault on the instructor; that's appropriate for a college course. But seriously, I feel like I missed out on taking in a landscape painting by a master, because someone blotted out all the canvas excepting a single blade of grass.
I have to admit, there were a few points that made me cringe as a modern reader, but one has to remind themselves that Homer reflected the values and morals of his time, not mine. Still, it was hard to stomach that Penelope is exalted for her commitment to Odysseus, remaining true to him for twenty years. Meantime Odysseus while trying to get home to her has no qualms about being sexed up by whatever goddess or nymph takes a fancy to him, and that's considered okay. Different times, different expectations...
You know why Homer has been passed down and survived through the centuries? Not because he gives us a picture into an ancient culture, religion, and history. Not because of its consequential anthropological richness. Not even because of its lyric quality for those who can read it in its original tongue. (ee cummings proved that language could be beautiful for beauty's sake without being purposeful.) It's because it's one hell of a story, and takes you on one-- actually numerous thrilling, epic adventures.
AUDIOBOOK notes: Ian McKellen's rendition was superior. However, I can't give the audiobook performance in whole 5 stars due to production value. This seriously needs to be remastered. It was obviously adopted for digital format from a copy of the tape production. Numerous times between chapters there was a huge change in the audio quality (getting softer, slowing down, sounding warped, etc.) There were even a few parts where there were "hiccups" in the flow, ie where a few words blotted out.
Ian McKellan's narration of the Odyssey is delightful. I love listening to his mellifluous voice, as he describes the "twists and turns" of Odysseus voyage home. Highly recommended!
The story is amazing. The recording and narrating, however, are beyond terrible. There is a constant buzz in the background of the audio, and you can even hear unrelated voices talking indistinctly in the background. I have to focus as hard as I can to properly hear what the narrator is saying and still struggle on some words. Because I have the credits, I am deleting this book and buying another version. I cannot believe they are selling this audio file for $30. DO NOT BUY. I could've recorded it better on my iPhone in my garage.
Each chapter is at a different volume, so that some can barely be heard, while other chapters are slowed down and ian sounds like Darth Vader.... Then there's the screechy annoying "music" between "chapters" ( actually about half the time it just pops up in the middle of a chapter) that is so piercing and harsh that it'll make you rip your headphones off in a hurry. I'd really like a refund.
Hands down, Sir Ian's performance. I can't think of a better person to read this book.
The Cyclops. Even more frightening than in the 1997 television mini-series had portrayed it. By the undying God's that bit was horrifying.
I have not, but I'll certainly be looking for other books he has narrated after listening to this.
I did not laugh or cry at any moment, I'm really not the type. My only arguably extreme reaction is that I find myself talking and typing in the same dialect as the book was written, it's quite amusing really.
The only thing keeping this book from a perfect rating is the strange peaks and valley's it takes when it comes to quality. KEEP IN MIND, nothing so bad that I'd shy away from listening to it again, or recommending it to virtually everyone. However, there are chapters where the quality of the audio is strangely bad, and most bizarre is when for whatever reason, Sir Ian's voice drops in pitch, as if it was slowed down. This is hardly a glaring issue, but it seems odd since something so trivial could be fixed in a matter of minutes with a simple program like Audacity or any number of free basic audio software.
The Odyssey is a classic. There is nothing more to say in that regard. And Ian McKellan is a splendid reader. Everything I could want in an audio version of this superb translation of a great classic.
The only critique I have of this recording is that the 24 books of the work and the 24 chapters of the recording do not align for some reason, likely a remnant of pre-MP3 days. Therefore, breaks come oddly in the middle of the story, and not at the more natural conclusion of each book. No big deal, however, the audio quality varies between chapters, and McKellan's voice rises and lowers in pitch. This is strange and I wish the publisher would revisit the recording and make it smoother.
*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.
Long, Interesting, Difficult
When Odysseus and his cronies slaughter Penelope's suitors.
Ian's voice brought the characters to life. He eliminated the need to sound out words I did not recognize and made the repetitiveness of the text more bearable.
Yes, I had to because I was given two days to read it.
The Odyssey is famous for its survival from antiquity but also as one of the great original pieces of literature and poetry of humanity. Nothing is more astounding about the Odyssey than the fact that it exists and for that alone it is worth anyone's time to read or listen. Regardless of the story, its presentation provides a glimpse of Greek culture around 800 B.C. which also cannot be overvalued.
However, the story of Odysseus is not my favorite and requires a greater than novice-level appreciation for Greek mythology. Without this prerequisite, the character of the gods are largely untranslated to the reader. Even still, the inclusion of the gods (or some of them) is annoying since they seem so inconsistent and juvenile, not to mention categorically misogynistic - but that's a whole different debate. The whole time I read/listened to The Odyssey I was constantly wondering how many Greeks really bought into the story of the gods and how many of them just went through the motions due to social pressures. For me, this tenant of the poem was too much to get around.
The editing of this recording was simply atrocious. There are 24 books in the Odyssey and the audiobook from audible.com broke it up into 24 chapters which would seem to correlate. However, the majority of the books ended in the middle of the chapters, if you catch my meaning. Moreover, it felt as if the sound levels and quality were different from chapter to chapter (not from book to book). And finally, despite his immense popularity, I felt Sir Ian McKellen's performance was lacking in imagination. All-in-all, I felt the audiobook was rather disappointing and would recommend an inquiring listener to choose a different version.
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