Though most people seem to prefer The Iliad to The Odyssey, I like the latter for its sheer fabulous inventiveness. The story is fairly simple, Odysseus is trying to make his way home to the Greek island of Ithaca after the Trojan war, but he's earned the ire of the god Poseidon so it's not going to be an easy task. Meanwhile, his wife Penelope is beset with a veritable infestation of suitors and she's running out of delaying tactics.
The poem divides itself between Odysseus's ordeals (exciting!) and the troubles back at home with his wife and son (not quite so exciting). Some of my favorite parts:
- the encounter with a certain cranky monoptic giant with a taste for human flesh
- the trip to the underworld and Odysseus's conversations with the recently deceased. (Apparently being dead kind of sucks.)
- the Scylla and Charybdis incident, in which a crevice-lurking multi-headed monstrosity and a nasty whirlpool double-team our hero and his ship. What's not to like?
- The sirens, Circe and her isle of enchanted pigs, and so on.. All good stuff.
PS: I had one small irritation while reading this. Robert Fagles deploys the phrase "dawn with her rose-red fingers" one too many times in this book. He used it quite a bit in The Iliad as well, but The Iliad has a different flow and therefore it doesn't seem quite as conspicuously repetitive. I know it's part of Homer's poetic style, but a bit more variation from the translator would have been appreciated.
One last thought: I felt very, very sorry for Odysseus's dog.