Over the summer, I read the T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) translation of Homer’s Odyssey. Unusually, Lawrence rendered his translation as prose rather than verse and I’d wanted to read it since reading Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art.
Pressfield describes how this translation of the opening Invocation of the Muse has become his daily mantra against Resistance and some years ago I adopted it as my own, too. More on Resistance and the Muse, here (from Pressfield) and here (Howard Jones on the Invocation).
But, I digress. I was also curious to actually read one of the oldest works of Western literature.
I don’t have dazzling, scholarly insights to offer but these things struck me:
- It’s not linear. We have a tendency to imagine that non-linear story telling is a post-modern phenomenon typified by Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. The Odyssey opens towards the end of Odysseus’s tale and we hear much of the story in his own words as he recounts it to others.
- It feels strangely real. Not in the Sirens and Cyclops and gods and heroes, but in the telling, daily detail: how the seafarers beached their (flat-bottomed) ships, the mixing of the wine and the slaughtering (and sacrificing) of meat.
- Those famous scenes are so short. The Sirens come and go in barely two pages.
- This was written 800 years before Christianity. But, as with the Roman Marcus Aurelius (121 – 180 AD), the people have a contemporary feel; plus ca change.