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Swept Away Again

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The Odyssey - Homer, Robert Fagles, Bernard Knox I'm not sure that I would have read this book on my own accord, although there's a copy that was my Dad's sat at my Mum's possibly waiting of me to give it a new home. But as it was a required read for University I bought a different copy sat down and read it. It took me four, half days to read it. The longest I've ever taken to read a book!

The Odyssey is an epic poem, although it doesn't read like a poem because it's translated from Latin into English, so you do lose the poem part of it (so I'm told). But I can't read Latin so I'll happily stick to the English version. The Odyssey is 24 books long. Yes, you did read that right there are 24 book's within The Odyssey. It's not broken down into chapters like other stories, I think this is because it would have originally have been told as an oral tale and passed down from mouth to mouth and in doing so you need to break it up. Also I see it as each book can stand alone and then when they're all brought together they complete the story.

Trying to sum up The Odyssey is really hard, there's so much in this 560 page book I could never really do it justice but I'm really going to try.

The Odyssey is mainly about hospitality, there are lots of references to food, in each book there is always a great meal/feast taking place because of the newcomers arrival has to be welcomed. They generally gave their guests food before they asked them their name! Sorry minor detour, The Odyssey is also about revenge, more than one person's revenge too!

The Odyssey is about what happened to Odysseus after his battle at Troy in the Illaid and some of the other characters. The first five books are the introduction to what has happened since Troy. Odysseus has disappeared, everyone from his hometown Ithaca, thinks he's dead with the expection of his wife Penelope, his son Telemachus (who was a baby when Odysseus left and is now a man of 20), and a few other people in Odysseus estate who have remained loyal to him.
In the last few years that Odysseus has been missing, men from Ithaca and around have come to court Penelope and to try and gain her hand in marriage but Penelope still loves and misses her husband whether he's dead or not and doesn't want to marry any of these suitors so she hatches a plan to pospone marrying any of them. Odysseus father is still alive and Penelope decides she will make him a shawl and when it's finished she will then chose a suitor but every night after she unpicks what she's made, she manages this for three years until one of her serving girls tells the suitors the truth of what she's doing and they make her finish it.
As Telemachus is now the head of the household it's his responsiblity to feed these suitors and give them somewhere to stay but Telemachus is now sick of these suitors eating him out of his stock, drinking his wine, bedding his serving girls and taking advantage of the situation. Oh and also not being very nice men either!

Athena talks to Zeus about letting Odysseus go back to his family after everything he has suffered and Zeus agrees so Athena goes to Telemachus in disguise and gets him to go visit the neighbouring lands to see if anyone knows anything about his father from the men who fought with him at Troy.
So Telemachus tells the suitors to leave his home, he gets verbally abused instead and goes sailing for news of this father without telling his mother or the suitors what he's upto.

Telemachus sails to Nestor and then Sparta where Melelaus and Helena (who have made up) live. Telemachus is then informed that the last news they heard of his father was that he was captured by the nymph Calypso.

Then we get to Odysseus back story about what has happened to him since he left Troy. Odysseus has spent seven years in captivity on Calypso's island. She is told to release Odysseus by the god Hermes, who has been sent by Zeus because of Athena's plea. Calypso gives Odysseus clothing, food and drink and wood so he can build a raft and leave. But the raft is wrecked by Poseidon, Odysseus swims to an island where, naked and exhausted, he hides in a pile of leaves and falls asleep. The next morning, awakened by the laughter of girls, he sees Nauicaa. He appeals to her for help. She encourages him to seek the hospitality of her parents. Odysseus is welcomed and is not at first asked for his name. He remains for several days, takes part in a pentathlon, and hears the blind singer perform two narrative poems. The first is an otherwise obscure incident of the Trojan War, the 'Quarrel of Odysseus and Achilles', the second is the amusing tale of a love affair between two Olympian gods, Ares and Aphrodite. Finally, Odysseus asks the blind singer to return to the Trojan War theme and tell of the Trojan Horse, a plot in which Odysseus had played a leading role. Unable to hide his emotion as he relives this episode, Odysseus at last reveals his identity.

After Troy, Odysseus and his twelve ships were driven off course by storms, they visited the Lotus-Eaters and whensome of his men ate the food they forget where they were going and never wanted to leave but Odysseus tied them up and dragged them back to the ship. Next they reached the home of the Cyclops, and after expecting some form of hospitality they were instead captured and some of Odysseus men were eaten by the Cyclops, Odysseus and only a few of his men managed to escape by hiding underneath the Cyclopes animals when he let them out after Odysseus had blinded the Cyclops with a wooden stake. While they were escaping, however, Odysseus foolishly told the Cyclops his identity, and Cyclops told his father, Poseidon, who had blinded him. Next they stayed with Aeolus, the master of the winds. He gave Odysseus a leather bag containing all the winds, except the west wind, a gift that should have ensured a safe return home. However, the sailors foolishly opened the bag while Odysseus slept, thinking that it contained gold. All of the winds flew out and the resulting storm drove the ships back the way they had come, just as Ithaca came into sight.

After pleading in vain with Aeolus to help them again, they re-embarked and encountered the cannibalistic Laestrygonians. Odysseus’s ship was the only one to escape. Next they sailed on and visited the witch-goddess Circe. She turned half of his men into swine after feeding them cheese and wine. Hermes warned Odysseus about Circe and gave Odysseus a drug which was a resistance to Circe’s magic. Circe, being attracted to Odysseus' resistance, fell in love with him and released his men. Odysseus and his crew remained with her on the island for one year, while they feasted and drank. Finally, Odysseus' men convinced Odysseus that it was time to leave for Ithaca. Guided by Circe's instructions, Odysseus and his crew crossed the ocean and reached a harbor at the western edge of the world, where Odysseus sacrificed to the dead and summoned the spirit of the old prophet Tiresias to advise him. Next Odysseus met the spirit of his own mother, who had died of grief during his long absence, from her he learned for the first time news of his own household, threatened by the greed of the suitors. Here he also met the spirits of famous men and woman.

Returning to Circe’s island, they were advised by her on the remaining stages of the journey. They skirted the land of the Sirens, passed between the six-headed monster and the whirlpool Charybdis, and landed on the island of Thrinacia. There, Odysseus’ men ignored the warnings of Tiresias and Circe, and hunted down the sacred cattle of the sun god Helios. This sacrilege was punished by a shipwreck in which all but Odysseus drowned. He was washed ashore on the island of Calypso, where she compelled him to remain as her lover for seven years before he escaped.

Having listened with rapt attention to his story, the Phaeacians, who are skilled mariners, agree to help Odysseus get home. They delivered him at night, while he was fast asleep, to a hidden harbor on Ithaca. He finds his way to the hut of one of his own former slaves, the swineherd Eumaeus. Athena disguises Odysseus as a wandering beggar in order to learn how things stand in his household. After dinner, he tells the farm men a tale of himself.

Meanwhile, Telemachus sails home from Sparta, evading an ambush set by the suitors. He disembarks on the coast of Ithaca and makes for Eumaeus’s hut. Father and son meet; Odysseus identifies himself to Telemachus (but still not to Eumaeus) and they determine that the suitors must be killed. Telemachus gets home first. Accompanied by Eumaeus, Odysseus now returns to his own house, still pretending to be a beggar. He experiences the suitors’ awful behavior and plans their death. He meets Penelope and tests her intentions with an invented story of his birth in Crete, where, he says, he once met Odysseus. Closely questioned, he adds that he had recently been in Thesprotia and had learned something there of Odysseus’s recent wanderings.

Odysseus’s identity is discovered by the housekeeper, Eurycleia, as she is washing his feet and discovers an old scar Odysseus received during a boar hunt. He received the scar when he was hunting with the sons of Autolycus. Having seen the scar, Eurycleia tries to tell Penelope that the begger is really Odysseus, but Athena makes sure that Penelope cannot hear Eurycleia. Meanwhile Odysseus swears her to secrecy.

The next day, at Athena’s prompting, Penelope maneuvers the suitors into competing for her hand with an archery competition using Odysseus' bow. The man who can string the bow and shoot it through a dozen axe heads would win. Odysseus takes part in the competition himself. He alone is strong enough to string the bow and shoot it through the dozen axe heads, making him the winner. He turns his arrows on the suitors and with the help of Athena, Telemachus, Eumaeus and the cowherd all the suitors are killed. Odysseus and Telemachus hang twelve of their household maids, who betrayed Penelope and/or had sex with the suitors. They also mutilate and kill the goatherd, who had mocked and abused Odysseus. Now at last, Odysseus identifies himself to Penelope. She is hesitant, but accepts him when he mentions that their bed was made from an olive tree still rooted to the ground.

The next day he and Telemachus visit the country farm of his old father Laertes, who likewise accepts his identity only when Odysseus correctly describes the orchard that Laertes once gave him.

The citizens of Ithaca have followed Odysseus on the road, planning to avenge the killing of the Suitors, their sons. Their leader points out that Odysseus has now caused the deaths of two generations of the men of Ithaca, his sailors not one of which survived, and the suitors, whom he has now killed. The goddess Athena intervenes and persuades both sides to give up the vendetta. Because of Athena's help Ithaca is at peace once more ending The Odyssey.

Sadly Odysseus journey is not complete as he stiil has to fullfil what he was told when he visited the underworld, Odysseus is still fated to wander. He can't rest until he wanders so far inland that 'he meets a people who have never heard of an oar or of the sea. He then must build a shrine and sacrifice before he can return home for good.'

I thought The Odyssey was ridiculously long but after Book 5 I really started to enjoy reading it and quite liked the part where Odysseus came home to Ithaca and what happened afterwards. What I didn't like was the ending, it felt really abrupt and that more was still coming but sadly nothing did.

I wasn't sure about Odysseus because at the start of the book he really does come across as a hero and well liked by everyone but when he meets the Cyclops he comes across as a bit of a jerk and in need of someone to knock him down to size a bit but that doesn't happen. Even after evething Odysseus goes through when he returns home he goes back to his cocky, arrogent self which made it really hard to see Odysseus as a hero. A blood thirsty warior sure no problem but not a hero!
I loved Penelope, Athena and Telemachus and the other characters who had small parts. And really your meant to hate the suitors which wasn't hard to do.

I don't know if I'd recommend The Odyssey, I don't think it's a book for everyone and I don't think it's a must read because it's classed as a Classic but I think some people will enjoy it. I think this is a great book to study because it shows us lots of different things that no longer happen in this world. The whole hospitiality side of the book was something I really liked and enjoyed. Also it was great to read a book for study that mentioned the gods, although it's not something we've really discussed.

Overall, The Odyssey is a good book that some people will enjoy and some people won't. And if you've read all this you deserve a freaking medel and a cookie as a thank you! :)