Odysseus’ household is in trouble, worse than an upside down mortgage. See, this King of Ithaca has been away in the Trojan war for nine years, then missing for another decade. Convinced that he is dead, a hundred suitors for his wife Penelope’s hand have flooded his hall, working through the larder like cockroaches, threatening his son Telemacus. They are insistent to wed Penelope (not for her beauty, which appears to have held up well into her mid-thirties (if not later), but for Odysseus’ riches).
She’s already started one gambit, claiming that she needs to finish sewing a funeral pall for her father-in-law, claiming she’ll pick one of the bores once she completes it. Years go by before they realize that she’s been sewing by day and unraveling by night. Suckers.
Telemacus, meanwhile, has launched a private expedition, attempting to gain world of his missing Pappy (like Popeye, in a way). The suitors, not wishing him back, stake out a narrow strait, intending to deep-six the troubling youth. And where the hell in all this is Odysseus?
See, I thought this book would be a Sinbad the Sailor sort of thing (which I’ve read), where he goes from adventure to adventure, all while losing crews to horrible disasters (who would want to work for these guys?). And yes, we do get some of Odysseus’ alibi (he and his crew getting trapped by the cyclops, of the cyclops eating a couple of them (See???), of him tricking it and putting out its eye, of them sneaking away. This angers HIS pappy, Poseidon, who makes Odysseus’ life a seagoing hell. Several crews later, he finally manages to get home.
And this is where the book really caught me. With the help of Athena the Goddess, he disguises himself as a beggar. After being reunited with his son, he sneaks into his own house. And now the epic king plays it crafty. Odysseus takes his time, shuffling about like Pig Pen, being buffeted and humiliated (and taking names). Soon will come the accounting. Soon will come the payback. And when it comes, it’s godlike.
I won’t say this is an easy read. The story hops back and forth between the present and the story-telling past. Also, people tell their backstories over and over. And there are those poetic memory tricks (used in a more verbal day) for describing the wine-dark sea, the dark-hulled ships, the bronze-gleaming dawn, dialogs of winged words.
Different time. Different storytelling. But still a must-read for anyone curious about the origin’s of western plot devices and narrative pace. I enjoyed it, I’m glad I read it, but like the true Odyssey, I’m glad it’s over.
Have a look.