Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Odyssey: The Fitzgerald Translation

The Odyssey: The Fitzgerald Translation, when first published in 1961, won the Bollingen Award for the best translation of a poem into English, and was adopted into many college curricula. However, during the sixties, I had no time for reading classics or even protesting the (Vietnam) war. I directed my energy towards more pressing, personal goals: advanced calculus, physics, chemistry, and college girls. Only the latter yielded to my efforts.

When I recently reviewed my old college texts, I had no energy to dive into the depths of advanced math and science, but I felt it was time to make amends and read the book that was assigned so many decades ago.

I discovered The Odyssey is much more than the Cyclops and the Sirens - each of which only take a few pages. The poem's stories-within-stories structure has Odysseus retell his adventure of meeting famous people in the after world (shades) and they in turn retell much of Greek mythology (Sisyphus, Persephone, ...). In addition the story includes small bits of practical advice:
Now here, sir, look to the lid yourself, and tie it down against light fingers, if there be any, of the black ship tonight while you are sleeping.
and clever word play as when Odysseus tells the cyclops his name is Nobody:
"Nobody, Nobody's tricked me, Nobody's ruined me!"
To this rough shout they made the sage reply: "Ah well, if nobody played you foul there in you lonely bed, ...
Odyssey: A long trip.

The long-trip part of the Odessey tale ends in the middle of the book when Odysseus returns to his native Ithaca. What is the second half of the story?

The original Die Hard! Odysseus is a single guy, ignored, laughed at, and under estimated. In the end in kills all hte bad guys. Cetrainly a plot and a story for the ages.

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