Many readers of this blog will no doubt be familiar with the incomparable Iseult Murphy. Haling from the fair country of Ireland, Iseult (who prefers going by Joe because she believes in the power and efficacy of monogamist nomenclature for Homo Sapiens) seems to eat six or seven books for breakfast each morning. By mid afternoon she has thoroughly digested them, and spews out well conceived and brilliant reviews. You should definitely check out her blog.
A frequent feature of Joe’s is the buddy read, where she will read a book at the same time as someone else and compare notes on it with them. I thought this sounded like fun, so I reached out to her, and it turns out we were both interested in reading “The Odyssey”.
Without further ado, here are a couple Joe’s thoughts on “The Odyssey”.
Potato Joe: Hi, I’m Joe. I like reading books, writing reviews, and I write some books too. Help me get as famous as Homer by checking out my Amazon page
Dumb Joe: Hi, I’m Joe. I think a lot of dumb things, and sometimes I write them down.
Potato Joe: If you want to find out about the Joe movement, and perhaps become a Joe yourself, read this blog post and be sure to check out the comments! For ease of reading, Joe and I have decided to adopt descriptors. I will become Potato Joe, aka PJ. Joe will be known as Dumb Joe, or DJ.
This poem mainly centers on the Greek hero Odysseus (or Ulysses, as he was known in Roman myths) and his long journey home following the fall of Troy. It takes Odysseus ten years to reach Ithaca after the ten-year Trojan War. In his absence, it is assumed he has died, and his wife Penelope and son Telemachus must deal with a group of unruly suitors, competing for Penelope’s hand in marriage.
Q1. Do Dolphins make the reading experience better?
DJ: Um, of course!
PJ: Some books are printed with dolphins, some books have dolphins thrust upon them.
Q2. What made you interested in reading this book?
DJ: I fell down the rabbit hole of Ancient Greek literature one morning while I was washing my dishes. and it was the next thing in my path.
PJ: Me thinks that rabbit hole was a plug hole, Joe. I love Ancient Greek literature, and I’ve read many of the plays. The Iliad and The Odyssey have been on my TBR pile for an embarrassing long time, so when Joe suggested we choose it for our buddy read, I jumped at the chance.
DJ: Hard to tell. I was guessing it was a rabbit hole, but it’s dark in here.
Q3. How did the book differ from your expectations?
DJ: Having read the Iliad previously I was somewhat prepared for the meandering non-linear storytelling, but I was really interested by the narration methods which Homer employs in this book. Instead of Homer narrating it himself much of the book is actually narrated by Odysseus. Several times in Odysseus’s narration he is cut off by people who point out that he is lying about certain aspects of the story. It begs the question: how many times does he lie without being caught?
PJ: My childhood illusions have been shattered. I grew up thinking Odysseus was a good man, desperate to get home to the wife he loved. Little did I know he was a liar, hypocrite, serial adulterer and mass murderer. A generally unpleasant fellow. I really don’t know how I can go on after reading this book.
Q4. Why do you think this book has been so hugely influential and referenced throughout history?
DJ: Homer is a first rate storyteller. He creates compelling characters and narratives and builds some pretty fantastic worlds for them to inhabit. He also wasn’t afraid to shy away from sex and violence, which as we know even today is a surefire recipe for a bestseller. I’m not an expert on this, but Homer’s characters seem to have a lot more depth than anything I’m aware of that came before him. The fact that practically every Greek writer who came after him used the characters that he created certainly helped to solidify his reputation.
PJ: I agree with everything Joe has said. Reading the way the narrative rambles quite randomly did make me wonder if Homer wrote it in an episodic fashion, making it a soap opera of sorts of its day, the audience clamoring for more sex and blood, or whatever. However, I think it is the realistic depiction of the characters that has ensured The Odyssey as a classic. Before reading it, I thought the flashy tales of gods and monsters were what made it last throughout the ages, but now I realize it is because the characters are people who you could identify today. As an editor requested of my mother’s books – it is timeless and contemporary.
DJ: The soap opera point is interesting, but what I’m reminded of more is the Quentin Tarantino classic Pulp Fiction, I have to think that Tarantino’s storytelling was influenced by Homer, but it’s an example of how the rambling storyline works well in today’s world. once again, timeless and contemporary.
PJ: Good point, Joe.
Q5. Is there a favorite character/story from the Odyssey that really jumps out at you?
DJ: I really like the story of Circe. I won’t tell it now, but I have written about it previously on my blog if anyone is interested. The story about Odysseus’s dog at the end of the book also packs a real emotional punch. Spoiler ahead! It’s kind of messed up that over the course of the book you lose count of how many people die, and you don’t really care about them. But then the freaking dog dies and Homer rips out your heart.
PJ: Before I read this book, I would have waxed lyrical about how much I loved Odysseus, but now that I know the real man, I don’t like him very much. I agree with Joe, the faithful dog was my favourite character. Even Homer knew that people wanted to read about dogs, and having the dog die was the best way to twist your audience’s emotions. How could you, Homer? How could you? Also, dogs lived a long time in Ancient Greece.
Q6. Does reading this book help you as a writer? and how?
DJ: Yes. I’m really interested in these ancient stories, and I do a lot of writing based on and around them. So it was absolutely essential for me to read The Odyssey. I think the way Homer tells stories is really interesting, and it’s definitely something I want to think about and study more.
PJ: It has further reinforced how important realistic, complex characters are in a book. It also shows how enduring is the appeal of intrigue, action, sex and fantasy.
Q7. What do you think Odysseus allure was to the opposite sex?
DJ: That’s an excellent question, and I’m really excited to answer it, but first I want to talk about Epstein. Ok? Good. I was listening to this scientist a week or two ago who had met Epstein, and had a lot of friends who had been connected with him and gotten funding and stuff. He was asked how so many extremely successful and powerful people had been brought into Epstein’s orbit. He said that there were two reasons for this. The first was that Epstein had a lot of money, and was very generous in funding scientific projects. The second was that he seemed genuinely curious and interested in the projects that scientists would bring to him.
That idea really fascinated me, and I started to think about Epstein’s circle of confidants. Most notably there’s this one guy named Bill Clinton who was really tight with him. Clinton is an interesting person to think about here, because he may have had sex with almost as many people as Odysseus. In looking at Clinton I can see the same qualities that the scientist saw in Epstein. He is someone who, in spite of the power and fame he has attained in his life, always seems to listen to what other people are saying.
Many people have accused Clinton of playing fast and loose with the truth. And in this regard he could be very much like Odysseus. But I wonder if the attention he pays to others and his ability to not be burdened by too many strict facts might be connected.
Think about a movie stereotype of a real asshole. It’s generally going to be someone who thinks they know everything, and believes themself to be smarter than you. But what if that asshole didn’t value the fact that they knew everything? What if they cared more about an end goal than they did in letting everyone know how much they knew.
In Odysseus’s conversations with Agamemnon in The Iliad you can plainly see that Odysseus is the smarter individual. But in most cases he defers to Agamemnon’s authority, preferring to subtly nudge him in the right direction. Rather than insist that he is right at every opportunity Odysseus is more than happy to let other people be right as long as he gets his way. Odysseus, like Epstein and Clinton, cares more about winning than being right.
The reason that these people can be so effective is that pretty much everyone else loves being right. Three-thousand years ago women were hardly ever told that they were right. Imagine this charismatic guy comes along to your island and he’s really willing to listen to you and pay attention to you, and no one has ever done that before. It’s not surprising that women would throw themselves at him.
For people like this paying attention to someone else’s opinion is actually more important than adhering to their own idea of whatever truth may be, because they can use that opinion as currency to get whatever it is that they want, which is mostly sex, power or some combination of those two things.
If I was a literary theorist I would tease this out further into some sort of metanarrative for the whole book.
PJ: Wow, Joe. That is amazing, you have me totally convinced. I don’t think I can follow this wonderful answer, but I’ll do my best.
I think Odysseus is one of those creepy, unattractive looking men who is somehow ridiculously successful. He has no value for the truth and will say anything to get what he wants, which is how he is able to seduce a certain amount of women. His real, and exaggerated wealth and notoriety (come on, how long is he going to milk the Trojan horse for?) will enable him bed another portion of women. However, he is at his core, a monster, and that threat of violence is how he manages to compels the rest into sex.
I’ve just realized that I’ve basically given Joe’s answer, but not set out as clearly and well. Great minds, Joe!
DJ: Thanks Joe! This was a blast!
Rumor is that Joe and I will do this again at some point. Stay tuned.