These days, The Odyssey is usually seen as more of an historical artefact than a work of fiction. Clunky translations tend to kill the drama and fail to capture why The Odyssey is still a classic after more than 2500 years. Armitage reinvigorates the tale by completely rewriting it in the form of a radio play. Surprisingly, Armitage plays it straight, writing very naturalistic dialogue and resisting the temptation to render everything in pompous poetry. A strange approach, you might think, for one of Britain's leading poets. But it works brilliantly.
In Armitage's version, the timeless themes of the story come in to sharp focus. The story exposes man's weakness when faced with the devastating power of temptation. But we also see the value of courage and loyalty in the face of insurmountable odds - not only from Odysseus, but also from Penelope, forced to wait to for him alone for twenty years. The Odyssey is in many ways a strikingly modern and human story, and that really comes through here. Armitage has put humanity into The Odyssey, allowing us to share Odysseus's pain and longing, as well as his famed cunning.
There's humour here, as well as intense drama, and the whole thing is beautifully readable, compulsive, concise and easy to follow. All the romance and excitement of the adventure and the tension of the decisive moments is captured here. It could nearly be a children's classic, but for a few cases of strong language and sexual references (it's a 12A rating, really). There's plenty for grownups to enjoy here though, regardless of whether or not you've read The Odyssey.