on 10 December 2011
I had never read Homer's Odyssey before, although many of the stories within it will be familiar to most people.
There is a lovely brevity and succinctness about the style as one would expect from a leading poet. I read it in the space of a couple of days, including one long journey, and it had me captivated.
I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone wanting an approachable but not dumbed down version of these stories. I am now motivated to read a full translation of the original - which I would never have been before.
on 29 November 2006
Lively, jaunty and sympathetic to the protagonists, this is an engaging introduction to the outlines of Odysseus's experiences in a dramatised format that would lend itself well to the classroom.
Odysseus does come across as an irritating sort of leader at points - but in the final section, he provides a satisfying comeuppance for all the rapacious suitors who've been harassing his wife. The relationship between Zeus and Athena is by turns amusing and touching, and there are some unexpectedly vivid characters, such as Queen Arete who is desperate to get Odysseus away from her family and consequently helps him on his way home.
Although in terms of poetic technique, theme and voice, I prefer Armitage's stand alone poetry, this is a fine addition to the poetic interpretations of Homer's great work. It is however, an entertainment rather than a full translation - if you're looking for that, Fagles would be your man, as Armitage himself acknowledges.
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.