A Penguin Classic
Robert Fagles, winner of the PEN/Ralph Manheim Medal for Translation and a 1996 Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, presents us with Homer's best-loved and most accessible poem in a stunning modern-verse translation. "Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns driven time and again off course, once he had plundered the hallowed heights of Troy." So begins Robert Fagles' magnificent translation of the Odyssey, which Jasper Griffin in the New York Times Book Review hails as "a distinguished achievement."
If the Iliad is the world's greatest war epic, the Odyssey is literature's grandest evocation of an everyman's journey through life. Odysseus' reliance on his wit and wiliness for survival in his encounters with divine and natural forces during his ten-year voyage home to Ithaca after the Trojan War is at once a timeless human story and an individual test of moral endurance.
In the myths and legends retold here, Fagles has captured the energy and poetry of Homer's original in a bold, contemporary idiom, and given us an Odyssey to read aloud, to savor, and to treasure for its sheer lyrical mastery. Renowned classicist Bernard Knox's superb introduction and textual commentary provide insightful background information for the general reader and scholar alike, intensifying the strength of Fagles's translation. This is an Odyssey to delight both the classicist and the general reader, to captivate a new generation of Homer's students. This Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition features French flaps and deckle-edged paper.
For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,700 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Series:||Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition Series|
|Edition description:||Translation by Robert Fagles|
|Product dimensions:||5.70(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.50(d)|
|Lexile:||1050L (what's this?)|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
About the Author
In the Iliad Homer sang of death and glory, of a few days in the struggle between the Greeks and the Trojans. Mortal men played out their fate under the gaze of the gods. The Odyssey is the original collection of tall traveller’s tales. Odysseus, on his way home from the Trojan War, encounters all kinds of marvels from one-eyed giants to witches and beautiful temptresses. His adventures are many and memorable before he gets back to Ithaca and his faithful wife Penelope. We can never be certain that both these stories belonged to Homer. In fact ‘Homer’ may not be a real name but a kind of nickname meaning perhaps ‘the hostage’ or ‘the blind one’. Whatever the truth of their origin, the two stories, developed around three thousand years ago, may well still be read in three thousand years’ time.Robert Fagles (1933-2008) was Arthur W. Marks ’19 Professor of Comparative Literature, Emeritus, at Princeton University. He was the recipient of the 1997 PEN/Ralph Manheim Medal for Translation and a 1996 Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His translations include Sophocles’s Three Theban Plays, Aeschylus’s Oresteia (nominated for a National Book Award), Homer’s Iliad (winner of the 1991 Harold Morton Landon Translation Award by The Academy of American Poets), Homer’s Odyssey, and Virgil's Aeneid.
Bernard Knox (1914-2010) was Director Emeritus of Harvard’s Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington, D.C. He taught at Yale University for many years. Among his numerous honors are awards from the National Institute of Arts and Letters and the National Endowment for the Humanities. His works include The Heroic Temper: Studies in Sophoclean Tragedy, Oedipus at Thebes: Sophocles’ Tragic Hero and His Time and Essays Ancient and Modern (awarded the 1989 PEN/Spielvogel-Diamonstein Award).
Read an Excerpt
Athene Visits Telemachus
Tell me, Muse, the story of that resourceful man who was driven to wander far and wide after he had sacked the holy citadel of Troy. He saw the cities of many people and he learnt their ways. He suffered great anguish on the high seas in his struggles to preserve his life and bring his comrades home. But he failed to save those comrades, in spite of all his efforts. It was their own transgression that brought them to their doom, for in their folly they devoured the oxen of Hyperion the Sun-god and he saw to it that they would never return. Tell us this story, goddess daughter of Zeus, beginning at whatever point you will.
All the survivors of the war had reached their homes by now and so put the perils of battle and the sea behind them. Odysseus alone was prevented from returning to the home and wife he yearned for by that powerful goddess, the Nymph Calypso, who longed for him to marry her, and kept him in her vaulted cave. Not even when the rolling seasons brought in the year which the gods had chosen for his homecoming to Ithaca was he clear of his troubles and safe among his friends. Yet all the gods pitied him, except Poseidon, who pursued the heroic Odysseus with relentless malice till the day when he reached his own country.
Poseidon, however, was now gone on a visit to the distant Ethiopians, in the most remote part of the world, half of whom live where the Sun goes down, and half where he rises. He had gone to accept a sacrifice of bulls and rams, and there he sat and enjoyed the pleasures of the feast. Meanwhile the rest of the gods had assembled in the palace of Olympian Zeus, and the Father of men and gods opened a discussion among them. He had been thinking of the handsome Aegisthus, whom Agamemnon’s far-famed son Orestes killed; and it was with Aegisthus in his mind that Zeus now addressed the immortals:
‘What a lamentable thing it is that men should blame the gods and regard us as the source of their troubles, when it is their own transgressions which bring them suffering that was not their destiny. Consider Aegisthus: it was not his destiny to steal Agamemnon’s wife and murder her husband when he came home. He knew the result would be utter disaster, since we ourselves had sent Hermes, the keen-eyed Giant-slayer, to warn him neither to kill the man nor to court his wife. For Orestes, as Hermes told him, was bound to avenge Agamemnon as soon as he grew up and thought with longing of his home. Yet with all his friendly counsel Hermes failed to dissuade him. And now Aegisthus has paid the final price for all his sins.’
Table of ContentsThe OdysseyIntroduction
The Spelling and Pronunciation of Homeris Names
1. Homeric Geography: Mainland Greece
2. Homeric Geography: The Peloponnese
3. Homeric Geography: The Aegean and Asia Minor
Homer: The Odyssey
Book 1: Athena Inspires the Prince
Book 2: Telemachus Sets Sail
Book 3: King Nestor Remembers
Book 4: The King and Queen of Sparta
Book 5: Odysseus-Nymph and Shipwreck
Book 6: The Princess and the Stranger
Book 7: Phaeacia's Halls and Gardens
Book 8: A Day for Songs and Contests
Book 9: In the One-Eyed Giant's Cave
Book 10: The Bewitched Queen of Aeaea
Book 11: The Kingdom of the Dead
Book 12: The Cattle of the Sun
Book 13: Ithaca at Last
Book 14: The Loyal Swineherd
Book 15: The Prince Sets Sail for Home
Book 16: Father and Son
Book 17: Stranger at the Gates
Book 18: The Beggar-King of Ithaca
Book 19: Penelope and her Guest
Book 20: Portents Gather
Book 21: Odysseus Stings his Bow
Book 22: Slaughter in the Hall
Book 23: The Great Rooted Bed
Book 24: Peace
Textual Variants from the Oxford Classical Text
Notes on the Translation
Suggestions for Further Reading
Reading Group Guide
The Iliad and the Odyssey can be found on every list of the world's greatest books. From the beginning of Western literature, readers have appreciated these two epic poems for their ability to make us reflect on the full range of human concerns and emotions as well as for sheer entertainment. The influence of these poems on the work of other writers is so pervasive that to be familiar with the characters, themes, and episodes of the Iliad and the Odyssey is to be familiar with some of the most significant motifs of subsequent literature.
Each poem is dominated by an extraordinary man and his fate. Though the stories are self-contained, the brief, brilliant life of the warrior Achilles at Troy in the Iliad contrasts sharply with the endurance of long-suffering Odysseus. While Achilles excels on the battlefield, Odysseus is the strategist, manipulating circumstances to the best advantage, moving behind and through the scenes as a diplomat and trickster. We see in the Odyssey these characteristics flourish not only in making war; they are also critical in the multifarious world beyond the battlefield and its clear-cut ranks of adversaries.
When Odysseus and Achilles meet in the House of the Dead, in the exact middle of the Odyssey, the contrast between them is stunning. The living Odysseus has risked his life to come to this place beyond all earthly boundaries in order to acquire the knowledge to complete his journey home. The shade of Achilles is despondent, deprived of the narrow arena of war by which he was defined and his fame was secured. Each hero has sought happiness through action in different ways—Achilles in a concentrated blaze of glory, sacrificing youth and life for fame that will last forever; Odysseus by striving to experience the full range of possible worlds. When Homer has them meet in the House of the Dead, the place of final resolution for all mortals, he seems to be asking us to consider a fundamental question: What is happiness, and what kind of life is conducive to it?
Choose any prominent theme in the Odyssey—fathers and sons; the relationships of men and women, especially husbands and wives; the responsibilities of leadership; piety; the obligations and transgressions of hosts and guests; the relation between revenge and justice—and it is possible to chart a course through the entire book with that particular theme in mind. However, each thread of the story is woven with so many others that focusing on one soon brings into view the entire warp and weft of the story's fabric. Like its hero, Odysseus, and its heroine, Penelope, the Odyssey eludes attempts to reduce it to a few simple meanings, less because it is so ambiguous than because it is so complex.
In essence, the story of Odysseus is straightforward. A veteran of a long war, ten years away from his wife, son, and realm, he sets out to return home with his men. As the result of calamities, some brought on by himself and others beyond his control, he wanders for ten more years, along the way experiencing the breadth and depth of the world. Finally, after his men are lost, he is alone. At last he returns, kills the unwelcome guests who have laid waste his wealth and besieged his wife, seeking to marry her; resumes his role as father, husband, and son; makes peace in his kingdom; and then drops from sight as the poem abruptly comes to a stop, if not an ending.
The way the story is told, however, is anything but straightforward. Even the "man of twists and turns" announced as the protagonist in the first line of the poem is not identified by name until twenty-three lines later. There are stories whose truth lies in their directness; others, in their oblique approach. The Odyssey proceeds by indirection, like the many tall tales Odysseus tells to gain credibility among strangers, and even among those closest to him. Through flashbacks, simultaneous events, reminiscences, narratives by those whose stories have no witnesses, through rumor and legend, the Odyssey moves toward the single-minded goal of its central character—homecoming and reunion. The structure of the poem seems to emphasize that no homecoming is straightforward, and that every return raises complex questions about what has changed and what has remained the same—for both the one who returns and those who remained at home. What, we may ask, remains the essence of the "man of twists and turns" that allows him to maintain his identity as Odysseus?
This indirection reaches its pinnacle in the lengthy Book 19, during the conversation between the disguised Odysseus and his wife, Penelope. In the middle of Odysseus' invented autobiography, which touches her deeply enough to make her weep, the narrator interjects, "Falsehoods all,/ but he gave his falsehoods all the ring of truth" (p. 397). Her feeling for the stranger is strong before she even knows that he is her husband. On the surface, Odysseus' way of approaching Penelope after so many years is strategic; if he were to reveal himself too soon, he would risk failure in ridding his household of her suitors. More than that, he seems to be a suitor himself, winning again Penelope's love and loyalty because of what he is, not who he is. The facts of his tale are false; the sentiment is true. At the end of Book 19, as if by intuition, Penelope proposes a way to resolve the predicament of her unwelcome suitors—the contest of the bow and targets, which only Odysseus is likely to win. Has she recognized Odysseus? Homer is silent on this point, as if to make us ask ourselves where truth lies and how our shifting interpretations of fact and evidence can bring certainty and settlement.
Nothing certain is known about Homer. By the time of the Greek classical age—the fifth century B.C.—there was already a widespread belief that he was the blind, inspired author of both the Iliad and the Odyssey and that he had lived somewhere in the island culture of Asia Minor two or three hundred years earlier. The events depicted in the two epic poems were thought to have occurred several hundred years before Homer's lifetime. The Iliad and the Odyssey were considered fundamental writings at the time of Plato, and they frequently received dramatic public recitations. In addition, the poems were held to exemplify the ideals of virtuous behavior, civic duty, and religious piety on which all education should be based.
However, even in ancient times, there were dissenting opinions. A few scholars believed that Homer was fictional and that the two epics were composed by different authors. Later, others questioned whether Homer was the author or merely the editor or scribe who first wrote down the poems, organizing a long oral tradition. Even the language of Homer obscured his identity: he composed in a highly stylized form of Greek that was not known to be particular to any geographical region, but conveyed the stories of Achilles and Odysseus in an elaborate and flexible poetic meter. Modern scholars have enriched the debate with intricate theories about how oral poetry is memorized and transmitted through many generations of reciters, opening up the possibility that the Homeric epics are not the creation of an individual author, in our contemporary understanding of the word "author."
What transcends all the differing opinions concerning the identity of Homer is the remarkable interwoven complexity and profound consistency of the two epic poems themselves.
At the very beginning of the long sequence of political and cultural development commonly referred to as Western civilization, the Iliad and the Odyssey powerfully and coherently delineated the narrative patterns that literature has adopted ever since to convey the meaning of human experience.
FOR FURTHER REFLECTION
- At the beginning of the Odyssey, we are told that Odysseus suffered much on his long journey homeward. How much of his suffering was the result of his own choices and how much was beyond his control? How are the two distinguished?
- Odysseus has been absent from Ithaca for twenty years. What must he do to reclaim his standing as king, husband, and father, beyond killing the suitors? In returning home after a long absence, how can there be a balance between how we are remembered and what we have become?
* C.P. Cavafy, "Ithaka" (1911)
Writing at the beginning of the twentieth century, this Alexandrian poet interprets the meaning of Odysseus' wanderings and, by implication, that of all human wanderings.
* Dante, Inferno, Canto XXVI (1321)
Consigned in Dante's Hell to the region in which the sin of fraud is punished, Ulysses (Odysseus) tells of his last overreaching voyage, extending the Homeric story.
Homer, The Iliad
The epic story of the warrior Achilles' all-consuming anger and its consequences for both his fellow Greeks and for the Trojans defending their city. A profound depiction of the meaning of heroic human achievement in a world of war and strife, the Iliad is the essential complement to the Odyssey, showing Odysseus in his role of soldier, commander, and diplomat.
James Joyce, Ulysses (1922)
Like Odysseus, the protagonist of Joyce's novel, Leopold Bloom, undertakes a complex journey consisting of encounters that test his sense of personal identity and his resolution to restore his domestic life with his wife, Molly. In innovative, many-layered language that captures the inner life of its early twentieth-century Dublin characters, Joyce encompasses two millennia of Western literary tradition, beginning with Homer.
* Alfred Lord Tennyson, "Ulysses"; "The Lotos-Eaters" (1842)
The Victorian poet expands on Homer's episodes and comments on the temptations of forgetfulness and enervation, emphasizing the insatiable restlessness of Ulysses (Odysseus).
Virgil, The Aeneid
Modeled on Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, this grand Latin epic poem follows the Trojan hero Aeneas from the destruction of his city by the Greeks to his invasion of the Italian peninsula and the founding of Rome. Superficially a glorification of Roman imperial ambitions, The Aeneid is also a subtle critique of personal and public responsibilities and the costs of great political dominance.
Derek Walcott, Omeros (1990)
Imagining the journeys of a present-day Odysseus in the postcolonial world of the Caribbean, the 1992 Nobel Laureate's epic poem is an exploration of cultural identity and a meditation on the persistence of suffering and displacement.
* Cavafy's "Ithaca," Canto XXVI of Dante's Inferno, and Tennyson's "Ulysses" and "The Lotos-Eaters" are all based on, and implicitly comment on, the story and characters of Homer's Odyssey. Read together, these poems challenge us to reflect further on the nature of Odysseus and his journey.