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English Major Starts Her Education, Part 1: The Odyssey

June 7, 2008

the remixExplain this to me: a well-read person goes through her entire school life, gains an English major and a non-insubstantial amount of humanities credits, and somehow, never reads the Odyssey, the near 3000 year old epic that is both very old and very modern at the same time.

Yeah, I don’t think its the educational systems fault. But as I read the Odyssey this past week – granted in an older translation from 1961 – (and with the sparse but evocative drawings by Hans Erni) – I was shocked that I had been missing out on all this time.

No self-respecting English major will let go of the secret that boring, long “classics” are not necessary reading before we shuffle off the mortal coil. Read what you like, duh. But if nothing else, be aware *why* a book is a classic, even if you think its utterly not worth your time.

Here’s the thing about the translation of the Odyssey I read: It’s long (450 pages!) but its not boring. My version was rendered in poetic form, instead of the prose from that more recent translations work from. Having nothing to compare, I enjoyed the poetic form. It made me feel like I was reading the original, and well, nothing beats a really complicated, well-written poem. A line from the ending made me shudder:

So now in turn each woman thrust her head

into a noose and swing, yanked high in air,

to perish there most piteously.

Their feet danced for a little, but not long.

I don’t know if this is a rendering of the original or the translator (translation can get so tricky, and nearly impossible), but it reminds me why I became an English major and why I couldn’t go on for the subject in grad school: I gasped, outloud in the dark of my room with only the book light to hear me.

One Comment leave one →
  1. kapnasty permalink
    June 8, 2008 2:51 am

    The Odyssey is rad. If you get the chance you should read The Aeneid.

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