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The Odyssey

The Odyssey

The Odyssey back

Homer & Gareth Hinds


Page 45 Review by Stephen

A summer sunshine joy, brought to watercolour light and rammed to the bucolic pens with so many of your favourite mythological beasts and best-avoided landmarks, this is by far the most faithful and engaging adaptation of Homer's epic fantasy into comic form so far. Even though its source is an amalgam of prior translations merely consulted rather than adhered to, by maintaining the vast majority of its rhetorical devices and structure Hinds gives one a very keen sense of what it's like to actually read the original, yet without the constant threat of being biffed about the head for misconstruing a salient subclause. Even with my wine-addled memory (compounded perhaps by said biffing and banging) I recognised the odd phrase like "pressed in on all sides" as an exact reproduction.

Following the events of the Ilyiad (see Eric Shanower's remarkable AGE OF BRONZE), this kicks off right in the middle of things with Odysseus now missing for seventeen years while his son Telemachus impotently seethes at the jackals circling his mother Penelope. Convinced that Odysseus is dead, over a hundred of these overtly hostile and ill-mannered apes seek Penelope's hand in marriage while eating her out of house and home. Odysseus, meanwhile, has been marooned on an island by Poseidon for poking his son's singular eye out with a stick (the biggest injury to eye in any fiction) and, with no means of escape, has been lying in thrall to the sea-nymph Calypso.

If nature abhors a vaccuum then narrative abhors a lack of much happening; as does Zeus who gives the chessboard a good old godly nudge by dispatching Hermes to demand that Calypso free Odysseus and set him out to sea, while Athena journeys to Ithaca in the first of several guises to prompt Telemachus to sail off in search of his Dad. Alas, Odysseus's make-shift raft is ill-equipped to endure the further wrath of Poseidon, but at least the pieces are once more in play and the journeys have once more begun.

For Homer, it's all about the art of rhetoric: about telling stories and speaking well. Odysseus knows the rules and is well versed in its craft. He is therefore well received because of it. Also because he arrives in the form of a beggar which, as all civilised hosts understand, means he comes with the protection of Zeus. What damns the vulpine suitors back in Ithaca later on - in the eyes of both reader and gods - is that they fail to honour that tradition when Odysseus makes it home in disguise (oh yes, it's all about disguise as well) as just such a beggar. But I digress.

With much still ahead of him, it is only now that Odysseus has a rapt audience in the form of King Alcinoos and his court that we begin to learn of the perils he endured before washing up on the beautiful shores of Calypso: the land of the Lotus Eaters; the cannabalism of the shepherd cyclops; the generosity of King Aeolus whose favourable wind almost got the crew home; the ram-headed Laestrygonians; the metamorphic enchantments of Queen Circe; the sirens, Scylla and Charybdis; and, just before them, one hell of a desperate journey in search of the great seer Tiresias who is, unfortunately, deceased. That's not going to put a seasoned sailor like Odysseus off: next stop, Land of the Dead.

It's there that Tiresias foretells two possible futures: if they muster enough self-restraint to leave the cattle of sun god Helios alone they will all return safely to Ithaca; or - or - in the unlikely event that one amongst them succumbs to temptation and kills a cow… well, let's just say the repercussions are long, detailed, pretty damn dire and tie-in directly with everything we've learned to date. Guess what happens next? And once again, they'd almost made it home!

That's another of the key themes here: discipline, self-restraint and honouring promises versus disloyalty, greed and self-serving hedonism. Also, not just good manners (though much esteemed) but the importance of genuine good will.

What you have to remember, of course, is that most of the above happened before the first page and there is a very long journey of faith and endurance yet to come if Odysseus, Penelope and Telemachus are ever to be reunited and free from the ravages of the younger generation that have been feeding like locusts on Odysseus's land in his absence.

My hat's off to Hinds: the ancient Greek landscapes here are full of soft light, cool colour and so much space that you can almost breathe the pastoral air. I like the blue haze that surrounds Athena whatever form she takes, and his Odysseus is far from the two-dimensional grandstander he'd be cast as in Hollywood. In order to travel these nautical miles in his shoes you have to experience his fear, fragility, doubts and very real horror at what has become of his family and one particular household pet. The odds are stacked as far up against him as they were against Hinds when it came to gaining my favour; but I'm now going to be reading his BEOWULF and THE MERCHANT OF VENICE as quick as I can, and maybe revisit KING LEAR.