Required Reading: Homer’s Odyssey

Required Reading is a series about livening up the high school required reading list with interesting pairings for students of all ages. For another great review of the Odyssey, check out Avid Reader’s Musings post from today! 

“Of these adventures, Muse, daughter of Zeus, / tell us in our time, lift the great song again.”

Have I ever told you how huge of a nerd I am for some Homer?

Ahem.

It appears we’re already at the nerd part. See, calling the author of the Odyssey “Homer” is likely a misstatement. What drives me nerdalicious about this and other epic poems of the time is that they were likely a compilation of voices.

A shared story told by a culture.

By one man in the front of the room at a time.

Telling it (mind you, not reciting) by memory.

I won’t go into it more, but if you’re at all interested in the oral nature of these great works of art, read Albert Lord’s The Singer of Tales. Moving on…

As required reading, the Odyssey is probably the easiest of the bunch. Homer kept it sexy and adventurous for our high school juniors and seniors. The impact it had on our literary and entertainment culture is so pervasive that choosing pairings for this one was more of choosing favorites.

Books

Similar to the Bible, The Odyssey is kind of, well, everywhere. This classic influenced other classics like Dante’s Inferno, One Thousand and One Nights, and the work of an Irishman that I refuse to even mention on this blog. (We have some bad history, him and I).

What I find more interesting is the pairings we can find in modern literature. The same hazy, episodic nature of Homer’s work is paralleled in Richard Brautigan’s Trout Fishing in America.

A true odyssey is undertaken by September in Catherynne M. Valente’s The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. Monsters and fairies and gods abound as they try to stop September’s process along her journey.

And then there is Pam in Contents May Have Shifted by Pam Houston, who perhaps never finds her Penelope at the end, but instead finds herself and, in that, is saved.

Movies 

Movies run the same gamut. The Coen Brothers’ O Brother, Where Art Thou? is a fantastical take on Homer’s Odyssey set in Depression-era Mississippi.

2001_space_odyssey

One of my favorites, Big Fish (both the novel and movie) play with the same themes of an outrageous journey, the suspension of belief, and finding a way home at the end of it.

And finally, one of my–I don’t know if it’s my favorite because it was so insane–movies, 2001: A Space Odyssey. You guys, that movie was so creepy that I couldn’t sleep after watching it. And that weird baby. Ugh. It was, well, it was an adventure to watch. Certainly pairs with The Odyssey though.

Other

I couldn’t leave this post without a mention of role playing games.

Huh?

I heard you say it. Don’t worry.

But, that original cultural inclination to tell a story, to build a tale among multiple people isn’t one that was forgotten so easily. Part of me (the non-snooty literature type) thinks that it still exists in some form in those role playing games. The same amount of rules exist for both, the same communal aspect.

It’s not the same, but it’s interestingly close.

I also can’t leave this post without mentioning one of my favorite new blogs, The Lonely D12. I don’t play role playing games, but hubz does enough for the both of us. He’s now exploring his own interests and passion in that new space. Definitely go check it out!

And, because I think all Required Readings should end with a song…

What other pairings can you think of for Homer’s Odyssey

About nikki_steele

Freelance writer and editor. Creator of BookPairing blog.
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  • Melissa

    Seriously, what are the odds of both of us posting on this today?!? I really want to read The Singer of Tales now. I love O Brother Where Art Thou. It’s so well done that you can appreciate it as a re-telling of Odyssey or just as a stand alone. Listening to it on audio this time made me enjoy the cadence of the words so much more.
    p.s. I LOVE Big Fish!

    • http://www.bookpairing.com/ Nikki Steele

      I know, right?! I giggled quite a bit when I saw yours. But seriously, that audio book version sounds amazing. I’m a total Fitzgerald translation fan girl, but would love to listen to it again by audio. What a cool experience!

      Definitely check out The Singer of Tales! It’s more of an academic book (read: a bit dry), but it’s the classic text about oral poetry and how they “create” it, seemingly on the spot.

      *Swoon* Big Fish — so good!

  • Amanda @ On a Book Bender

    I never could read Odyssey (and I tried) but I *did* watch O Brother, Where Art Thou? That counts, right?

    • http://www.bookpairing.com/ Nikki Steele

      Hehe, you were just a pairing ahead of your time!