Monday, February 15, 2010

Recent interactions with Homer

From the Wall Street Journal (Hat tip to Jutta and Shaw)

Homer Revisited

The Iliad and the Odyssey newly told and reimagined.

The tradition of reworking Homer is older than Homer himself. His Iliad and Odyssey were the culmination of an oral-poetry form whose practitioners, using a toolkit of narrative patterns and metrically convenient phrases, tweaked and shuffled the stories in the course of retelling them. Many translators since Homer have also adjusted the tales. Now, taking the practice another step, two novels boldly rewrite stories from the Iliad and the Odyssey and reflect on the nature of storytelling along the way.

Zachary Mason's marvelous "The Lost Books of the Odyssey" purports to be a translation of a "pre-Ptolemaic papyrus" discovered in the Egyptian town of Oxyrhynchus, the real-life site of an ancient trash dump that has yielded many valuable papyri. Mr. Mason says in his preface that the papyrus contains "concise variations on Odysseus's story that omit stock epic formulae in favor of honing a single trope or image down to an extreme of clarity."


Where Mr. Mason's approach is kaleidoscopic, David Malouf's in "Ransom" is microscopic. Zooming in on a few dozen lines from the Iliad, he expands on a climactic scene during the siege of Troy: the meeting between Priam, King of Troy, and Achilles, the killer of Priam's favorite son, Hector.

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