Not just for movies anymore: Homer Rewritten

Posted on February 25th, 2010 by

Read this review of two new takes on the Iliad and the Odyssey:

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.”

Thus the novel unfolds as a constellation of 44 discrete sections, averaging only a few pages each, that revise and recombine images, characters and episodes from the original. The result is one of the most idiosyncratic versions yet of Odysseus’s 10-year journey home to the island of Ithaca after the Trojan War, an epic voyage that—in the traditional telling—sees him plunged into countless adventures while his wife, Penelope, fends off dozens of suitors, refusing to believe that her beloved is dead.

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. Each of the preceding nine days, Achilles, inconsolable over the death in battle of his closest friend, Patroclus, has dragged Hector’s body behind his chariot around Patroclus’s tomb. Priam goes to the Greek camp hoping to buy back the corpse so that it can be properly buried. Swayed by Priam’s invocations of filial love, Achilles relents.

The novel builds to their encounter with vivid scenes of the principals’ childhoods and of Priam’s long journey to the enemy camp.

(h/t Sarah)


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