Odyssey Readalong: Books 1–6

The Odyssey Readalong

I could not tell you all the number nor could I name them,
all that make up the exploits of enduring Odysseus…

This my first time reading The Odyssey, and right away I was impressed with how polished it is. This is as finely-crafted story-telling as I’ve ever read, and that’s without being able to read the Greek and appreciate the poetry. The way characters are introduced and scenarios set up is so fluid and yet so well-structured. Never is one left at a loose end, though there is the occasional contradiction, such as how the Achaians made it home when the gods were out to destroy them. Still, the main story moves along as smoothly as the wine-dark sea . . . when Poseidon is busy elsewhere!

The story starts with the scandalous suitors of Penelope, who sponge off Odysseus’ household and pressure his grieving wife to marry one of them without going through proper channels (i.e. by presenting gifts to her father). They want to get her for free, and are quite happy to feast at her husband’s expense until they break her down. They say she encourages them but I suspect that is a self-justifying lie of the “she was asking for it” variety. At the very least she has the loyalty and decency to wait until she has definite news of Odysseus’ fate. It’s to get that news that their son Telemachos sails off, and whenever he tells the story of the suitors, gods and mortals alike are angered and make dire predictions about what will happen when Odysseus gets back. He finally finds out where Odysseus fetched up, and the scene shifts to the island where the nymph Kalypso has Odysseus captive as her own personal boy toy. I had to laugh when the gods asked for him back and she pouts saying it was the gods who shipwrecked him in the first place and she’s the one who rescued him. Finders keepers! But Odysseus is homesick and has some justice to dispense back home (though he doesn’t know it yet), so he must be on his way. Unfortunately he is out of the frying pan and into the fire because the next woman he encounters, Nausikaa of the Phaiakians, takes a fancy to him and I don’t think she will let him out of her clutches too easily either.

But when he had bathed all, and anointed himself with olive oil,
and put on the clothing this unwedded girl had given him,
then Athene, daughter of Zeus, made him seem taller
for the eye to behold, and thicker, and on his head she arranged
the curling locks that hung down like hyacinthine petals.
And as when a master craftsman overlays gold on silver,
and he is one who was taught by Hephaistos and Pallas Athene
in art complete, and grace is on every work he finishes,
so Athene gilded with grace his head and his shoulders,
and he went a little aside and sat by himself on the seashore,
radiant in grace and good looks; and the girl admired him.

Can you blame her? Apart from his physical charms, Odysseus is known for his thoughtfulness, cunning, and patience. He is often described as god-like and praised for his use of reason. At various points were are let into his thought process as he considers various options and chooses the best one. Though Homer far precedes the great Greek philosophers that we know of, it seems that even in his time logic and reason were highly valued and ranked as god-like qualities. Nausikaa may have admired Odysseus’ looks on the beach, but she also notices how thoughtful he is. Brains and beauty, a lethal combination! Trouble is sure to ensue…

Other posts: Books 7–12; Books 13–18; Books 19–24.

Check out more Odyssey Readalong posts at Love, Laughter, and Insanity.

The Odyssey of Homer, Richmond Lattimore trans.


15 comments on “Odyssey Readalong: Books 1–6

  1. Kristi says:

    I suspect that there will be trouble with the meeting of Odysseus and Nausikaa as well. She is looking for a husband.

    I see you're reading a different translation. How do you like it? I'm enjoying reading The Odyssey so much I might read it again and try another translation.

  2. Sylvia says:

    Hi Kristi! Yes, I'm reading the Lattimore translation and I'm finding it perfectly easy to read. Apparently it is more faithful to the original than the Fagles, though I gather the latter is very entertaining. I also want to read the Alexander Pope version later to get a more poetic feel. If one of the gods deigns to make me immortal then I'll also learn classical Greek and read the original. 😉

  3. Dwight says:

    If you are naked and dirty, how can you appeal for help from Nausikaa? Odysseus shows his reputation for quick-thinking is well deserved by comparing Nausikaa to Artemis…in addition to flattering her he makes it clear he will not assault her (unless Odysseus is willing to suffer the same fate as Actaeon). The interaction between Nausikaa and Odysseus is one of my favorite parts of The Odyssey. OK, one of many.

  4. Trish says:

    I see your comment to Kristi–I'd like to read the Pope version one day, though I suspect that's what I read the first time 15 years ago and had such trouble with. 😉

    I'm so glad everyone is enjoying this so far! I was afraid it would be hard and treacherous (not sure if you saw that we just finished a Brothers Karamazov readalong that was brutal).

    I can't wait to find out what happens between Nausikaa and Odysseus. I have a sneaking suspicion but will just have to read to find out. I love how you point out Odysseus's reasoning and how Nausikaa finds this so attractive. This isn't something I immediately noticed, but I agree.

  5. Sylvia says:

    Dwight, yes, Odysseus is wise to butter up Nausikaa. “Are you mortal or goddess?” is a pretty good line! He may have overdone it, though; I suspect it will come back to bite him.

    Trish, I recall seeing something about your Brothers Karamazov readalong. I really want to read that too. After Anna Karenina and War & Peace nothing phases me! I even liked 2666, though I'm not sure why. 😀 As for Odysseus, I expect he has enough wits to evade Nausikaa's wiles. Lucky for him she's only a mortal!

  6. Trisha says:

    “Finders Keepers!” I LOVE IT! I can very much see Calypso saying that. And seriously, doesn't the book set Odysseus up as unbelievably perfect? He's all sensitive, but manly enough to kick some serious butt. Intelligent and witty, but modest and polite. And apparently he's seriously hot too. Nice.. 🙂

  7. Sylvia says:

    😀 Yes, Odysseus does seem to be the perfect man. No wonder Kalypso wanted to keep him and Penelope can't get over him!

  8. “Her own personal boy toy”–such a great way to put it. Calypso has the potential of being a hilarious character in a parody.
    Odysseus lays it on pretty thick with flattery when talking to Nausicaa. It made me a bit wary of him. But I know that's his thing–a persuasive way with words.

  9. Sylvia says:

    Shelley, indeed, he does have a golden tongue. I laughed again in Book 7 where he says that Nausikaa “loved me excessively.” No wonder Athene had to give him a makeover—after 7 years of that he must have been a wreck! I can't help but wonder if Nausikaa is the inspiration for the term “nymphomanic”?

  10. Stefanie says:

    Glad your reading of The Odyssey is off to a good start. Somehow I have a hard time feeling sorry for Odysseus when he is stuck on Calypso's island. I mean he doesn't exactly refuse her feminine charms. Sure he offers up token protests now and then but I found him unconvincing.

  11. Sylvia says:

    Stefanie, true, he doesn't put up much of a fight, but who can resist the will of the gods? Presumably she can turn him into a turtle or something if he refuses. It's also useful for pointing out the sexual double standard among gods, which makes me think Homer was a woman. 😉

  12. Trish says:

    Ha! I love your idea of Homer being a woman!

  13. Sylvia says:

    Trish: Sure, why not? Some of the most famous bards have been female… 😉

  14. You have such a beautiful, intelligently written blog that I have given you an award!


  15. Sylvia says:

    Thank you, Literary Lioness, I'm honoured!

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