This is an unexpected review for me. I didn’t think of me sharing a review of one of the oldest books. Moreover, that I will like it so much. It’s a major Greek epic Odyssey attributed to Homer.
A few years ago, I was seriously interested in history. Naturally (for me), I began self-education using books, courses, documentaries, and the internet. The most important for me is not much the source’s type but its point of view. Different angles help me to understand the problem better and uncover answers to many questions.
Sometimes, though, some information is mentioned many times from unrelated perspectives. That always triggers my curiosity. And I came across mentions of Homer many times. I had to read Iliad and Odyssey myself.
(By the way, after I collected many pieces and created my clearer picture of human history, I wrote series about it. The first post starts here and all posts are in category humanity.)
My wife Lenka wanted to surprise me by giving me the book. She checked reviews and picked Odyssey with the best Czech translation. I got startled when I saw it for the first time. It’s quite a heavy book, and I don’t read any poetry. It’s not my type of book. But I also survived tough and long The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, so why not this, I thought.
I changed my opinion quite quickly. I was so excited about it that I finished the last third in one evening. The catch is that the translation I got is not actually poetry. It’s not following hexameter. It looks like a verse, but it’s a free verse that follows more natural speech than any other rhythm.
Professional philologists didn’t like this version by Vladimír Šrámek, but they couldn’t overlook the beauty of the modern text. Šrámek translated both Iliad and Odyssey, but only Odyssey was released. Iliad stayed forgotten at his table. No one knew it survived World War II until translation was recently found. It’s so popular that the first print from 2010 is sold out. I still wait to have the opportunity to read this version of the Iliad.
Anyway, this is not why I write this post. I was very impressed by the sophistication; every character or scene is precisely described in outstanding detail. I was not expecting this at all. I assumed the text would be more like a shopping list with rhythm.
But even more surprising is the story itself. It’s very clever; many if not most new books and movies could take inspiration from old pieces like Odyssey to not be so dull. Even though I knew the story in general, the story has a lot of surprises. You still might be surprised, at least I was, and I enjoyed a lot the gradual denouement.
When I was young (before the internet era), I couldn’t understand how people could live without TVs and mobile phones. I was shocked when I realized by reading books from the past century that people lived the same way as we do, just without gadgets. It was my first moment to understand that technology is not necessarily helping us. In fact, it has a lot of negative aspects which we forget about. Just consider social media.
Reading Homer gave me more profound insight. I realized how humanity is truly old. We might have different challenges in front of us than before. But we are still the same. We have the same bodies for thousands of years. The same brains. Our culture and social interaction are the same. Over the years, we improved our lives a lot, but at the same time, we made our lives more miserable.
Everywhere around us is a lot of stress. I would even say that the whole modern society is built on pressure. We have a lot of rules which we have to learn. If we fail to do so, we are punished. The tendency is also to blame, for either good or bad, individuals instead of accepting that we are just animals and that maybe our society is flawed and needs to be improved. And because of that, many people live in depression. I wrote about this in more detail in posts about fake stories and how those stories are flawed.
In the Homer era, the belief was different. The modern age is still borrowing gods, but they are used essentially as entertainment; for example, in comic books, gods are used as both heroes and villains. Back then, though, gods were part of life. Gods were used on every step as the cause of unpleasant actions, both natural and human. Have you survived the voyage over the sea? That was because Poseidon liked you and let you pass. Have you not? Well, Poseidon was bored and used you as a toy.
That may sound harsh, but it’s liberating a lot. Today, the only belief in God was preserved, which is the worst belief available. You are supposed to solve the question of what does God want from me? and follow orders of the church or terrorists. Religion is ignorance. God suppresses freedom. That’s why we liberated ourselves from God towards democracy, capitalism, liberal education, and so on. The result? The other extreme full of stress explained above.
That’s why I enjoyed reading Odyssey a lot. I liked the ordinariness of the story mixed with abnormality. Odyssey has a lot to offer even today after so many years. Anyone interested in history can get a better grasp of what people were capable of by reading Homer. And mostly, it can show us long-forgotten approaches to lives with less stress.
I can’t wait to read Iliad as well.