This week, I'll be posting about a few modern books inspired by Homer's The Odyssey. Do you have any favorite examples? Please give me your suggestions in the comments!
I'll start off with a non-fiction book sometimes called a literary travelogue: Scott Huler's No-Man's Lands: One Man's Odyssey Through The Odyssey. After Huler reads James Joyce's Ulysses more or less on a dare, he decides to read Homer's epic. He already knew the basic story, as most of us in this culture do, since "its content creeps into our minds through back channels, like the symphonies we learn by snatches as background music in Bugs Bunny cartoons." But only as a mature adult does Huler really read the story of Odysseus. He is stunned by its power to speak directly to him. As he writes, "by the time I finished, I felt the book had sought me out, that my need for The Odyssey had manifested itself and brought the book to me." He continues, "I came to see the passage of Odysseus from Troy to Ithaca as a metaphor, a series of adventures in which Odysseus demonstrates what he needs to learn--or unlearn--to live his life."
Huler became so obsessed with Homer's epic that he decides to make his own journey through the Mediterranean and explore the history of the epic. "I wanted to go where Odysseus went," he writes, "to learn what Odysseus learned." Like Odysseus, the author travels without knowing exactly what is coming next, letting the winds (metaphoric winds in Huler's case) carry him where they may. Like Odysseus, his travels keep him away from his wife. His desire to be back home is clear and profound--but he also admits to the wanderlust and excitement that also tempts Homer's hero. (Huler doesn't have quite the same kind of temptations in his path. As he says, "depressingly few goddesses demanded my sexual favors.")
The author's odyssey is of course rambling and shallow compared with the magical and magisterial journey taken by Odysseus. Nevertheless, the two both learn lessons about the deep ties of home and family. Odysseus traveled for years and was "so weary of travel and excitement that he hopes to never leave home again." Huler hopes for the same commitment: "I aspired to even a tiny piece of Odysseus's weariness, his gladness to be through with adventure, to be home at last..., Wouldn't it be grand to feel so complete, so finished?" The author returns home from his trip to his pregnant wife June--about to give birth to a little boy. He promises that together they will embark on their next adventure: raising their child.
I enjoyed this book very much and found Huler's personal take on Homer to be a fascinating way to approach the text. Sometimes he stretches the parallels between his odyssey and Odysseus's journey a little too much. Sometimes I was irritated that Huler left his pregnant wife and talked about the temptations of other women (just as I was irritated by Odysseus). But overall, I found his insights into Homer creative and thoughtful, his narrative appealing, and his efforts to make ancient literature seem relevant to our lives today highly laudable.