I think I've enjoyed reading more about the adventures of Odysseus than the Fall of Troy, but then I always have loved a good adventure story. The more I read the more I wonder about the small details. I wish I knew more about certain characters and had a better glimpse into their lives or could hear the story from their perspective. For example I'd love to know what went through Helen's mind through all this. Was she in love with Paris and disappointed to return to Menelaus? What about Calypso. I don't recall her from my first (many, many years ago) reading of the Odyssey. But I do remember the character Calypso in Mary Wesley's The Camomile Lawn (how's that for the far reach of Greek mythology?!). Knowing something about these gods and mortals sheds light on how they are reworked into new pieces of literature. And when Odysseus is finally released from Calypso's island and she packs food and drink in abundance for his journey, just what was in that "sack of the dainties Odysseus specially liked"? But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me backtrack and start from the beginning.
The adventures of Odysseus is essentially what came after the fall of Troy. The Greek fleet put out to sea in order to return home, but Athena and Poseidon decided to make things difficult for them. There are two things I am learning in story after story--pay the gods what is due them (or suffer their wrath) and hospitality given to travelers and visitors is an absolute must. Follow these rules and you'll probably manage okay. The Greeks partied after they sacked Troy. Or maybe the sacking was part of the party, but they forgot to pay homage to the gods. And Odysseus paid by spending an additional ten years wandering after the ten years spent fighting. Imagine waiting for your husband to return home after going to war. Twenty years is a long time to remain faithful and devoted, but she did. Or tried to anyway.
I think Penelope's story must be one of the better known or more famous? Margaret Atwood retold her story in The Penelopiad, which I read about five years ago and think I am due for a reread (and after reading my thoughts on the book I am even more curious about it a second time around). When Odysseus set off from Troy, he was blown off course by a storm and ended up on an island ruled by the nymph Calypso who kept him a veritable prisoner. He pined for his wife, Penelope, and their son Telemachus, but Calypso really thought she was doing him a favor by saving him (and hadn't planned on giving him back until told to do so by the gods). Meanwhile back on Ithaca Penelope was fighting off suitors who were queuing for her hand. She told them she must first weave a shroud for her father-in-law, which she then picked apart every night. The suitors were none too pleased when they caught on.
So Odysseus sets off from the isle, freed by Calypso, only to once again have to abandon his sailing vessel in a storm (one last hurrah by Poseidon--but thereafter he tired of Odysseus and decided not to set any more obstructions in his path). Odysseus swam to shore, aided by the goddess Ino and the princess Nausicaä. This time he was welcomed by the Phaeacian's and offered much hospitality. In return he shared the stories of his adventures (or misadventures since they kept him from returning home). He recounted just what happened when he left Troy and ended up on an island with Calypso. There is too much to share here (no doubt this is what makes up the bulk of The Odyssey), but some of it involved a Cyclops, gigantic, cannibal-eating people called Laestrygons, a journey into the bowels of Hades (where he chatted with all his friends who fell during the siege of Troy), the haunting songs of the Sirens, and an about face in attitude by Circe.
When his story ended he set off finally for Ithaca where he had one more problem to tackle. How to get rid of the suitors that were plaguing Penelope. He (with the aid of Athena, who had long since decided to help him after all) was disguised as a beggar and entered his own house unknown to all but Telemachus where they quickly and efficiently dispatched the men (who it seems to me were little more than hangers-on looking for a good deal in a wealthy wife). This is an alls-well that ends-well story that happens to take twenty years to play out.
I've been wondering as I read how these stories came about. Where did the storytellers get their inspiration? Are they recounting things that really happened which over time (and with each successive storyteller) take on a life of their own? I'm enjoying read the myths (or retellings of them), but I think I'd like to not only read the originals but also read about the myths. I suspect that when I finish with Edith Hamilton there will be a little bit of that to finish out this year. And since I am always thinking ahead when it comes to my reading, I am also contemplating what longish term reading project I'd like to tackle next year. I've got a couple of (very different from each other) books in mind--but there are a few more months left this year to think about it.
Next week: The Adventures of Aeneas. I've been looking forward to finally meeting Aeneas by the way.