Each Odds Bodkin adult or university performance begins with little-known lore, explained while Odds plays original, evocative music on Celtic harp. The storyteller draws on his years as a graduate professor in storytelling and mythology to explain Bronze Age death spirituality among the ancient Greeks. How Vikings gave us most days of the week and were the namesakes of Russia. Who discovered the Nowell Codex, now known as the oldest work in English, Beowulf. The universal fear of the human who becomes a beast and how ancient Celtic beliefs survive into modern Halloween. What happens when historical heroes like Hercules become gods over time among pre-scientific peoples. And how the Gaian Titans still live, only now they are called ecosystems. Odds’ scholarly introductions deftly nest his tales in the ancient bed of history.
Each of the seven shows is a full evening’s two-hour entertainment, with intermission.
After his Celtic harp introduction to Homer, Bronze Age war and the Olympian pantheon, Odds begins with eerie wind, bird cries and haunting strains on 12-string. Suddenly listeners are in the mind of Odysseus, crouched with other men inside the Trojan Horse. In vivid real-time imagination, we follow Odysseus through the Sack of Troy, the Beach at Ismaros, the Great Storm, the Isle of the Lotus Eaters, at last reaching an immense cave. Although Odysseus’s hungry men don’t know it, soon Polyphemus the Cyclops will return to his dark home, hungry himself. But no cheese and milk will he eat tonight: instead he’ll feast on Greek sailors, two by two, in grisly detail. How Odysseus escapes the cave, blocked by a giant stone only the Cyclops can move, is one of the most famous scenes in The Odyssey.
A college freshman who recently attended The Odyssey: Belly of the Beast show writes, “I also wanted to talk about how fantastic the Odds Bodkin performance was! I didn’t know what to expect and I was completely blown away by the whole thing. With all of the sounds he was able to make, the unique voices of each person, and intricate guitar playing…it was unbelievable. I was hanging on each and every word. With all of the sensory details he provided it really was as if I was there, during ancient times, transported to 700 B.C. I absolutely loved his Polyphemus voice, the old man/priest in Apollo’s temple who gave Odysseus the brandy, the people in the lotus flower scene within the ivy of the sickly-sweet perfumed island–everything! The way he created such a vivid scene made imagining a transcendent and effortless gift. While I don’t think I blinked for five minutes straight because I was in complete awe of his talent and skill, other times I would close my eyes for a brief moment to fully picture it.”
Originally commissioned by St. Anselm College, this introduction to Homer’s The Iliad begins with mythic backstory as Paris of Troy fears to judge the beauty of three goddesses, but does so after he’s bribed with a prize––Helen of Sparta. “And so began the war at Troy,” Odds recounts. “A war fought over the beauty of women and the glory of a proud death.” First, however, on Celtic harp, Bodkin explains how Greek warriors feared the Underworld and so fought to have stories told of their courage after their deaths. How Bronze Age war was made. And how in those times, slavery was everywhere. Then, with 12-string guitar in hand and in modern language, Bodkin tells Book I itself. How a king’s stolen wife and a priest’s stolen daughter lead Achilles the warrior and Agamemnon the War Marshall to deepen their hatred for one another in open conflict, even as a plague rages in their army’s ranks. All the while, the gods and goddesses of Olympus pull the strings of fate attached to the mortals below, arguing among themselves about whose side to take––the Greeks or the Trojans.
Character voices include Achilles, Agamemnon, Khryses the Priest, Khalkas the Diviner, Athena, Hera, Aphrodite, Zeus, Hephaestus, Paris Alexandros and others. Odds creates a full, brooding score on modal 12-string guitar.
“Each one is a huge hit with students. They are clamoring for him to return.”–Martha Taylor, Chair of Classics, Loyola University Maryland
“As a freshman in college, I had to read the Iliad for the first time. I read the first book shortly before going to see this wonderful performance. Going into the performance, I had no idea what I had read; it felt like it went in one ear and out the other. Thanks to Odds Bodkin, I finally understood the whole concept, and was able to understand the rest of the reading that had to be done. He not only made me understand it better, but he also made it humorous with his amazing sound effects and storytelling.”–Amanda Provencher, Saint Anselm College
“To those unfamiliar with the poem, the Iliad can be intimidating and bewildering. For those unused to envisaging the images Homer presents, the power can end up reading like a Greek telephone book. To help jump start the imaginations of the students, and make their reading of the poem more profitable, Saint Anselm College invited master storyteller Odds Bodkin to come and tell the story of book one of the Iliad.
Students’ responses this year were especially positive. Many students noted that reading book I was very easy since Odd’s telling so closely followed the structure of Homer’s text. Odd’s also provided the mythological/ theological background material to the story, and also placed the events of the Iliad within the context of the Tale of Troy as a whole. Some students said that as they read beyond Book I, they continued to use the images and voices engendered in them by Odd’s telling. Students overwhelmingly thought that the performance was worthwhile and made their encounter with the text more fruitful and more enjoyable. How’s that for an education success story!”–Professor Tom Larson, Saint Anselm College
Hesiod’s Theogony (“Birth of the Gods”) from 700 B.C. recounts the tale of Gaia, the Earth, and her children who create the Sky, the Sea, the Mountains, the Streams, Earth’s axis, and Dawn. Although these earth systems are Titans, they behave like humans, twisted with jealousy, disappointment and raw ambition. Endlessly fertile, Gaia builds her creations underground in Tartarus as strange grandchildren soon appear. Tiny babies the size of a pea. Hestia. Hera. Poseidon. Baby Hades. It’s not until the last-born, Zeus, hidden from his devouring father by Gaia herself, turns on his grandmother and all the Titans, that Gaia’s fury is fully unleashed.
In Odds’ modern-language version, he uses a cast of character voices including Gaia, Ouranos, Rhea the Fertile, King Cronus the Child Eater and Zeus as a child, teen and adult schemer, plus voices for hideous baby cyclopses and other infernal creatures. In the lore introduction on Celtic harp, Odds briefly discusses Gaia Theory—that Earth is a self-regulating organism––and how ancient seas of the Paleozoic are named after Titans. The tale itself is scored throughout with cosmic themes on modal 12-string guitar.
Most recently performed at UCBoulder, University of New Hampshire and the Boulder Climate Symposium.
Originally commissioned by the Art Institute of Chicago, Bodkin sets the myth of the Greek hero Hercules as a first-person confession of Hercules himself, now in the Underworld and freshly dead. Hades and Persephone, King and Queen of the Dead, refuse to free him to Olympus, as he’s been promised, until he tells them his life story. Reluctantly, Hercules tells the tale of his strange birth and princely boyhood, of his teen years of rage and murder, and finally of a madness during which he kills his wife and children. The only way to escape his guilt is to perform twelve impossible labors for his weak cousin Eurystheus. The Nemean Lion. The Hydra. The Stag of Artemis. The Augean Stables. The Birds of Brass. The Apples of the Hesperides. On and on. If he survives, Hercules can love again. But can he forgive those who have shamed him? Especially his cousin, who has been trying to kill him all along? The tale ends with an explosive moment of empathy, as for the first time Hercules sees himself through someone else’s eyes.
Introducing the tale on Celtic harp, Bodkin explores the cult of Hercules, which lasted a thousand years, and other little-known facts about a name everybody knows but few suspect was a classic sociopath, brilliant and clever, unable to control his anger.
The tale is told with a full score on 12-string guitar and character voices for Hercules, Hades, Persephone, Eurystheus, Atlas the Titan, Pholus the Centaur, Iolus the Nephew, Queen Hippolyta of the Amazons and many others.
In Bodkin’s latest epic story creation, where audience members have openly wept at the end, the stark intensity of the Nowell Codex, otherwise known as the poem Beowulf, comes to life in a classic way. But before this feature-length tale begins, Odds plays Celtic harp and describes the ancient Baltic world of the Vikings and how, after lying unknown for five hundred years, this oldest of tales in English was discovered in a lord’s library. Then, on 12-string guitar, the haunting themes for Odds’ Beowulf: The Only One emerge and we meet King Hrothgar of the Danes in his mead hall, toasting his wealth. But then we move to the frozen fens and meet the wolf-demon Grendel. As his half-human, half-wolf roar shakes the audience, Grendel attacks, and the long tale begins. Bodkin’s version adheres closely to the original Beowulf poem, from Beowulf’s killing of Grendel and Grendel’s Mother to his tragic death, fifty years later, from the poisoned bite of a fire dragon.
Characters include Beowulf, Wiglaf, Hrothgar, Grendel, Grendel’s Mother, Unferth, Ashera, and many others. The 12-string guitar score is continuous throughout the telling, creating moods that are heroic, tragic, humorous, terrifying and at times quite peaceful.
On Celtic harp, Odds explains how Tiw’s Day, Wotan’s Day, Thor’s Day and Frigg’s Day –– named to honor Norse gods––gave us Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and how Wotan (a Germanic name for Odin) and Thor, the beloved thunder god of the Vikings, still reside on our everyday calendars and imaginations. The 400-year long Viking Age maps onto a climatic anomaly called the Medieval Warm Period, a time when ice-free seas allowed these hearty sailors and supreme warriors to leave Scandinavia to explore, and terrorize, the world. In the process they even gave Russia its name. The storyteller explores the Nine Worlds of the ancient Viking faith and with the audience prepared, picks up the first of two 12-string guitars to tell Thor in the Land of the Frost Giants, an epic adventure of magic and illusion. Thrown together, Thor and Loki are locked in a humorous hatred for each other as they face magic’s trickery. After intermission, with a second guitar Odds recounts the phantasmagorical long tale of the Mead of Poetry, this time starring Odin as he disguises himself on a quest to retrieve his murdered friend’s blood. That blood is now a magic-bestowing mead. It takes more murder, a year’s labor, threats and seduction for him to finally bring it home.
Bodkin specializes in creating giant voices, and in these two tales he characterizes Thor, Loki, the giants Skrymir and Utgarde Loke in one tale, and Odin, the dwarves Fjalar and Galar, the giant Bauge, and most memorably, the lonely singing giantess Gunlod, in the next. Add stunning vocal effects that sound like galloping chariot goats, high winds and dropping millstones and the result is an evening of vivid imagination entertainment.
Over an evening of slowly increasing horror, Bodkin explores supernatural tales from Colonial America, French Canada, China and finally Russia. But first, on Celtic harp, the storyteller explores the omnipresent belief in dark and inexplicable forces across cultures. How none escapes the fear of evil feeding off the night, especially at certain times of year. Tied to our ancient, pre-scientific fears, born of when only fires and candles could fight the darkness, these old folktales still grab us, like cold hands from nowhere.
First, The Storm Breeder, performed on 12-string guitar. This American Colonial tale thunders to life in a fierce storm as a Boston Brahmin with a bad temper challenges the powers of heaven and hell. He loses and becomes a wraith of the roads, eternally chased by storms. Next, on Celtic harp, The Girl Who Danced with the Devil tells of how young Rose dances past midnight and Satan arrives to charm her as he sucks out her soul. After intermission, Odds picks up his alto recorder and plays Chinese motifs to underscore
The Panther Boys, a terrifying tale of lycanthropy from Confucian China. Lastly, Treasure Trove, a Russian serf tale about a man’s frozen wife and a cruel priest who, to trick the old widower out of gold, dons the bloody skin and horns of a goat and rises at the old man’s window. The ruse works, but there’s a problem with the skin.
In all these tales, Bodkin creates vivid character voices and vocal effects that include whiplashes and galloping hooves, screaming panthers and creaking wood, unbalanced dogcarts and scissors snipping apart blood veins. An evening of intense but tasteful horror.
Odds Bodkin has appeared at Harvard University, Dartmouth College, Boston University, Syracuse University, The Wharton School of Business, Colorado College, Michigan State University, Wofford College, Emerson College in Great Britain, Loyola University Maryland, St. Anselm College, University of New Hampshire, East Tennessee State University, College of the Atlantic, Ohio Dominican University and Franklin Pierce University.
Tandem workshops in creativity, storytelling and the bardic tradition are available to deepen students’ experience. Inquire for details here at oddsbodkin.net.