Some say Homer was a sightless genius like John Milton. Milton dictated his three massive poems—The Divine Comedy—to an amanuensis who wrote them down. Homer, however, performed his poems, The Iliad and The Odyssey, aloud and before live audiences. Scholars guess that Homer used character voices and lyre music during his shows to bring his tales to life. He lived in Ancient Greece circa 700 B.C.
While The Iliad is filled with horrifyingly vivid descriptions of battlefield carnage and details about what swords and spears can do to a human body, The Odyssey is more of a fantastical adventure. It features monsters, cannibals, enchantresses, drugged out Lotus Eaters and many-headed dragons. Much of it takes place out on the open sea as Odysseus wanders from island to island across the Mediterranean. Here, as his fleet is slowly destroyed and all his friends are killed, he becomes the last man standing after ten years of woe. Only he returns to his island of Ithaca alive.
Even then, things aren’t easy. He’s been gone twenty years and the sons of Ithaca have grown into rowdy, fatherless men.
It must have taken Homer many nights to recite his monumental works in their entirety. At some point scribes set down his famous words and what was until that point oral literature held in one man’s mind became written literature for the ages. The two epics have been translated into English, and I used Robert Fitzgerald’s version to map out the best of Odysseus’s adventures for modern listeners.
I’ll be performing my intro to the tale, THE ODYSSEY: BELLY OF THE BEAST in about a month, on ZOOM. The 70-minute show is sponsored by Grendel’s Den in Cambridge, MA. Tickets are $15. The date is Sunday, Sept. 20th at 7 pm EST.
Years ago, when I performed it at Dartmouth College, a professor wrote that my version is the closest thing we have to a Homeric performance.
This is the second in my three-part Greek myths for adults series on ZOOM. If you want to see what a Greek myth like this looks and sounds like, you’re welcome to listen to FALL OF THE TITANS, here on YouTube. I told this tale a couple of weeks ago.