April 26, 2008


Odysseus Unplugged: a review of THE ODYSSEY: A Dramatic Retelling of Homer’s Epic By Simon Armitage (JAMES PARKER, NY Times Book Review)

Originally commissioned by the BBC and broadcast in 2004, Armitage’s version is a radio play — a play for voices, now published in book form. At times, the reader may feel something is missing: The descriptive sentences that punctuate the dialogue are fairly terse (“Delirious and breathless, Odysseus collapses on the floor”), and one can only guess at the fun some BBC basement wizard must have had with the sound effects (thunderbolts, shades lapping at a puddle of freshly spilled blood and so on). For these moments of wistfulness, however, we are more than compensated by Armitage’s pincer-move on Homer’s epic, his combination of deep attentiveness and refreshing imaginative license.

There are things in Armitage that you won’t find in Homer: the image of Odysseus outside Calypso’s cave, for example, alone on a rock “bleached white, and not by the dung of birds / or the throw of the sea, but by a man’s tears.” And when the Phaeacian ship sets Odysseus down at last on the shore of his longed-for Ithaca, there is a low-voiced conversation over his sleeping body that Homer never wrote. But the tear-blanched rock sits in the tale with a magical solidity, and the two Phaeacians’ gentleness with the unconscious king (“Sailor: Sure we shouldn’t wake him? Skipper: No. This seems right”), while perhaps more a Shakespearean touch than a Homeric one, is a lovely improvisation.

Our elementary school does a unit on Homer, including having the kids perform Odyssey Rock, so we have all kinds of books, videos, etc. scattered around the house. This radio adaptation is especially good and can be found at the BBC website or downloaded here in bit torrent form.

-INTERVIEW: Homer is where the art is: In adapting 'The Odyssey' for radio, Simon Armitage took a great epic poem back to its roots. (Tom Payne , 8/26/04, Daily Telegraph)

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 26, 2008 7:40 AM

With the financial success of Lord of the Rings, I am astonished Hollywood hasn't attempted the Odyssey. With CGI, the story can be done correctly.

Oh, I guess a remake of Get Smart won out as a better story.

Posted by: pchuck at April 26, 2008 1:25 PM
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