From Publishers Weekly
Homer's Odyssey provides little in the way of a psychological portrait of its hero. Beye, a professor emeritus of classics at CUNY, takes up where Homer left off in this sometimes compelling, sometimes pedantic psychobiography of the earliest Greek hero. Following the outline of The Odyssey, Beye chronicles Odysseus' life from his princely youth in Ithaca and his military exploits and leadership in Troy to his wanderings through the Mediterranean and his final homecoming to resume his place as king in Ithaca. In Beye's account, when Odysseus sets off for home after the Trojan War and 10 years of absence, he has difficulty recalling his wife Penelope's voice and face. Melancholy, he wonders also what kind of person his son, Telemachus, has grown up to be. Beye portrays Odysseus as humble yet "arrogant in his assumption of his own worth," cunning, wise, athletic and courageous, gregarious and sensual, concluding that Odysseus provided an exceptional role model to males in the ancient world. While Beye offers insights into the cultural context in which Odysseus might have grown up, his fictional biography cannot compare to Homer's suspenseful and engrossing tale of a hero's quest for self-discovery. Still, readers taken with Tom Cahill's discussion of Odysseus in Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea might find this a useful follow-up.
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Historians of fantastic literature claim the Odyssey
, with its indomitable hero, quest plot, gods, and monsters, as one of the genre's wellsprings. Many other stories have been spun off from it, but Beye, whose The Iliad, the Odyssey and the Epic Tradition
(1966) is an undergraduate staple, offers something different: a modern biography of Odysseus, a recapitulation of his life based upon documents and physical evidence and informed by psychology, archeology, anthropology, and other modern disciplines. The aim is to understand why Odysseus did what he did and said what he said about what he did. To avoid thrusting contemporary conceptions on his second-millennium-B.C.E. subject, Beye carefully constructs Odysseus as a Bronze Age fellow whose literal belief in gods obliges us to accept them as he did (the monsters are more problematic). The resulting portrait is far less a display of cleverness than, for Odyssey
readers, a deeper understanding of an old acquaintance and, for those who fear reading a long poem, a dazzling introduction to one grandfather of us all. Ray OlsonCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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