Review: Odysseus: A Life

Odysseus: A Life Odysseus: A Life by Charles Rowan Beye
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Note: This review was originally written in the early 2000s and published for a no longer running website: AudiobookCafe. This review is of both the book and the audiobook. Steeped in oral tradition, any story from ancient Greece needs to be told and not read which makes listening to “Odysseus: A Life” all the more engaging. Anyone with a high school education will have heard of “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey.” These great epic poems of ancient Greece have been appreciated for their military strategy, used as the basis for college courses, retold through scores of literature and movies, and translated numerous times. While “The Iliad” gives us a wide array of characters both mortal and immortal, it never truly focuses on an individual. “The Odyssey” is something altogether different. This epic story revolves around Odysseus and his family. It expounds upon Odysseus’s ten-year adventure of wandering and the reclaiming of his throne, but what else do we know of this legendary hero? Just like “The Odyssey,” this audiobook centers on Odysseus but shows our epic protagonist in his entirety.

Classicist, Charles Rowan Beye delivers to us the rough guide of Odysseus’s life from birth to death, using a variety of references from Greek plays and stories as well as some of his own classicist interpretation. Here we learn about how Odysseus grew up and how his early experiences would shape him into the wise and cunning man that the legends has shown him to be.

Any Greek epic fan will enjoy this book. While it’s not directly part of the canon, this audiobook adds some wonderful perspectives to how to view and interpret Odysseus. However, the book can be a little frustrating to the reader. Much of what Beye bases this story on are references from various plays and other relevant material—footnotes or a reference guide would have been a perfect addition for this book. At times, this audiobook ranges from story to biography to history to psychology in its premise, which can be trying for the reader seeking to put it in a proper frame. Should you take it as gospel? As an inciteful interpretation? Historical analysis? It’s hard to determine. Regardless, it’s still more than worthwhile to listen to.

The main complaint with this audiobook is that it is too short. With only six hours of listening, you may be tempted to go back and listen to “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey” several more times and maybe try to find some more Greek plays to enjoy. The author’s lack of dialogue is also disheartening. While he may go into exquisite detail how Odysseus lay with Circe, he uses little dialogue throughout the entire book. The author will tell you there was an exchange of words, but at very few points do you find a “He said/she said” dialogue.” The author interestingly chose to elaborate certain actions of our hero without explaining how he knew such details while slighting others.

One would hope Blackstone Audiobooks went through painstaking work to find the right voice for a project like this. Being connected with such a famous epic poem, the perfect voice is truly essential. Mark Bramhall nails the dismount in this performance. When there’s storytelling, he commands the story so enthrallingly, he leaves no doubt that he would make a great narrator for the epics themselves. But his transitions are even more remarkable. As the book swerves from Odysseus’s story to observational points about certain themes or issues, Bramhall shifts his tone quite successfully, letting the reader know that what he is saying is an aside from the story.

“Odysseus: A Life” fantastically depicts Odysseus, the man, the epic hero, the husband, the father, and the historical icon for the wanderer. This six-hour journey not only gives epic fans a larger understanding of this legend but also a greater appreciation for Odysseus. Add to the pot, that one gets to listen to this audiobook making it akin to how Homer originally delivered his epics, and you have a fantastic recipe for audio enjoyment.

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