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The Education of Everyman

The Meaning of the Odyssey

Classical professors looked forward with a mixture of eagerness and anxiety to the recent $40 million version of the Odyssey on NBC. Would the production reveal Homer, or would the Hollywoodification of his poem so distort the plot that we would be spending the remainder of our careers disabusing students and others of false impressions? And would the audience even be sufficiently interested by the story to consult the original?

I am no critic of television, and cannot answer this last question. There are liberties taken with Homer's story, and matters related by Homer outside the poem are brought into the production. The Cyclops Polyphemus was horrible, but perhaps not horrible enough; Circe was enchanting, but perhaps not enchanting enough; Kalypso was sexy and seductive, but perhaps not sufficiently so—the conception at these points was that of an R-rated film, but the execution was that of a show to be aired on network television. There were many good things, of course. Aeolus was innovative and good, remarking that Odysseus, unlike most mortals, was able to learn from experience, something of which Homer would have approved. From Odysseus himself we learn that he is proud and arrogant, and that Poseidon is angry with him for his self-sufficiency and inadequate gratitude to the gods for destroying Troy: here Homer would have demurred. These are the only two characteristics we can assign to Odysseus, save his—intermittent...

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