Riffs on the classics: The Odyssey (Part 1)

What makes a classic a classic? A lot of definitions have been offered, but one that resonates with me is the influence a work exerts on other works that follow. How have other authors responded to it with their own versions, counter-versions, sequels, prequels, and completely alternate takes on the original? The more responses there are, the more influential the original, the more we can say definitively it is a classic.

One of my favorite stories ever is the Odyssey, an ancient Greek epic poem composed by a figure or figures known as Homer, traveling bards who would relate the long tale to paying audiences as they roamed the Mediterranean. There are of course two parts to the full tale of Odysseus: The Iliad and The Odyssey. While the Iliad is a fairly straightforward story of an awful war, the Odyssey is a unique homecoming, depicting the wandering path of Odysseus and his encounters with various nymphs, witches, Cyclops, Sirens, and more.

Click here to view The Odyssey: A Dramatic Retelling of Homer's Epic by Simon Armitage in SPL catalogThe Odyssey: A Dramatic Retelling of Homer’s Epic by Simon Armitage

The BBC commissioned British poet Simon Armitage to revisit the classic tale, giving it a contemporary retelling as a radio play. If you haven’t read the original (in translation, naturally), you might try this version for its engaging directness and modern diction.

The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel by Nikos Kazantzakis

The Greek poet Nikos Kazantzakis, famous for Zorba the Greek, composed a sequel to the original that explores the freedom of the spirit.

Click here to view Penelope's Daughter by Laurel Corona in SPL catalogPenelope’s Daughter by Laurel Corona

In Penelope’s Daughter, Odysseus and Penelope had a daughter, Xanthe, who tells her story of hiding, weaving, and awakening to her life and destiny.

King of Ithaka by Tracy Barrett

Telemachus gets his due in The King of Ithaka, when he leaves his home to search for his father with only the companionship of his two friends, a runaway weaver and a centaur.

Click here to view The Return from Troy by Lindsay Clarke in SPL catalogThe Return from Troy by Lindsay Clarke

Lindsay Clarke’s novel imagines all the main survivors of the Trojan War heading home, but Odysseus, in particular, feels his time spent at Troy has rendered him unworthy of the love of Penelope and Telemachus.

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