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Odysseus: A Life

Overview

Everyone seems to know something about Odysseus: how he defeated the Trojans in a surprise attack with a massive wooden horse; how he wandered the Mediterranean seas for ten years trying to get home; and how he eventually killed the suitors who were swarming around his faithful wife, Penelope, back at his palace in Ithaca. Yet this extraordinary figure who has captured our imagination over the millennia, from culture to culture, has never been the subject of a "biography," in ...

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Overview

Everyone seems to know something about Odysseus: how he defeated the Trojans in a surprise attack with a massive wooden horse; how he wandered the Mediterranean seas for ten years trying to get home; and how he eventually killed the suitors who were swarming around his faithful wife, Penelope, back at his palace in Ithaca. Yet this extraordinary figure who has captured our imagination over the millennia, from culture to culture, has never been the subject of a "biography," in which his life is set out from beginning to end. Until now.

In this highly unusal and entertaining book, acclaimed classicist Charles Beye imagines a biography of the fictional Bronze Age hero, and puts his unique spin on Odysseus' strange and adventuresome existence. With tremendous wit and insight, Beye portrays the character's remarkable evolution, chronicling his life from start to finish. And an amazing life it is: from his boyhood as an indulged lad in his father's palace to his ten long years of bitter fighting at Troy; from his subsequent encounters with a variety of creatures seemingly from the land of fairy-tale (such as the Lotus Eaters, the Cyclops, and the witch Circe) to his sexual escapades with the sea nymph Calypso on the island of Ogygia; and from his ultimate return to Ithaca and dramatic killing of the suitors surrounding his wife to his oddly anti-climactic final years.

But Beye does more than just tell the facts of Odysseus' life. He delves into the psychological complexities of this enigmatic individual and examines his motives and character. Beye's account reads like a modern novel. Furthermore, it is filled with interesting facts about the texture of life in the second millennium BCE, as well as fascinating analogies and references to our own era. Beye's treatment glows with a distinct humor and wisdom. With Odysseus: A Life, he casts new light on one of the great figures of the Western imagination.

About the Author:
Charles Rowan Beye is Distinguished Professor of Classics Emeritus at the City University of New York and has taught at Boston University, Stanford University, and Yale University. The author of numerous books and articles about the classics (particularly Homer and epic poetry), he divides his time between Cambridge, Massachusetts, and New York City.
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Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post
Those seeking a refresher course on Odysseus can take a short cut: Charles Rowan Beye's Odysseus: A Life gathers various fragments of the wanderer's story into one brief, readable "biography." A classics professor, Beye has drawn from The Odyssey, The Iliad and a number of ancient Greek plays and stories, as well as other sources that elucidate the culture of that period, to create a coherent and entertaining arc from birth to death, encompassing all of the fictional hero's military adventures and sexual exploits. — Wayne Hoffman
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. (Feb.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
This speculative biography of one of Homer's most compelling and enigmatic literary creations draws on what is known of Odysseus's life as described in the epic poems The Iliad and The Odyssey and what can be surmised from the history and culture of the Bronze Age. Beye, a distinguished professor of classics, launches a richly detailed narrative that honors the spirit of Homer's heroic vision and that reflects a modern impulse to excavate the human side of the story beneath the surface of the original. The scope of this book may prove daunting to those unfamiliar with Homer's epics, but the wit and humor that the author brings to his modern reconstruction of a classical hero will appeal to listeners with a broad range of interests. Mark Bramhall's engaging narration preserves the playfulness of Beye's approach without diminishing the gravity of his subject matter. Highly recommended for all general and academic library collections.-Philip Bader, Pasadena, CA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Synthesizing material from the Iliad, the Odyssey, and other ancient sources, a "biography" of the legendary Greek hero that doubles as a vivid history of Bronze Age customs and beliefs. Situating Odysseus' life in the second millennium b.c.e., the author reminds us that this "king" was more like a local chieftain than the monarch of a post-medieval nation-state, and he ruled a rocky island 17 miles long, 4 miles wide. In Ithaca, as in the rest of the ancient world, even the elite lived simply, close to the land. Political relationships were intensely personal, oiled by lavish exchanges of gifts and ironclad rules of hospitality whose violation played a crucial role in the Trojan war and in many acts of Odysseus that seem horrifyingly brutal to modern readers. (The slaughter of Penelope's suitors, for example.) Beye (Classics Emeritus/CUNY; Ancient Epic Poetry, 1993, etc.) accepts the traditional portrait of his hero as cunning, cold, ruthless, essentially a loner in a society dominated by male friendships-"the protean man," in other words: "hated by many, respected by most, doubted, suspected, not exactly liked except by women. But then being liked was not one of the concerns of a prince in the Greek Bronze Age." The author's lucid chronological narrative of Odysseus' career is written in witty, deliberately colloquial prose. Only when describing his subject's sex life does Beye lapse into jarring anachronisms ("Circe was, he dimly realized, the woman of his masturbatory fantasies and his wet dreams finally come true"); in general, his breezy approach helps readers to grasp the nature of long-ago experiences while realizing how very differently these people thought and behaved. Earlychapters covering less well-known events in Odysseus' youth are particularly fascinating, but Beye's accounts of the Trojan War, the hero's ten years of wandering, and his return to Ithaca also benefit from the author's formidable, yet lightly worn, erudition. Lively, informative, and great fun: the perfect introduction to Odysseus and the society that shaped his exploits.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780786888368
  • Publisher: Hyperion
  • Publication date: 2/16/2005
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 1,019,869

Meet the Author

Charles Rowan Beye is Distinguished Professor of Classics Emeritus at the City University of New York and has taught at Boston University, Stanford University, and Yale University. The author of numerous books and articles about the classics (particularly Homer and epic poetry), he divides his time between Cambridge, Massachusetts, and New York City.

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Table of Contents

Preface xi
Names xv
1 Prince 1
2 Warrior 29
3 Wanderer 71
4 Lover 107
5 King 141
Sources 187
Glossary 193
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