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Two Odyssey Scholars Share Advice and Experience

We may have translated the Odyssey into rap, but Rodney Merrill and Edward McCrorie both have translated the Odyssey into English from the original Greek. Rodney Merrill is a translator of ancient Greek poetry, and you can find his translation here. Edward McCrorie is a Professor Emeritus of English at Providence College, and you can find his translation here.

We asked them to share their advice about how to teach and inspire new generations with the Odyssey. Here’s what they had to say!

Odyssey book

What advice do you have for teachers of the Odyssey?

RM: My main advice to teachers is that they emphasize that these poems began as completely oral performances–they were composed by singers who did not know how to write, and were written down only late in their history. The Odyssey was composed as entertainment to be heard, not read! Therefore a teacher of the Odyssey would be well advised to read some passages aloud, and to get his students to read others.

EM: Focus on the wits of the hero. He is strong and determined, he is also a good lover of his wife and son, but he really has to invent his way home.

What words of wisdom would you offer students interested in the classics or encountering the Odyssey for the first time?

RM: LEARN GREEK AS SOON AS POSSIBLE–it’s a wonderfully strong and subtle language with a world-changing literature, but the later you begin it the harder it gets–one’s language-learning capacity falls off with age.  I wish I’d started sooner. But if you don’t have facilities for learning Greek right away, at least read widely in good translations of the great tragedies, the epics, the lyrics, the philosophy, and the history.  Herodotus is especially approachable and entertaining.

EM: Watch the wiliness of Penelope, a woman of great patience, love and resourcefulness.

Who is your favorite character in the Odyssey?

EM: King Alkinoos, a man of peace, understanding, physical challenge and arts.

RM: Penelope is by far my favorite character, aside, perhaps, from Odysseus himself. She’s crafty, concerned, steadfast–she won’t be tricked, won’t be dominated, but is not at all arrogant–unlike her husband.

When did you first encounter the Odyssey?

EM: At age 16—in a Greek course! A Greek professor made it come alive.

RM: As I remember, I was about 15 when I first became acquainted with Homeric epic. Then after I studied a little Greek at Stanford, as a graduate student, I began reading them in Greek and was captivated not only by the stories but also the wonderful rhythms of Homeric verse.  That’s why I decided to translate the Odyssey. Almost my entire interest in making my translations was my attempt to get something like the Homeric music into English verse.  Mine were not the first translations to try this, but I thought there was room for another which would take as full account as possible of the oral-formulaic nature of the epic–the many repeated elements which reinforce the rhythms.

Thanks for sharing your ideas and experience with us!