The Odyssey - Homer, Robert Fagles, Ian McKellen
My knowledge of classical literature and mythology is sadly lacking. The main reason I decided to tackle The Odyssey is because I want to read [b:Ulysses|338798|Ulysses|James Joyce|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1346161221s/338798.jpg|2368224] and I gather that a passing acquaintance with this work will make that experience more meaningful.

Listening to Ian McKellen reading the Robert Fagles' translation made me regret my lack of education in the classics. I have no way of assessing the merits of Fagles' work, but I would love be to be able to read this epic poem in the language in which it was written and not feel that I was missing most of its cultural, social and political context.

Given my lack of familiarity with Greek mythology, it was interesting to realise just how much of the story is imbedded in my consciousness, from Penelope unravelling her weaving to put off her suitors, to the story of the Sirens, to the Cyclops. This is but a small indication of the importance of this epic to Western history and literature.

Overall, I found The Odyssey more interesting for what it represents as a primary source of Western literature than for the characters or the plot. Odysseus is not exactly a hero for modern times: he may be a master tactician and warrior, but he's also a consummate liar, a rapist, a plunderer and a murderer. And, of course, a self-justifying adulterer. The other characters don't have a lot going for them either, at least not in contemporary terms. However, in spite of having an instinctive reaction against Odysseus' behaviour and the strong violence contained in the text, I still found it compulsive listening. I loved the non-linear structure and the rhythm of the language. In addition. I was fascinated by the involvement of the gods in the affairs of human beings: directing their actions, subverting their plans, punishing them and performing the odd makeover to assist them to achieve their ends.

Ian McKellen's narration was - unsurprisingly - excellent. However, the sound quality of the audiobook left a bit to be desired. At times it was blurry and the volume was variable. While I would have benefited from the introduction and endnotes in a good text edition of this work, listening to an epic poem almost certainly written to be read aloud was for me the best way of tackling it. At some point I'd like to read a well annotated edition in order to learn what my ignorance led me to miss.

How can I not give five stars to a literary work which is still being read and discussed thousands of years after it was written?