Ever since I had to read Christa Wolf’s Cassandra in college, I’ve been fascinated with the Trojan War and Homer’s Iliad. I’ve read all sorts of books that have to do with the Trojan War, from the Iliad itself to Margaret George’s Helen of Troy to Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles. And there are many more that I still want to read. But, despite all of that, I have never felt the same level of fascination for Homer’s Odyssey.
Last year, though, I decided to tackle it. I wanted to read it and I hoped to find that I liked it, at least. I do love a good adventure and The Odyssey is pretty much the quintessential adventure story. The problem was, I’d never had much sympathy for Odysseus himself. For me his character had always been that of a mercenary, a man willing to do whatever he thought was necessary in support of whatever cause he deemed worthy. This was the man, after all, who came up with the Trojan Horse. He seemed smug and too clever, and the story of his fraught journey home did not appeal to me in the least.
But I read it. And as I read it, I found myself questioning his every decision and move. Why wouldn’t he have told his men that there was wind in the bad and not riches? Why would he put everyone at risk and taunt Polyphemus the Cycolps? Wasn’t escaping enough? Why would he stay for a year with Circe? Why didn’t he try to escape from Calypso? I ended the book with possibly less sympathy for Odysseus than I had begun it with.
But then I found Gareth Hinds’s graphic novel version and I couldn’t pass it up. The incredible image of Odysseus on his small raft on the front of the book with Poseidon looming large in the background was irresistible. And what I found inside was the story of the Odyssey through Hinds’s perspective. This is a story that he has loved for a long time and it shows.
Seeing the story through Hinds’s eyes, rather than my own, turned The Odyssey into a different book for me. The story elements were familiar, but the emotions were not. Odysseus became a much deeper, much richer character than I had allowed myself to imagine. Yes, he still did all of those things that I had been critical of before, but now there were other things being brought to my attention—his misery, his tenderness, his pathos—things that I had not seen before.
I was particularly taken with the way Hinds portrayed Odysseus’s relationship with Calypso. When I read that portion in Homer’s telling, it hadn’t occurred to me that Odysseus cared for Calypso at all. And yet, Hinds portrays the two of them as tender and even loving. Calypso has kept him, imprisoned him, in her island for seven years, but Odysseus does not seem angry. He is miserable, yes, and that misery is clear in Hinds’s illustrations, but he is not angry. And Calypso, yes, she is his jailer, but she is also his lover. Hinds shows us this clearly in his illustration of her watching Odysseus leave. She is standing on the beach, watching this man she wants to keep forever, the man she has offered to make immortal, as he sails away with her arms drawn across her body, her face full of sorrow and anxiety.
Hinds’s graphic novel is full of moments like this. He draws attention to his characters’ emotions in a way that Homer did not. He shows us Penelope and Odysseus, far away from each other, yet mirroring each other’s misery on facing pages. We see the sorrow in Odysseus’s eyes when he finds his mother in the land of the dead, the surprise in seeing his son for the first time since leaving for Troy, and the depth of his heart in his reunion with Penelope.
Hinds’s version has left me with a new appreciation for Odysseus and his hardships and I am truly grateful for that.