My eight-year-old son has listened to and loved all the Percy Jackson books, plus lots of other fantasy and myths that we’ve read to him. So when I found this new, brightly illustrated edition on the back shelves of the library, I knew I had to read it to him.
The Odyssey by Homer. Translated by Gillian Cross. Illustrated by Neil Packer.
This is a brand-new translation of the classic. It’s written in strong, beautiful language that doesn’t feel either ponderous or trendy. Cross preserves the repeating phrases that have worked their way into our subconscious, like “the wine-dark sea”, as well as the bloody details of the stories. We follow Odysseus over the years as he travels from shore to shore and island to island, sometimes making bad decisions himself, sometimes having his crew make bad decisions that override his, and, in the famous case of the Cyclops, bringing down the deadly wrath of its father Poseidon on him for the rest of the journey. The men that fill many ships when they start out get killed off in groups large and small, until at the end, only Odysseus is left to return home. Meanwhile, his faithful wife Penelope is told that she must remarry if her husband is dead, as he must be after all these years. My son and I had a nice discussion about women’s rights over this – because why should Penelope get married if she doesn’t want to, whether or not her son is old enough to take over the kingdom? The full-color illustrations are an amazing mix of styles that manage to look both very modern and clearly inspired by Greek art. The thick outlines and the profiles all look ancient, and the saturated colors look like they’d belong on Grecian pottery. But Hermes wears a running suit, and Packer plays tricks with perspective that I don’t think would have been done in period. The illustrations really pulled the whole book together into a vivid, hard-to-forget whole. My son loved it all, and even stayed put to look over the back material: the Greek alphabet with corresponding Roman letters, and the author’s essay on Homer and why the Odyssey is still compelling, so many millennia later. This would probably not go over well with a sensitive child, but for the many children who’ve been introduced to Greek mythology courtesy of Percy Jackson, those interested in exciting mythology, or adult wanting to brush up on their classics, this should go over very well indeed.
For comparison, you could also try the classic translation by Robert Fagles, or the Children’s Homer by Padraic Colum, which I read some years age, or take a peek at the Greek mythology section, 292.13 at your local library.