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The Lost Books of the Odyssey by Zachary Mason

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Edited by Keith Currie, Sunday, 23 May 2021, 19:36


Zachary Mason presents 44 short pieces inspired by Homer's Iliad and Odyssey and centring for the most part on Odysseus' part in those mythical events. They are not so much fragments as variations on themes arising from episodes in each of Homer's works and, from time to time, entirely unrelated to Homer. Myths are stories and stories are what the author tells.

Mason clearly knows his Homer and plays seductively with what might have been. His tales are very successful for the most part and I found myself unexpectedly moved by some of the stories. I think in particular of Epiphany where an uncharacteristically shy Athene offers herself to Odysseus and what then ensues. I laughed aloud at The Myrmidon Golem where Achilles is presented as a manufactured killing machine who cannot distinguish Greek from Trojan and who cooks and cleans up for Patroclus, thus leading to the unfounded idea that they are lovers. I found No Man's Wife, where Odysseus meets a dead Penelope in the Underworld and discovers why she has killed herself, almost unbearably poignant. I loved The Iliad of Odysseus in which Odysseus abandons the war, becomes a bard and exaggerates the exploits of Odysseus in the war, while never coming up `with a fully satisfactory reason why the Trojans would blithely drag a suspicious fifty-foot-tall wooden statue into their city'. Here is an Odysseus who constantly convinces, clever and shrewd, who struggles with all the problems his cleverness brings.

Inventive at all times, this is a book to recommend to anyone with more than a passing interest and knowledge of Greek mythology.

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