Oh, Those Fickle Gods

By Joan Kurtz

The New York Times Sunday Book Review recently hailed a new translation of Homer's "The Odyssey" by its first female translator, Emily Wilson. I signed it out of my public library along with another translation (for comparison) and a middle school-level book on "The Odyssey" (to refresh my memory of the story). So much of this book came rushing back to me as I read it in college as many of us had: the Trojan war with the Trojan horse; choosing to go between Scylla and Charybdis; hearing the Sirens sing; blinding the Cyclops; the constant praying and offering sacrifices to the various Greek gods: Zeus, Poseidon, Athena, Hermes, Aphrodite, etc. The translation flows evenly and is enjoyable to read.

Now, as a secular Jew, I look at Odysseus's tragic adventure of trying to get home rather sad. No matter how many prayers and sacrifices he makes, if the god(s) is upset with a minor detail with Odysseus's actions or words, he is beset with storms, lightning, wind, blackness, death! The gods are as capricious and fickle as all gods are. And no matter what he says or does, sometimes they listen; other times they don’t. Trying to figure out where he went wrong is a total waste of time …as is prayer.

Fortunately, I discovered this out shortly after I left college. I will stick with my forging ahead, doing whatever I can wherever I am without relying or beseeching assistance from an entity that does not exist. Too bad that Odysseus didn’t come to the same conclusion as I did. Then again, "The Odyssey" would not be as much fun to read if Odysseus didn’t have all these obstacles to face and overcome.