An Odyssey by Daniel Mendelsohn

An Odyssey by Daniel Mendelsohn

Author:Daniel Mendelsohn
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Published: 2017-09-12T04:00:00+00:00

But first I’ll tell you my name, now, so that you too

will know it; and if I escape the fatal day we’ll be

bound in friendship, though my home lies far away.

Odysseus I am, Laertes’ son: known to all mankind

for my way with tricks, my renown reaches even to heaven.

At the beginning of class on the first Friday in March, when we began to discuss the Apologoi, I emphasized that the famous adventures of Odysseus are, in fact, narrated by their own hero. Why, I asked as the students settled down around the table, weren’t these episodes related by the narrator of the poem? What is the poet accomplishing by having the protagonist of the tales narrate them?

My father raised his hand.

Am I the only one who thinks that his bragging here is strange?

I’d noticed, as the weeks passed, that my father had begun to preface his comments in class this way: Am I the only one who thinks…? At first I’d thought it was a sign of insecurity; but then I’d started noticing how, when he said that, a couple of students would nod, as if emboldened by the phrase. Blond Tom, for instance; Jack, quite often.

Tom nodded just then, in fact, and said, Yeah, it’s weird that he kind of goes from zero to sixty here—ten minutes ago he was nobody, he hadn’t told them who he was the whole time he was there, and suddenly he’s, like, “This is my name, oh and by the way, I’m so incredibly famous that even the gods know who I am.”

A few of the kids laughed.

Agreed, I said. It’s weird. What do you think that’s about?

My father said, I don’t like it. Why does he have to brag about how tricky he is? If the stories show that he’s so brilliant and clever, then he should just tell them and let the stories prove it.

As he spoke, a very clear mental picture of him in the mid-1960s sprang to my mind. I would have been six or seven or eight years old at the time, back when some of my maternal grandfather’s siblings were still alive and would descend on my parents’ house when Grandpa came to visit us. Invariably the climax of these gatherings would find us all crammed around my mother’s dining room table as my grandfather told one of his stories, the common theme of which was his ability to bend the rules, to cheat a little here and there, in order to succeed or, occasionally, to survive: the one about how, when he was eighteen, he’d sneaked onto the boat that took him to America by crying Fire, fire and rushing up the gangplank in the resulting confusion; about how, when he was a teenager, during World War I, he and his family had had to hide for a week in the forest outside their town because the town center was being shelled, and while they were camping in the woods he’d shot and killed a deer,


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