An Odyssey
From award-winning memoirist and critic, and bestselling author of The Lost: a deeply moving tale of a father and son's transformative journey in reading--and reliving--Homer's epic masterpiece.When eighty-one-year-old Jay Mendelsohn decides to enroll in the undergraduate Odyssey seminar his son teaches at Bard College, the two find themselves on an adventure as profoundly emotional as it is intellectual. For Jay, a retired research scientist who sees the world through a mathematician's unforgiving eyes, this return to the classroom is his "one last chance" to learn the great literature he'd neglected in his youth--and, even more, a final opportunity to more fully understand his son, a writer and classicist. But through the sometimes uncomfortable months that the two men explore Homer's great work together--first in the classroom, where Jay persistently challenges his son's interpretations, and then during a surprise-filled Mediterranean journey retracing Odysseus's famous voyages--it becomes clear that Daniel has much to learn, too: Jay's responses to both the text and the travels gradually uncover long-buried secrets that allow the son to understand his difficult father at last. As this intricately woven memoir builds to its wrenching climax, Mendelsohn's narrative comes to echo the Odyssey itself, with its timeless themes of deception and recognition, marriage and children, the pleasures of travel and the meaning of home. Rich with literary and emotional insight, An Odyssey is a renowned author-scholar's most triumphant entwining yet of personal narrative and literary exploration.

An Odyssey Details

TitleAn Odyssey
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseSep 12th, 2017
PublisherKnopf Publishing Group
ISBN-139780385350594
Rating
GenreNonfiction, Autobiography, Memoir, Literature, Writing, Books About Books

An Odyssey Review

  • Melora
    January 1, 1970
    Well, now I'm ready for a reread of The Odyssey! Mendelsohn's book, which successfully combines the genres of family memoir and literary criticism, is wonderfully engaging. Mendelsohn, a writer and professor of Classics at Bard College in New York, uses the story of how his father sat in on his “Classics 125: The Odyssey of Homer” seminar as a launching point for exploring family relationships, particularly the bonds between fathers and sons, with all their mysteries and complexities, both in hi Well, now I'm ready for a reread of The Odyssey! Mendelsohn's book, which successfully combines the genres of family memoir and literary criticism, is wonderfully engaging. Mendelsohn, a writer and professor of Classics at Bard College in New York, uses the story of how his father sat in on his “Classics 125: The Odyssey of Homer” seminar as a launching point for exploring family relationships, particularly the bonds between fathers and sons, with all their mysteries and complexities, both in his own life and in the classic epic they study together over the course of a semester. Early in his book Mendelsohn brings up the topic of “ring composition,” a literary device where an author uses flashbacks and flashforwards but always circles back to “present” events in the tale, and this device, introduced in reference to The Odyssey, allows him to examine with deepening understanding the life and motivations of the father he loves but has long regarded as cold and tough. Mendelsohn and his father follow up the spring course with a summer “literary cruise” around the sites made famous by Homer's epic, and that experience too offers him new perspectives on his father.Like I said, this made me want to reread the Odyssey, and that's saying something, as I've always agreed with Mendelsohn's dad in finding Odysseus is a hard guy to admire. He fails to bring his men home, he cheats on his wife, he's a braggart, etc. Mendelsohn's a skillful teacher, though, and he helped me see details, parallels, and connections in the work that I'd previously missed or not fully appreciated. While I still don't like Odysseus, Mendelsohn showed me that the poem is more concerned with the bonds between family members and profound in its insights in these matters than I'd previously appreciated.
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  • Mike
    January 1, 1970
    As the subtitle suggests, this book is firstly about a particular father and son, Daniel Mendelsohn himself, and his 81-year-old ‘Daddy’, Jay. But it’s also about other father/son relationships including the fathers and sons at the heart of the Odyssey. That extraordinary book has survived at least two and a half millennia, and continues to speak strongly into people’s lives.Odysseus – whom Jay doesn’t consider a ‘hero’ - is both a son and a father: son to Laertes, and father of Telemachus, the As the subtitle suggests, this book is firstly about a particular father and son, Daniel Mendelsohn himself, and his 81-year-old ‘Daddy’, Jay. But it’s also about other father/son relationships including the fathers and sons at the heart of the Odyssey. That extraordinary book has survived at least two and a half millennia, and continues to speak strongly into people’s lives.Odysseus – whom Jay doesn’t consider a ‘hero’ - is both a son and a father: son to Laertes, and father of Telemachus, the boy he left behind as an infant. Twenty years later the two confront each other for the first time as adults. Telemachus is now a young man struggling to stand in his absentee father’s footsteps.The Odysseyis the subject of a course Daniel teaches at his University. Jay, a man who delights in learning, asks if he can sit in on the course. He intends only to observe, not participate. But observing quickly becomes involvement. As we follow through this course and see the book’s effect on the students and the two men, we’re not only given an understanding of the book, with its various interpretations and challenging viewpoints, but also of the relationship between the two Mendelsohns. Early on, Daniel tells us that the Odyssey uses a technique where, during the course of its telling, we’re given backstories that explain the narrative, and stories that explain the backstories. Flashbacks within flashbacks, as it were. The Odysseyis full of such stories, many of which reflect and comment on other stories within the overall frame. Some of the stories may be ‘true’; some plainly are not. Odysseus is a trickster and a fabricator of tall tales: when is he speaking plainly and when is he embellishing events? The two Mendelsohns experience at least two Odysseys. Firstly, working through the book together brings to light the fact that the stories Daniel ‘knows’ about his father aren’t necessarily ‘true.’ Other family members remember them differently. Some of Jay’s own versions of his history aren’t ‘true’ in the sense that Daniel wants truth. For the first time, perhaps, Daniel learns things of deep significance about his father, a man whom he’s often felt was unemotional and remote. After the course is finished a friend suggests the two go on a cruise that focuses on the places where the Odyssey is supposed to have taken place. This is their second Odyssey, and one that brings them closer than before. Daniel also learns that even though he’s the teacher, and has worked with the Odyssey for many years, he has to accept that other people’s interpretations may have validity, even those of some of his students. And some the students’ observations are deep enough to bring change to Daniel’s views about his father. This is a fascinating book. Daniel, being a teacher, tends to repeat things, perhaps to make sure we’ve heard and understood them. It’s a more helpful technique than it first appears: we encounter the Odyssey more effectively than we realise. The insights about father/son relationships are applicable to our own lives. And with Mendelsohn’s need to change his views – sometimes to his embarrassment – we see that his book is as much about his - and our – ability to change, as it is about the extraordinary book, the Odyssey.
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  • Jill Meyer
    January 1, 1970
    Daniel Mendelsohn, a Classics professor at Bard College, has written "An Odyssey: A Father, a Son, and an Epic", a book, a memoir, almost a dissertation on what seem to be two of his favorite subjects, family and classical literature. An earlier book, "The Lost: The Search for Six of the Six Million", covered the same subjects, but with a different orientation. Mendelsohn writes about a year in which he both taught a class at Bard College on "The Odyssey" and took a Greek island cruise which tra Daniel Mendelsohn, a Classics professor at Bard College, has written "An Odyssey: A Father, a Son, and an Epic", a book, a memoir, almost a dissertation on what seem to be two of his favorite subjects, family and classical literature. An earlier book, "The Lost: The Search for Six of the Six Million", covered the same subjects, but with a different orientation. Mendelsohn writes about a year in which he both taught a class at Bard College on "The Odyssey" and took a Greek island cruise which traces Odysseus's 20 year journey. Although his seminar at Bard was for college students, he asked his early 80's father, Jay, to attend the seminar and to take the cruise with him. Daniel had been at odds with his father for years; Jay was famously a brilliant and taciturn man, married to his wife for over 60 years and was the father of five children. Daniel had long tried to understand his father and felt that Jay, with a long interest in the classics and Greek, might benefit from studying that father-son (and grandfather) epic, "The Odyssey" together.Many people have written memoirs about their parents. Most never quite make that final leap to understanding their father's actions, their mother's thoughts. As children we might know what our parents have done, but we usually don't know what they feel. Daniel Mendelsohn intersperses what happened in the family's past with passages from "The Odyssey". How Odysseus felt after not seeing his home, his wife, his father, and his son for twenty years can't exactly be paired with a man's life two thousand years later, but just the working through the passages of the epic with his father helped bring the two closer and helps Daniel understand - a bit - about his father.I am not a classicist. I've never read any of the epic poems Daniel Mendelsohn writes about in "An Odyssey". I enjoyed his previous book, "The Six" better, but then I am an armchair historian and have read a lot about the Holocaust. So, I was a bit in uncharted waters when I began reading "An Odyssey". But I had enjoyed Mendelsohn's references to classical studies in "The Six" - yes, he managed to combine personal history and the classics in that book, as well - and so I looked forward to reading his new book. I'd say I understood most of it but thoroughly enjoyed it.
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  • James Miller
    January 1, 1970
    I came to this book from Mendelsohn’s translation of Cavafy (which is outstanding and my favourite book) and his The Lost, which like this book has a strongly auto-biographical and family history element. Both showcase his erudite excitement about the past and language, but this one I found the more compelling.Homer’s The Odyssey serves both as a vehicle for an exploration of his evolving relationship with his father to be mapped onto, and as the subject of exploration in its own right; I enjoye I came to this book from Mendelsohn’s translation of Cavafy (which is outstanding and my favourite book) and his The Lost, which like this book has a strongly auto-biographical and family history element. Both showcase his erudite excitement about the past and language, but this one I found the more compelling.Homer’s The Odyssey serves both as a vehicle for an exploration of his evolving relationship with his father to be mapped onto, and as the subject of exploration in its own right; I enjoyed both of these strands in very distinct ways. I have always enjoyed picking out literary allusions in texts and thinking about how the source text is being reworked and whether it be Proustian madeleine type references with perfume bottles, or buried quotes from the Odyssey (alongside many signposted ones), this book is awash with them. I have perhaps more of a taste than some other readers will have for some extended passages on ancient etymologies and the role of the Greek moods, but I learned much about Homer from him and that is a huge positive for me (much will go, reworked, into my teaching of The Odyssey) and I’m going to buy this for a friend who is coming to Homer. The explorations of his relationship with the father and his family are less universal – though the relations are of course ubiquitous – and so perhaps have drawn me more for the way they are used to understand Homer and his commentary on identity and the human condition than for themselves, but as one would expect from the author of The Lost, Mendelsohn descriptions emotional impact and pathos in descriptions of death and in realisations about his father leading to reversals in his thinking (the mapping to Greek tragedy is not I think accidental) . I read most of this book in one day and I will be recommending it to others; buying it for some (as I have the Cavafy) and returning to it in time (and not just to pillage his Homeric insights). Strangely one of the most important reasons I have engaged with the text is the degree to which I find his reading (at least within this narrow insight into his thinking) of Odysseus too positive: the slaughter of the suitors in his house as they feast echoes Clytaemnestra and Agamemnon, Heracles and Iphitus, and indeed the Cyclops and Odysseus, yet his father’s and students’ antipathy to the figure is given apparently short-shrift (perhaps unfairly I could see why his students might have said in the book that they felt he had a position he wanted adopted). On this and some other issues the book seems to call you into debate and I loved this.
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  • Lori L (She Treads Softly)
    January 1, 1970
    An Odyssey: A Father, a Son, and an Epic by Daniel Mendelsohn is a very highly recommended memoir of a father, son, and The Odyssey.Jay Mendelsohn, a retired research scientist, decided to take the undergraduate seminar on Homer's Odyssey that his son Daniel teaches at Bard College. It was Jay's hope that this would enable him to understand the classic epic, as well as why his son has devoted his life's work to the classics. What follows is not only insights into Odysseus and the epic poem, but An Odyssey: A Father, a Son, and an Epic by Daniel Mendelsohn is a very highly recommended memoir of a father, son, and The Odyssey.Jay Mendelsohn, a retired research scientist, decided to take the undergraduate seminar on Homer's Odyssey that his son Daniel teaches at Bard College. It was Jay's hope that this would enable him to understand the classic epic, as well as why his son has devoted his life's work to the classics. What follows is not only insights into Odysseus and the epic poem, but also the relationship between father and son.The two study together in Daniel's class where Jay challenges his son's interpretations. He questions why Odysseus is even considered a hero, after all, Odysseus is a liar, cheats on his wife, often cries, gets his men killed, and often needs the gods to intervene and rescue him. Teaching his seminar with his father questioning him actually encourages Daniel to justify his interpretations of the text as he teaches it. Additionally, Jay and Daniel take an educational Mediterranean cruise together that attempts to re-create the journey of Odysseus.This is an exquisitely written memoir. It is an insightful, extraordinary, emotional examination of The Odyssey and the relationship between father and son. Daniels uses the epic to highlight lessons he is learning in real life with his father. Their studies and trip uncover secrets that allow Daniel to understand Jay and their relationship. So while this is a memoir and a study of The Odyssey, it also represents other father-son relationships and the journeys life has taken them through. Daniel blends literary analysis with personal family history and creates a powerful work that is an enduring tribute to both Jay Mendelsohn and The Odyssey.Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Penguin Random House.http://www.shetreadssoftly.com/2017/0...
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  • Don
    January 1, 1970
    (FROM MY BLOG) Always keep Ithaca in your mind; to reach her is your destiny. But do not rush your journey in the least. Better that it last for many years; that you drop anchor at the island an old man, rich with all you’ve gotten on the way, not expecting Ithaca to make you rich. --C. P. CavafyThe second of Homer's two great epics is, of course, the Odyssey -- the story of how the hero Odysseus (Ulysses in Latin) struggles to return to his island of Ithaca after the conclusion of the Trojan Wa (FROM MY BLOG) Always keep Ithaca in your mind; to reach her is your destiny. But do not rush your journey in the least. Better that it last for many years; that you drop anchor at the island an old man, rich with all you’ve gotten on the way, not expecting Ithaca to make you rich. --C. P. CavafyThe second of Homer's two great epics is, of course, the Odyssey -- the story of how the hero Odysseus (Ulysses in Latin) struggles to return to his island of Ithaca after the conclusion of the Trojan War. Because Odysseus gets on the bad side of Poseidon, it takes him ten years to return, losing all of his warriors during the process. His son Telemachus, an infant when Odysseus left for battle, is now an adult seeking to learn if his father is still alive, or dead. "Suitors" have descended on Ithaca, seeking the hand of Penelope -- Odysseus's wife -- and essentially being terrible guests. Telemachus -- Odysseus's heir -- doesn't know how to handle the insult the Suitors pose to Penelope, to Odysseus, and to Ithaca. One theme of the Odyssey is (or may be) the relationship between father and son -- a son who feels inadequate and inexperienced compared with his heroic father, a father he never had a chance to know. The son seeks his father, and the father looks forward to seeing the son he last saw as an infant. Daniel Mendelsohn is a professor of humanities at Bard College in New York, where he specializes in Greek studies. He has written a memoir of his experiences teaching a one-term seminar on the Odyssey, meeting with a small group of freshman students once a week for two hours around a seminar table. His book, The Odyssey: A Father, a Son, and an Epic, is a week by week, chapter by chapter, study of the Odyssey by an expert in classical Greek and of Greek literature. But because the author's own 81-year-old father asked to audit the seminar -- and ended up participating at length and with strong opinions in class discussions -- it is also a memoir of a father's relationship to his son -- an often fraught relationship in this case, between a stern, impatient parent and a son who had always felt inadequate and unloved. The two themes mesh amazingly well in Mendelsohn's book -- Telemachus's search for his father, their eventual meeting, their learning to appreciate each other, and an analogous development in the relationship between Mendelsohn and his own father. The Odyssey is full of stories, many of which are known by many children -- the Cyclops, Scylla and Charybdis, etc. -- but the epic itself is complex in its development. As Mendelsohn points out, it is written as story-tellers often tell stories -- with long digressions to other periods of time to explain the event that was originally being described. Mendelsohn adopts an identical "circular" approach to his own memoir -- a mention of something his father has said, for example, may lead to a long digressive recounting of events decades earlier that explain the father's comment. These digressions are neither frustrating nor unpleasant. They seem very natural, as did the digressions in Homer's epic to his own listeners. After all, we have a full book to discuss the 24 "books" of the Odyssey. There's no rush to hurry to the end, anymore than ancient Greeks were in any hurry to "get to the end" of an epic. We can wander leisurely through the Odyssey, through Mendelsohn's recounting of how he taught the semester seminar and of his discussions with his students, and through the gradual revelation of the history of tensions between the Mendelsohns, father and son. This is a wonderful book, and a painless way not only to learn the "plot" of the Odyssey, but to experience a classical expert's analysis and interpretation of the many themes in the epic that might well pass over the head of the casual reader. Mendelsohn also, obviously, loves the Greek language, and he repeatedly explains how a Greek term was used in the Greek original of the epic, and how English words have derived from the original Greek. In the very first chapter he identifies the term arkhe kakon -- the "beginning of bad things" -- as describing how Helen of Troy's abduction initiated the entire Trojan tragedy. We should know the words, he suggests -- from arkhe, we get the "arche-" words like archetype; from kakon, we get cacophony. If etymology isn't your idea of cool (it is mine!), that's ok. The etymological passages are frequent, but brief. Feel free to read right past them! The book ends, after the seminar concludes and after the author and his father go on an "Odyssey Cruise" in the Mediterranean, with the death shortly thereafter of Mendelsohn Senior. The son's account of his last days with his father, and of the increased understanding and appreciation they had developed for each other's very different characters, is intensely moving, one of the most moving descriptions of a father's death I've ever read.A man -- track his tale for me, Muse, the twisty one who wandered widely, once he'd sacked Troy's holy citadel; he saw the cities of many men and knew their minds.Estimated reading time is six hours. This book is well worth the investment of six hours.
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  • Ron
    January 1, 1970
    An incredibly good read, one of the best books I have read in the past couple of years. I suggest you read this and accompany your reading with a generous pour of Elios Mediterranean Red from the Peloponnese to enhance the atmosphere. From Amazon: From award-winning memoirist and critic, and bestselling author of The Lost: a deeply moving tale of a father and son's transformative journey in reading--and reliving--Homer's epic masterpiece. When eighty-one-year-old Jay Mendelsohn decides to enroll An incredibly good read, one of the best books I have read in the past couple of years. I suggest you read this and accompany your reading with a generous pour of Elios Mediterranean Red from the Peloponnese to enhance the atmosphere. From Amazon: From award-winning memoirist and critic, and bestselling author of The Lost: a deeply moving tale of a father and son's transformative journey in reading--and reliving--Homer's epic masterpiece. When eighty-one-year-old Jay Mendelsohn decides to enroll in the undergraduate Odyssey seminar his son teaches at Bard College, the two find themselves on an adventure as profoundly emotional as it is intellectual. For Jay, a retired research scientist who sees the world through a mathematician's unforgiving eyes, this return to the classroom is his "one last chance" to learn the great literature he'd neglected in his youth--and, even more, a final opportunity to more fully understand his son, a writer and classicist. But through the sometimes uncomfortable months that the two men explore Homer's great work together--first in the classroom, where Jay persistently challenges his son's interpretations, and then during a surprise-filled Mediterranean journey retracing Odysseus's famous voyages--it becomes clear that Daniel has much to learn, too: Jay's responses to both the text and the travels gradually uncover long-buried secrets that allow the son to understand his difficult father at last. As this intricately woven memoir builds to its wrenching climax, Mendelsohn's narrative comes to echo the Odyssey itself, with its timeless themes of deception and recognition, marriage and children, the pleasures of travel and the meaning of home. Rich with literary and emotional insight, An Odyssey is a renowned author-scholar's most triumphant entwining yet of personal narrative and literary exploration.
    more
  • Kenneth
    January 1, 1970
    Wondrous‼The (for me) half-remembered saga of the Odyssey comes stunningly into focus as the backdrop to a tale of a father and a son taking a last literary and literal journey together. People worth getting to know, with tales to tell about life and love, marriage and children, teaching and learning, and what the past reveals about the present and the future.This marvelous book is a gift for us and our children. Wondrous‼️The (for me) half-remembered saga of the Odyssey comes stunningly into focus as the backdrop to a tale of a father and a son taking a last literary and literal journey together. People worth getting to know, with tales to tell about life and love, marriage and children, teaching and learning, and what the past reveals about the present and the future.This marvelous book is a gift for us and our children.
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  • Steve
    January 1, 1970
    This layered, intelligent book is a moving father/son memoir, a penetrating work of litcrit, and unique travel memoir all rolled into one. I greatly enjoyed revisiting The Odyssey with an experienced and insightful scholar of the classics, and I admired the graceful way Mendelsohn weaves Odyssean themes and techniques into his writing so that you might not even notice it.
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  • Tiffany
    January 1, 1970
    An amazing introduction to the Odyssey, with framing of major themes through the author's own relationship with his family. I found the relationships real and the illustrations illuminating, made me think about life in a new way and also made me want to read the original work!
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  • kathrynirena
    January 1, 1970
    I'm writing this with my face still blotchy after my post-read sob.Deeply charming and "scathingly brilliant."
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