[Originally posted on my Goodreads author blog: April 15, 2018]
Yesterday I recommended The Odyssey to a booktuber, since she said she was trying to read more classics. That’s nothing unusual. I’ve recommended both Homeric epics and The Aeneid many times, and I’ll continue to do so until death shuts me up. Those three poems provide a great introduction to classics and the roots of western literature. They’re also compelling works of fiction, which have spoken to generations of readers across the millennia.
But on this particular occasion, for whatever reason (maybe because I was procrastinating over a piece of writing, and hence looking for an excuse to ramble), I also explained what The Odyssey has meant to me personally. And I realised it’s shaped my whole life.
When I was a kid, Tony Robinson narrated Odysseus: The Greatest Hero of Them All on Children’s BBC. That version of Odysseus’ story captivated me. Humour and horror, heroism and tragedy, came together within the Greek hero’s tale. Many years later, I studied the poem itself for A-Level (Richmond Lattimore’s translation). Doing so brought back all the memories, all the childhood wonder, and it hooked me once again. I went on to study classics & ancient history at university because of what the poem rekindled in me.
Between the BA, MPhil, and PhD, I devoted a significant chunk of my adult life to that field — all because The Odyssey put me on the path. And while I was cobbling together my doctoral thesis, I wrote The Monster Hunter’s Handbook: The Ultimate Guide to Saving Mankind from Vampires, Zombies, Hellhounds, and Other Mythical Beasts.
Although the book also incorporated material from various other traditions, ancient Greek and Roman mythology made up its core. That book came into being because I’d studied and loved The Odyssey, because Homer’s poem had made me passionate about classics and legends as an adult, much as Tony Robinson’s adaptation had done for me as a child.
The Odyssey made me an author, something I’d always yearned to be.
And it kept on giving. My PhD and my status as a published author helped me stand out from the competition, and landed me a job at 5th Planet Games — where I worked for a number of years. That wouldn’t have happened without The Odyssey. Furthermore, some of my closest friends are people I met via this job. They only came into my life because of a series of decisions and achievements The Odyssey inspired.
I’d never considered all this before I wrote the email to that booktuber, so it represented quite the epiphany.
I was a practising Quranist Muslim till I apostatised at 35. In theory that should’ve made the Quran the most important book in my life. After all, to a Muslim, the Quran’s the only divine book in the universe. For those who don’t know, in Islamic theology the Quran isn’t just divinely inspired. Muslims believe every word is God’s direct and literal speech, that the angel Gabriel conveyed it from heaven to Earth, and supposedly relayed it to Mohammed.
And yet the Quran never had nearly as much meaningful impact on me as The Odyssey. Sure, I avoided pork because of its edicts (something I remedied as soon as I left the faith), and a vegetarian, vegan, or pig would probably consider that a good thing. But the book didn’t capture my imagination. It didn’t enthral or inspire me. Perhaps that’s because the Quran is, as a piece of literature, rather dull. Whilst the Bible includes a lot of engaging material, stories and chronicles of legendary events, the Quran’s just a collection of Mohammed’s sermons. There’s very little in the way of actual storytelling.
Thus The Odyssey made me, not the Quran.
Which book made you?
Image: Odysseus and the Sirens by Jastrow (2006), Public domain, via Wikimedia CommonsRecommended1 recommendationPublished in