Which Version of The Odyssey Should I Read?

How do I choose which version of The Odyssey to read?

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If you have been assigned The Odyssey to read for literature class, you may be wondering how to choose the correct version to read. Some things to consider are your reading experience, your reading level, and your individual tastes and interests. For students in my Literature & Composition classes, I recommend that they consider these factors and choose a text that they will suit them best (not necessarily the full version).

Here are some of my favorite choices:

  1. Older students who have read a condensed version before and who read at an advanced level could try reading the full version of The Odyssey. The translation by Robert Fagles is well-done with lyrical beauty in modern language:

“Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns driven time and again off course, once he had plundered the hallowed heights of Troy.”

Fagles’ version also includes an excellent introduction and notes to help gain greater understanding. Set aside plenty of time to read, as this one is close to 600 pages.

2. For visual learners who have never read The Odyssey before and who prefer a narrative format, or for those who will be reading aloud (or listening to the book read aloud to them), Gillian Cross’ version is spectacular. It is a large hardback with vibrant full-page illustrations, which aid in understanding the story. This version would be great for younger students, but even middle and high school students will get an excellent introduction to Homer’s epic tale from this one. (It is my son’s favorite.)

3. Older students (7th grade and up) who are fans of graphic novels will enjoy the adaptation from Gareth Hines, told in graphic novel format with more pictures than text. The language is straightforward and easy to understand, and the pictures vividly capture the violence, gore, and excitement of The Odyssey.

4. The Odyssey (Puffin Classics) by Geraldine McCaughrean is a good choice for middle readers who just want the narrative with no frills in an inexpensive condensed version. This one is just over a hundred pages, with easy-to-read language that gives students a good introduction to the epic in a non-epic format.

No matter which version of The Odyssey you choose, remember that for your first reading, you want a good introduction to the major events of the tale, some exposure to Homer’s lyrical mastery, and a non-threatening experience. Don’t make the mistake of choosing a version that doesn’t suit your reading level and learning style, and don’t get hung up on publishers’ age level recommendations. Literature is meant to be enjoyed, discussed, and experienced. It shouldn’t be something you dread.

Have you ever read The Odyssey before? Which version did you read? Did you enjoy it?

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