Last week I was scheduled to be performing my Odyssey in Stockholm and near Amsterdam as part of a month-long European tour. Instead, thanks to Covid, I performed my Odyssey via Zoom for a great group of students at Trinity College in Hartford. Some of these students are in their first year of learning Ancient Greek, and after I performed I got on a roll evangelizing about the language and, in particular, reading Homer.
The first time I read Homer in Greek, I had a feeling of physical space around the poetry. It's hard to explain but it was as if the words and meter created an aura and when I applied my brain to them, I was inside this aura the same way one might be inside a room or a cave. I could look around, I could sense the forces that had shaped these words, I could feel the humanity and collective action that brought them across the millennia to me. It's a spiritual, humbling experience I've never found in anything else.
The sense of space that exists around the language also extends to the narrative, characters, and storytelling. It's a useful ambiguity that allows artists like me to go and tell the story with our own explanations and ideas.
Last week I also finally got around to reading Margaret Atwood's fantastic Penelopiad and I think she does an amazing job playing with and filling in some of the space the text leaves around Penelope, what she knows, and when she knows it.
This feature of Homeric epic, I suspect, is an outgrowth of the text being born of an oral tradition that not only permitted but created numerous variations. Was there a version of the story in which we know Penelope more explicitly recognizes Odysseus before the test of the bow?
And why does Penelope finally call for the test of the bow? It's clever that she picks a test that none of the Suitors will be able to complete but what is her plan if and when no one is able to actually string the bow?
As an aside, many years ago I was talking to a big group of high school students about what a version of the Odyssey told from Penelope's point of view might be called. Whereas Atwood chose the well-thought-out title Penelopiad, I was thinking on my feet and went with... "Penelopenis." Say that out loud ten times fast or even just once to understand that the second I spoke it I realized I had two choices: either acknowledge that I had just said "Penelopenis" in front of several hundred 14 year olds or pretend I didn't. I chose the second as my strategy and it worked: no one reacted and though I'm sure my face was a handsome red, I moved on to my next point and it was quickly forgotten.
This week I was to be performing in Athens, Rome, and Dublin. Next week was to be London. Instead, I'll play what will likely be my last two Odyssey shows of the year (virtually, of course) for high schools in Connecticut and Texas.
I also have up more Odyssey-related catch-up reading to do in Madeleine Miller's Circe. After that I'll turn to a couple of Iliad-inspired things: Christopher Logue's War Music and David Malouf's Ransom.
And before we know it, it'll be 2021 with all its promise.
I'm hoping that my European tour will be rescheduled but in the meantime, I'm happy to have audiences like the virtual one at Trinity. There's always a story to tell for an audience that is listening.