The Odyssey - It's such a classic, it has become an everyday word. But why has Homer's epic enthralled audiences for millennia while so many other ancient epics fell out of popularity and were eventually lost?

As we talked about in episode 2 (on the Iliad), the Homeric epics came out of a long tradition of oral storytelling that stretched back hundreds of years into the Bronze Age. If there was a Homer, he did not just make up all these monsters and adventures off the top of his head. He inherited most of the individual episodes from the oral tradition. If we want to understand what makes the Odyssey great story-telling, we should look not for originality in the story per se, but at how the author weaves all the episodes together, puts them in a certain order to achieve maximum effect, and plays around with different tropes and formulas in order to tell a familiar type of narrative in an exciting way.

With us today to help us appreciate the storyteller’s art is a world expert on epic poetry and Greek mythology. Richard Martin is professor of Classics at Stanford University. His book Myths of the Ancient Greeks is widely considered the authoritative English rendition of the Greek Myths. He also has a new book out called Classical Mythology: the Basics which explains how myths have been interpreted throughout history, as well as the role of myth in modern art, culture, and politics.

If you would like to revisit the Odyssey, we recommend checking out the following English translations:
- Robert Fagles' is an easy-flowing read and a favorite at American high schools and colleges.
- Robert Fitzgerald's is very poetic and has a more elevated, lofty style.
- Emily Wilson's is a brand new translation and has been receiving rave reviews. It is both poetic and an easy-flowing read.