I wanted to have it done before I started Ulysses, and I have to say- I think having read the Homer is frackin' ESSENTIAL to having any clue about what Joyce is trying to do in Ulysses. So, people who are all "you don't have to read the Odyssey to understand Ulysses" are about as wrong as people who are all "Ulysses was written for the masses!" Which is to say, the wrongest that could possibly be wrong. MOVING ON.
Odyssey picks up several years (don't remember how many exactly, sue me, but I think it's about ten) after the end of Iliad. So, Troy she has a-fallen (see horse: wooden) and the triumphant Greeks are scattered about the various and sundry Greek areas trying to get home, succeeding at getting home, getting murdered while arriving at home, and having adventures along the way. The main person we're following is Odysseus, who is full of bad-assitude and cunning. And also lies. It's a nice mix.
Anywoot, Odysseus is trying to get home to his wife Penelope and now-full-grown son who have been patiently waiting for twenty years (I'm sorry what?). During that time, a bunch of guys who want to marry Penelope eat all her stuff and refuse to leave and generally act like douche frat guys. Odysseus' journey home involves mucho meddling from the gods, a lot of death, mystical creatures extraordinaire, and the Sirens (my favorite).
The Sirens from O Brother, Where Art Thou. I love them. I want them on keychains. I SEEN EM FIRST.
THOUGHTS, ETC (Spoilers).
I for shizzle enjoyed this reading experience more than the Iliad. Where the Iliad is all WAR and OLD TESTAMENT LISTING OF THINGS and MEN BEING MANLY and NO LADIES (mostly), Odyssey is more WOMEN DOING THINGS THAT MOVE THE PLOT LOTS OF TIMES and NIFTY ADVENTURES and IN DEPTH CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT and MONSTERS AND MAYHEM. (This is not to say that the poetry in the Iliad isn't beautiful and that there aren't heart breaking moments because it is and there are, so don't hurt me.)
Odyssey is a foundational piece of literature, and for good reason (that's right, boys, no need to change hundreds of years of literary theory- I am in agreement with you). It considers all the things: fate, free will, family, love (of various types), war, loss, revenge, redemption, religion, gender, justice. And also wine and oil. It also has an unreliable narrator of sorts- Odysseus is the hero, but he's also full of patoohey in ways that you can't always pinpoint. His story changes, he makes up things, he's an awful leader (or is he?), he's a victim, he's the mover of all the events. The development of his character is really sophisticated, which, snobby modern me, I wasn't really expecting that (especially since I didn't find Achilles all that well-rounded. He's mostly ME KILL THINGS. ME LIKE MY FRIEND. ME CRY, GET DRUNK, MORE KILL THINGS).
I was most fascinated by the end, when Odysseus finally returns home and then takes what feels like several hundred pages to finally reveal himself. Once he does, he goes on a murderous rampage, killing all the suitors in the house AND hanging all the female servants who slept with them (it's never specified if those situations were consensual, either). The wholesale, indiscriminate slaughter reminded me of stories from the Old Testament where God commanded the Israelites to destroy entire races of people without excepting a single person. Did ancient cultures all have this viciously black and white view of justice?
The poetry is also beautiful, though I get the feeling that I read a somewhat simplified translation (I was reading the Allen Mandelbaum). If I read it again, I'll go for something a bit more flowery. I'm thinking it was a sort of Message Bible, and if I do round two, I'll want the KJV. Pickin' up what I'm puttin' down?
Here's my favorite bit (and something that I think sums up the whole poem quite nicely):
"Men are so quick to blame the gods. But they
themselves- in their depravity- design
grief greater than the griefs that fate assigns."
Five stars out of your mom.