FROM THE EDITOR
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From the Editor
“The Man of Twists and Turns”
Photograph by Stu Mullenberg
Last month I read a newspaper article about a new trend in higher education—parent orientation.
It seems that along with tennis rackets and teddy bears, students today are increasingly arriving on campus with Moms and Dads. College administrators, alarmed at the prospect of parents roving the dorms unsupervised, grilling roommates and inspecting shower curtains, have begun to include parents in orientation. Reed was singled out for its unique approach to this issue. Instead of giving parents tickets to a football game, Reed invites them to read the Odyssey and sit in on the first Hum 110 lecture, held at Convocation.
I chuckled as I read the report, wondering how many parents would take up the challenge. I mean, I’m fond of proclaiming the virtue of the classics, but would I read Homer again myself? Would I voluntarily sail back into that wine-dark sea, endure the dizzying genealogies, the lurching fortunes, the rosy fingers of dawn?
But as every Reedie knows, it is an act of hubris to issue a challenge one is not prepared to accept. To stay on Poseidon’s good side, I bought a second-hand copy of the Odyssey and dutifully waded in.
The first surprise was the immediacy of Robert Fagle’s translation. From the very beginning (“Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns”) the epic reads like a story, not the excursion into hexametry that I was secretly dreading.
But my biggest discovery was the irresistible power of the narrative. Sure, I remembered the vague outlines—the suitors, the Cyclops, the Sirens—but I had forgotten the spellbinding details that bring the story to life.
I had forgotten Odysseus’ guilt as he watches the monster Scylla snatch his hapless shipmates from the deck with her tentacles and devour them, writhing and screaming—shipmates that he could have warned, but didn’t, lest they mutiny.
I had forgotten the pathetic spectacle of the blinded Cyclops stroking his favorite ram, asking why he lagged behind the herd, wondering if it was out of sympathy for his master’s wound—never guessing that Odysseus lay concealed beneath the shaggy beast.
I had forgotten shipwrecked Menelaus wrestling with the sea-god Proteus, holding him fast as Proteus turns himself into a lion, then a serpent, then a boar, then a torrent of water, before he finally reveals the fate of Agamemnon—a fate that Menelaus wished he had never learned.
The Odyssey has definitely been more fun the second time around. It has also been more provocative. It has given me fresh insight into the value of a liberal education. Yes, it is about exploring new challenges. But it is also about exploring old challenges. It is learning to look at familiar territory with fresh eyes, to question assumptions, to fight complacency, to wrestle with details, and to be willing—when necessary—to go back to basics and start from the beginning.
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