Max Buettner '21 acts in last week's Odysseus Wounded.

Courtesy of Mika Matera-Vatnik '21

Max Buettner '21 acts in last week's Odysseus Wounded.

March 19, 2018

Odysseus Wounded: A Modern Take on a Greek Epic

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At the end of The Odyssey, Odysseus finally journeys back from the fallen city of Troy to Ithaca, where he once reigned as king. Disguised, Odysseus finds his kingdom infested with once-loyal suitors competing for Odysseus’ wife’s, Penelope, hand in marriage. After skillfully shooting an arrow through twelve axes to prove his identity in a now iconic scene, Odysseus, along with his son Telemachus, in rage, proceeds to slay every single one of the suitors in barbarous fashion.

The epic poem, attributed to Homer, was composed in oral tradition by a rhapsode, a classical Greek performer of epic poetry. Appropriately, the play Odysseus Wounded, by Nathan Chazan ’19, former Sun arts columnist, and Alexander Lugo ’19 was performed as a live reading. The play follows the events of The Odyssey, as Telegonos, the bastard son of Odysseus and Circe, seeks the throne of his father.

The 1 hour and 30 minute play contained all of the stylistic elements of The Odyssey, full of grandiose literary and poetic devices, digressions and gory detail. Yet, at once I noticed a divergence in the mood and spirit of the play compared to the Greek epic. The Odyssey glorifies violence: the sheer number of lives taken defines a character’s greatness and courage, and it is seen as a natural reflex and response for an unjust act such as courting with a married woman. Viewing the bloodsoaked bodies of the suitors now scattered across the kingdom following the slaughter, Eurykleia, Odysseus’ nurse, exclaims in triumph. No such glory in Odysseus Wounded. Odysseus is haunted and confronted by the ghosts of the suitors, performed by the playwrights themselves.

The play is based on the lost poem Telegony, an intended sequel of The Odyssey not written by Homer, but the tragedian Sophocles. Perhaps this is why it contains elements of incest, sexual and domestic violence, and infanticide, signature to Sophocles’ tragedy Oedipus Rex.

The bastard son Telegonos, after hearing from Athena the name of his father, aimed not only to overthrow Odysseus, but also to marry Penelope, his own mother. With his supernatural spear, Telegonos kills the tortured Odysseus, only to lament it afterward. Penelope, portrayed as a loyal wife of Odysseus eagerly awaiting her husband’s return in The Odyssey, appears tormented and agonized in her existence, lamenting her inability to find love in this world. The gloomy and murky tone persists throughout the play, and it was eerily fascinating to see such a dark spin on the familiar Greek poem.

I saw Odysseus Wounded in Risley Theater on a Friday evening. The small, dark room was the optimal location for an immersive experience. The yells and shouts from a passionate and talented cast reverberated throughout the theater as an entranced audience looked on. At one point, a cast member walked on the steps to where people were seated, talking directly to the audience. While the play does demand a certain level of knowledge of The Odyssey, often throwing esoteric references without much explanation, it was captivating just to watch the cast emote the feelings of characters, even when I was not completely certain of their intentions.

The playwrights mentioned that Odysseus Wounded was still a work in progress. I hope once they have refined the play to their satisfaction, that they would re-open the show for a greater body of audience, if it could handle the mature themes presented in the play.

 

Tom Ho is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at th456@cornell.edu.