There are only so many original stories in the world and all stories are versions of those archetypes, at least that's how the theory goes. Whether you believe there are seven, eight, 20, 36 or some other number of original stories, The Odyssey is in there somewhere. It's the original version of The Quest - a story we've been re-writing ever since.
I hadn't read it before, in fact my knowledge of the classics is so poor that I barely knew the story. If you're like me, here's a summary: It's been 20 years since Odysseus left Ithaca to fight the Trojan War. In the meantime more than 100 suitors have descended on his home in an attempt to woo his wife Penelope and convince her that her husband is dead. Odysseus's son, Telemachus, sets out to find news of his father, who is alive but whose journey home has been thwarted by the gods and a series of adventures.
As James noted in his review last year, the structure of The Odyssey is remarkably complex. Odysseus, our hero, doesn't appear for some time and when he does his story is told in both the present and in a series of flashbacks. It's even more impressive when you realise that this story would have been told orally. It requires an attentive audience.
Both orator and audience would have been helped by the poem's repetitive nature. Certain phrases and rituals are repeated throughout, adding an internal rhythm to the narrative.
The oddities of the time make the story hard to relate to in places. Despite his desire to return home, the conventions of hospitality require Odysseus to stop as a guest with those who ask, often for years at a time. He's not much of one for mercy either, brutally slaughtering the servant women who had sex with the suitors.
Strangest of all, though, is the role of the gods, who pretty much move the humans around like pawns. It makes it hard to get that involved in the story - the gods will do as they like anyway. That may be Homer's point - it's not worth worrying about things too much since fate is out of your hands. It's best to barbecue another pig's thigh and relax.
Everyone should read The Odyssey because of its importance in the history of literature. It's an important work but one which, I'm afraid, had little emotional impact on me.