I just finished re-reading the Robert Fitzgerald translation of The Odyssey and this weekend I began reading James Joyce's Ulysses and started Ulysses by Hugh Kenner and Ulysses and Us by Declan Kiberd.
I read The Odyssey again because I wanted to have it fresh in my mind before reading Ulysses. When I read it this time, I was struck by how it could be read as a tribute to barbecue. Over and over again, the action stops while everyone gorges on meat from a freshly-slaughtered animal. Usually the epic specifies that bread is served on the side, just as in a Southern barbecue joint. I subscribe to the email list for the Bryn Mawr Classical Review, which just ran a review of a book called The Meaning of Meat and the Structure of the Odyssey by Egbert J. Bakker (only $90 from Oxford University Press). The reviewer, Jeremy McInerney, mentions a suggestion by one scholar, Andrew Dalby, "that the emphasis on heroic meat-eating is an instance of wish-fulfillment aimed at an audience of subsistence farmers."
I also was struck by how the description of the behavior of Ulysses and his crew (and by extension, Greeks on ships in general) reminded me of the Vikings. The Odyssey describes how Ulysses and his force, early in their attempt to return to Ithaca, attack and sack a city of the Cicones, apparently because they could. Greeks aboard ships, as colonizers, founded cities all over the Mediterranean and environs, including in Italy, Sicily, southern France and the Black Sea. This would seem to be the biggest explosion of ship-borne peoples until the time of the Vikings, who ranged from North America to deep inside Russia. Dublin, very early in its history, was a Viking settlement.
When I was in high school, I read Dubliners. I started Ulysses the summer after I graduated from high school but was unable to finish it. I finally read Ulysses a few years ago and finished it, but had the feeling that I wasn't really understanding much of it.
My original plan was to re-read Ulysses and, at the same time, read the Kenner and Kiberd books. I've gotten interested in Ulysses, however, and I think I will finish it before I resume the two books of criticism. I'd like to think I can read it as I read any other novel, and get something out of it.
Speaking of James Joyce, PQ published a lovely birthday tribute to Joyce Sunday.