Akala's Odyssey (2018) Movie Script

Sirens screaming,
a warrior, driven by revenge,
a son in search of a father and the
trickiest journey home you could
ever imagine.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is not
some 21st-century urban rhyme.
It's one of the greatest stories
ever told.
Homer's Odyssey has been
ricocheting around the world for
thousands of years...
..capturing the imagination of
millions of people along the way
and it all started right here in
the Greek shrine of Delphi,
when "The Blind Bard", Homer,
travelled here from his far-away
home island and stood up for
the first time to
share his masterpiece with the
expectant crowd.
Except it's not like that at all.
We know almost nothing about who
composed The Odyssey,
when it was first composed or even
when it was first sung.
Yet despite all of that,
for almost 3,000 years,
it has exerted tremendous influence
over world literature,
inspiring writers from Virgil and
Dante to Margaret Atwood,
James Joyce and Ralph Ellison
and now me.
I want to know, what is it about
this work that has made it such
a classic
and why its origins have been
shrouded in mystery for so long?
The ancients believed that The
Odyssey was a true story and that
its main character, Odysseus,
really existed.
But what do we actually know about
this ground-breaking text
and its mysterious author?
In this film, I'm following
in the footsteps of the Odyssey,
across the Mediterranean,
as part of my quest
to compose my
response to Homer's epic call.
Why is the story told?
What is the teller's mission?
What is the ultimate source
of our deepest intuition?
To create this work,
I'll need to find out exactly what
we know about its mysterious
We have the name, we have the poems,
and we have lots of stories,
but these immediately show us that
people are speculating.
..come face-to-face with some of the
main characters from the story...
This is the so-called mask of
..hear how The Odyssey might have
sounded to its first audiences...
..and discover how Homer's works
helped the ancients
understand both life and death.
You're cutting into the heart of
a really fundamental question,
aren't you, about what it means to
be human?
The central theme of The Odyssey is
the irresistible urge
to return home.
And so, to help complete
my new song,
my journey culminates on the island
of Ithaca,
the homeland which Odysseus
spent so long striving to return to.
How will seeing the world of the
Odyssey first-hand influence the way
I craft this 21st-century response?
This is my Odyssey.
The ability of language to change
people's lives has always struck me
as magical.
# Two households,
both alike in dignity... #
It's one of the reasons
that I became a hip-hop artist.
It's long been clear to me
that poetry,
literature and music are all
I've always loved the power of
words and the beauty of poetry and
that's been exemplified with my
work with the Hip-hop Shakespeare
but there is one poet who's one of
the daddies of the whole tradition
and that is, of course, Homer.
I didn't get the chance to study
much of The Blind Bard's work
when I was at school here
in Tufnell Park.
But right around the corner is a
bookshop specialising in texts from
around the ancient world.
This is a treasure trove, which,
as you can see, it's pretty big,
but the Homer that you're after is
down here.
That's a lot of Homer! Enjoy.
It really makes you think about
how many different translations
there's been,
and for how long and, for some
reason, the old dusty books,
even though I know they were printed
recently, they kind of...
they feel almost like secret.
The Odyssey is an epic poem spread
across 24 books that appears to date
back to the eighth century BC.
It begins with the lines
"Sing, muse,
"of the man of many ways
"who suffered so much after
he destroyed the citadel at Troy."
Words that immediately grab you and
set up the grand nature of the story
that is about to unfold.
Though The Odyssey and another epic
poem about the Trojan War called
The Iliad are most often attributed
to the poet Homer,
we're still pretty much in the dark
about who he was or whether the same
person even wrote both texts.
So what do we actually know about
this literary genius?
We have the name, we have the poems
and we have lots of stories
from antiquity about who Homer was,
but these stories immediately show
us that, in antiquity, people were
about Homer, trying to imagine him,
rather than knowing facts.
But what interests me is that
through these stories,
we can get a sense of what Homer
meant to people in antiquity,
the fact that he was a traveller,
that he was poor,
that he was disabled, he couldn't
see, but he had this great poetic
So, in terms of The Iliad and
The Odyssey and the Homeric epics,
do they have any connections to
motifs or ideas or influences from
other cultures and other epics?
Well, this is very interesting.
So one thing was when finally
Akkadian was the cipher,
the cuneiform script of the
and the epic of Gilgamesh came back
to light, and lo and behold,
there were many similarities with
the Homeric poems.
Dating from at least 1,000 years
before the works of Homer,
the epic of Gilgamesh is the central
text of ancient Babylonia,
present-day Iraq.
Throughout its 12 books,
we see stories of a mighty king
battling monsters as part of
a series of epic journeys
to learn the truth
about himself.
So this really baffled people,
because the epic of Gilgamesh was
composed a lot earlier,
somewhere else, in the Near East
and also in a completely
different language
and yet we have similes
of the lines,
we have bigger stories such
as the descent into the underworld.
These are motifs that repeat
in different cultures,
partly because they're
interesting to people belonging to
different cultures.
So, do you believe that The Iliad
and The Odyssey are the work of one
single author?
Well, that's a difficult question.
They are well structured.
They have an incredibly complex and
well thought out architecture
and they were clearly meant for
Then the question is, did they
improve in re-performance,
or was there a work of an original
genius that was then diluted
and became worse in the course
of time?
And that is where scholars argue
a lot. OK.
That's what scholars in general
think, but what do you think?
I'm quite open-minded about this.
I do think that the Greeks
didn't want these poems changed
too much.
What we have is pretty uniform,
but the tradition out of which they
emerge is vast.
When The Odyssey was first composed
over 2,500 years ago,
it wasn't through the written word
the audience first heard it.
It was through public
performances of travelling bards
throughout Greece.
In many ways, this tradition is
alive and well with today's
performance poets.
# The galaxy stars surround you
# Space dust illustrates every step
you walk
# The air that you dread to breathe,
is the air that you make. #
Tonight, I'm in East London,
checking out some up-and-coming
young talent
at an event organised by
my friend, the writer and poet
Anthony Anaxogorou.
# Don't you dare duck, because you
were born to rise. #
What do you think about the
relationship between the spoken word
performance poetry and hip-hop or
Well, I think that's essentially
what the debate comes down to -
different styles of poetics
and nuance and references.
Obviously, there is a lot of hip-hop
that is very pun heavy,
and hip-hop has its own distinct
style of using poetry.
Hip-hop as a poetic medium is
constantly being undermined by those
who deem more traditionalist styles
of poetry as being acceptable.
But, when we look at something like
The Odyssey, for example,
those epics were originally composed
as songs,
essentially performed as the popular
songs of their day.
The spoken world held a kind
of reverence that we might not
necessarily see today and that's
really what poetry's supposed to do,
to reactivate language and give it
back to people
in a more exciting way.
She never likes to go back
or look herself in the eye
Never learnt to move her body
to a rhythm or forgive.
Just as people
here listen to these poets tonight,
the first audiences of The Odyssey
would have sat around taking in
performances quite like this.
From these beginnings, The Odyssey
has echoed around the world,
inspiring writers and artists
to dream up their own versions.
I first discovered this work
through Ralph Ellison's novel,
Invisible Man,
which takes Homer's plot as its main
structure, a device that is used,
too, in James Joyce's Ulysses...
..or even in the Cohn Brothers film,
O Brother, Where Art Thou?
I think we should start quiet
and build probably with...
..vocal and cello, I think...
..is my instinct.
Responses like these have inspired
me to write my own new song
as a homage to Homer.
The impact of The Odyssey has been
so great that when you think of The
Odyssey, a poem about Odysseus,
it's become a byword for
a challenge, a saga, trials and
a journey. All of those things,
The Odyssey evokes and I think so
many people have tried to recreate
or been influenced by it because
it's been important for so long.
It was already an important text
in the ancient world
and it has continued to hold that
power and I think
there'll be loads more reactions
to it.
As I craft my new work,
I'm going to head out to the lands
of Homer to help me understand just
how The Odyssey was first created.
My first point of call has to be
the centre of the ancient Greeks'
..the sacred Shrine of Delphi.
Today, we all know about the
Olympic Games,
the ancient Greeks'
athletic competitions,
but in the sanctuary here at Delphi,
a rival festival,
known as the Pythian Games,
not only hosted religious
celebrations and athletic
but also encouraged poets and
singers to compete head to head
in recitations of Homer.
I wonder what it must have been like
to see poets take on one another as
part of these competitions.
Tell me a little bit more about the
poetic element of the Pythian games.
Our understanding is
that there were contests,
maybe held at the theatre or the
stadium or in some location within
the sanctuary.
They had to write songs in praise of
Apollo and perform them.
So two and a half thousand
years ago,
when the Pythian games were
happening and all this was going on,
could you say there was such a thing
as Greece as a nation at that point?
There was not such a thing as
a Greek nation,
but there was such a thing as
a Greek identity and that's actually
what's really interesting about
Homer's era,
about those eights and sevens and
even six centuries BC,
because what you see happening at
that time in literature and also in
archaeology, you see how
across the Greek world,
from Italy to mainland Greece,
to the islands,
to what's now western Turkey,
people are making an effort,
in a way, to define an identity
and they're doing this through
literature, language,
poetry, sculpture, architecture,
They're even developing the same
style of warfare across this region,
so they're basically trying
to be compatible.
So, to put it another way, then,
what was Homer's role in the
creation of this Greek identity?
I think Homer was in a way, um...
..a sounding board.
He was an instrument that expressed
that identity.
Basically, what Homer did,
whoever he was and whether there was
one Homer or several Homers,
is that he took this long-standing,
epic, oral tradition
and he formed the epic tradition,
choosing two epics that we
know, The Iliad and The Odyssey,
and he made them something new.
He made them into literature
and I think Homer,
by producing both of those epics,
basically gives the Greeks some body
of material that they can occupy
their minds with
and that they can use to...
..to play off their differences
and their similarities,
essentially, for the longest part of
1,000 years.
Do we know anything about audiences,
both at the Pythian Games
and in terms of reception of Homeric
epics generally?
Our understanding is
that this was not like modern people
going to the opera. It was a lot
more raucous
and there was a lot more
in that people were actually
experiencing the drama,
the dilemmas of the tragedies
themselves, or the comedies,
for that matter.
The ancient Greeks don't
really distinguish high culture and
other cultures
in a way that the modern
western world does.
And so the audience was much more
like Elizabethan English theatre
or a modern rock concert or a pop
concert or a hip-hop concert even,
than traditional theatre today?
That's what I would imagine.
Look, it's a religious festival,
so you have to imagine a mix of
Lourdes and Woodstock,
if you can. OK.
I like that. I'm enjoying that.
All right.
I think among the many interesting
things that I took away from
were really how little has changed
or how much is continuous.
How human beings still do the same
things, dancing, athletics and of
most interestingly from my
perspective, competitive performance
which has obvious echoes with rap
battles or poetry slams.
It was also interesting to hear
about how much Homer was central to
the formation of this emerging Greek
identity and hearing about the
here at these Pythian games and
other public festivals within
the Greek world,
this kind of comparison that
Heinrich made
of comparing Lourdes
and Woodstock
in a fusion of the
religious and spiritual.
Greece today is seen, ancient Greece
as the epitome of high culture,
yet that wasn't really a concept the
ancient Greeks had themselves.
It was just culture.
It's mad to picture
bards performing Homer's epic to
its earliest audiences at a location
as spectacular as Delphi.
# It's the word, the word,
the word carries on
# It's our first, at birth,
the search that we on... #
As part of the oral tradition,
the text of these poems wouldn't
have been set in stone
from the very beginning.
Different performers would have been
able to freestyle their way through
the story.
A fact that tallies
with the way that I
compose my own work.
# The Blind Bard's vision
The Blind Bard's vision. #
There's worse places in the world
to do your writing.
My writing process is quite strange.
So, when I was a much younger man
and I first started getting into
making music for a living,
it was Jay-Z that I heard first
saying that he doesn't write
anything down on paper.
I thought, he's chatting rubbish.
That's impossible
and also then I
heard that Biggie did the same thing
and I started trying it.
I'd get a rhythm and then I'd get
a line and then I'd get a few lines
and I'd get the building blocks
of what I want to say
and then eventually, the benefit of
writing this way,
by the time you've finished the
composition process,
you know the whole thing off by
heart, inside out. You've practised
all the flow and all of that,
because you're saying it over and
over to yourself so much and,
you know, in terms of inspiration,
I've just been at Delphi all
I've been soaking up all
this ancient history
I can see the temple of Athena right
down there, you know.
In terms of locations,
to walk round and mumble to myself
and practise my craft, well,
I've been in worse places, so I'm
going to get back to work.
But what did those early
performances of The Odyssey
actually sound like?
We know that Homer's works were
originally sung,
but those first melodies have sadly
long since been lost.
But some musicians today are hard
at work creating replicas of
from Homer's time to try and
recreate those sounds.
This is the Phorminx.
This is the instrument of Phemius,
of Demodocus,
maybe the instrument of Homer,
if Homer existed.
It is always a question, if the
ancient Greeks used to play chords,
but we can see, from the depictions,
they muted some strings,
and the plectrum strummed.
These instruments were developed
through the use of 3-D scanning
technology, based on depictions from
ancient pots and vases.
In ancient times, musicians were
restricted to gut strings only,
but today, this instrument is strung
with nylon.
Recreating these sounds,
somehow evokes images of those
ancient times making them feel even
more real.
Talk to me about the performance of
poetry in ancient Greek culture.
My understanding is that it was all
performed with music.
There wasn't this separate category
that we have today.
That came much later.
In ancient times, when we say the
word "music",
it means three things altogether.
It is music as we can understand the
music today, dance and poetry.
And poetry was the first thing.
In the beginning was the word.
This is very Greek, as you can
Today, there is almost a certain
For example, when Bob Dylan won the
Nobel Prize for Literature.
A, there was a question that music
lyrics are not literature, but in
general, I have been part of many
debates and it's a big debate now
in modern academia, where people
feel that music performed to poetry
is lesser poetry and what's ironic
is that this is coming often from
the same people who would elevate
the Homeric epics as the greatest
example of
poetry ever, but they were set to
music in their own time.
You're right that this
differentiation exists today.
But in ancient Greece,
they had contests for music.
A poet-musician had
to stake his fame
because they were the most famous.
Interesting. So, they were
almost like early...
I don't want to say pop stars, but
they were very, very popular.
Exactly, pop stars!
They were pop stars!
Anyway, just messing around.
Trying to come up with some little
flavours and vibes.
I'm obviously, I'm a novice when it
comes to this stuff.
But it's really beautiful just to
sit and play.
And it was really interesting to
hear, A,
the continuity between ancient
performances of poetry and music,
but also art and music have had this
tremendous power to evoke emotion
and reaction and behaviour in its
audience. And just again, as an
artist, to me,
it speaks to this tremendous power
that art has within human society,
and music in particular.
But it was really interesting also
to hear about how much details we
still know about how these very,
very ancient instruments were played
and how similar it really is to
modern forms of music.
So, again, a real
interesting lesson,
and this particular instrument being
the instrument of Homer,
if Homer existed.
If we can resurrect the sounds of
maybe we can resurrect his original
locations, too.
Next up, I've come to the great
citadel of Mycenae...
..home to some of the most
well-known archaeological
of the past two centuries.
In The Iliad and The Odyssey,
this is the home of the general
ally of Odysseus and leader of the
Greek army at Troy.
For hundreds of years,
it was believed that
the palaces of Homer belonged
only in the realm of myth,
but when German archaeologist
Heinrich Schliemann dug up this site
150 years ago,
he thought he had found the
legendary fort described in Homer's
Could this really be the case?
The world of Homer,
as far as we can tell,
was what we would call the world of
the late Bronze Age,
what he might have called the Age
of Heroes.
And that notion that the Homeric
poems actually described,
or were about, a real period in
is something that has been sort of
debated back and forth
for centuries, really. But
particularly came to a head in the
late 19th-century,
when Heinrich Schliemann excavated
first at Troy in north-west Turkey,
and then here in
1876, and discovered the remains
that we see around us,
which he thought demonstrated the
reality, the historical reality,
if you like, of the Homeric poems.
And for probably for about 50 or
maybe a century after Schliemann's
that was pretty much an accepted
What kind of things were found here?
Well, erm, one of the most famous
Ah. ..is this.
This, I hasten to add, is a replica.
We didn't thief it, we promise!
This is the so-called mask of
When Schliemann excavated the grave
circle which is just below us here,
Grave Circle A, he found a number of
gold masks,
which had clearly sat on the faces
of some of the people buried there.
And this one has become associated
with the most famous occupant of
Mycenae, Agamemnon.
But if we follow the strict
chronology of the Trojan War,
which many people place around about
1150-1200 BC,
the grave circle belongs to
somewhere around about 1600 BC,
so by definition, unless he'd lived
a very, very long time, Agamemnon,
if he was buried there, couldn't
have been the person in the Trojan
or the Agamemnon of the Trojan War
couldn't have been the person buried
So, how come it still stands
that people think of this as the
mask of Agamemnon? He was one of the
most famous inhabitants of Mycenae,
and therefore it's natural
that Schliemann claimed to find the
face of Agamemnon
on one of the
tombs in Grave Circle A.
So, it's the mask of question mark,
It's the mask of
some anonymous Mycenaean ruler of
the 17th century BC.
So, we can't say for certain if
Homer's works were based on these
mysterious Mycenaeans,
despite some similarities between
them and his characters.
One of the main reasons we know so
little about the people here is that
the writing system they invented
seems to have disappeared at the
of their civilisation,
around 1200 BC.
With that expertise lost,
Greece appears to have become
illiterate for hundreds of years.
Perhaps if the writing skill they
had created was retained...
..we'd have more to help us
understand their times
than the mysteries and
myths in the tales of Homer.
Arguably, we live in an age of
of contempt for experts.
Me, I'm a fan of the experts.
And you know what, what came
out of talking to John for me was
really how
contentious and contested
everything is,
how much in the rush of the 19th
century to name everything
things were assumed to be a
particular way
that may not have been.
The mask of Agamemnon was the most
obvious example.
I still believed until just that
conversation that it was actually
the mask of Agamemnon. It turns out
it probably wasn't.
It turns out a lot of the things we
thought we knew are a bit more
and that's fine. That's the
grey space of history and
archaeology and
ancient civilisation. And in many
ways what Homer was doing was
speculating. There were things that
perhaps that he felt that he knew
about the Trojan War, things that
he knew about that period.
And then there were many parts
clearly, he filled in.
But how could The Odyssey itself
have been written down once the
had lost the skill of writing at the
demise of the Mycenaean Empire?
There's a clue on the sleepy island
of Ischia...
..in the bay of Naples,
a far-off Greek colony.
After a 400-year silence, here in
the eighth century BC,
the Greeks started to become
literate again,
pioneering a new system known
as the alphabet,
to replace the hieroglyphic-like
symbols of the Mycenaeans.
In a little cabinet in the small,
unassuming museum here,
there's one object which speaks
volumes about the dawn
of the alphabet and the origins
of Homer.
Seeing precious items like this
makes me think
of what a revolutionary innovation
writing is.
While it may not look like much,
this little pot right here is
arguably right up there with the
Rosetta Stone
and the Cascajal Block, in
terms of global cultural and
literary significance.
Found in a nearby
burial chamber,
it may be the oldest example of
Greek alphabetical writing that we
know of.
Inscribed on its side are a
series of letters declaring it to be
the cup of the Homeric hero Nestor,
proving that these tales and stories
were reaching the farest-off
of mainland Greece,
right at the time that the
technology of writing was being
If it wasn't for the Greeks'
development of the alphabet
and its system of
vowels and consonants,
our method of writing might be
vastly different today.
When this humble cup was first
some scholars believed that the
alphabet may actually have been
purely to record the works of Homer,
though that view is a bit
old-fashioned nowadays.
From what we can tell,
the Greek alphabet arose from their
trading connections with the most
powerful merchant civilisation in
the Mediterranean...
..the Phoenicians of the Middle East
and North Africa,
who were based mostly in today's
They had their own hieroglyphic-like
style of writing featuring symbols
such as aleph, bet, gimel and dalet,
which clearly inspired the Greek
letters alpha, beta, gamma and
as well as Arabic letters, too.
Finds throughout the rest of the
museum here at Pithecusae show that
this island, a stone's throw
from Naples,
was not just one of the oldest
Greek colonies,
but was also an important trading
outpost with the Phoenicians.
Just as important as the presence of
letters, though,
is their rhythm and pace, too.
These short lines carved on the
side of the pot have their own
curious sound.
What's really interesting about
Nestor's cup is probably the fact
that we've got some hexameter on it.
So, it's one of the earliest
examples of the dactylic hexameter
written in Greek.
So, what is the relationship between
hexameter and Homer?
Homer and Hesiod are the two poets
that first kind of lay down the
great hexameter poems,
and because they become these
massively authoritative texts in the
ancient world,
it becomes the meter that's
associated with those
high forms of poetry.
Dactylic hexameter is a type of
poetic meter or rhythm that was
in the ancient world.
It's a much older rhythm than iambic
# Shall I compare thee
to a summer's day?
# Thou art more lovely and more
temperate. #
..which I use regularly when I
perform the works of Shakespeare.
# Too short a date
# Sometime too hot the eye of heaven
# And often is his gold complexion
dimm'd. #
Why does the pentameter most
famously used by Shakespeare work so
much better in English than the
Because it follows the stress
patterns in English.
And with hexameter, so, you've got
six feet in a line.
What are feet,
for the people at home?
So, feet, it's a way of breaking up
a line, erm,
and it means it's like a collection
of a sound.
Yep. So, you've got two long sounds
or a long and two shorts.
So, it's like...
That's if you've got dactyls.
If you've got spondees,
then it's daa-daa-daa-daa.
It's much slower.
And you can do that in Latin
and Greek,
because you can follow the quantity,
the long sounds in words and kind of
make sure that the rhythm fits.
So, if you think about the opening
half line of the Odyssey,
you'll be able to hear the sound
that I'm talking about.
Or the opening section of the
You can feel that the sound and it's
matching onto the long sounds in the
Latin and the Greek.
What I find really fascinating about
pentameter poetry is obviously
The rhythm of the human heart,
What I found really interesting
about that form,
especially for modern music, is,
it fits over so many different kind
of beats.
If you take any different kind of
speed of instrumental,
as long as it's not in a waltz or
some 6/8 or some kind of weird time
structure... Yeah. Anything that's
in 4/4, no matter what the speed,
you can transfer pentameter poetry
over it.
And I believe that part of that is
this kind of human heart
centre of the rhythm. Yeah,
and I suppose as well -
because you've got much more
regularity there, haven't you? -
in dactylic hexameter,
you've got options as to what you
can do in every foot.
So, sometimes, if you wanted to
convey something very serious,
then you might use lots of long
sounds, and lots of spondees.
So, it would be like...
Whereas if you wanted to give the
impression of speed,
then you'd use lots of dactyls,
So, the fact that there's that
flexibility within hexameter means
it doesn't offer the same immediate
regularity that maybe you're talking
about there. And it's also why it's
a little bit harder to grasp,
until you've got something in front
of you and
you can feel the rhythm there.
My friend is a Brazilian-Portuguese
And it's weird, they can't rap in
double time because Portuguese words
are so long. Right, yeah. So, like,
the English accent lends itself...
Yeah. That's why we have, like,
grime, because it's 140 bpm.
You can rap very, very quickly in
an English accent,
because we squash our vowels. Yeah.
And our consonant pattern is very,
er, percussive.
And so that's actually why the
English accent lends itself to
rapping a lot faster than even
American, but especially than the
Oh, that's really interesting.
Because the words are so much longer
and stretched out.
Having discovered the context behind
the Odyssey, from what music,
archaeology and rhythm can tell us
about how it connected with its
first audiences, it's time to get to
grips with some of the individual
tales from this masterpiece.
Many of the most well-known moments
from the Odyssey,
such as the encounters
with the Cyclops or the Sirens,
and even the descent into the
are first told in a key section of
the poem,
where Odysseus attends a banquet
and tells his fellow guests
about the many trials and
tribulations he has endured thus far
on his epic journey home to Ithaca.
The others seated around him are
amazed to hear these fantastical
tales of bizarre creatures and
supernatural happenings.
Because the ancient Greeks believed
the Odyssey literally took place,
the tales of these adventures
sparked much debate about the exact
locations where they occurred.
Writing my new work in answer
to Homer,
I'm travelling to some of the places
later linked with those stories to
find out their significance to the
Odyssey's first audiences.
The most famous incident in Homer's
Odyssey has to be the encounter with
the Cyclops.
Odysseus and his crew
land on a strange island
and find a cave brim-full with fresh
produce and tasty cheeses.
But they soon find out that the cave
is also home to a terrifying
one-eyed monster
who traps them inside and begins to
eat them one by one.
Odysseus manages to get
the Cyclops drunk,
and then plunges a burning torch
into his one eye, blinding him.
Once our hero makes his getaway back
on board his ship,
the giant hurls boulders out to the
sea in a futile bid to destroy
Odysseus's ships.
For generations,
these stacks of basalt poking up off
the eastern coast of Sicily have led
many to believe that the home of the
Cyclops may have been here.
The fact that so many people have
spent energy looking for the origins
of the Cyclops, and even claiming
that these rocks here are the very
rocks that the Cyclops threw in the
sea after Odysseus,
tells you something about the
enduring power of the Odyssey.
I myself, obviously I don't believe
the Cyclops existed,
but I have always wondered if the
Cyclops, like so much else in
is a metaphor for something deeper.
One of the reasons why stories like
the Cyclops came to be associated
with Sicily is because the island
was a colony of the Greeks.
In recent years, some have wondered
whether the story is a critique of
the colonial experience, with
Odysseus representing the greedy
invader, plundering another's land
and disrespecting the customs
of the local people.
Later readers also like to think of
Sicily's Straits of Messina,
its closest point to mainland Italy,
as the location of some of the most
terrifying monsters from the
..including the haunting tale of
the Sirens.
This is one of the episodes in the
Odyssey, I'm most fascinated by -
the tale of these mythological
creatures who tempt sailors in with
their singing only to cruelly dash
them to their death upon the rocks.
Odysseus was forewarned
of the danger before sailing by,
and so he stuffed his crew's ears
with wax and tied himself to the
ship's mast. Despite pleading with
his crew to sail toward
the Sirens' call,
they could not hear his cries,
and thus escaped a narrow brush
with death.
Though Odysseus's crew were never
able to hear the Sirens' song,
the stories tell us that many other
ships were thought to have been
destroyed once they followed these
destructive goddesses'
seductive call.
For the Greeks
of thousands of years ago,
with much of their world
still uncharted,
Homer's Sirens were a potent
reminder of the danger of the seas.
With today's readers, though, the
most powerful story from Odysseus's
wanderings is his descent
into the realm of dead souls -
the Underworld...
..which some believe to have taken
place at Lake Avernus,
near Naples and the ancient Greek
colony of Cumae.
As part of his journey home
to Ithaca,
he is sent there to hear the advice
of a long dead prophet about how to
navigate past some of his most
perilous obstacles.
It's here that he meets many of his
fallen allies from the Trojan War,
in an episode that echoes a similar
tale in the Babylonian epic of
Odysseus's encounters with the
ghosts of his fellow Greek generals
offer a profound insight into how
people in the ancient world
understood life after death.
As Odysseus is seeing all of these
ghosts come forward,
one of the figures he sees is
So, Achilles has been the most
famous warrior in the Iliad.
And he's this figure that
exemplifies everything about what it
means to
live fast and die young.
But there's a moment when Odysseus
sees him and he says, you know,
"You were so famous in life that
shouldn't look so sad,
"because you've got to have the same
sort of kudos down here as well."
And Achilles basically says, "You
don't know what you're talking
about, Odysseus.
"I would rather work for a man that
doesn't own his own land than
"be king of all the dead." And it's
such a powerful moment,
where you've got Achilles
saying that life is the thing.
You know, death is...
It's just a shadow, and life is the
thing that you should be really
focused on. And life at any cost,
And that's obviously something that
has a real resonance with the
where you've got Odysseus,
who's going to be in some really
humiliating positions across
the course of the poem,
and it kind of justifies it, in
a way, for Achilles to say to him,
you know, "Anything that you have to
do to stay alive,
"that's what you should do."
It seems almost like Shakespeare
reverses that in tomorrow and
tomorrow and tomorrow... Yeah. Life
is but a joke, a poor player...
Yeah. And actually, death is the big
joke that life is playing on us,
so he almost reverses the importance
and kind of dismisses life as
completely unimportant.
And, obviously, he was massively
influenced by particularly Ovid,
but that whole tradition. Yeah,
exactly. Well, it's a funny thing,
isn't it?
Because there's always this tension.
We live as if we might live forever,
and we don't.
And, actually, this is exactly what
the poet Lucretius,
who's writing in the first century
BC, picks up on.
He takes this Homeric idea about
life after death,
and he uses it to say that
it's wrong.
He's arguing for a universe where
everything is made up of, erm,
atoms of... You know,
it's a materialistic universe.
And he says, people are getting
mixed up
when they talk about the Underworld,
when we hear those stories about
what it's like to go down,
we're just reflecting something of
life at that moment.
It's not true that there's anything
after death,
and if we live as if there is
something after death,
then we're actually missing out on
the really important stuff,
which is now. We see in, you know,
several traditions this idea of the
hero making a journey
to the Underworld in ancient Egypt,
in Gilgamesh...
Are you saying that there was a
direct transmission to the Homeric
tradition or it was more these
were general motifs that were out
there that were picked up on?
So, this is part of a wider debate
regarding Homer.
Some people have argued that we
should see direct connections
between these, and that actually,
the stories of Homer,
the Iliad and especially the
emerge directly from this kind of
Middle Eastern poetic tradition.
And some people have argued that we
should see this as part of a more
general picture.
There's something that's important
across all cultures when it comes to
thinking about what might happen
when we die.
And what we have in the Odyssey is a
kind of crystallisation, I suppose,
of one idea about what death might
look like,
and what the afterlife might
look like.
When we talk about those other
poems, Gilgamesh and so on,
it's absolutely the case that it's
the Homeric version of things,
no matter who he was or how we
understand him,
it's his version that becomes
famous, and it's his version,
and the way that we understand
that affects later authors and makes
them want to engage with the poetry
and also with the man. So, sort of
like cover versions of songs.
Absolutely. So, if you think of Jimi
Hendrix and Bob Dylan, for example,
you would never suggest that All
Along The Watchtower was anything
other than Jimi Hendrix's.
Of course not! So...! With the
greatest of respect to Jimi, no,
you wouldn't! Absolutely, because
that's the version
that pins it down.
Yeah. That is the one that matters.
It's always tempting to see Homer as
the colossus at the dawn of the epic
But he's responding to
what has gone before,
just as countless artists and
writers have responded to his works.
I had known about the more recent
examples, but to hear about ancient
Romans like Lucretius is a bit of
an eye-opener.
To learn from Katharine that the
appropriation of ancient Greek
and Homer in particular, seeking
that tradition as a source of
was not just something that began
with 19th-century European and, in
particular, British imperialism,
it's been going on for thousands
of years.
Homer was already seen as a source
of legitimacy for particular
cultures or colonies back then.
And that was really interesting
to learn.
And then to get a broader sense of
the Greco-Roman pantheon of poetry
beyond Homer has really made me
rethink my own writing process,
and I need to go and visit some of
those other texts,
the Virgils of this world,
to get a context in which to place
my own response to Homer's Odyssey.
So, really kind of a lot to think
about and a lot of provocation
coming from Katharine, and I'm
really looking forward to getting
Sort of maybe put together now
a plan, a map for my own writing,
based in some of the things that
I've learnt there.
So, looking forward to it.
# Is the teller's mission
# What is the ultimate source of our
deepest intuition... #
From the sounds and rhythm of the
first performances of the Odyssey,
to its main themes, plot and
enduring archetypes...
..there is a lot to keep in mind as
I write my new track.
Exploring these places associated
with the Odyssey,
I have to admit that it might well
be a waste of time to try and figure
out whether any of them are the real
places Homer had in mind,
regardless of whether or not he
really existed.
But as I prepare to complete my own
new homage to the Odyssey,
there's one final stop-off I have to
The tiny island off the west coast
of Greece that Odysseus was so
desperate to get home to.
I am almost at Ithaca.
You know, I feel a real sense of
achievement, I imagine this epic
which is actually a simple journey
now, before the age of steam power,
and I genuinely feel a little bit
like Odysseus coming to reclaim my
kingdom, or at least coming to seek
answers in this final chapter of my
When Odysseus himself returned home
after 20 years,
he found that his palace was under
siege by a gang of local nobles.
Disguised in beggar's clothes,
Odysseus watched them try to
convince his wife, Penelope, to give
up on the hope of her husband ever
returning home and marry one of them
In the poem's gruesome climax, the
returned hero teams up with his son,
and together they violently
slaughter the men and string up
the female slaves who had supported
One thing you can't help but reflect
on when you read the Odyssey,
particularly toward the end with the
slaughter of the suitors and the
hanging of the maids, is the
question of violence within human
culture and human entertainment,
from the gladiators to Shakespearean
plays to modern video games, or
hip-hop, or many other forms, MMA.
We have this strange relationship
with violence, where,
on the one hand, no-one really wants
violence to be done to them or
their loved ones, on the other hand
we have this perverse fascination
and even delight, including myself
in violent stories and in violent
And I'm sure the debate about
the morality of violence within
entertainment will continue as long
as there's entertainment and human
But regardless of those questions,
the quality of this poetry and
the merits of the story will stand.
The Odyssey is reborn each time
a new work is created in response
to it.
# Size up of 108, about time we got
done with these fakes
# I want to carve these bastards'
# In the marble of my father's
grave... #
One that I'm particularly interested
in is that of my friend, the Greek
Australian rapper, Luka Lesson.
So, tell me a little bit about your
Odyssey project, where you're at
the conception of it, how long
you've been working on it?
Yeah, it's been about two years
since the very first idea came up.
I was offered to do a collaboration
with a composer at the Sydney
And instead of just
making some small idea,
I thought I'd just take on the
biggest epic ever known to man!
So, it involves a full orchestra and
choir and me telling the story of
the Odyssey in rap and spoken word
And projections on stage.
But at its essence, it's basically
a storyteller recounting the journey
of Odysseus in his own words.
Amazing, amazing.
And so what made you want to engage
with the Odyssey in particular?
Man, I don't know. I think maybe
because I come from a Greek
I kind of feel like I get sick of
seeing these stories be told in
a Hollywood way, with not one Greek
person on the crew or in the writing
team or anything like that.
And this idea that people have got
that the Odyssey
or that ancient Greek culture
is Western culture also kind of
irked me for a little bit.
But for me, I was like, what can I
reinfuse into the Odyssey if I spoke
classical Greek onstage or I spoke
modern Greek onstage, or I could
feel it in my bones as someone who
feels like an ancestor of that?
You're not the first person to
respond to the Odyssey in
a range of creative mediums, right?
It's interesting because for me, my
way into the Odyssey came actually
via other people that had responded.
Derek Walcott, Ralph Ellison...
Nice. What do you make of some of
those responses, and do you feel any
pressure being in this kind of long
list of incredibly
talented people from all over the
world, really,
who've been inspired by this text?
I feel pressure!
Which is why I don't read anybody
else's interpretation!
I try not to get hung up about it.
It is a reinterpretation of
a classic.
I see it as a... Really like a rite
of passage for some artists that
choose to take it on.
It is such a historic story that we
also feel like we have to do it
justice, and maybe that brings some
greatness out of us that we may not
have had if it
wasn't a project on this.
I saw when I first started doing
this, that Prince actually did
a response to the Odyssey. I had no
Called Glam Slam Ulysses, with
Carmen Electra dancing on stage.
Before she got famous. I don't know
anyone other than the people
in that room that might have
seen it.
But, like, a lot of people have
dealt with this thing,
and it seems to be like an essential
part of many artists' movement and
Despite his Greek heritage,
Luka has never been to Ithaca.
But he does have a little bit of
local info to share.
Do you know there's a rumour that
Ithaca's not actually Odysseus's
and that actually it was in
Cephalonia next door, the other
What?! Yeah, because
Cephalonia has like different groves
and forests and stuff, and in the
early part of the Odyssey,
they talk about Odysseus hunting and
running through forests and all this
type of stuff.
So, Ithaca's not big enough to have
that, so some people
say that actually, ancient Ithaca
was Cephalonia.
That's mad.
So what if I'm actually not in
Odysseus's home?!
Wow, all right! Well, I'm going to
have to look into that.
Thanks a lot, bro. Thanks for taking
the time to speak to us.
Could Luka be right? Is the island
that's called Ithaca today not the
place that Homer had in mind?
I've been digging a bit deeper
and I can see why some readers might
have their doubts.
And that's because the description
we see in the text again and again
and again is of a low-lying piece
of land,
the most westerly of a group of
Yet when I look around me, it's
clear that there are mountains
And according to the map, this is
definitely not the most westerly.
So, is this definitely the island
that the ancient Greeks were
referring to?
To compose my own Odyssey, I started
this journey in the footsteps of
Odysseus to find out more about the
blind bard who first sang his tale.
Though the ancient Greeks believed
that the events in the Odyssey
actually took place, and that Homer
himself was a single poet...
..everywhere I've come, I've found
that the truth is not so clear.
Even here, on the Western tip of
I still can't know for certain
whether this was the home which
Odysseus wanted so badly to reach.
I have to ask myself whether any of
these questions of geography,
debated by scholars for centuries,
are relevant to understanding the
text or informing my new song.
Is part of the beauty and intrigue
of these ancient stories the fact
that they are now so shrouded in
myth and mystery, and would more
specific knowledge actually take
away a little bit of their magic?
And as Dublin's WB Stanford
tells us,
"The uncertainty is caused by the
fact that though Homer is probably
"describing actual places,
he gives them a poetic and not
"precisely topographical
"For appreciation of his poem
and story,
"it makes little difference whether
Ithaca is Thiaki
"or the Isle of Man or Rhode Island.
"We have only ourselves to blame
when we try to accommodate poetry to
"science and find it perplexing and
"The poet did not write for
And that really eloquently sums
it up.
We may never know whether Homer was
man or woman,
group of people or individual, blind
bard or fully-sighted athlete,
ancient Greek or ancient Egyptian.
These are all theories that were
advanced from the most ancient of
We probably will never even know if
there was a real Odysseus.
And over the last week or so, when
I've travelled to Greece and its
former territories, I've concluded
it doesn't really matter.
The Odyssey is one of the great
epics of world literature.
It managed to soak up influences
from all around the world and
itself has continued to influence
people for over 2,500 years.
Again I say, this is my Odyssey.
# Yo, listen
# Yo, yo
# Yo
# Why is the story told?
# What is the teller's mission?
# What is the ultimate source
of our deepest intuition?
# Why does the audience come
and why did they listen?
# The blind bard's vision
# Why is the story told?
# What is the teller's mission?
# What is the ultimate source of our
deepest intuition?
# Why does the audience come and why
did they listen?
# The blind bard's vision
# The sweetest siren call,
that spans time and distance
# The poet speaks the
building blocks of our existence
# Who said it's master masons that
build the base of nations
# Without the word there's nothing
else, you can't replace it
# When all the towers fall, and all
the powerful kings crush into dust
# Things left there to rust
# It's the word,
the word, the word carries on
# And our thirst give birth to
the search that we on
# Seeking solace with myths
that promise
# If we just give our attention
it will astonish it
# A bit of politics,
splash of the supernatural
# Stitched together by syllables,
weave a tapestry
# That's broad enough to span minds
and generations
# Still it cannot be touched by much
but contemplation
# You want to make a statement?
# Better you write a verse
# Want to create a nation?
# Better recite it first
# Preferably epic with no pen,
let the mind collect it
# Practise it hundreds of times
until it's time
# Perfected by the time they write
it down
# They'll doubt that you're real
# Cos we're great at questioning
other people's skill
# Yet we seek it still,
the Mahabharata
# Virgil, Milton, Lucretius, the
epic of Sundjata
# Gilgamesh
# Committed coffin text, yeah
# It's the blind bard we know best
# Is it cos your word was twinned to
empires' wings?
# Or that we touched something deep
# Cos when you boil it down beyond
mythology and God you find something
# That is just so human, do you
# A son in search of a father that
he has lost
# A father trying to get back
to his family at any cost
# A woman that's besieged by men
with bad intentions
# And she does not want to be with
them, but they won't accept it
# Cos there's men and gods,
the pen and its gob
# There's a mind and a mouth that
spout where you dare not
# The poet sings and speaks from
streets to ancient Greece
# Defeat, then, is what you meet
if competing is what you seek
# Whether the beat or lyre strings
# We are leviathans that speak sagas
of this great species of hirelings
# Posing like we're highest kings
# To get as high as wings of
God but we do not
# Do nothing but try a thing
# The poet sees how the falcons sees
a view from the balcony
# No doubting he
# Pages are a alchemy
# And the magician is politician
and prophet
# Premonition we got it
# Television
and pocket couple queens
# That will keep us going flowing
# Yeah, we eat from poems
# If the teacher don't speak,
how could we keep on knowing?
# What these questions to these
answers are
# Curses and our blessings
# Confessions are just how deaf
we are
# And obsessed with death,
despite all our best attempts
# The Odyssean Underworld is the
best we're left
# The same one from the book
of the dead
# Who the myths, millennia hasn't
put them to bed
# Philosophy is not the laws of
motion, logic can't explain emotion
# So it makes sense, we come up with
some other type of notion
# A myth is not a lie,
it's a disguise from the truth
# So the wise can recite
to the youth
# If the lines in our rhymes
are to find any use
# It's the tries of our mind to
decipher the clues
# Give my mind this thing called
# Season the rhythms, turn of the
earth to announce the beginning
# Look how we bounce on the rhythm
# Man could rap about all of the
# Whole of your humanity, whole of
the galaxy
# You want to talk about cars,
that's fine
# Yes, you could say
it is a chariot
# Carried on the wings of the night,
even Zeus don't attack the skies
# Where the truth
in the chapter lies
# I don't know,
it's just a fact of life.
# The search of the journey,
permanent purgatory
# Driven a Finca from Inca to
# So what you gonna do?
You gonna search?
# Or gonna stand on the side
and rehearse?
# There's finding the time since
your birth is so insignificant
# There's barely any worth
# Yeah, the heroes, faces are
# If you listen you will hear what
they're shouting
# They ain't telling you to listen
to the doubting
# They're trying to get us ready for
the outing
# But you would swear poets are
# But we're not the same
I assure you
# Cos we make words and portals, 26
letters and we will teleport you
# We're not the same, I assure you
# 26 letters and we will
teleport you
# Why is the story told?
# What is the teller's mission?
# What is the ultimate source of our
deepest intuition?
# Why does the audience come
and why did they listen?
# The blind bard's vision
# Why is the story told?
# What is the teller's mission?
# What is the ultimate source of our
deepest intuition?
# Why does the audience come
and why did they listen?
# Blind bard's vision
# The blind bard's vision
# The blind bard's vision
# The blind bard's vision
# Blind bard's vision... #