The Lost Books of the Odyssey - By Zachary Mason



1 A Sad Revelation

2 The Other Assassin

3 The Stranger

4 Guest Friend

5 Agamemnon and the Word

6 Penelope’s Elegy

7 Bacchae

8 Achilles and Death

9 One Kindness

10 Fugitive

11 A Night in the Woods

12 Decrement

13 Epiphany

14 Fragment

15 The Myrmidon Golem

16 Three Iliums

17 Sirens

18 The Iliad of Odysseus

19 Killing Scylla

20 Death and the King

21 Helen’s Image

22 Bright Land

23 Islands on the Way

24 Odysseus in Hell

25 The Book of Winter

26 Blindness

27 No Man’s Wife

28 Phoenician

29 Intermezzo

30 Victory Lament

31 Athena in Death

32 Stone Garden

33 Cassandra’s Rule

34 Principia Pelagica

35 Epigraph

36 A Mote in Oceanic Darkness

37 Athena’s Weave

38 The Long Way Back

39 Ocean’s Disc

40 Sanatorium

41 Fireworks

42 Record of a Game

43 Alexander’s Odyssey

44 Last Islands


Despite its complexity, a handful of images are central to the Odyssey—black ships drawn up on a white beach, a cannibal ogre guarding a cave mouth, a man searching a trackless sea for a home that forgot him. Nearly three millennia ago a particular ordering of these images crystallized into the Odyssey as we know it, but before that the Homeric material was formless, fluid, its elements shuffled into new narratives like cards in a deck. Echoes of the other Odysseys survive in Hellenistic friezes, on Cycladic funerary urns, and in a pre-Ptolemaic papyrus excavated from the desiccated rubbish mounds of Oxyrhynchus; this last contains forty-four concise variations on Odysseus’s story that omit stock epic formulae in favor of honing a single trope or image down to an extreme of clarity. I hope that this translation reflects the haunted light of Homer’s older islands, where the familiar characters are arranged in new tableaux, but soon become restless, mercurial—they turn their backs, forget their names, move on.






Odysseus comes back to Ithaca in a little boat on a clear day. The familiarity of the east face of the island seems absurd—bemused, he runs a tricky rip current he has not thought about in fifteen years and lands by the mouth of a creek where he swam as a boy. All his impatience leaves him and he sits under an oak he remembers whose branches overhang the water, good for diving. Twenty years have gone by, he reflects, what are a few more minutes. An hour passes in silence and it occurs to him that he is tired and might as well go home, so he picks up his sword and walks toward his house, sure that whatever obstacles await will be minor compared to what he has been through.

The house looks much as it did when he left. He notices that the sheep byre’s gate has been mended. A rivulet of smoke rises from the chimney. He steals lightly in, hand on sword, thinking how ridiculous it would be to come so far and lose everything in a moment of carelessness.

Within, Penelope is at her loom and an old man drowses by the fire. Odysseus stands in the doorway for a while before Penelope notices him and shrieks, dropping her shuttle and before she draws another breath running and embracing him, kissing him and wetting his cheeks with her tears. Welcome home, she says into his chest.

The man by the fire stands up looking possessive and pitifully concerned and in an intuitive flash Odysseus knows that this is her husband. The idea is absurd—the man is soft, grey and heavy, no hero and never was one, would not have lasted an hour in the blinding glare before the walls of Troy. He looks at Penelope to confirm his guess and notices how she has aged—her hips wider, her hair more grey than not, the skin around her eyes traced with fine wrinkles. Without the eyes of homecoming there is only an echo of her beauty. She steps back from him and traces a deep scar on his shoulder and her wonder and the old man’s fear become a mirror—he realizes that with his blackened skin, tangled beard and body lean and hard from years of war he looks like a reaver, a revenant, a wolf of the sea.

Willfully composed, Penelope puts her hand on his shoulder and says that he is most welcome in his hall. Then her face collapses into tears and she says she did not think he was coming back, had been told he was dead these last eight years, had given up a long time ago, had waited as long as she could, longer than anyone thought was right.

He had spent the days of his exile imagining different homecoming scenarios but it had never occurred to him that she would just give