Harry Mount’s Odyssey: Ancient Greece in the Footsteps of Odysseus

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An ancient and a modern odyssey come together in this unusual book, which tells of the wanderings of the author, Harry Mount, and those of the Homeric Odysseus.

Mount is quintessentially English, complete with humour and hat. He had a traditional, classical education at Westminster School and Magdalen College, Oxford. He found banking and law uninspiring careers, and chose journalism instead, writing regularly for The Spectator, The Daily Mail, and The Daily Telegraph. Mount has also had books published, a particularly popular example of his work being Amo, Amas, Amat… and All That (Shorter Books).

Homer’s The Odyssey relates Odysseus’ long journey home from fighting in the Trojan War, which Mount chooses to follow. Odysseus was an outstanding Greek hero, described by Homer as “great hearted, god-like, and lord of men”. I’m sure we can cast no aspersions on Mount’s opinion of himself by the fact he decided to replicate the same odyssey!

In a laconic and entertaining style, littered with personal anecdotes, Mount guides his readers from Troy through ancient Greece, making sure they are safe from the dangers of Calypso, the Cyclops, Scylla and Charybdis, and the Sirens; all of whom presented grave dangers to Odysseus. The journey ends at Ithaca, Odysseus’ homeland where his wife, Penelope, and his son, Telemachus, have waited many a long year for his return. His dog, Argos, overjoyed at the sight of him, died on the spot.

Mount holds the reader’s interest as he makes an erudite examination of Christianity, the Greek language and its dialects, punctuation and alphabet, democracy, philosophy, Greek sculpture, architecture, and even vase painting. His chapter on the very nature of epics and Homeric problems is illuminating and the chapter on the identification of Priam’s Troy is very clear.

Mythology and ancient heroes will forever remain mysterious, but Mount has risen to the challenge well. It matters not that he had to be rescued from an attempt to swim the Hellespont and finished the Marathon in a taxi; this is an excellent book, and well-illustrated by some 19th century drawings and photographs. The map of Odysseus’ travels is helpful and including a potted history is a good idea.

I look forward to another book by this author, who respects our classical heritage.

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