Since the 8th century BCE, Homer’s haunting epic poem, The Odyssey, has spoken to audiences about what it means to struggle and endure as human beings. The Greek poem follows the hero Odysseus on his action-packed journey home after fighting in the ten-year Trojan War. As he encounters numerous obstacles along the way—from one-eyed giants to fantastical enchantresses—Odysseus’ wife Penelope assumes the leadership of his kingdom in his absence, warding off pressure from suitors eager to assume his wealth and power. Meanwhile, her son Telemachus sets off on his own voyage of (self) discovery to determine the fate of his father.
Almost every reader has some kinship with the archetypal characters and situations that The Odyssey represents, and this October, the Library Foundation of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Public Library invite readers across the city to rethink one of literature’s classic and heroic stories: The Odyssey. Throughout the month, the Foundation and Library will present The L.A. Odyssey Project, a month-long city-wide quest to consider what Homer’s epic tale of adventure and endurance means to Los Angeles readers today.
The L.A. Odyssey Project will journey into each of the neighborhoods of Los Angeles to explore the intimate connections between literature, history, science and the humanities to understand The Odyssey in the light of living in Southern California today. “The grand themes of The Odyssey can be retold for every generation because they provide cautionary tales and inspiration in the face of extreme adversity,” explains Rebecca Rickman, the Executive Producer of the project. “The difficulties—both physical and metaphysical—of reintegration which Odysseus encounters on the journey and with his family and his community upon his return to Ithaca—bear an uncanny resemblance to the problems facing our own troops coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan. We saw this parallel as a golden opportunity to demonstrate how narrow the gap is between the ancient past and the present.”
The multi-faceted and multi-disciplinary project will feature a range of ways for audiences to experience the ancient text. From epic bicycle rides, to the re-imagining of a classical Greek vase by artist Peter Shire (pictured above and below) depicting the tale of Odysseus in L.A., to a special look at Homer-inspired films, The L.A. Odyssey Project will offer contemporary audiences the chance to draw their own conclusions about the relevance of Homer in their lives.
Librarians across 15 branches of the Los Angeles Public Library system will envision over 70 events for patrons of all ages. From building Greek vases (pictured throughout this post) with 3D printers to an odyssey through space with Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientists, from reading clubs for all ages to Cyclops puppet shows, library patrons across the Southland will have the opportunity to engage with the story like never before.
“From Venice to Eagle Rock, San Pedro to Sylmar, our patrons and library staff had such a great time exploring Moby Dick together as a community last year, that we are thrilled to do the same with The Odyssey,” said City Librarian John F. Szabo. “As the cultural hub of our city, the Los Angeles Public Library is the ideal place to rediscover and rethink classic and influential pieces of literature.”
In honor of the oral tradition that allowed Homer to capture the story in writing, the project will culminate on Saturday, October 25 with a seven-hour marathon recitation of the poem by the public at the Central Library. Learn more about this reading, and all the other events upon which you can embark during October at lfla.org/odyssey and stay tuned on this blog for more details.