MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
Long before "The Simpsons" made Homer a household name, another and very different Homer achieved a measure of celebrity - the Greek poet Homer, who was thought to have lived in the 8th century B.C., gets credit for writing the epic poems "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey."
STAMIN LAMBARDO: (Reading) (Greek Spoken)
NORRIS: That's Professor Stanley Lambardo of the University of Kansas, reading the ancient Greek text. Lambardo also translated the poems to English.
Commentator Andrei Codrescu listened to that new translation on a recent long car trip. He wonders how the poems might have been greeted by the original audience.
ANDREI CODRESCU: An ancient Greek audience listened all night to Homer. In the morning, minds full of Calypso's senior's hips, searched beguiling seize songs of globular delight - the clang of terrible weapons and most of all a world classical hangover. Your typical Homeric audience struggled home through the dew fresh grass of the Aegean hills transformed into believers in epic poetry. Before sleep, they rested their bloodshot eyes upon the wine purple sea and beseeched Athena to kill them on the spot.
We were not your typical Homeric audience for, one reason only. We were driving and drinking no wine. And much wine passes the lips of Homeric heroes. In ought of a situation, Odysseus finds himself with a dreadful storm stirred up by divine jealousy or a pleasant surprise feast given in his honor by people awed by his tales, wine is called for and drunk. When supplies ran low, first wine then oil are carefully measured. Homer himself, in recounting both the tales and the adventures of his hero, calls for libations before each new story.
Between the libations required by Homer and those required by Odysseus, (unintelligible) Odysseus host, flows a prodigious river of wine. Listening to the ritual repetitions of raising the wine cups and rosy-fingered dance, upon wine purple seas, I have the distinct impression that Greek audiences listening to Homer raised wine cups to their lips every time wine was invoked. Listeners to a nightlong marathon of Homeric tales must have emptied carafes and (unintelligible) of Dionysian brew.
They drank right along with Homer and Homer's heroes until the rosy fingers of dawn pinch their bursting heads in a vice. Spectating is not without price. We could feel, even as we drove through Greek-like Arkansas, hills dotted with ancient wandering sheep, the deep urge to take long and refreshing gulps of vino. Had we been listening around the bonfire, we would have doubtlessly done just that. As it were we consoled ourselves at flashbacks.
The Greek world, rife with wandering nymphs and spotted magic isles over a sea populated by creatures who have long ago taken refuge in our unconscious, is still connected to us by a flowing river of wine. It occurs to me that in Homer's day the flow of the wine must also have been the monopoly of the storyteller. The Homeric wine concession paid for the storyteller's travels. Then, as now, storytellers need a sideline and none is better than wine when the story itself is full of wine.
NORRIS: Andrei Codrescu was a professor of English at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.
MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
A new biography of a singular genius, Einstein his life and universe. That's coming up next on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.