Odysseus, Book Two: The Return
The second in Valerio Massimo Manfredi’s Odysseus novels recounts the return voyage of the hero and the crewmen of his seven ships from war-ravaged Troy to their homeland in Ithaca. They are repeatedly blown off course by storms into a magical and ominous world of lotus eaters, cyclops, cannibals, witches and sirens. Odysseus is dogged by his reckless challenge to the sea-god Poseidon and the unreliable support and appearances of his favourite goddess, Athena. Again and again his curiosity puts them all in danger and his ingenuity gets them out of it, but little by little the seven ships and all their men are lost, leaving Odysseus alone, washed ashore naked. The winners of the Trojan War come out the losers as Agamemnon is murdered on his return by his wife Clytemnestra, Odysseus is lost for ten more years on the journey home, and the long absence of the Greek kings and warriors contributes to the eventual decline of their civilization. Odysseus reaches home halfway through Manfredi’s book but then has to set out on another ill-fated journey in an attempt to appease Poseidon.
There are long stretches of vivid, hallucinatory description but very little dialogue or dramatisation to engage the reader. The men accompanying Odysseus never emerge as fully rounded characters so that it is difficult to empathise with Odysseus’ grief and psychological torment. Manfredi tells the story in the first person, producing Odysseus’ stream of consciousness. He depicts Odysseus’ melancholic struggles with fate, mortality and the nightmarish aftermaths of war.