References to Homer’s Odyssey in Popular Culture

Homer’s Odyssey, along with its prequel the Iliad, are the first works of literature in the Western World. The Odyssey is the story of Odysseus, the King of Ithaca and his long and difficult journey to return home after the Trojan War.

It is fair to say that the very word “odyssey” has entered the English language as a synonym for any long and hard journey. References to the Odyssey are almost endemic in popular culture and film.

For example James Joyce’s 1922 “Ulysses” has direct correspondences with the themes and characters of Homer’s work. Ulysses being the Latin name for Odysseus.

It isn’t just the West that was influenced by the Odyssey; some of the stories about Sinbad the Sailor in “A Thousand and One Arabian Nights” were lifted directly from Homer.

A 1954 Broadway Musical, “The Golden Apple” was adapted from both the Iliad and the Odyssey, but relocated to the State of Washington after the Spanish-American War.

Of course perhaps the best known direct reference to the Odyssey is the Stanley Kubrick directed classic Science Fiction movie: 2001: a Space Odyssey with the nominal hero surviving by himself after several trials, including the outer space equivalent of a shipwreck.

Homer’s Odyssey was the first full length episode of “the Simpsons” written. It was the third to be produced. The episode originally aired on Fox Sunday night on January 21, 1990. Besides the name, the show has no plot elements borrowed from the original Odyssey. However, in “The Simpsons” 13th season the show did do a send up version of The Odyssey.

The 1997 novel Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier was inspired by the work of Homer and follows the plot closely, but moved to the South in the American Civil War. As the main character struggles to return home after he is wounded. The book was adapted for the screen in 2003 the movie version starred Nicole Kidman, Jude Law and Renée Zellweger in the lead roles

There was the Made for TV 1997 mini-series of Homer’s work that starred Armand Assante and Isabella Rossellini.

The Coen Brothers’ 2000 film O Brother, Where Art Thou? was based, however loosely, on The Odyssey.

The Steely Dan song: “Home at Last” from the album “Aja” features an unnamed Odysseus as the narrator.

The American metal Band Symphony X made a 24 minute long musical version of the poem titles The Odyssey.

These are only a few of the multiple cultural references to The Odyssey.


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