By Michael Yim, 14, Palisades HS
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Illustration by Matt Jones, 17, L.A.C.E.S.

Last summer I found out I had to read the Odyssey before school started. It was a requirement of the Humanitas program at Palisades High School, a special program that is supposed to teach us, "What does it mean to be human?"

My first thought was: "It won’t be hard because I’ve got all summer." But I already knew The Odyssey was a long ancient Greek story that used poetic language. I started reading it, a little bit each day, and it wasn’t as boring as I feared!

One day while I was playing Super Smash Brothers on the Nintendo 64 with a friend, he asked me, "By the way, did you start that thick Odyssey book?" I told him I was up to the eighth chapter. I asked him the same question, but he changed the subject. I guess my friends are not the reading type, but rather the "hang around with friends and play video games" type.

I know it doesn’t interest my friends, but reading has always fascinated me. There is so much you can learn from the words of a book. When you read, you have to think more and use your imagination. Classics are my favorites because they have deeper meanings and they teach lessons—lessons that are not as profoundly taught in contemporary books. Sometimes I have a feeling that time is moving too fast for me. There are so many goals I want to accomplish, and so many things I want to do. But I think the best way to make use of time is by reading classic books like The Odyssey. It was perhaps one of the first written books in the history of mankind. Homer, the blind poet who wrote The Odyssey, was believed to have written the book between 800 and 700 B.C.!

I was astounded as I read the book. It was amazing to me that I could read what Homer wrote more than 2,000 years ago. I was able to visualize how they lived at that time. The format was totally different from that of other books. It was a long, epic poem rather than a story. There were lots of names which made the story confusing to follow. But after 50 pages, I soon got used to it.

The story is about Odysseus, the King of Ithaca, who was on his way back to his homeland after the end of the Trojan War. Brave and courageous though he was, there were many obstacles that kept him from his destination, including monsters, witches, and strange creatures. Would Odysseus outwit them? I can still picture the scene where Odysseus outsmarted a Cyclops. Said Odysseus: "I drove my big hand spike deep in the embers, charring it again, and cheered my men along with battle talk to keep their courage up: no quitting now. The pike of olive, green though it had been, reddened and glowed as if about to catch."

This was a critical moment for Odysseus and his fellow shipmates. One step to victory but one wrong step would cause death. The pike of olive was used to burn the Cyclops’ eye while he was asleep, and luckily this plan succeeded.

The sirens sang to him

I also liked the story of the sirens. Said Odysseus to his shipmates: "Seirenes weaving a haunting song over the sea we are to shun, and their green shore all sweet with clover; yet I alone should listen to their song. Therefore you are to tie me up, tight as a splint, erect along the mast and if I shout and beg to be untied, take more turns of the rope to muffle me." Odysseus was curious to listen to the song of the Seirenes which lured listeners to their deaths.

I think Odysseus is brave and smart, but at the same time, he is proud. If Odysseus came to my school he would probably get on my nerves after a while because he would think he’s all that. I could see him hanging out with the girls, showing off his muscles or maybe playing sports. If he needed me for something, he’d probably be nice to me, but as soon as he was done, he would drop me again.

In my eighth grade class, there was a student who was as arrogant as Odysseus, but instead of being successful he got bad grades. He was just a proud fool who knew nothing. One day in U.S. History class we were reading a chapter diligently when all of a sudden he came in the room wearing a judo uniform with a white belt on (meaning he’s a beginner). It was ridiculous—he was walking up and down the aisles showing off while other students just sat at their desks, laughing. Is that something to be proud of? A white belt?

The Odyssey has not taught me what it means to be human, but it has taught me a good lesson which can be applied anywhere. It taught me that it is okay to be proud, as long as you have the success to back it up. If you have a lot of pride, but no success to go with it, you are just a jerk.