The Classic Journey
Daniel Mendelsohn and Bernhard Ellefsen
”And so a few weeks later, in June, full of our recent immersion in the text of the Homeric epic, we took the cruise, which lasted ten days in all, one day for each year of Odysseys’ long journey home.”
Daniel Mendelsohn is a Classics professor, and teaches his students the classical epic The Oddysey. One spring, his 81 year old father decides to audit his classes. But what kind of hero was Oddyseus, really? his father asks critically – a hero who both lied and cheated on his wife!
This is the starting point for Mendelsohn’s memoir An Oddysey: a Father, a Son, and an Epic. Like the classical story he writes up against, Mendelsohn paints a nuanced portrait of the relationship between father and son. Together, they decide to follow in Oddyseus’s footsteps, setting out on a modern sea journey in the form of a theme cruise, from Troy in today’s Turkey to Odysseus’s hometown Ithaca as their final destination.
Mendelsohn shows us why it is still relevant to read classical texts today. When his father breaks his leg, it is the first in a line of unfortunate events which Mendelsohn interprets within a classical framework. As a writer, he enters into dialogue with the Bible, with Proust and now Homer. This is not the first time Mendelsohn used himself and his own family history in his writing: In the non fiction book The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million, he traces his family members’ destiny in the Holocaust. For this book, he was awarded the National Book Critics Circle Award.
A well known critic in the New York Book Review and New York Magazine, Mendelsohn has also published the essay collection Waiting for the Barbarians. Literary critic in Morgenbladet Bernhard Ellefsen is currently working on a book about death and grief, where he makes use of Classical literature as a tool with which to think. He will meet Daniel Mendelsohn for a conversation about walking in the footsteps of the Classics.