how many have you read?

rollover books for details

  • Dante | Inferno
  • Thoreau | Walden
  • Sophocles | Oedipus Rex
  • Kafka | Metamorphosis
  • Melville | Moby-Dick
  • Shakespeare | Hamlet
  • Homer | The Odyssey
  • Austen | Pride and Prejudice
  • Bronte | Jane Eyre
  • Steinbeck | Of Mice and Men

the number 4 pick

In this clip, Beena Kamlani, Senior Editor, Viking Penguin, and John Sharp, Production Manager, talk about Homer's classic work. Click here to watch the complete twenty-minute video program, The Ten Essential Penguin Classics, highlighting each of the essential books.

The Odyssey

The Odyssey
ISBN 9780143039952 | $16.00 |

John also sent us these thoughts about why Homer's epic poem is essential...

Why It's a Classic:
Homer's Odyssey centers on the fallibility of one man who, despite his shortcomings, elicits from the reader the wish for a safe homecoming after ten years of war. Odysseus, a man who once feigned madness to avoid participation in the Trojan War, is in other regards far from perfect: He tricks and blinds Polyphemus with a hot firebrand, he insists on hearing the Sirens' voices, and he lives with Calypso despite the fact that his wife Penelope meanwhile continuously creates and undoes the work of her loom so as to put off the motley crowd of suitors who desire her hand while her husband is absent. Odysseus waits until the opportune time to reveal himself and rout the suitors, having been recognized only by his nurse and his dog (who, upon recognizing his master, promptly dies). The idea of homecoming foreshadows the theme in Shakespeare's Romances, and the idea of recognition anticipates the same themes in Shakespeare's King Lear.

A classic is a work that tears at the reader's emotions and leaves the reader undecided about what kind of final verdict to render about the goodness of a particular character. A classic also manages to introduce themes (in this case, homecoming and recognition) that break ground for later literature.

In the end, the reader remains undecided about Odysseus' moral fiber. Odysseus is vindictive and deceitful and yet we want him to come home. A classic creates this tension in the reader.

What It Influenced:
Shakespeare with the themes of renewal (The Winter's Tale) and recognition (King Lear).

Another Great Book By This Author:
The Iliad

Contemporary Example of the Theme/Story:
Tom Hanks in Cast Away.

Visit the Penguin Classics Website | Sign up to the Penguin Classics Newsletter