Last friday night, the University of Dallas classics club invited Joe Goodkin, a modern day bard, to perform his own musical version of the “Odyssey.”
The event opened up with two talks, the first by Dr. Jerise Fogel, classics and general humanities professor at Montclair State University, and the second by Dr. Andrew Becker, associate professor of Latin and ancient Greek languages, literatures and cultures at Virginia Tech. Both gave introductions to the basics of reading poetry with a focus on Greek and Latin.
Having studied classics at the University of Wisconsin for his undergraduate, Goodkin was inspired by the classical languages to perform the “Odyssey.”:
“It was a real emotional response to the language,” Goodkin said. “It was kind of like a time machine that lets you travel backwards and have a real human connection with people long ago.”
Once he graduated, he wanted to combine his classics degree and a music career in order to recreate his favorite scene of the “Odyssey” from book eight: when Odysseus starts weeping while listening to Demodocus sing. For him, this scene portrays the power of epic poetry that is absent when it is only being read.
“There’s a real-time human interaction that happens when you’re in a room receiving a performance that fascinates me,” Goodkin said.
After giving his intro, Goodkin sat down on a stool with his acoustic guitar, closed his eyes, and passionately began to take us on a journey through the “Odyssey.”
Instead of books, he divided his composition into songs, starting with an invocation titled “Who Am I?” which captures the theme of identity with which he chose to interpret the epic. This is the only song out of the twenty-four that features Greek lyrics, which when translated into english mean “wine dark sea.” Goodkin said that the sea was Odysseus’ “companion and combatant” throughout the epic.
Each song ended with a brief pause, and the new one began with a slight change of key and tempo. One of the songs called “Blues in B” recounts Odysseus telling the story of his journey to King Alcinous, and the lyrics are particularly moving:
“Seems like so much of my praying’s been done in vain / I walked the roads to reach the sea / But through it all the world never got the best of me.”
“It’s crazy that people would listen to a song about the ‘Odyssey’ in 2018,” Goodkin said.
It may be crazy, but it also seems like a great way to make the classic story accessible to more people, who may not be interested in reading Greek epics in the first place.
“It would be a good introduction for non-classicists,” senior Mary Spencer said. “To tell the ‘Odyssey’ in song and as performance seems like a natural way to tell the story.”