Literary Mixtape: Odysseus


If you’ve ever wondered what your favorite literary characters might be listening to while they save the world/contemplate existence/get into trouble, or hallucinated a soundtrack to go along with your favorite novels, well, us too. But wonder no more! Here, we sneak a look at the hypothetical iPods of some of literature’s most interesting characters. What would be on the personal playlists of Holden Caulfield or Elizabeth Bennett, Huck Finn or Harry Potter, Tintin or Humbert Humbert? Something revealing, we bet. Or at least something danceable. Read on for a cozy reading soundtrack, character study, or yet another way to emulate your favorite literary hero. This week: everyone’s favorite king of Ithaca, Homer’s Odysseus.

Homer’s Odysseus is one of the most influential characters in our literary history — just ask James Joyce. A fierce warrior who seems always to have Athena at his heels, it was he who came up with that Trojan horse idea, leading to a Greek victory in the Trojan War. Indeed, Odysseus’ most heroic trait, aside from his skill at war, is his intelligence and cunning, but his epic downfall is, like so many before him, his hubris.

His pride causes him no small amount of trouble — in The Odyssey, Homer’s epic poem about Odysseus’ postwar journey home, Odysseus is smart enough to tell the Cyclops that his name is “nobody” so that when his compatriots hear him crying out “nobody is hurting me!” they won’t come to his aid — but proud enough that, when they escape, he feels the need to yell out his name in triumph, and the blinded Cyclops runs straight to daddy, who happens to be Poseidon. Whoops.

The upshot of this (at least for the reader) is that we get to journey with Odysseus in a kind of forced wanderlust, ten years of travel and wonders before he finally makes it home to his family. Odysseus is a seafaring man, but also a complex one, so we think he’d listen to a mixture of wandering warrior tracks and a few ballads about home. Here’s what we think he would blind the cyclops, shack up with Calypso, and shoot an arrow through a dozen axe heads to.

Stream the mixtape here.

“The World at Large” — Modest Mouse

We know Odysseus is kind of a bro, but we heard bros like Modest Mouse now, and we think he’d put this song on constant rotation during his ten-year sea journey home, if only to reassure himself: “I like songs about drifters, books about the same/ They both seem to make me feel a little less insane…”

“Seabeast” — Mastodon

Sure, this could soundtrack Odysseus’ many battles with the monsters of the deep, but we think a modern Odysseus would have gotten into this album more for his love of Melville’s Moby Dick than to remind himself of his own struggles. Yes, modern Odysseus reads Moby Dick.

“Hoochie Coochie Man” — Muddy Waters

We think Odysseus would dig him some blues — and we think our playboy of the Mediterranean world would especially go in for self-aggrandizing blues about being destined to be a badass.

“We Are the Champions” — Queen

After all, he and his men did just totally sack Troy.

“Carrion” — British Sea Power

We think Odysseus would relate to this story of an epic sea journey filled with mixed emotions. “Carry on inside of your heart/ Under the brine you won’t notice the dark/ Can stone and steel and horses heels/ Ever explain the way you feel?” No, no, they can’t, man.

“Wraith Pinned to The Mist and Other Games” — Of Montreal

We don’t know. We just think he’d like it.

“Psychotic Girl” — The Black Keys

Required listening for spending seven years as the sex slave of Calypso. Sure, she’s psychotic, but the whole thing is also undeniably sexy… for a while anyway. Keep your head, Odysseus.

“Red Flag” — Billy Talent

For literally drowning out the sirens.

“Next Year” — Foo Fighters

A ballad for a homesick Odysseus, hoping that every year will be the year he makes it home.

“Home at Last” — Steely Dan

We imagine Odysseus singing this song to himself when he finally makes it home to his beloved Penelope: “the danger on the rocks is surely past/ Still I remain tied to the mast/ Could it be that I have found my home at last…”