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It was epic: Creighton students, faculty take part in marathon reading of The Odyssey

At ten minutes to three o’clock on Thursday, Jackie Florick, a Creighton University senior chemistry and art history major pronounced these words to about a dozen of her fellow students standing outside Reinert-Alumni Memorial Library: “What land is this? What neighborhood is this? What people is this?”

And for 40 more minutes, Florick went on a musing trip through Ithaca in Book 13 of Homer’s Odyssey as part of Creighton’s first Homerathon, a marathon reading of the epic poem first uttered by the blind Greek poet some four millennia ago. Florick was one of about 40 Creighton students, faculty and Jesuits who, together, read aloud the entirety of the poem, starting at 6 a.m. on April 6 and concluding around 9 p.m. that night.

“It doesn’t feel like I was up there for 45 minutes,” said Florick, her portion complete. “You get going and you get lost in the text. It’s a larger-than-life kind of feeling. I’m glad we’re doing something like this at Creighton. Reading The Odyssey for a class is one thing, this really makes it come alive, like it was originally meant to be heard.”

Homerathon was organized by sophomore classical languages major Hannah Pulverenti, who said she was inspired by Kyle Helms, PhD, a resident assistant professor in the Department of Classical and Near Eastern Studies, who had participated in similar events at other institutions.

“It sounded like a fun event that could get people interested in reading a classic,” said Pulverenti, who stood a post for all 15 hours of the reading, setting sail on the wine-dark sea in the half-light of dawn and wrapping up in darkness as Odysseus slew his wife’s boorish suitors while Athena begged the Ithacans to show mercy on the weary traveler. “Once classes let out, we’ve seen a lot of people just stop by for a minute or two and hear a portion of the story. It’s ebbed and flowed all day.”

With the help of members of Eta Sigma Phi, the Honorary Society for Classical Studies, and friends like Florick, Pulverenti created helpful posters as the reading went along. The signs let everyone know what book was being read — The Odyssey has been divided into 24 books — and what the main action in the book was.

And like Odysseus, Pulverenti and the readers received aid from other quarters in the form of the mild spring weather and sunshine.

“We couldn’t have asked for a better day to do this,” Pulverenti said.

Florick’s portion of the story keys on Odysseus, the Man of Sorrows, as he wends his solitary way, unrecognized, through his homeland of Ithaca, encountering the natives, spinning yarns of alternately dodging and petitioning and inveigling the gods, feasting and regaling the “glorious swineherd” Eumaeus.

There are several references to the “gray-eyed Athena” and some candid descriptions of the butchering of pigs for a feast, both of which provided different points of resonance for Florick.

“I haven’t eaten meat in 10 years, so there were a few moments where I was saying to myself, ‘He’s really not shorting us on the details here,’” she said. “And I have gray eyes. Growing up, I thought they just looked like dirty dishwater, but my mom, who’s an English teacher, always told me, ‘No, you’ve got eyes like gray-eyed Athena.’ That’s always been really cool to me.”

Going forward, Pulverenti said she hopes to make Homerathon a regular event and hopes she might find brave souls willing to tackle The Odyssey’s lengthier prequel, The Iliad.

“I’d definitely like to try the The Iliad,” she said. “It is longer, so we decided to go with the shorter of the two, but it makes sense to maybe try it. I’m thinking we could try The Iliad in the fall and The Odyssey in the spring. It’s been a good event. I think people have enjoyed walking by and seeing what’s happening.”

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