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Daylong ‘Odyssey’ event to feature community, campus readers

“Arts Unplugged,” a new series of events sponsored by the College of Arts and Sciences, will kick off April 26 with “The Odyssey in Ithaca,” a daylong community reading of a new translation of Homer’s “Odyssey” featuring campus and community members.

Readers for the event, which runs from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the Groos Family Atrium of Klarman Hall, will include students, faculty and staff from Cornell, Ithaca College and Binghamton University; local middle and high school students; and community members.

“Our faculty and students are exploring, researching and creating new terrains of human understanding and experience across the college every day,” said Ray Jayawardhana, the Harold Tanner Dean of Arts and Sciences. “Our new series celebrates their work and provides a platform to share it with our community. And what better way to kick off the series than with a reading of this classic work in the beautiful Klarman Hall space.”

“Arts Unplugged” is a celebration of the arts, humanities, social sciences and science that takes these topics beyond the classroom and into the community. The series will feature several special events each semester.

The idea for the “Odyssey” event was developed by Athena Kirk, assistant professor of classics, who wanted to bring the experience of the poem to a wider audience.

Readers will be using a new translation of Homer’s “Odyssey” by Emily Wilson, the first translation by a woman. The “Odyssey” tells the tale of a man’s turbulent travels home from war and the characters he meets along the way.

“This poem is often thought of as a monolith, a piece of literature about and for a certain elite subset of the population,” Kirk said. “But Wilson’s translation highlights the wide range of human experience that exists in the original. Reading her text together in public draws that diversity into the present and makes this a poem for everyone.

“This event also highlights our local connection to Odysseus’ native land and reminds us that so much of the ‘journey’ happens right at home – half of the poem takes place once he has reached Ithaca,” Kirk said. “We will hear this old poem through the voices and faces of today’s Ithaca, amidst ancient statue casts and lunchtime banqueters, with listeners coming and going throughout the day – a modern reimagining of an ancient epic performance.”

Many of the readers will be Cornell students in the classics and English departments.

“The event is a splendid way to transform Ithaca into a choral island, if only for a few hours,” said Ishion Hutchinson, associate professor of English and another organizer of the event. “Even though a single individual will read at a time, each voice will enter another, then another, then another and accumulate into a chorus. We can’t take for granted or lightly the power of the human voice, elevated together in what is a celebration of home and homecoming.”

Annie P. Lewandowski, senior lecturer in the Department of Music, has created a soundscape to accompany the reading of Book Twelve of the Odyssey, which tells the story of the sirens. Lewandowski’s work is supported by the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future.

Coffee and cookies will be served from 10-11 a.m.; a wine and cheese reception will be from 4:30-6 p.m.

The event is open to the public; audience members are free to attend for any part of the reading at any time of day. Learn more about Emily Wilson’s translation here.

Kathy Hovis is a writer for the College of Arts and Sciences.

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Gillian Smith