When I had this documentary first recommended to me, I was sceptical to say the least. I knew that Akala had past experience when it came to putting literary works to music, shown through his role as the founder of the Hip Hop Shakespeare Company, but when I heard that he was looking to retrace the steps of Odysseus as a way to inspire him towards the writing of his own song about the Odyssey, I was unsure about what to make of this.
From the start, however, I found it incredibly interesting. Akala traces the link between the oral nature of Homeric poetry and modern-day rap, exploring the ways in which the didactic poetry of Homer can be translated into modern day music. He links the oral tradition of the epic poets to contemporary music, showing that the relevance of the story in modern culture goes beyond literary study, infiltrating society. Through his journey from the ruins of Troy to the Acropolis and, ultimately, to Ithaca, Akala meets different scholars in order to increase his understanding of the context and the story of Homer’s Odyssey. From archaeologists specialising in the ‘Treasury of Atreus’, the supposed burial place of Agamemnon, to textual scholars such as Durham’s own Barbara Graziosi, Akala looks into the truth behind the text and attempts to gain an understanding of the real world behind the text.
Instead of accepting the narratives at face value, Akala focuses on particular moments, such as the encounter with the cyclops Prometheus, and the accuracy behind these tales. From the mythological stories surrounding the figure of Homer, to the debatable location of the homeland of Odysseus, Ithaca, Akala explores the more debatable parts of the epic and analyses their potentially deeper meanings. A key example of this is Akala’s questioning of whether the tale of Prometheus serves as an analogy for the spread of imperialism amongst the Greek states, the fear of expansionism and the clash of cultures that stemmed from this.
Ultimately, Akala writes a powerful, individual piece that reflects his feelings towards the poetic epic and his new-found understanding of the text and the story. Altogether, this is a very good documentary which reflects the personal side of the Akala’s interpretation and presents a new way of reading into and understanding Homer’s story. First shown on 18th February, Akala’s Odyssey is available on BBC iPlayer until the 20th of March.