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CHICAGO — William Shakespeare once wrote, “The past is prologue.” In other words, history provides context for the present.  That was the guiding principle behind a recent and rare full reading of Homer’s Odyssey at the National Hellenic Museum in Chicago’s Greektown neighborhood.  

“We want to take these stories from the past and connect them to our current time, so Odysseys journey was a difficult journey which – it’s the story of humanity, really,” Marianne Kountoures, the executive director of the museum, said.  

The museum hosted a two-day “Homer-athon,” in which the entirety of the epic poem The Odyssey was read aloud by students, teachers, museum staff, volunteers, and community members.  

“The story of the Odyssey has so many ups and downs that if you just read it piecemeal sometimes you lose that sense of an emotional roller coaster that comes with reading or hearing the entire text at once,” Prof. Young Richard Kim said. Kim is the head of Classical and Mediterranean Studies at the University of Illinois-Chicago. He participated in the event, which took about 13 hours during a weekend in April.  

For the museum, the theme of the Odyssey – which is the story of the Greek Warrior Odysseus’s journey home after the Trojan war – was fitting for a first public event after the pandemic-driven closure of the museum from March of 2020 to this month.  

“This event is kind of like a homecoming for us in a lot of ways,” Cairo Dye, a staff member at the museum, said. “It’s the first time that we’ve had the public in the museum since March of 2020, which is really remarkable.”  

Homer’s epic dates back more than 2,800 years, but Kim said his words still echo in present day. 

“These poems have themes that really resonate with the human experience: loss, trauma, that longing to be home. Loyalty, foolhardiness, and mistakes, and arrogance and pride – all of these things get wrapped up in these poems,” he said. “So they really kind of touch the human heart in very meaningful ways.”