The Odyssey's 24-hour journey

Fundraiser reading of Homer's epic raises $19,000

Eli Diamond, of the Dalhousie Department of Classics, reads aloud from the Odyssey's book 22, two hours from the end of the fundraiser.

Last week, a group called Halifax Humanities 101 embarked on a 24-hour voyage through the Odyssey. They kicked off the fundraiser, which earned $19,000, at 7 p.m. on Friday night.

Over the next day, twenty-four teams each read one of the epic's two dozen books, one per hour. The teams boasted university presidents, students, politicians, media celebrities and a myriad of community members.

It was a day (and night) of ships, spears and sirens, a Cyclops and a late night dance party. The casualties were six bottles of wine, 11 pizzas, and 100 of Penelope's unruly suitors.

Halifax Humanities 101 is a program that provides free, non-credit university education for people who live on low incomes, those who wouldn't have the opportunity to study otherwise. Taught by volunteer professors from universities in the Halifax area, the course runs eight months, starting in September. The students meet twice a week, two hours each time, and delve into anything from Dante's Divine Comedy to Renaissance art and architecture.

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Clips of readers throughout the course of the 24-hour fundraiser.

Mary Lu Redden, the director of the program, was told the group needed to have a fundraiser. The foundations that were their regular supporters were cutting back because of the recession, and couldn't give the group as much money as they had in previous years.

Redden browsed around, reading about one fundraiser or another, of walk-a-thons and run-a-thons. But those ideas just didn't fit; they were readers, not runners. Finally, in the middle of October, Redden woke up in the middle of the night with an idea. They would have a read-a-thon. The group was studying the Odyssey at the time, so she picked it up and flipped through the pages. Twenty-four books. Twenty-four hours. It was a perfect fit.

"It snowballed from there, " said Redden. "It's beyond my wildest dreams. It's just gotten so big."

The emails went out, and the joyful people, eager to be part of the event, poured in. Groups were turned away. Some teams signed up with more than 12 people, because everyone wanted a chance to read.

The evening started with about 50 people in the audience, dwindled down to about a dozen overnight (except the 30 people at a spontaneous late-night dance party when the reading moved to a smaller room upstairs) and picked right up again the next day, packing the room once more.

The CBC team was the first to read that night in the University of King's College's Alumni Hall. The room was modeled after the ancient Greek theatres that were carved into hillsides, with seats arranged in curving tiers. Costas Halavrezos, host of CBC radio's Maritime Noon and leader of the team, stood at the lowest level of the room, in front of the blackboards.

Sporting a silk shawl with royal scarlet coloured trim, he read the first lines, "Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns/ driven time and again off course once he had plundered/ the hallowed heights of Troy."

His team didn't hesitate when they were first invited to read, although they never had time to rehearse.

"Frankly, you know, we wouldn't be doing what we are doing for a living if we didn't have access to a university education," said Halavrezos.

Soon after came Premier Darrell Dexter, who read the first 10 minutes of Book Four.

"I enjoyed it immensely," said Dexter. "I was having a little joke - the recounting of these stories and legends that are intertwined like this and read aloud, it's kind of like YouTube for the ancient Greeks."

A student of King's, Amy Silver, was the only person who stayed for the full 24 hours. Although she dozed off now and then, she thought it was important to support those who came out and read, especially the groups that performed so early in the morning.

"How often do you get to see a non-stop, 24-hour poetry reading?"

Kathleen Higney completed the Halifax Humanities program and now goes to a more advanced program exclusively for graduates. She read on Saturday evening, and said, "It felt very real, just as if I was the old man in tattered rags...I think it was very empowering for the students, because we had a chance to do something for ourselves, instead of always waiting for people to do something for us."

The last group to read consisted of Halifax Humanities 101 students and teachers. Sixteen people were crowded around the blackboard at the front of the room. For the last few lines, the 50 or so people in the audience joined them. The room reverberated with their voices and the last few minutes of the 24 hours slipped by.

Comments on this story are now closed

This looks like it was a lot of fun... and definitely for a great cause! Sorry I had to miss it. :0(

Posted by Darlene Morrison | Jan 26, 2022

Could you send me the site for donating Thank-you

Posted by Margibel Jones | Feb 5, 2022