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Introduction to The Odyssey

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1 Introduction to The Odyssey
What was the Age of Heroes? Who was Homer? What is an Epic Poem? The Iliad and The Odyssey Odysseus in Literature

2 Time Line 1600 - 1100 BCE Heroic Age: Flourishing of Greek Empire
1193 BCE City of Troy is destroyed 1100 – 750 Dark Age 750 – Renaissance of Greek Empire: Time of Homer and Hesiod. 500 – Rise and Fall of Athens Golden Age of Greece. Persian and Peloponnesian Wars 400 – Macedonian Invasion under Alexander the Great. End of Greek Empire.

3 The Age of Heroes                  The Greek Empire dates back to around 1600 BCE. From BCE, the empire flourished, but then went into a dark age that lasted until around 750 BCE. Hesiod has a description of life during this time, which we’ll read in Works and Days.

4 The Age of Heroes The city of Troy (see map) was destroyed around 1193 BCE, likely by Greeks seeking trade routes through the Dardanelles. The Iliad and The Odyssey, Homer’s immortal epic poems, are about the Trojan War. The epics are part of the historical credo of ancient Greece because they tell of a time when the Greek city-states were unified and powerful politically.

5 The Age of Heroes In these poems, Greeks are referred to as: Achaeans; Argives; Danaans, or Myceneans, representing different city or island states of the Greek empire.* Troy is referred to as Ilium, one of the names of this ancient city. Menelaus: Sparta Achilles: Thessaly Nestor: Pylos Agamemnon: Mycenaean Odysseus: Ithaca

6 The Age of Heroes The epics also tell of the strength and cultural fortitude of the individual, embodied by Greek heroes, notably, Odysseus. The Greek empire is later torn by civil wars, known as the Peloponnesian Wars, which weaken the civilization. It breaks apart after Alexander the Great takes over and dies. By 200 BCE, the empire has been absorbed by Egypt and other kingdoms.

7 The Age of Heroes During the Golden Ages of Greek Literature (500 – 400 BCE), which coincides with the Peloponnesian Wars, many playwrights used the stories from Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, to try to end the destruction the civil war was causing, and to look back to a finer time, when a unified Greece was strong. This time became known as the “Heroic Age.”

8 Ideals of the Heroic Age
The Heroic Age is a semi-mythical time in the Greek civilization: to 1100 BCE Homer did not LIVE in the Heroic Age: He wrote about it! According to Greek traditions, humans during this time lived in closer contact with the gods, as in the Pentateuch This was the time of the Trojan War (1193 BCE) Democratic ideals flourished under the mythical king of Athens, Theseus

9 Ideals of the Homeric Age
Ideals of the Heroic Age Aidos: shame for neglecting duty Nemesis: divine retribution Aoidos: supporting bards and the arts Arete: striving for excellence in mind and body, actions and thoughts Dike: striving for justice (Nike: victory) Ergon: having a strong work ethic Kleos: seeking glory (Kudos: Praise) Xenia: guest-host reciprocity leading to kind treatment of strangers

10 Ideals of the Heroic Age
Men were judged by arete, not by birth and could achieve a higher social status by thoughts and deeds. Three major “sins” in Greece: blasphemy against the gods treachery to host or guest shedding the blood of relatives

11 Who Was Homer? (Not Simpson!)
Believed to be the blind creator of The Iliad and The Odyssey and Homeric Hymns. The poems and hymns were not written, but created in an oral tradition to be performed. (Each one is about 12,000 lines each!) Homer lived around 700 BCE, when there was no written Greek language. Works existed in written form by 300 BCE, and likely before then.

12 Who Was Homer? (Not Simpson!)
The transcriber, perhaps, is also the poet A theory states that Homer was a woman: there were women poets, and there are strong female characters in the Odyssey. Evidence that Homer was one individual: Use of similar epithets and epic similes. Style of the works: Diction, tone, word choice, methods of characterization. Structure of the works. But, in the end, no one is really sure.

13 What is an Epic Poem? An epic poem is a long poem that deals with the origins of a people, nation, or religious beliefs. The poem is presented in a structured format: The Iliad and The Odyssey are in dactylic hexameter. (Say the name Jessica six times. That’s dactylic hexameter.) * Gods or supernatural beings play a role. Human, mortal, heroes, either national or religious, fight against great odds and triumph, although for humans, death is always lurking in the distance. Violence and gore abound, described in detail! The setting is global. Elevated diction is used. As reported in the October, 2004 issue of Scientific America, German physiologists have used this meter to show that reciting poetry can get your heart beating in time with your breath, a salubrious exercise. (Rap artists take note!) The researchers specifically used Homer’s Odyssey, translated into German, which nicely accommodates the original hexametric pace of the verse. (English, however, bounces better in pentameter...)

14 What is an Epic Poem? Use of epithets, kennings and epic similes.
The narration is objective, third person. Narrative starts in medias res, with an invocation to the gods or Muses, and poses and epic question, that addresses a crucial theme of human life. Episodic plot structure: Plot is repeated in each episode, and the episodes can be interchanged, without losing the meaning of the story. (Compare to Dynamic or Climactic plot structure.) And, importantly, Aristotle notes that the epic should have a unity of ethos, or epic question that moves all event in each episode, and ties all episodes together.* What is the epic question for The Odyssey? At the end of the Poetica, Aristotle also looked epic poetry, in particular, the Iliad as an example of excellence. He noted that there should be unity of action within the episodes, all pointing to the same goal, or epic question. He also required objectivity in presentation, universal scope, and a unity of ethos.

15 What is an Epic Poem? Epithet: Short, usually two- or three-word phrase that is used repeatedly to describe a character or other noun: aegis bearing Zeus; wine dark sea; Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio; Blue Moon Odom* Kennings: Similar to epithets, but usually replace the noun itself: ring bearer (for a king); the swan’s road (for the sea); the Bronx Bombers (for the Yankees) Johnny Lee Odom was a pitcher for the White Sox in his last Major League year when on July 28, 1976, he pitched a no-hitter in Oakland. While he is not the only pitcher in history to have accomplished such a feat, he is the only pitcher—perhaps—to have done so while tripping on LSD.

16 What is an Epic Poem? Epic Simile: A simile with an extended figurative end. These are scattered through The Odyssey. For example: Just as a lion beset by doubt and fear when he’s surrounded by a crowd of hunters closing in – a cunning ring – so was Penelope, while pondering, beset, until sweet sleep came suddenly. The long description of the lion (figurative) is compared (using as) to Penelope (literal).

17 The Odyssey and The Iliad
These two works tell the tales around the Trojan War. The Trojan War, it is believed, actually took place in ancient Troy, around 1200 BCE. As you’ve read in history class, the ruins of this ancient city in Asia Minor (Turkey) were discovered in the early part of the 20th century. The Iliad is the tale of the war itself, and The Odyssey is the story of one Greek hero, Odysseus, as he tries to sail back home to Ithaca.

18 The Story of the Trojan War
It all begins with a beauty contest… On the side of Trojans: Aphrodite, Ares, Artemis, Apollo, Zeus On the side of Greeks: Athena, Hera, Poseidon

19 The Story of the Trojan War
According to the story in The Iliad, the Trojan War was the result of a beauty contest. While the gods and goddesses are attending the wedding of King Peleus and Thetis, the goddess of discord (Eris—who was NOT invited!) throws out a golden apple with the words: For the Fairest on it. The goddesses Hera, Aphrodite, and Athena all claim it, and ask Zeus to be the judge.

20 The Story of the Trojan War
Zeus declines (wisely!) and gives the task to Paris, Prince of Troy and son of King Priam, who due to an oracle that claimed he’d cause the downfall of the kingdom, is away being a shepherd. Paris is very cute, but not too smart, and not really very courageous either. He accepts.

21 The Story of the Trojan War
Each goddess promises Paris something if he chooses her: Hera promises to make him a King of Asia and Europe. Athena promises him warrior skills that would give him honor and glory. But Aphrodite promises him the most beautiful woman in the world – and he, being not too smart, chooses Aphrodite, and gives her the golden apple.

22 The Story of the Trojan War
The most beautiful woman in the world was Helen, wife of Menelaus, King of Sparta (Lacedaemon). (Yeats attributes the beginning of this war to the rape of Leda…) Paris abducts her and takes her to Troy. The legend is that the Greeks launched a thousand ships to sail to Troy to destroy it, and take Helen back. Odysseus was one of the generals.

23 The Story of the Trojan War
The battle takes nine years, and for much of it, it seems the Greeks, due to their own internal bickering, cannot win. Achilles spends much of the time sulking in his tent, from an argument he has with Agamemnon over a woman, but rises to battle when his friend Patroclus is slain. * Briseis is Achilles’ war trophy. Agamemnon originally had Cryseis, a daughter of priest of Apollo, and a priestess herself. Apollo reigns down on the Greeks with arrows of pestilence, and the Greeks don’t know why they are suddenly dying. Achilles wants to get to the bottom of it and asks Calchas to tell them. Calchas says he will, but only if Achilles promises to protect him. Achilles already suspects Agamemnon, and he says yes, even if I have to fight Agamemnon. Agamemnon reluctantly gives up Cryseis, but then demands Achilles’ trophy, Briseis, which Achilles reluctantly relinquishes. He is mad angry and his mother, Thetis, is too. She makes Zeus promise a win for Troy, and this causes an interminable back and forth between the armies. Achilles, mad, stays in his tent. Patroclus, in Achilles’ armor, is slain by Hector, and only then does Achilles join the battle.

24 The Story of the Trojan War
The Iliad actually ends with the death of Hector, the Trojan prince, and mighty warrior, whom Achilles kills. Achilles drags his body in triumph nine times around the walls of Troy, once for each year of the war, but is then moved by the mourning of King Priam, and gives the beaten body of Hector back to the Trojans, who build a funeral pyre and burn him.

25 The Story of the Trojan War
The rest of the story of the end of the Trojan War is told in a variety of places. Achilles dies by getting shot in the heel by Paris, with the help of an arrow directed by Apollo. The Greeks fight over his armor, but Odysseus gets it. Ajax, a mighty warrior who wanted the armor, goes crazy and kills a bunch of cattle, thinking they’re Greeks. He then kills himself with his own sword, and suffers dishonor.

26 The Story of the Trojan War
The war drags on, and seems completely at a stalemate, but for the cunning of Odysseus. Odysseus comes up with a brilliant plan: The Greeks built a huge wooden horse and presented it to the Trojans as a parting gift, saying that they gave up and went back to Greece.

27 The Story of the Trojan War
The Trojans hesitate, but then accept the horse and bring it in to their city. In the middle of the night, as the Trojans celebrate, Odysseus and other Greeks emerge from the hollow horse, and open the gates of the city. The Greeks brutally slay the Trojan men and male children. * The women are killed or taken as slaves back to Greece. Troy is destroyed, and the Greeks go home. Andromache, wife of Hector, watches as their little boy Astyanax, is thrown off one of Troy’s towers before the city is razed to the ground. She is taken as a slave. Priam and Hecuba’s youngest daughter, Polyxena, is killed on Achilles’ grave.

28 The Story of the Trojan War
Virgil gives us the story of the Trojan horse in The Aeneid, where Odysseus is painted as a cruel conniver. Euripides, in The Trojan Women tells the story of the rape and pillage of Troy at the end of the Trojan War. It is a moving and compassionate tale of the suffering of the defeated. (Why would he, a Greek, write about how badly the Greeks behaved during a war?)

29 The Story of the Trojan War
At the end of the war, Poseidon is pissed because Athena tells him that 1) Cassandra was raped by Ajax (not the dead one) in her temple inside Troy, and no Greek stopped him. 2) The Greeks neglect to offer sacrifices to her. 3) Odysseus and Diomedes steal the Palladium, a sacred statue of Athena, from her temple.

30 The Story of the Trojan War
Athena and Poseidon were initially on the side of the Greeks. Athena stirs Poseidon to seek revenge, and so he does, by making is very hard for the Greeks to get home. Poseidon is also pissed because Odysseus blinds Polyphemus, his son the Cyclops. When Odysseus goes to Hades, he hears some of these tales. As the Greeks leave Troy, a tempest arises.

31 The Story of the Trojan War
After the war, Helen and Menelaus seem OK, although Helen seems a bit creepy in The Odyssey... However, the King of the Greeks, and head of the house of Atreus, Agamemnon, (King of Argos and Mycenae) does not fare so well… When the Greek armies originally convened for the war, they landed in Aulis, where the Greeks anger Artemis by killing a hart, or deer.

32 The Story of the Trojan War
She demands a royal maiden as a sacrifice before she lets the winds blow to set them off. Agamemnon offers his daughter Iphigenia, whom he sends for on the pretence of marring Achilles, the famous warrior. She arrives for her “wedding” but dies a maiden on a sacrificial altar to satisfy her father’s ambition.

33 The Story of the Trojan War
Clytemnestra, sister of Helen, hates him after this, and when he returns, she and Aegisthus, her new lover kill him immediately. (And his Trojan princess, Cassandra too!) The Greeks won the war, but Aeneas, the Trojan warrior, sets sail to found Rome, and the house of Atreus falls. The children Orestes and Electra later kill their mother and her new husband! Odysseus meets Agamemnon in Hades, to hear his sad story.

34 The Odyssey The epic is divided into two parts:
Part One: The Voyage Home (Books 1-12) 1-4 Epic question; Voyage of Telemachus 5-8 Odysseus in Ogygia 9-12 Court of Phaeacia. Odysseus narrates the story of his voyage from Troy to Ogygia

35 The Odyssey Part Two: Odysseus Regains His Kingdom (Books 13-24)
13-16 Touching reunion scenes with Eumaeus and Telemachus, who arrive home just after Odysseus 17-20 Penelope learns of his arrival and is put into a sleep. His Nurse recognizes him. His dog barks at him. 20-24 Retribution and Reconciliation

36 The Odyssey At the beginning of The Odyssey, it is almost 20 years after Odysseus left home to go fight the Trojans, a task he did not want. He is stuck on the island of Ogygia, with the beautiful enchantress and sea goddess, Calypso, who promises him immortality, if he stays with her.

37 The Odyssey The poem starts with an argument between Athena and Zeus, and the epic question is proposed: Why is it that Odysseus chooses a human life of mortality and suffering? The gods are so moved by the depth of his human love for Penelope, they decide to let him go home to Ithaca.

38 The Odyssey In the meantime, Odysseus’ son Telemachus is now grown, and suitors for his mother’s hand are a huge and dangerous nuisance. He heads out on his own voyage to Sparta, to see if Menelaus and the notorious Helen can tell him news of his father. (Books 1-4) The poem uses this double narrative very effectively to create suspense and dramatic tension.

39 The Odyssey In Book 5, Odysseus leaves Calypso and lands in Phaeacia, where he narrates his dangerous journey from Troy to Calypso’s island. (Books 9-12) He’s safe – temporarily – but his son faces real danger during this long flashback, for the suitors plot to kill him when he returns. Books cover the return home of both father and son, the destruction of the suitors, and the final reconciliation of family and nation.

40 Literary Views of Odysseus
For ancient Greeks, he embodies the ideals of the Heroic Age: He is wise, wiley, shrewd, deceptive, courageous, eloquent, resourceful, persistent, loyal, generous. Other views of his character include: 1) Heroic voyager, loyal husband and father 2) Shrewd politician or Machiavellian leader 3) Destroyer of Rome’s mother city Troy Generally, Roman writers (and later, Italian writers) don’t like him.

41 Literary Views of Odysseus
Virgil and Dante (who puts him in Hell) see him as arrogant, but Horace and Ovid, like him. (His Latin name is Ulysses.) For modern writers, he’s a character of mixed blessings. Romantics poets such as Byron, glorify him, Tennyson paints him as misguided, James Joyce creates a modern Ulysses, with modern angst. The Coen brothers continue the angst tradition with the film, O Brother, Where Art Thou?

42 Literary Views of Odysseus: The Epic Hero
The epic journey is a genre that has lasted through Western literature: The untested young hero, often of uncertain parentage, goes forth to seek truth, fights against superhuman odds, often traveling to the realm of death itself. He achieves glory and rewards, suffers great losses, and learns a key aspect of human life and the inescapable fact of mortality.

43 Literary Views of Odysseus: The Epic Hero
The old hero fights his last battle and passes the torch, for all temporal things must perish, man and civilization. Sometimes, the earthly hero achieves apotheosis, but not always. Although the message at the end of an epic is often foreboding, a kind of resurrection is imminent—like phoenix story, or the simple message to Nicodemus. (See Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey.) In the end, the epic voyage is a not unlike our own voyage through life.

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