Background The Iliad and The Odyssey are two of the oldest epic poems in Western literature. The Odyssey is valued for its form, content, powerful language, and compelling story. The Iliad focuses on the 10 year Trojan War between the Greeks and Trojans. Consists of a series of loosely related incidents based on historical fact The Odyssey is about one soldier’s homecoming 19 years after the end of the Trojan War. In contrast to The Iliad, The Odyssey has a unified plotline with many supernatural elements.
Homer There is some debate over whether Homer is the true author of The Odyssey. There was a blind poet who lived around the eighth century B.C., but there is some dispute whether this man actually wrote The Iliad and The Odyssey. Troy existed in what is modern day Turkey. A Trojan War did take place in the early 1100s B.C., a few hundred years before Homer’s lifetime. Homer took a lot of traditional material – developed by bards over many centuries – and cast it in a unique form.
Literary Terms Epic An extended narrative poem in elevated or dignified language celebrating the feats of a legendary or traditional hero Usually include: The invocation of the muse Epithets Any word or phrase applied to a person or thing to describe an actual or attributed quality. Alexander the Great, Richard the Lion-Hearted A word, phrase, or expression used as a term of abuse or contempt (i.e. racial epithet). A vast setting Supernatural forces
Literary Terms In media res “In the middle of things” Many epics begin in this way.
Literary Terms Homeric epithet An adjectival phrase so often repeated in connection with a person or thing that it almost becomes a part of the name, like “stout Hermes.” Homeric simile An epic simile Usually an elaborate comparison that extends through a number of lines.
Hospitality Xenia – hospitality Zeus was considered the god of travelers and being inhospitable was considered a disrespectful action against him. Greeks had to be hospitable to everyone for fear that a god or goddess was mingling among them and being rude could cause his/her wrath. There must be respect from guest to host, host to guest, and a parting gift from host to guest. This idea is an important part of The Iliad and The Odyssey. Paris violated this in The Iliad by taking Helen of Troy. Many people in The Odyssey are hospitable to Odysseus.
Themes Revenge and sacrifice Compassion Masculinity and pride The role of a virtuous and faithful wife The duty of servants
Homework Read Book I and answer the corresponding questions.
Do Now What is a myth? Are myths based on actual happenings?
Book I Examine the epithets that are associated with various characters: “clever,” “fine fellow” Odysseus; “fine old gentleman” Laërtês; “the wise and faithful wife” Penelopeia; “the usual good mannered” Telemachos. What function do these epithets serve other than as formulaic constructions used in the oral poetic medium? How are these epithets appropriate to the characters associated with them? When are they not appropriate?
Homework Read Book II and answer the corresponding questions.
Do Now What is the relationship of gods to mortals? Why do they sometimes make life hard for mortals?
Book II Examine the arguments made by each speaker at the Ithacan assembly. How do the characters’ speeches reflect their individual personalities? Analyze both what the characters say and the manner and mood in which they say it. How do the styles and rhetorical strategies employed by the various speakers compare and contrast with one another? How are these similarities and differences significant? What conclusions can you draw about the speakers’ characters traits as depicted in their speech?
Homework Read Book III and answer the corresponding questions.
Do Now What are some examples of stories that are passed down by word of mouth from generation to generation before they were actually written down?
Book III Examine Nestor’s personality and character. What distinguishes him from other characters who serve as storytellers during the course of the narrative? What distinguishing features mark his speech? What is the general impression of Nestor’s character in The Odyssey? What means does Homer employ in order to achieve this impression?
Homework Read Book IV and answer the corresponding questions.
Do Now Have you ever seen a storyteller in action – or told a story to a group yourself? What is hard about it? What did you like about it?
Book IV Scholars have dubbed the first four books of The Odyssey as the “Telemachy,” for the books deal almost exclusively with the journeys of Telemachos. In what ways are these books an appropriate introduction to Homer’s work? In what ways are the books an inappropriate introduction? Note the many references to Odysseus in these books. What picture do you have of him before he is even physically in the story? Is your view of him negative or positive?
Homework Read Book V and answer the corresponding questions.
Do Now What are some memory devices a storyteller might use? How does the storyteller keep the audience’s attention?
Book V Examine several of the epic similes found in this and other books of The Odyssey. Identify each element in the simile and its relation to elements (characters, events, objects, etc.) in the narrative. What emotions, moods, and other factors can you elicit from the epic simile that were not present in the direct description of the element itself? Are these new feelings appropriate to the events that surround the simile? Does the simile enhance the narrative or distract from it? Does this part of the story remind you of any other stories you know?
Homework Read Book VI and answer the corresponding questions.
Do Now Why do people go on long journeys? What are the benefits? What are the problems that can accompany a long trip?
Book VI Compare the various comic aspects of Book VI with parallel passages in the poem of a more serious nature. Look, for example, at Odysseus’s decision making, Athena’s enhancement of beauty, and epic similes. How is the mocking of previous conventions more effective than simply inventing new narrative techniques for comic action?
Homework Read Book VII and answer the corresponding questions.
Do Now How important is your pride? Does it ever cause you problems? What about the pride of family or friends? Has it ever caused a fight?
Book VII Examine the many scenes of hospitality in The Odyssey. How are they similar? How do they differ? What is significant about these differences? What commentary does each episode offer concerning the responsibilities of guest and host, such as gift giving, nourishment, etc.? What is the relationship between the motif of hospitality and the distasteful situation occurring in Odysseus’s home during his absence?
Homework Read Book VIII and answer the corresponding questions.
Do Now Have you ever had to sacrifice something significant? Or perhaps sacrificed something that seemed insignificant but ended up really affecting you? What happened that you had to make this sacrifice? How did you feel afterwards?
Book VIII Examine the character of Demodocos in Book VIII. What information does Homer relate to us concerning his profession? How did you think professional bards/minstrels were able to survive? Note Penelopeia’s attempt to silence Phemios in Book I. What is significant about Telemachos’s defense of Phemios’s behavior, and how does this defense relate to Demodocos in Book VIII?
Homework Read Book IX and answer the corresponding questions.
Do Now Many stories examine the male ego through their characters. How is the male ego portrayed in the story so far? Have you experienced many “macho” men in your life? Do you consider yourself, your dad, your brothers, etc. to be this certain stereotype?
Book IX Book IX is the first section told by Odysseus himself to the Phaiacians. What are the differences between Odysseus’s narrative technique and that of the main narrator of The Odyssey? What are the similarities between the two? Explain the significance of your findings. Does Odysseus’s depiction of himself coincide with that of the main narrator? Explain the significance of your findings.
Homework Read Book X and answer the corresponding questions.
Do Now Last night for homework, you examined the loyalty of Odysseus’s crew. Have you ever felt like you were owed some sort of loyalty and it was not given to you, be it from a friend, family member, co-worker, etc.? What were the circumstances? Why couldn’t the person be as loyal to you as you would have liked? Or was there no good reason for his/her disloyalty?
Book X The loyalty of Odysseus’s crew is constantly in flux. Sometimes they follow him unswervingly, and other times they refuse to obey him and even conspire against him. Examine these critical moments throughout Odysseus’s narrative. How significant are the crew’s actions in the plot’s overall progression? What message are both Odysseus and Homer himself trying to drive home to their audience by means of these many examples of loyalty and disloyalty?
Homework Read Book XI and answer the corresponding questions.
Do Now Have you ever wished you could get revenge for something that was done to you or someone you cared about? If you could get revenge in some way with no one ever knowing, would you act? Or would you feel too guilty?
Book XI Throughout The Odyssey, Odysseus’s curiosity is one of his most endearing traits. Note the conflict between fear and curiosity that he experiences throughout Book XI. What do you learn about his character here? Does his curiosity ever seem obsessive? When do you see his curiosity in a negative light? When do you see it in a positive light?
Homework Read Book XII and answer the corresponding questions.
Do Now What can war do to the psychological state of human beings? How does being away from the basic comforts of life for an extended period of time affect people?
Book XII Examine Odysseus’s relationship to the supernatural universe surrounding him. At what moments does he lack control over his surroundings? At what moments does he seem in command of his own fate and that of his companions? What message might you infer from Homer’s treatment of Odysseus’s relationship with the gods? What do you learn about the poet’s views on human nature and its interaction with forces beyond its control?
Homework Read Book XIV and answer the corresponding questions.
Do Now Penelope’s suitors are increasingly aggressive throughout the story. Have you ever had to compete for something you really wanted? What did you have to do? What was the outcome?
Book XIV Why do you suppose Odysseus does not tell the swineherd the truth about his past? Why do you think Odysseus did not just ask for the cloak? What is significant about Odysseus’s depictions of himself in his disguised state and the Odysseus in the narrative? Where do the ironies lie when you consider the fact that Odysseus himself is telling this false story? What insights do you gain about Odysseus through this telling of the story?
Homework Read Book XV and answer the corresponding questions.
Do Now Odysseus and Telemachos keep just missing each other throughout the story. Have you ever narrowly missed an opportunity? What caused you to miss your chance? Did it eventually work out?
Book XV Consider the present state of Eumaios the swineherd. What new dimensions are added to his character by his life story? Through Eumaios, what is Homer trying to say about the status and duties of household slaves in the Greek world of his day? Athena says to Telemachos, “You know what a woman’s mind is like; she wishes to enrich the man who marries her, but as for the other husband and his children, once he is dead she forgets them all and never asks about them. The best you can do is to go back, and put everything in the hands of one of the women, whichever you think is best, until the gods provide you a good capable wife” (169). Why does she tell him this? Penelopeia has been faithful, so what is she saying about women in general?
Homework Read Book XVI and answer the corresponding questions.
Do Now Being away from home for a long period of time can cause a variety of emotions. Have you ever had to be away from your home for an extended period of time? How did you feel? If you haven’t ever had to leave home for a considerable amount of time, how do you think you would feel? Does going away to college seem daunting to you? Explain.
Book XVI Describe the scene where Odysseus and Telemachos are reunited (185). What does it seem to say about the relationship between parent and child? What are some of the universal emotions associated with their reunion? Examine the speeches by Eurymachos, Antinoös, and Amphinomos on Pages 188-190. Of what is each attempting to convince their audiences? What rhetorical strategies are employed by each to persuade their audiences? What do we learn about these characters from their respective speeches?
Homework Read Book XVII and answer the corresponding questions.
Do Now Has a single act of compassion ever affected you significantly? Or have you ever done something compassionate for another person that caused a great change in your life or his/hers?
Book XVII In this book, there is a clear contrast between Eumaios, the model servant, and Melanthios. How do the servants mentioned in this book differ from Eumaios? What is the significance of Eumaios’s commentary on the matter? What Homer imply through his treatment of servants in Book XVII? What is the symbolism of the sneeze in Book XVII?
Homework Read Book XVIII and answer the corresponding questions.
Do Now Why is Odysseus taunted so frequently in the novel? Is this reaction typical today? How would fellow students treat a dirty and poorly dressed peer?
Book XVIII In Book II, Antinoös makes angry allegations about Penelopeia’s deceitful behavior (24-25). How do the events of Book XVIII support his suspicions? Why does Odysseus react as he does to Penelopeia’s actions? How do you better understand the relationship between Odysseus and Penelopeia through the events of Book XVIII? What is Homer’s attitude toward Penelopeia’s behavior? In what way does the poet want his audience to perceive her?
Homework Read Book XIX and answer the corresponding questions.
Do Now The suitors constantly ravage Odysseus’s house, eat the food of his household, and are generally rude and inappropriate toward his wife. Have you ever encountered an extreme case of rudeness in your life? How did you react? Did you say something to the person who was using poor manners? Or did you ignore it?
Book XIX On Page 216, Penelopeia reveals how she has managed to hold off the suitors for several years. What does this tell you about her character? Her mind? What sort of woman do you think she is? In Book XIX, the meaning of Odysseus’s name is revealed (221). How does this correspond to the troubles of Odysseus’s life? Analyze Penelopeia’s dream of the eagle and geese (223). What links the imagery in the dream with other symbols in The Odyssey? What is curious about Penelopeia’s attitude toward the geese in the dream? What do her actions in the dream seem to suggest? What is odd about Penelopeia’s request to have Odysseus interpret the dream? What is ironic about their discussion of the dream?
Homework Read Book XX and answer the corresponding questions.
Do Now Telemachos begins the novel as a whiny, insecure boy and matures throughout the story by dealing with the suitors. Was there any experience that caused you to grow up rather quickly, perhaps where you had to make a major or difficult decision or needed to be mature beyond your years? What were the circumstances? What did you learn overall from the experience? How do you feel looking back on it now?
Book XX With the arrival Philoitios, we have another perspective of the loyal servant. Examine Philoitios’s speeches to Odysseus. What do we learn about this character through his stories? What makes his decision so crucial to Odysseus’s assessment of his loyalty? How are the suitors continuing to disrespect the house of Odysseus? What are the signs of their coming doom?
Homework Read Book XXI and answer the corresponding questions.
Do Now Choose one line from Book XXI that strikes you somehow – and explain why.
Book XXI Examine Penelope’s contest in detail. What is significant about the suitors’ failure to string the bow? What is significant about their reactions to their own failures? Look at the speeches made by Eurymachos, Leiodês, and Penelopeia. How do these serve to make the competition of the utmost importance to all involved? To whom does Odysseus reveal himself? Why? What does their reaction show you about their loyalty to Odysseus?
Homework Read Book XXII and answer the corresponding questions.
Do Now There are many bloody descriptions of death in Book XXII. Which one do you find the most gut-wrenching? Why do you suppose Homer goes into such revolting detail?
Book XXII Examine Homer’s use of poetic justice in Book XXII. How do certain characters’ deaths recall past incidents or foreshadowing presented earlier in the novel? Analyze the deaths of Antinoös and Melanthios particularly (243, 252). How does the manner of their deaths recall earlier episodes involving them? Analyze the deaths that seem inappropriate, particularly Amphinomos and Leiodês (244, 249). To what extent are we meant to sympathize with characters whose deaths appear unjust?
Homework Read Book XVIII and answer the corresponding questions.
Do Now Was Odysseus’s reunion with his wife pretty much what you expected? Or did it surprise you in any way? Would you have liked to know more about what they said to each other?
Book XXIII How is Penelopeia shown to be a good match for Odysseus in Book XXIII? In what ways does Odysseus’s revelation of his identity to Penelopeia differ from other such disclosures? In what ways is this occurrence similar to the other scenes like it? Trace the motif of revealed identity throughout the story.
Homework Read Book XXIV and answer the corresponding questions.
Do Now Athena finally ends the chaos of Ithaca by the conclusion of Book XXIV. Have you ever had to play peacemaker, as she does throughout the novel? Are you someone who constantly fixes and takes care of everything for others? Or do you know someone who is like that in your own life?
Book XXIV Examine Odysseus’s reunion with his father. Why do you think he hesitates in telling his father who he really is? Critics have noted the rather abrupt ending of The Odyssey. Do you think the finale of the poem is complete, or do there seem to be events missing? Explain your answer, drawing upon the preceding events of the story and the foreshadowing they provide.