Odyssey Study Guide

From Gerald R. Lucas
Departure of Ulysses by Claude Lorrain, 1646

Homer's epic the Odyssey is a nostos, or a story of return, and asks can one come home again, especially after years of bloody war? In fact, an odyssey is now meant generally as a long journey home, much like Odysseus' after the fall of Troy. The Odyssey attempts to remake order after the chaos of war.

Names

Topics for Consideration

  1. Compare and contrast the heroic ideal in the Iliad and the Odyssey. What is your response to Odysseus as a hero? Achilles?
  2. Discuss xenia as an integral aspect of civilization in the Odyssey. Relate the epic's view to that of contemporary attitudes to the role of hospitality as a criterion of civilization.
  3. Analyze and assess Telemachus' growth to manhood, the stages of his assumption of responsibility, and the recognition of the fact by others.
  4. Discuss the portrayal and role of women in the Odyssey, e.g. Penelope, Circe, Calypso, Nausicaä, Eurycleia.
  5. List and differentiate recognitions of Odysseus, intended and unintended.
  6. Discuss the complicated nature of the relationship between Penelope and Telemachus as mother and son.
  7. There are interesting differences between the Iliad, which focuses on an argument between Achilles and Agamemnon and its consequences, and the Odyssey, which is a romance-adventure story that set the trend for later novelists. Why would Homer suddenly change styles? Is there serious evidence for the idea thet the two epics were written by two or more authors?
  8. Compare and contrast the motivation of Odysseus with those of his crew and those of the suitors.
  9. The Odyssey is about 2700 years old. Do you think the feelings and needs shown by the people in this epic are still important today? Which experiences or people in this story did you most identify with?
  10. Two ancient Greek critics, Aristophanes and Aristarchus, thought that Homer ended his poem on the lines: "So they came / into that bed so steadfast, loved of old, / opening glad arms to one another" (XXIII.298–300). In other words, they thought Book XXIV unnecessary. What in fact does Book XXIV contribute to the epic?
  11. Discuss the symbolic/metaphorical significance of the following:
    • Odysseus' encounter with Agamemnon in Hades
    • Odysseus' encounter with his mother in Hades
    • Odysseus' encounter with Achilles in Hades
    • Odysseus' encounter with Ajax in Hades
    • Polyphemus and Cyclopsland
    • Menelaus' story of his wanderings
    • Calypso's Cave
    • Circe
    • Telemachus' search and journey
    • Odysseus' use of disguise and revelation and recognition
  12. What does "home" mean in the Odyssey?
  13. What is the basic characteristic of Odysseus' personality that motivates all his acts?
  14. What drive motivates Odysseus' crew? Think of how they act in the bag of winds episode.
  15. What is the Greek meaning of Odysseus' name? How does this apply to him?
  16. In what ways does the heroic concept presented in the Odyssey differ from that in the Iliad? Can you speculate on why this might be so?
  17. What is the major structural device used to unify the various episodes?
  18. What does Circe represent?
  19. Why are there so many women characters in the Odyssey? List the major women figures and their function.
  20. How is the image of woman represented?
  21. Discuss the various "female stereotypes" found in the Odyssey. Connect these "stereotypes" to an understanding of the cultural context.
  22. Point out where Odysseus conceals his identity or uses a disguise. Speculate on what this means.
  23. Why do you think are the gods less important in the Odyssey?
  24. Why does Odysseus withhold his identity from King Alcinous?
  25. Why is it necessary for Odysseus to descend into the underworld?
  26. Summarize the plot in each of the books of the Odyssey.
  27. To what extent does the geography of Odysseus' journey coincide with the actual geography of the Mediterranean?
  28. List as many incidents as you can in which Odysseus puts people to the test to see if they are loyal to him or even whether they are decent human beings.
  29. Analyze the stages of Telemachus' growth to manhood, considering his assumption of responsibility and the recognition of the fact by others.
  30. Study the long interview between Odysseus and Athena in Book XIII. Compare their relationship with that of Job and God. What does this comparison reveal about the religious attitudes of the Hebrews and the Greeks?
  31. Penelope and Telemachus reveal a complicated relationship between mother and son. Analyze the process of Telemachus' assertion of independent manhood and Penelope's reluctant acceptance of it.
  32. Whether male or female, to what extent and in what ways are "we all Telemachus"?
  33. Consider the theory that the Odyssey was written by a woman: Nausicaa. Samuel Butler read Nausicaa as a self-portrait of the author. In his Authoress of the Odyssey he adduces the intimate knowledge shown of domestic life at court, contrasted with the sketchy knowledge of seafaring or pastoral economy, and emphasizes the "preponderance of female interest". Be cites examples to prove his point (see Graves, p. 365). The light, humorous, naive spirited touch of the Odyssey is almost certainly a woman's.