First Assignment – The Odyssey

editor’s note: If you are a student writing a paper for school I am NOT a valid resource. Do not try to cite me. I am just another teacher with some VERY general ideas about “The Odyssey”. I would recommend you try the library. Do NOT try Wikipedia since it is truly more unreliable and inaccurate than me.

The first book we will be reading is “The Odyssey” by Homer. I would recommend reading a prose edition of this book instead of the original lyrical version. This will make it easier to understand. If you don’t already own a copy you can purchase a cheap paperback edition at almost any bookstore (used or new).

Homer didn’t actually write “the Odyssey” it was a story told in oral tradition but it is widely attributed to Homer. “The Odyssey” is the sequel to Homer’s “Iliad”. The story tells an adventurous tale of our hero Odysseus and his 15 year journey back home to Ithaca after winning the Trojan War.

Homer is considered the inventor of the Epic Poetry format. This format of writing has had an enduring influence on almost every narrative that has ever been written since the 8th century BC. There have been many modern day “epics” that have been written including “The Matrix”, “the Wizard of Oz”, “Lord of the Rings” and others. You will see that once you familiarize yourself with the elements of an epic poem you will see it in a variety of films and books.

The epic poetry format consists of the following elements:

  • Invocation: the poem usually begins with an invocation for the assistance of the muses and by asking an epic question which begins the story
  • In Media Res: the story starts in the middle of the action with preceding events being narrated later in the story
  • The hero: There is usually an extraordinary man with amazing qualities. Frequently he was born of common parents but rises to greatness
  • Hell: the hero will accomplish many notable deeds and will almost always make a trip to the underworld
  • Deux ex Machina: the God Machine. There is always some form of divine intervention
  • Epithet: a final statement or speech that summarizes the meaning of the story.

As you begin your reading journey I’m going to give you some things to think about.

  • What kind of leader was Odysseus? How would his leadership style compare to leaders of today?
  • The Greek/Roman gods were not known for their morality – this is a Judeo-Chrisitian concept. What role do the gods play in this story and how do we see divine intervention played out in modern epics?
  • Keep in mind the larger personal journey that Odyssesus is making – how does he change as the story progresses? What are his biggest weaknesses? How do these weaknesses prevent him from finding home?

Well, that should give you a good start. The in-person book club meets on July 28th but until that time please use this venue to begin sharing your ideas and questions with other participants. Feel free to invite others to contribute or to begin your own book club.

2 thoughts on “First Assignment – The Odyssey”

  1. Eurylokhos is Odysseus’ second in command – a sort of lieutenant. He is also a relative of Odysseus’ through marriage. He is the solider who leads the expedition on Circe’s island where Odysseus’ men are turned into Pigs. Eurylokhos escapes and warns Odysseus of the trap.

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