The Odyssey
By Homer
ca. 700 BC
Characteristics of the Epic
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Long story
Deeds of a hero
Determines fate of a whole people
Begins in medias res [middle of action]
Involvement of the gods
Magic or supernatural events
Characteristics of oral tradition [like repetition]
Beautiful Language [often verse]
View of the gods
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Arbitrary--punish or reward as they feel they’ve
been wronged or honored
Not all powerful– they debate on Mt. Olympus &
don’t always know everything that happens
No one god in charge--even Zeus must
accommodate other gods when they get angry
Do care for humankind--Odysseus has suffered
enough
They are shapeshifters
View of Man
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Man must worship and obey the gods
A son must earn his own reputation—
Telémachos must become his own hero
Men want women for their beauty, sexuality,
possessions
Men are basically physical--eating, drinking,
lusting, fighting, competing
Man is at least partly responsible for own fate
View of Women
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Possessions--responsibility of their fathers,
then husbands, then sons. Every woman
categorized as “maid,” “wife,” “widow,” or
“whore.”
Powerless
Must scheme to survive
Penelope smarter than average--has outwitted
suitors for nearly 10 years
Gender Complexities
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Athena appears to Telémakhos as a man,
partly to hide her godhood, partly because a
man could move freely within Akhaian
society
As a “father,” she makes a man of him--urges
him to seek his father’s fate and to fight his
mother’s suitors
Until then, Telémachos has been
“emasculated”
The Man Odysseus
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“no mortal half so wise” (85)
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His wisdom hasn’t protected him from grief and
harm
How wise is he, really?
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LOOK FOR EVIDENCE FOR OR AGAINST O’S
WISDOM THROUGHOUT EPIC
A brilliant schemer--note all ways Homer has
of saying this
Book One
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After Odysseus sacked Troy, he was detained
by Nymph Kalypso
All gods pitied him except Poseidon.
Athene champions O, goes to Telemachos
disguised as a mentor and tells him O will
return.
Book Two
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T. had no father to teach him to fight; so he must learn from Athena
Suitors ridicule him, but he stands his ground
T. appeals to suitors’ responsibility to care for widows and orphans (his
mother and he) , rather than taking advantage of them – the suitors have
been there so long they are eating them out of house and home!
Penelope promises suitors she will marry once she finishes weaving a rug
to honor O. Everyday she weaves, and every night she unravels what she
weaves. Suitors think it is magic, but eventually after many years, she gets
caught.
Suitors angrily demand she marry one of them and make him king of
Ithaca.
T’s mentor [actually Athena in disguise] claims the suitors not as bad as
those who do nothing about them.
Book Three
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We see several scenes of “real” Greek life
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sacrifice of bulls/blood and fire offerings
respect for elders is important but lacking in the suitors
hospitality to strangers extremely important – thus
Penelope does not throw the suitors out
sharing of war stories
death as sending one into the underworld
concern for one’s geneology; that’s how you know
whether you can trust this person
At Palace of Lord Nestor
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Story is told for first time of Agamémnon
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Essentially – Agamemnon to help Menelaus recapture his wife Helen, A
sacrificed his opwn daughter. A’s wife Clyaemnestra wants revenge and kills
A when he returns from Troy.
Story is told for first time of Meneláos
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Everyone wanted to marry Helen because she was the most beautiful woman in
Greece and her father Tyndareus feared there would be war amongst the suitors.
Odysseus suggested that each suitor swear an oath to stand behind whomever
Tyndareus selected and be ready at any time in the future to defend the favored
bridegroom against any wrong done to him in respect to the marriage. Everyone
agreed to these terms.
It may be important to realize that Helen really had little say-so in this
arrangement. Menelaus was a political choice on
her father's part. He had wealth and power, mainly
through his brother Agamemnon, but for Helen, he
did not offer the good looks and glamour of some of
her other suitors.
Book 4 –Helen & Menelaus
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Helen marries Menelaus
Helen marries (or lives with) Paris
Helen repents what she has done
Helen doesn’t betray O. in the Trojan camp
Helen does try to get Greeks to answer from
within Trojan horse
Helen asks forgiveness of Menelaus and
receives it
Book Five
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Odysseus with Kalypso-
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She represents one of the temptations--or life
trials--that he must win against. She represents
sexual temptation, or being slave to the sensual
rather than focusing on the spiritual.
Because of Athena, Zeus orders Hermes to tell
Kalypso to release O
O makes a raft which Poseidon sinks, but O
reaches land
Book Six
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Skhería Island, Alkínoös’ kingdom, is perfect
place for Athena to send O.--island of
shipbuilders
Once more, Athena shape shifts, this time into
form of a girl to stir interest in the stranger O
Nausika finds O and Athena makes him look
godlike
Book Seven
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Athena appears as girl child
We learn why Poseidon loves these people-they are his descendants
Arêtê is woman of wisdom; settles disputes
between just men
O begs for & is granted conveyance home
Odysseus asked to tell story of his escape-repetition of part of what we’ve already heard
Book Eight
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Athena stirs interest in the stranger as O
reaches another island
King’s court speaks of O’s adventures, but O
does not reveal himself
King says O should be rewarded
Only then does O reveal himself
Book Nine
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Odysseus’ answer is to tell his story of the last
9-10 years
These episodes are, perhaps, symbolic of the
variety of temptations that O. must overcome
to return home
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Perhaps like the things that Gilgamesh must see
and do in order to become wise
Episodes and Temptations
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Kalypso--lust
the Lotus Eaters (drugged)--sloth
the Cyclopês (slaughtered and stole sheep and
goats)--unthinking violence
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The story of Nobody
Giant asks Poseidon to curse O
Book Ten: Episodes
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the Aiolians (give O a bag containing wind so
he can get home, but his sailors open the bag
of winds thinking it is treasure)--greed,
jealousy, lack of prudence, lack of vigilance.
the Laestrygonians (they are cannibals)-gluttony, lack of respect for life.
Circe (magically turns men into pigs)--lack of
reason, which differentiates us from animals.
Book Eleven: Episodes
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Journey to the Underworld--journey into
wisdom, death and resurrection myth. O…
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Must accept that death is unavoidable.
Learns to appreciate life as it is--accept.
Sees that it is better to have lowliest life than
highest honor in death. Once dead, there is no
more returning to the world of men.
View of Women
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Klytemnéstra and Helen both blamed for what happened to
their husbands and to whole nations.
But there’s more to the story. K. grieved over her husband
sacrificing their daughter; Helen, in some accounts, was
kidnapped and held hostage.
“Indulge a woman never,/ and never tell her all you know”
Agamemnon (from hades) warns O. against trusting Penelope
enough to just walk back in at home- “give no warning./ The day of faithful wives is gone
forever” That’s exactly what O. does in Book XVII.
Book Twelve
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Sirens—[magical singers in the ocean that lure men
to drown – O has all men plug their ears but he is
tied to a mast so he can listen safely]. Danger of
women and sexuality; lust for knowledge.
Skylla (eats 6 men of every ship that passes by – O
does not warn his men afraid they will stop the
journey) O. learns guilt of his actions determining
fate of/hurting other people.
Charybdis (a whirpool that sink ships )—O learns of
despair as most men die
Book Thirteen
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The Phaiakans do convey O home, and
Poseidon punishes them
Athena shape-shifts Odysseus for the first
time in to an old man.
He must be willing to be patient, old,
ridiculed.
O must be willing to be powerless.
Book Fourteen
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Hospitality, courtesy still alive on Ithaka, but
in old swineherd’s hut. Nobility becomes
matter of behavior, not birth.
In Odysseus’ home, hospitality is usurped, not
granted.
**Note throughout the whole last half of the
epic that O. can lie convincingly at a
moment’s notice.
Book Fifteen-Nineteen
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Story speeds up, moving toward final revelation of who
Odysseus is and the retaking of his house.
Only dog and old maid initially recognize O, but O
reveals himself to T
Sign of how far O’s house has fallen that even beggars
and servant girls can be rude toward strangers with
impunity [totally against Greek values].
Penelope’s unsure it is really O, so designs a contest – to
shoot an arrow thru 12 axes
Book Twenty
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Once more, there is a “personal relationship”
between Athena and Odysseus.
Nonetheless, the gods arbitrarily make people
do things that seem bad to us (causing the
suitors to become more and more belligerent
with Telemachus, O. as stranger, and the
servants).
Book Twenty-One
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The test of the bow maintains level of
suspense through the end of the epic-
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Penelope says she will marry the best archer
T failed 3 times, would have succeeded on 4th
but O stops him
All suitors fail
O succeeds
Book Twenty-Two
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This begins the denouement, the tying up of
things, the setting right of things.
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Scurrilous suitors killed 1 by 1--differentiating
detail for many.
Unfaithful servants, both men and women,
punished.
Book Twenty-Three
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Reunion of the wandering husband and faithful
wife (both amusing and tender)
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In making him wait, Penelope gives him back some of
what she’s taken in last 20 years.
Penelope still wary, afraid some trick of the gods.
Amusing banter of 2 people who love each other and
feel comfortable in other’s presence.
Penelope sets the test of the bed
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Essentially – bed cannot be moved but only
O would know this.
Book Twenty-Four
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Last loose ends-
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Achilles and Agamémnon share war stories in Hades.
Shades of suitors seen in Hades.
 This war has brought death to them all, but in different
forms.
O. pays respects to his aged father.
“Outrage and injury have been avenged” with death of
suitors
Parents of suitors appeased with help of Athena.
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The Odyssey - Cuyamaca College