Study Guide for Homers Odyssey

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					                                         Study Guide for Homer's Odyssey
                          by Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Temple University (edited by D. Ruekberg)

         These materials are intended for the fair use of all students and teachers. Any links should be duly credited to the
author, and students should always cite in papers any help this guide has given them. Note that the Perseus links for
character information are not current. If you click on names you will need to type the character name into the
Encyclopedia search window. References are to…Robert Fagles' translation. Important names, ideas or words are
underlined, indicating hyperlinks to further information (see online version). When using the hyperlinks you must
remember that you will often read variants in the myths which Homer uses; try to figure out which departures are
significant and which myths help you understand the Homeric versions better. There is an on-line text with hyperlinks for
more extensive study. [Note: Transliteration of names here do not always match Fitzgerald’s.]

Book 1
 Invocation to the Muse; survey of Odysseus' condition in the 10th year of his wanderings. "The whole of the action
 and most of the principal persons are introduced in the first few hundred lines." (D. Page)
 Council of the gods on Olympus. Why is Aegisthus singled out by Zeus? What kind of system of morality does Zeus
 invoke? Why is Athena so concerned with Odysseus? Why is Zeus so surprised with her plea? In the line ending her
 speech, the words "dead set against," odusso, puns on the hero's name
 Athena goes disguised to Ithaca to see Telemachus and persuade him to seek news of his father. What kind of person
 is Telemachus? How old is he? What does he need? And why start in Ithaca, not with Odysseus? Note the concern
 with hospitality, which will be a key theme throughout the epic.
 Penelope is upset at the song of a bard who tells of the sufferings of the heroes. As you read the rest of the epic, think
 about whether Zeus or Telemachus is correct in whom they blame for the suffering.
Book 2
 Athena, disguised as Mentor, appears to Telemachus and promises help. He sails off, after asking Eurycleia under
 oath of secrecy, to prepare provisions. Who is in charge in Ithaca? How has Penelope kept the suitors at bay for so long?
Book 3
 Act as an anthropologist, noting the customs, landscape and character of the people. T. arrives first at the palace of
 Nestor. What do we learn about O.? Note the hospitality T. receives from Nestor; compare T.'s reception of Athena
 earlier. One thing to watch: when does the guest reveal his name?
Book 4
 T. and Pisistratus are welcomed at Sparta (Lacedaemon) by Menelaus and Helen, who recognize T.'s resemblance to
 his father. They all cry in grief over old memories, and Helen soothes them. What more do we learn about O. and about
 Agamemnon? Is Helen as you expect her to be? Is there anything strange about her relationship with Menelaus?
 Do M and H deserve the happy afterlife Proteus predicts? Do you see any signs that Telemachus is maturing?
 T is persuaded to stay in Sparta. The scene changes to Ithaca where the suitors plot to ambush T. en route home.
 How many days are we into the story at this point? Try to keep track of this. We won't be seeing T again for a while.
Book 5
 Second council of the gods. Note the reference to Athena's plan. Hermes to order Calypso to send O. home, and
 Hermes delivers the message. Why Hermes? Think about his functions.
 Is Calypso a good hostess? Note her "feminist" complaint. Why has Homer kept Odysseus from us for 4 books?
 What is O's first utterance in the epic and what does it say about his attitude to other humans and to the gods? Why is
 he like this? Why does he reject Calypso's offer of immortality?
 As O sights the island of Scheria after 17 days, the home of the Phaeacians, Poseidon wrecks his boat. Why? The
 sea-goddess Leucothea (Ino) saves him, but in his near-paranoia, he almost rejects her help; again, as you read, think
 about how he has reached this point. Has O. matured? What does he do after he reaches the coast and finds shelter?
Book 6
 Note the history of the Phaeacians early on, and consider whether this affects their reception of O. Nausicaa meets O
 (naked), who asks for help. What do we learn about O's character in this encounter? What does he withhold?
 O addresses Nausicaa; she gives him clothing and food, and instructs him on how best to approach her parents. Why
 doesn’t she take him herself? Why do you think Athena fails to reveal herself to O?

Book 7
 Queen Arete questions him and he describes how he came to Scheria. Who wears the pants in this family? Compare
 the reception with those we have seen so far. Note exactly what O says about himself. Is he a good guest?
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Book 8
 King Alcinous summons the Phaiakian assembly, which agrees to send Odysseus home by ship. Having returned to
 the palace, they're entertained by the singer,. O weeps at Demodokos’s song. Why?
 Why does Odysseus react to the story of Ares and Aphrodite differently? More dancing, and gifts for O. He now
 asks Demodocus for a certain story and weeps again. Alcinous questions him. Think about the content of the songs, O's
 response to them, and the epithets given to him in this book. What is going on?

Interpretive interlude
 We are now 1/3 of the way through, and the epic can in fact be divided into three parts. In Book 9, we see Odysseus
    at the beginning of his return; in Books 5-8, near the end, 10 years later. Has he changed? How?
 Try thinking again about Books 6-9 as an anthropologist might in investigating alien cultures. How would you
    categorize these cultures? As always with myth, think about food. Why does Homer put them all in the epic?
 Start thinking about the type of human being that Odysseus symbolizes, and about the larger allegorical significance
    of his journeys. The Odysseus myth has influenced texts from Dante's Inferno, to Joyce's Ulysses, to Conrad's Lord Jim,
    to Huckleberry Finn.

Book 9
 Note exactly how O identifies himself, and how and where he begins his story. (Compare it to Menelaus' account of
 their departure from Troy). Don't assume he's always telling the truth.
 What happens here: The attack on the Cicones. The land of the Lotus Eaters. The Cyclops Polyphemus: This is the
 key episode. Note the nature of Cyclopean society. Pay attention to O's behavior. Is it commendable? Is he a good
 guest? Is Polyphemus a good host? What types of behavior are approved and condemned by this story? What is the
 significance of calling himself “Nobdy”?
Book 10
 Aeolus, king of the winds, receives O. Who is to blame for the error here?
 O loses 11 ships in an attack on the Laestrygonians. Note his tactics. The remaining ship arrives at the island of
 Circe. The crew begins to rebel: why? Odysseus rescues his transformed men. How? How long do they stay, and why?
 Compare Circe, Nausicaa, and Calypso: which does O prefer and why?
 O. insists on going, so Circe tells him he must visit the Dead (but not why). As they leave, the helmsman Elpenor falls
 off the roof and dies. At this point do you see any similarities between Odysseus' journey thus far and Menelaus'?
Book 11
 Remember that O. is telling a story to an audience from whom he wants to obtain something, so pay close attention
 to how he shapes his story and their reaction to it. What does the journey to the Underworld symbolize?
 Leaving Circe's island, O. sails to Hades. He performs the prescribed ritual, and meets: Elpenor, Tiresias, his mother,
 and a sequence of beautiful (of course) heroines, including Ariadne and Oedipus' mother, here called Epikaste. What
 does he learn from each?
 O. ceases his story to remind them of his eagerness to return home; they persuade (?) him to continue. The tone of
 the story changes: how? He tells of meeting Agamemnon, Akhilles, and Aias, Minos and Herakles. Why is her there?
Book 12
 O. and company return to Aeaea, bury Elpenor, and meet Circe, who warns of further dangers.
 O sets out; they pass the Sirens, Wandering Rocks and Skylla, reaching Thrinakria, where the crew kills the cattle of
 Helios, to whom Zeus then promises vengeance.
 After 6 days the Greeks sail on; a storm drowns all save O., who drifts to Kalypso's island. This ends his story.
 Why are the Sirens' songs so seductive, especially to Odysseus? Why doesn't O tell his crew all of Kirke's warnings?
 Does he follow all her advice? Is his crew like the suitors back in Ithaca? Has Odysseus' behavior changed since Hades?
 How many people has Odysseus killed up to this point? How responsible are the men for their own deaths?
Book 13
 O. having received further presents, departs. He falls asleep (again!) on the voyage and they deposit him on the shore.
 Pay attention to Poseidon's anger and Zeus' attempts to calm him down. O. awakens unaware he is home until Athena,
 in disguise, tells him. Athena then reveals herself. Why does Athena treat him this way? When was the last time he saw
 her? Here we encounter the first of O's "lying tales". Is there any truth hidden in the lies?
 Athena warns O. about the suitors, and disguises him as a beggar. Consider: Odysseus as his own Trojan horse.
Book 14

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    O. goes to the hut of Eumaeus, his swineherd, and is hospitably received. O. signals who he is to Eumaeus; where?
 O. tells another elaborate tale about his identity and history, describing himself as a wandering Cretan, and mentioning
 that he has had recent news of O. Eumaeus refuses to believe this. After supper, O. hints he is cold.
Book 15
 In Sparta Athena tells T. to return to home and advises him how to avoid the suitors' ambush. T., having said
 goodbye to Menelaus, is sent of with his presents, kind words and a favorable omen. How many days has it been since
 we last saw T.? Meanwhile, in Ithaca, O. offers to leave Eumaeus' hut, but is persuaded to stay. He inquires about his
 father and mother. Eumaeus tells his story. T. receives an omen upon arriving in Ithaca.
Book 16
 Eumaeus welcomes Telemachus, who asks who the disguised O. is. He leaves Eumaeus to tell Penelope he has
 returned. After Eumaeus leaves, Athena transforms O. into his true shape. They plan the destruction of the suitors. The
 suitors, upset at their failure to kill T., discuss other ways. Eumaeus returns to O., who is back in his disguise.
Book 17
 Think about P.'s reaction to this to Theoclymenus’s predictions and O’s story, and about her reactions over the next
 several books to news. The suitors amuse themselves, and Eumaeus arrives with the disguised O., whom the goatherd
 Melanthius mocks and attacks. Entering later, T. gives him food. Antinous provokes Eumaeus and T.intervenes. O. begs
 from Antinous who violently insults him, and P. prays for his death. She sends for O. to see if he has any news about
 himself! T. sneezes: a good omen.
Book 18
 The beggar Irus insults O., who replies. What follows is a parody of a heroic duel. P., prompted by Athena, adorns
 herself and enters the hall, enticing the suitors to give her gifts. Melanthos insults O. O. threatens handmaids.
 Eurymachus mocks O. and throws a stool at him (recalling which episode?) T. persuades them to go home for the night.
Book 19
 Think about the similarities and differences between P and O. Do you think P. "recognizes" O here in some way?
 O and T, aided by Athena, remove all arms from the hall. Melantho again insults O.
 Note that P almost recognizes O. O refuses to have his feet washed by anyone but Eurycleia. She bathes him and
 recognizes an old sign, whose origin Homer tells. What does this mythical digression say about Odysseus?
 O interprets P’s dream, but she isn't convinced. She states her intention to hold a competition for her hand
 tomorrow and retires. Is there anything strange about her dream? Why does she suddenly decide to hold this contest?
Book 20
 Athena restrains O when the maidservants sleep with the suitors. Eumaeus returns and Melanthius again insults O.
 An omen dissuades the suitors from killing T, who defends O. One throws a cow's foot at O (Cyclopean?), which angers
 T. A strange momentary transformation of the scene is interpreted by Theoclymenus as a warning of coming disaster.
Book 21
 P.brings out O's bow and promises to marry whoever strings it and shoots through the row of axes. Leodes fails,
 predicting it will bring death to many. Consider T's behavior throughout this book. Eurymachus fails; Antinous suggests
 postponing the contest. O asks to be allowed to try. The suitors abuse him but Eumaeus brings the bow.
 Eumaeus and Philoetius have the women removed and the doors locked. O strings the bow and…
Book 22
 Who is killed, in what order? Who is spared? Why? What happens to Melanthius?
 Eurycleia is summoned; note his rebuke of her victory cry. Has O changed? The 12 disloyal maids are hanged, while
 Melanthius is taken out and mutilated. O purifies the hall and Eurykleia summons P. How does O feel about all this?
 Has he changed since the Trojan War?
Book 23
 Eurycleia tells the incredulous P of O's actions; to what, exactly, does she finally respond? She enters the main hall. T
 is impatient with her, but O supports her reasoning. O takes precautions to keep the slaughter secret.
 O, now royally dressed, convinces P he really is her husband. How? How does she test him? Think back to what O
 told Nausicaa about marriage. Consider P's reactions throughout this episode: are they believable? How does she "out-
 Odysseus" Odysseus here?
Book 24
 Some scholars have argued that the epic "should" end after Book 23, and that Book 24 is a later addition. What do
 you think? How different would the epic be without 24?
 Hermes conducts the suitors souls to Hades, where Agamemnon, talking to Achilles, then praises P's fidelity. Has the
 epic shifted focus from human-god relations to male-female?
 O visits his father, telling him a false story before revealing himself. Why does he treat Laertes this way?
 Is this ending believable in your eyes?
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                                                                          Who’s Who in the Odyssey
                                                                                       Persons Met by Telemachus on his trip to the Mainland
Gods and Goddesses [Roman names are given in brackets]                                 Helen:            Daughter of Zues & Leda; wife of Menelaus, retrieved from Troy.
Apollo:                Son of Zeus and Leto; favors the Trojans.                       Menelaus:         Son of Atreus; king of Sparta, returned from Troy.
Ares [Mars]:           Son of Zeus; favors the Trojans.                                Nestor:           Son of Neleus; aged king of Pylos, returned from Troy.
Athena [Minerva]:      Daughter of Zeus; favors Greeks.                                Pisistratus:      Son of Nestor.
Hades:                 Son of Cronus; ruler of the underworld of the dead.             Theoclymenus: Fugitive seer from Argos, received by Telemachus.
Hephaestus [Vulcan]: Son of Zeus and Hera; favors the Greeks.
Hermes [Mercury]:      Son of Zeus; favors the Trojans.                                Dwellers in the Land of Phaeacians
Iris:                  Messenger of the gods.                                          Alcinous:         Son of Nausithous; king of the Phawacians in Scheria.
Persephone             Daughter of Demeter [Ceres] and queen of the underworld.        Arete:            Daughter of Rhexenor; wife of Alcinous and queen of the
Poseidon [Neptune]:    Son of Cronus; king of the sea; favors the Greeks.                                Phawacians.
Zeus [Jupiter, Jove]:  Son of Cronus [Saturn]; king of the gods and ruler of the sky.. Demodocus:        Blind bard at Alcinous’ court.
Lesser Divinities                                                                      Laodamas:         Eldest son of Alcinous and Arete.
Aeolus:                Son of Hippotas; keeper of the winds.                           Nausicaa:         Youngest daughter of Alcinous and Arete.
Calypso:               Daughter of Atlas; island nymph on Ogygia.
Circe:                 Daughter of the Sun; goddes of the wild; enchantress.           Monsters and Other Inhuman Beings
Eidothea:              Daughter of Proteus, sea-nymph.                                 Antiphates:       King of the cannibal Laestrygonians.
Proteus:               Old man of the sea, one of the gods deposed by Zues.            Charybdis:        A whirlpool which draws vessels to their doom.
                                                                                       Polyphemus:       Son of Poseidon; giant Cyclops and ogre.
Family and Household of Odysseus                                                       Scylla:           Daughter of Crataiis; six-headed monster and man eater.
Elpenor:               Youngest sailor with Odysseus.                                  Sirens:           Fatal beguilers of men with their singing.
Eumaeus:               Son of Ctesius; keeper of Odysseus’ swine.
Euryclea:              Daughter of Ops; old nurse of Odysseus and Telemachus.          Spirits of the Dead in the House of Hades
Eurylochus:            Husband of Odysseus’ sister; sailor with Odysseus.              Achilles:             Son of Peleus; hero of the Iliad.
Eurynome:              Head maid and housekeeper.                                      Agamemnon:            Son of Atreus; king of the Greeks at Troy.
Laertes:               Son of Arceisius; aged father of Odysseus.                      Ajax:                 Greater Ajax; son of Telamon, killed at Troy.
Melantho:              Daughter of Dolius; favored maid of Penelope.                   Anticleia:            Daughter of Autolycus; wife of Laertes and mother of Odysseus.
Menlanthios:           Son of Dolius; keeper of the goats.                             Epicaste:             Also called Jocasta; mother and wife of Oedipus, king of Thebes.
Mentor:                Friend and steward of Odysseus.                                 New Arrivals:         Spirits of Elpenor and of the suitors.
Odysseus [Ulysses]:    Son of Laertes; king of Ithaca.                                 Patroclus:            Son of Menoetius; comrade of Achilles.
Philoetius:            Keeper of the cattle.                                           Shade of Heracles Son of Zeus; heroic laborer for mankind.
Telemachus:            Son of Odysseus and Penelope.                                   [Hercules]:
                                                                                       Sisyphus:             Spirit tormented in punishment.
Men of Ithaca and Suitors for the Hand of Penelope                                     Tantalus:             Spirit tormented in punishment.
Aegyptius:             Aged lord in Ithaca.                                            Teiresias:            Blind prophet of Thebes.
Amphinomus:            Son of Nisus; suitor from Dulichium.                            Tityus:               Spirit tormented in punishment.
Antinous:              Son of Eupeithes; leader of the suitors.                        Tyro:                 Daughter of Salmoneus; mother by Poseidon of Pelias and
Eupeithes:             Lord in Ithaca.                                                                       Neleus.
Eurymachus:            Son of Polybus; suitor from Ithaca.
Halitherses:           Son of Mastor; seer and prophet.
Irus:                  Town beggar.
Piraeus:               Son of Clytius; trusty friend of Telemachus.

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