Home Page Home Page



Books 1-6
1. Identify the following characters. What family relationships (e.g., "husband and wife") and political relationships (e.g., "king and subjects" or "allies in war") exist among these characters? AntinoŲs, Athene, Kalypso, Eurymachos, Helen, Hermes, Menelaos, Nausikaa, Odysseus, Orestes, Penelope, Poseidon, Proteus, Telemachos, and Zeus.

2. What characters in question 1 are gods? How are the gods different from humans in the Odyssey?

3. Look up the word 'epithet' in a good English dictionary. What kinds of epithets are applied to characters in book 1?

4. Look up the word 'theodicy'. At what points do people blame the gods for their problems? How does the Odyssey answer these charges? What are the similarities between this beginning and the beginning of Job? What are the differences between the explanations of the causes of suffering in Job and the Odyssey?

Books 7-12
5. Arrange the events of books 1-24 in chronological order, moving from the fall of Troy to Odysseus' homecoming.

6. Identify Achilles, Aeolus, Agamemnon, CircÍ, Lotus Eaters, Persephone, Polyphemus, Teiresias, Scylla & Charybdis, Sirens.

Books 13-24

7. What is the significance of the contest with the great bow?

8. Identify Eurycleia, Laertes, Mentor, Penelope's web.

9. Referring to the theodicy question above, describe the similarities and differences between the ending of the Odyssey and the ending of Job.

10. How does Odysseus prove his identity to Penelope? To Eurycliea? Laertes?

11. Look up the phrase deus ex machina. What does it mean? Where do you find an example of this literary devise?

1These questions are taken or adapted from Fisher 120-124.

Fleur de Lis divider

Odyssey Lecture

ἀγών (agōn) -- contest.  It's a word imbedded in agony, protagonist, antagonist, agonistic, etc.

δίκη (dikē) -- justice.  It rhymes with Nike, goddess of running shoes.

Athena solves a problem that couldn't be solved with the tools at their disposal.  The oikos principle has a fatal flaw--the feud.  Feuds erupt, but no social mechanism exists to end them before their run their course, often with one side or the other dead.  People could only get the amount of justice their family could exact on their behalf.  People who drone on about their desire for 'family values' and bemoan the interference of modern civilization in family business simply don't know what they are talking about.

The answer to this problem is the πόλις polis, the city-state.  The state incorporates the oikos and attempts to civilize it. Civic loyalty now supersedes family loyalty.  We see these two principles competing in stories like Romeo and Juliet and The Godfather.  One of the themes of the Aeneid will be the struggle to transcend the old feuds of the oikos and establish the foundation of the polis (well, urbs), Rome.  Of course, the Aeneid also will warn that these feuds are scalable -- cities themselves can come into conflict, with results even more ruinous than when families feud.

Fleur de Lis divider

The Odyssey is very different from the Iliad.  Some speculate it was a different author.  But his metrical choices seem the same in both works.

νόστος (nostos, homecoming) is a major theme

Different heroes have different homecomings.

  1. Nestor had an easy homecoming
  2. Agamemnon got home but was killed
  3. Menelaus & Odysseus have difficult homecomings
  4. Diomedes gets home but has to leave again

Other motifs

Fleur de Lis divider


Odysseus captive of Calypso.  Wants to return home.

Gods work behind Poseidon's back while he's in Ethiopia to help him home. 

Recognition scenes.  Dog recognizes him, whines, then dies.  Euryclea recognizes him b/c of his leg scar.  He swears her to secrecy.

Comes into his house as a beggar.  Finds out about the suitors.

Argues with a servant, beats him up.

Wins the great bow contest.  Shoot an arrow through several ax heads.  No one can string the bow, let alone shoot it.  Telemachus could string it, but Odysseus stops him.

They kill the suitors, relatives come for vengeance the next day.  Athena stops the war.

Fleur de Lis divider


Odyssey 1.

νδρα μοι ἔννεπε, μοῦσα, πολύτροπον, ὃς μάλα πολλὰ
πλάγχθη, ἐπεὶ Τροίης ἱερὸν πτολίεθρον ἔπερσεν·
πολλῶν δ᾽ ἀνθρώπων ἴδεν ἄστεα καὶ νόον ἔγνω,
πολλὰ δ᾽ ὅ γ᾽ ἐν πόντωι πάθεν ἄλγεα ὃν κατὰ θυμόν,
ἀρνύμενος ἥν τε ψυχὴν καὶ νόστον ἑταίρων.
ἀλλ᾽ οὐδ᾽ ὣς ἑτάρους ἐρρύσατο, ἱέμενός περ·
αὐτῶν γὰρ σφετέρηισιν ἀτασθαλίηισιν ὄλοντο,
νήπιοι, οἳ κατὰ βοῦς Ὑπερίονος Ἠελίοιο
ἤσθιον· αὐτὰρ ὁ τοῖσιν ἀφείλετο νόστιμον ἦμαρ.
τῶν ἁμόθεν γε, θεά, θύγατερ Διός, εἰπὲ καὶ ἡμῖν.

[1] Tell me, O Muse, of the man of many devices, who wandered full many ways after he had sacked the sacred citadel of Troy. Many were the men whose cities he saw and whose mind he learned, aye, and many the woes he suffered in his heart upon the sea, [5] seeking to win his own life and the return of his comrades. Yet even so he saved not his comrades, though he desired it sore, for through their own blind folly they perished -- fools, who devoured the kine of Helios Hyperion; but he took from them the day of their returning. [10]

Odysseus is

πολύτροπον polytropon

poly         many
tropos      turns

Odysseus is constantly shifting or changing.  Always 5 steps ahead.

Proteus is a shapeshifter. 

Odysseus is a shapeshifter also.  Athena often disguises him.

Octypus is a similar creature

Troy fell b/c of Odysseus, not Achilles. HE steals the Palladium, builds the horse, etc.

  1. He sacked Troy
  2. He is also a wanderer
  3. He suffers.  Loses his men, undergoes personal hardship.  Dimmock's scholarship

Achilles isn't a Greek name

Odysseus is a Greek name; doesn't occur in the Hittite documents regarding Troy.

*odyssein a Greek verb (maybe).  * means there is speculation that it existed, but it isn't in any manuscripts.

English has active & passive voices. 

I stole the horse (active).

The horse was stolen by me (passive).

Greek has these and also a middle voice.  One usually acts upon oneself. 

I stole myself a horse (middle)

*odyssein Occurs only in the middle voice, not the active.

Greek verbs are all over the place. 

*odyssein The active verb, if it existed, meant to inflict pain, to cause suffering. 

The middle voice would mean to experience pain & suffering. Hard to state in English. 

Odysseus' name indicates one who causes pain and suffering, but also experiences pain and suffering.

How did Odysseus get his name?  Nurse sees his scar, recalls how he got his name.

His granddad Autolykos (his mother's father).  When his daughter was pregnant, he came to see what his grandson would be like.

Nurse brings Odysseus to Autolykos to name him.  "I'll call him Odysseus b/c every man's hand is against me."

Autolykos tricked the gods.  Also famous for being a thief and a liar. 

Autolykos name

Auto can mean self, can also alone

lykos = wolf

Grandad is a lone wolf. 

Indo European wolf tradition.

If you did something really bad (2 really bad things) could be made an outlaw--beyond the community.  Weak outlaw died.  Strong one lived by himself in the wild.  Pillaged his community.

  1. coward in battle--not aggressive enough
  2. blood crime--too aggressive

The Germanic man-wolf = Werewolf.  Could change himself to get out of trouble--source of modern werewolf.  Like Granddad, Odysseus can change his shape.

Odysseus come of age & goes to visit Autolykos and his maternal uncles  For a passtime, they go boar hunting.  European wild boars are different from America's feral domestic pigs.  They are very dangerous to hunt.  Must stand there while the boar is charging and hope to hit it in just the right place.  If you miss, the boar slices you.

Odysseus goes in for the boar. Misses.  Gets slashed.  It's a really bad wound.

What do you do with bad wounds?

Autolykos sang the wound shut.  It's a magical incantation.

Autolykos is where Odysseus gets his ability to think quickly and change his shape.

Can directly change his form, indirectly can invent stories & lies to appear as he wishes to people.

Odysseus survives dia his wits, courage, & wisdom, but he still suffers a lot of pain.

His name is associated with experiencing pain.  The slash on his leg is his 1st important experience.  Suffers when friends die, when sailors die, when he is kept away from his family, when he fights for restoration.

Also inflicts a lot of pain.  Destroys Troy.  Raids others.  Loses men to Polyphemus, but then blinds him.

Causes pain to philoi.  Mom dies of a broken heart.   

Odysseus is like Gilgamesh.  Wanders.  The psyche of he suitors go to Hades indignantly gibbering like bats in a cave.  Same description is found in Gilgamesh.  Suggests a connection between the Odyssey & Gilgamesh.

For Odysseus, life is a journey filled with pain & suffering.  What's the opposite?  The Lotus Eaters - stay put and experience pleasure.  Odysseus rejects this alternative.

Calypso. Kalypsein is a Greek verb in the poem.  The waves kalypsein Odysseus.  They enfold and smother him.  Some men want to live with a beautiful goddess with unlimited sexuality forever. Odysseus sees it as a temptation.  Living with her prevents him from being himself.  He is dead - no longer Odysseus.  He'll stay a bit, then leave. 

Circe--he's immune to her b/c of a magical herb given by Hermes, but also b/c of his heritage from Autolykos / Autolykus.  The second spelling is how the word comes through Latin.

Odysseus's choice

  1. To experience life fully, but to suffer & cause pain in the process
  2. To become a slave to Kalypso.  Pleasant but dead.

Pain and suffering aren't to be avoided.  What makes me who I am comes from my suffering.

The Odyssey is about how you deal with pain and suffering in your life.

Fleur de Lis divider

Home Page
Home Page