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ODYSSEY BACKGROUND NOTES. Epic Poem A. The Odyssey is written in a genre called an epic poem B. An epic poem is a long, narrative poem about warriors and heroes. C. It has four main ingredients: myth, legend, folktale, and history

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ODYSSEY BACKGROUND NOTES

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Odyssey background notes

ODYSSEY BACKGROUND NOTES

Epic Poem

A. The Odyssey is written in a genre called an epic poem

B. An epic poem is a long, narrative poem about warriors and heroes.

C. It has four main ingredients: myth, legend, folktale, and history

D. An epic poem has cultural significance. It is like a cultural bible.


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E. The Greeks had two major epic poems: The Iliad and The Odyssey.

F. The Romans had an epic poem called The Aeneid.

G. The English have an epic poem called Beowulf.

H. The Odyssey has two strong features:

Homeric similes (long similes)

epithets (a word or phrase used to characterize someone or something such as “Raider of Cities” meaning Odysseus, or “Lord of the Clouds” meaning Zeus.)


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II. The Greek Gods

A. The Greeks were polytheistic (believed in many Gods)

B. Their Gods behaved like humans; they played jokes, got angry, etc.

C. The Greeks believed that the gods lived in northern Greece on Mt. Olympus.

D. They believed that the gods came down to earth disguised as wandering strangers


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E. The major Gods:

Zeus: King of the Gods

Hera: Queen of the Gods

Athena: Goddess of War & Wisdom

Aphrodite: Goddess of love & beauty

Apollo: God of the sun

Poseidon: God of the sea


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III. The Life of Homer

A. Homer was the poet who wrote both Greek epic poems, The Iliad and The Odyssey.

B. The Iliad is about a ten-year war at Troy.

C. The Odyssey is about Odysseus’ ten-year journey back home after the war.

D. Homer wrote these poems about 800BC; however, the Trojan War took place 400 years earlier in 1200BC.


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E. Homer is believed to have been blind.

F. Homer memorized the entire poem and sang it for hours, as a kind of entertainment for people to listen to.

G. This type of poem-singer was called a rhapsodoi (professional reciter) similar to minstrels of Medieval England.

H. These epic poems united all the Greek city-states into one nation.


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I. The poems were viewed as sacred and the ultimate authority on morality.

J. The poems were lost during the Dark Ages but were re-discovered in Constantinople (Turkey) during the Renaissance.

IV. The Greek People

A. The Greeks were polytheistic and believed in many gods.


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B. Because the gods could come to earth disguised as wandering strangers, the Greeks treated all wandering travelers with their best hospitality. To treat a stranger badly was a risk at offending a god. Therefore, the people valued hospitality very highly.

C. The Greek people respected their religious prophets called oracles.

D. The people also valued moderation and looked down on people with too much pride (hubris) or who were greedy or cruel.


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E. Greek households grouped together to form city-states. Each city-state tried to win the favor of a particular god or goddess by giving offerings.

F. The people also believed in hero worship involving a person who displayed honor, bravery, hospitality, loyalty to home, intelligence, and respect for the gods.


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G. The people traveled mainly by sea because Greece was so mountainous. They traded with countries who had alphabets and began to develop their own about the time of Homer. The story was passed down from generation to generation until it was written down about 850 BC.

V. Background Information

A. The Historical Perspective

1. The city of Troy did exist. In fact, there were at least nine “Troys” built one on top of the other – all located in the country we now call Turkey.


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2. Later conquered by the Greeks, the city also went by the name Ilios, and when conquered by the Romans, it became Ilium; hence, the name of Homer’s first epic poem, The Iliad, (not the Troyad.)

3. Troy was an important trade city that was strategically located at the Dardanelles Straight at the entrance to the Black Sea from the Aegean Sea.


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4. Since sea trade was vital to transporting goods, anything from the Far East went across the land to the Black Sea, where it could be loaded onto boats and distributed out to the Mediterranean Sea area.

5. Troy was a city worth capturing and archaeologists say that it was burned to the ground in the 11th century BC, about the time of the Trojan War.

6. The word “Greek” did not exist back then; the people from Greece were called Achaens, Argives, or Danaans.


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B. The Story behind the City of Troy

1. In the 11th century BC, Troy was supposedly ruled by King Priam.

2. With his first wife, Hecuba, and his other wives, King Priam had 50 sons and 12 daughters.

3. In those days, dreams were believed to foretell the future, and Queen Hecuba dreamed that she would have a troublemaker of a son who would bring about the fall of Troy.


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4. The next child is born, a son named Paris. He is taken to the mountainside and left to die (a frequent Greek custom usually reserved for handicapped children; the Greeks believed only the strongest should survive.)

5. The baby Paris was given a rattle with the King’s seal on it to entertain himself while he dies.

6. Legend says that Paris was rescued and raised by a shepherd.


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7. The shepherd kept the rattle, and when Paris was a young man, the shepherd told him who he thought he was. Paris returned to the king’s household to continue his life.

8. There was to be an important social wedding in Troy between a mortal man named Peleus and a sea nymph named Thetis.

9. One goddess, Eris, the goddess of strife and discord, was deliberately left off the guest list.


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10. In revenge, she “crashes” the wedding and rolls a golden apple down the wedding table. The apple is engraved with the words, “To the Fairest.”

11. The three most powerful goddesses – Hera, Aphrodite, and Athena – each grab for the apple considering themselves to be the “fairest.”

12. Zeus is afraid to make the controversial decision over who should get the apple, so he picks Prince Paris to make it instead.


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13. Bribery begins: Hera promises Paris all the power in the world; Athena promises him wisdom and military skills; Aphrodite promises him the most beautiful woman in the world. Paris chooses Aphrodite as the “Fairest.”

14. The most beautiful woman in the world is Helen of Sparta. Unfortunately, she is already married to King Menelaus.

15. Paris pretends to be a beggar at King Menelaus’ castle and kidnaps Helen with Aphrodite’s help.


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16. Menelaus gathers armies from all his friends (including King Odysseus of Ithaca) and sails to Troy to bring back his wife.

17. The Greeks fight the Trojans for nine years before Odysseus comes up with the idea for the Trojan horse in the 10th year. This idea ends the war and they regain Helen. This is the basis for the epic poem, The Iliad.


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