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The Odyssey. Background Information. Almost 3000 years ago, people who lived in the starkly beautiful part of the world we now call Greece were telling stories about a great war Homer gathered these stories together telling them as one unified epic The Iliad The Odyssey.

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The Odyssey

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The odyssey

The Odyssey

Background Information

The odyssey

  • Almost 3000 years ago, people who lived in the starkly beautiful part of the world we now call Greece were telling stories about a great war

    • Homer gathered these stories together telling them as one unified epic

    • The Iliad

    • The Odyssey

The odyssey

  • Homer’s stories probably can be traced to historical struggles for control of the waterway leading from the Aegean Sea to the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea

    • 1200 BC (as long ago for Homer as the Pilgrim’s landing at Plymouth Rock is for us)

The odyssey

  • Homer’s first epic was the ILIAD – tells of a 10 year war fought on the plains outside the walls of a great city called Troy

    • Ruins in western Turkey

    • Trojan War – the people of Troy vs an alliance of Greek kings

    • The cause of the war was jealousy: Helen abandoned her husband Menelaus (a Greek king) and ran off with Paris (a prince of Troy)

The odyssey

  • The ODYSSEY – the attempt of one Greek soldier, Odysseus, to get home after the Trojan War

    • All epic poems in the Western world follow these basic patterns

Epics values

Epics & Values

  • EPICS are long narrative poems that tell of the adventures of heroes who in some way embody the values of their civilizations

    • Greeks used these poems for centuries in schools to teach Greek virtues

    • Later cultures imitated the style using their own value systems

The odyssey

  • Rome – AENEID

  • France – SONG OF ROLAND



  • Mali - SUNDIATA

The odyssey

  • ILIAD – primary model for the epic of war

  • ODYSSEY – the model for the epic of the long journey



    • ODYSSEY is the more widely read of the two stories

The war story background violence brutality

The War-Story Background: Violence & Brutality

  • The ILIAD – set in the 10th and final year of the Trojan War

    • Greeks attacked Troy

    • Greek kings banded together under the leadership of Agamemnon

    • 1000 ships sailed across the Aegean Sea & laid siege to the walled city of Troy

The odyssey

  • Greeks were eventually victorious

    • Gained entrance to Troy

    • Reduced the city to smoldering ruins

    • Butchered all the inhabitants (took some as slaves back to Greece)

    • Achilles – greatest of the Greek warriors who died young in the final year of the war

    • Agamemnon was murdered by his unfaithful wife when he returned from Troy

The odyssey

  • Odysseus

    • Subject of THE ODYSSEY

    • Known as much for his brains as his strength

Odysseus a hero in trouble

Odysseus: A Hero in Trouble

  • Heroes were thought of as a special class of aristocrats

    • They were placed between the gods and ordinary human beings

    • Experienced pain & death BUT always “on top of the world”

The odyssey

  • Odysseus is different

    • He is a hero in trouble

    • We can relate to Odysseus

The odyssey


    • Melancholy & postwar disillusionment

    • Odysseus – great soldier in the war but the monsters he faces do not care about his war record

    • Ithaca lacks respect for him when he returns

The odyssey

  • Odysseus had married Penelope in the years before the great war

    • Had one son, Telemachus

    • He was still a toddler when Odysseus was called to war

    • Odysseus did not want to go to war even though he was under treaty to do so

    • Pretended to be insane to avoid going to war; but he was quickly figured out

The wooden horse trick

The Wooden-Horse Trick

  • Odysseus performed extremely well as a soldier & commander once in Troy

    • He thought of the wooden-horse trick that would be the downfall of Troy

The ancient world ours

The Ancient World & Ours

  • World of Odysseus was harsh & familiar with violence

    • Act like pirates on their journey home

    • Enter towns & carry off all their worldly goods

    • Pots, pans, cattle, sheep

    • “palaces” – elaborate mud and stone farmhouses

A search for their places in life

A Search For Their Places in Life

  • Searching for right relationships with one another & with the people around them

    • Theme

    • Story begins with Telemachus who is now 20 years old

    • Threatened by rude, powerful men swarming about his own home, pressuring his mother to marry one of them

    • Men want to rob Telemachus of his inheritance

The odyssey

  • Odysseus is stranded on an island, longing to find a way to get back to his wife, child, and home

    • 10 years since Odysseus sailed from Troy

    • 20 years since he left Ithaca

    • Odysseus searching for inner peace (as we are all in search of our true selves)

Relationships with the gods

Relationships with the gods

  • MYTHS – traditional stories, rooted in a particular culture, that usually explain a belief, a ritual, or a mysterious natural phenomenon

    • Essentially religious

The odyssey

  • Homer is always concerned with the relationship between humans and gods

    • Homer is religious

    • The gods control all things

    • Athena, the goddess of wisdom (always w/ Odysseus)

    • ALTER EGO – a reflection of a hero’s best or worst qualities

    • Poseidon, god of the sea – known for arrogance and a certain brutishness

    • Odysseus himself can be violent & cruel

Who was homer

Who Was Homer?

  • No one knows for sure!

    • A blind minstrel, or singer, who came from the island of Chios

    • Just a legend?

    • Too good to be true?

    • Model for a class of wandering bards or minstrels later called rhapsodes

The odyssey

  • RHAPSODES, or “singers of tales” – historians and entertainers as well as they mythmakers of their time

    • No written history

    • No movies & no TV; no Bible or book of religious stories

    • Minstrels traveled from community to community singing of recent events

How were the epics told

How Were the Epics Told?

  • Oral epic poets are still composing today in Eastern Europe & other parts of the world

    • ILIAD & ODYSSEY originally told aloud by people who could not read or write

    • Follow a basic story line

    • Singers were very talented & worked very hard

    • Audience must listen closely

The odyssey

  • Repetition in Homeric epics

The odyssey


    • Similes that compare heroic or epic events to simple & easily understandable everyday events

The odyssey

  • A story as long as THE ODYSSEY (11,300 lines) would not be told at one sitting

    • Summarize parts & tell the rest in detail

A live performance

A Live Performance

  • Imagine a large hall full of people who are freshly bathed, rubbed with fine oils, and draped in clean tunics

    • Smell the meat being cooked over charcoal

    • Hear the sound of voices

    • Imagine wine being freely poured

    • See the flickering reflections of the great cooking fires & torches that light the room

    • A certain anticipation hangs in the air

    • Perhaps Homer himself is in town, and will appear and entertain tonight!

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