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The Odyssey. What is it besides being a Rollicking Great Story?. The Odyssey’s Construction. The Odyssey begins in medias res , meaning that the action begins in the middle of the plot , and that prior events are described through flashbacks or storytelling.

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The Odyssey

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the odyssey

The Odyssey

What is it besides being a Rollicking Great Story?

the odyssey s construction
The Odyssey’s Construction
  • The Odyssey begins in medias res, meaning that the action begins in the middle of the plot, and that prior events are described through flashbacks or storytelling.
  • This device is imitated by later authors of literary epics, e.g. Virgil in the Aeneid, as well as modern poets such as Alexander Pope in the mock-epic/ mock-heroic "The Rape Of The Lock.“
  • Nearly all modern editions and translations of the Odyssey (like the Iliad) are divided into 24 books.
    • This division is handy but it is not original; it was developed by Alexandrian editors of the 3rd century BC.
In the Classical period, moreover, several of the books (individually and in groups) were given their own titles: the first four books, focusing on Telemachus, are commonly known as the Telemachy;
  • Within Odysseus' narrative, Book 9, featuring Odysseus' encounter with the cyclopsPolyphemus, is traditionally called the Cyclopeia;
  • and Book 11, the section describing his meeting with the spirits of the dead, is known as the Nekuia.
  • Books 9 through 12, wherein Odysseus recalls his adventures for his Phaeacian hosts, are collectively referred to as the Apologoi: Odysseus' "stories."
Book 22, wherein Odysseus kills all the suitors, has been given the title Mnesterophonia: "slaughter of the suitors.
  • The last 548 lines of the Odyssey, corresponding to book 24, are believed by many scholars to have been added by a slightly later poet.
  • Several passages in earlier books seem to be setting up the events of book 24, so if it is indeed a later addition, the offending editor would seem to have changed earlier text as well.
the journey
The Journey

themes motifs symbols
Themes, Motifs & Symbols


  • The Power of Cunning over Strength
    • If the Iliad is about strength, the Odyssey is about cunning.
    • Odysseus relies much more on mind than muscle. . .He knows that he cannot overpower Polyphemus, and that, even if he were able to do so, he wouldn’t be able to budge the boulder from the door. He thus schemes around his disadvantage in strength by exploiting Po1yphemus’s stupidity.
    • Penelope’s clever notion of not remarrying until she completes a burial shroud which she will never complete buys her important time.

Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.

The Pitfalls of Temptation
    • The initial act that frustrated so many Achaeans’ homecoming was the work of an Achaean himself: Ajax (the “Lesser” Ajax, a relatively unimportant figure not to be confused with the “Greater” Ajax, whom Odysseus meets in Hades) raped the Trojan priestess Cassandra in a temple while the Greeks were plundering the fallen city. That act of impulse, impiety, and stupidity brought the wrath of Athena upon the Achaean fleet and set in motion the chain of events that turned Odysseus’s homecoming into a long nightmare.
    • It is fit that the Odyssey is motivated by such an event, for many of the pitfalls that Odysseus and his men face are likewise obstacles that arise out of mortal weakness and the inability to control it.
    • The submission to temptation or recklessness either angers the gods or distracts Odysseus and the members of his crew from their journey: they yield to hunger and slaughter the Sun’s flocks, and they eat the fruit of the lotus and forget about their homes.
The Pitfalls of Temptations
    • Even Odysseus’s hunger for kleos is a kind of temptation.
    • He submits to it when he reveals his name to Polyphemus, bringing Poseidon’s wrath upon him and his men.
    • In the case of the Sirens, the theme is revisited simply for its own interest. With their ears plugged, the crew members sail safely by the Sirens’ island, while Odysseus, longing to hear the Sirens’ sweet song, is saved from folly only by his foresighted command to his crew to keep him bound to the ship’s mast.
    • Homer is fascinated with depicting his protagonist tormented by temptation: in general, Odysseus and his men want very desperately to complete their nostos, or homecoming, but this desire is constantly at odds with the other pleasures that the world offers.

Kleos(Greek: κλέος) is the Greek word often translated to "renown", or "honor". It is related to the word "to hear" and carries the implied meaning of "what others hear about you". A Greek hero earns kleos through accomplishing great deeds, often through battle.

  • Storytelling: Storytelling in the Odyssey, in addition to delivering the plot to the audience, situates the epic in its proper cultural context.
  • Disguises: From the first line of the epic, Homer explains that his story is about a “man of twists and turns” (1.1). Quick, clever, and calculating, Odysseus is a natural master of disguise, and the plot of the epic often turns on his deception.
  • Seductresses: Women are very important figures in the Odyssey, and one of the most prominent roles they fulfill is that of seductress. . . While these women do gain a certain amount of power through their sexual charms, they are ultimately all subject to divine whim, forced to wait and pine for love when it is absent.

Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.

  • Food: Although throwing a feast for a guest is a common part of hospitality, hunger and the consumption of food often have negative associations in the Odyssey. . . these cases, excessive eating represents not just lack of self-control, but also the total absence of humanity and civility.
  • Wedding Bed: The wedding bed in Book 23 symbolizes the constancy of Penelope and Odysseus’s marriage .. The symbolism is heightened by the trick that Penelope uses to test Odysseus, which revolves around the immovability of their bed—a metaphor for the unshakable foundation of their love.

Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.

sites cited
Sites Cited
  • Farrington, Crystal. The Odyssey. 9 Oct. 2007 <>
  • Phillips, Brian and Hunter, James. SparkNote on The Odyssey. 9 Oct. 2007 <>.
  • The Trojan War—An Illustrated Companion. 9 Oct. 2007. <>