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The Odyssey . By Homer ca. 700 BC. Characteristics of the Epic. Long story Deeds of a hero Determines fate of a whole people Begins in medias res [middle of action] Involvement of the gods Magic or supernatural events Characteristics of oral tradition [like repetition]

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the odyssey

The Odyssey

By Homer

ca. 700 BC

characteristics of the epic
Characteristics of the Epic
  • Long story
  • Deeds of a hero
  • Determines fate of a whole people
  • Begins in medias res [middle of action]
  • Involvement of the gods
  • Magic or supernatural events
  • Characteristics of oral tradition [like repetition]
  • Beautiful Language [often verse]
view of the gods
View of the gods
  • Arbitrary--punish or reward as they feel they’ve been wronged or honored
  • Not all powerful– they debate on Mt. Olympus & don’t always know everything that happens
  • No one god in charge--even Zeus must accommodate other gods when they get angry
  • Do care for humankind--Odysseus has suffered enough
  • They are shapeshifters
view of man
View of Man
  • Man must worship and obey the gods
  • A son must earn his own reputation—Telémachos must become his own hero
  • Men want women for their beauty, sexuality, possessions
  • Men are basically physical--eating, drinking, lusting, fighting, competing
  • Man is at least partly responsible for own fate
view of women
View of Women
  • Possessions--responsibility of their fathers, then husbands, then sons. Every woman categorized as “maid,” “wife,” “widow,” or “whore.”
  • Powerless
  • Must scheme to survive
  • Penelope smarter than average--has outwitted suitors for nearly 10 years
gender complexities
Gender Complexities
  • Athena appears to Telémakhos as a man, partly to hide her godhood, partly because a man could move freely within Akhaian society
  • As a “father,” she makes a man of him--urges him to seek his father’s fate and to fight his mother’s suitors
  • Until then, Telémachos has been “emasculated”
the man odysseus
The Man Odysseus
  • “no mortal half so wise” (85)
    • His wisdom hasn’t protected him from grief and harm
    • How wise is he, really?
      • LOOK FOR EVIDENCE FOR OR AGAINST O’S WISDOM THROUGHOUT EPIC
  • A brilliant schemer--note all ways Homer has of saying this
book one
Book One
  • After Odysseus sacked Troy, he was detained by Nymph Kalypso
  • All gods pitied him except Poseidon.
  • Athene champions O, goes to Telemachos disguised as a mentor and tells him O will return.
book two
Book Two
  • T. had no father to teach him to fight; so he must learn from Athena
  • Suitors ridicule him, but he stands his ground
  • T. appeals to suitors’ responsibility to care for widows and orphans (his mother and he) , rather than taking advantage of them – the suitors have been there so long they are eating them out of house and home!
  • Penelope promises suitors she will marry once she finishes weaving a rug to honor O. Everyday she weaves, and every night she unravels what she weaves. Suitors think it is magic, but eventually after many years, she gets caught.
  • Suitors angrily demand she marry one of them and make him king of Ithaca.
  • T’s mentor [actually Athena in disguise] claims the suitors not as bad as those who do nothing about them.
book three
Book Three
  • We see several scenes of “real” Greek life
    • sacrifice of bulls/blood and fire offerings
    • respect for elders is important but lacking in the suitors
    • hospitality to strangers extremely important – thus Penelope does not throw the suitors out
    • sharing of war stories
    • death as sending one into the underworld
    • concern for one’s geneology; that’s how you know whether you can trust this person
at palace of lord nestor
At Palace of Lord Nestor
  • Story is told for first time of Agamémnon
    • Essentially – Agamemnon to help Menelaus recapture his wife Helen, A sacrificed his opwn daughter. A’s wife Clyaemnestra wants revenge and kills A when he returns from Troy.
  • Story is told for first time of Meneláos
    • Everyone wanted to marry Helen because she was the most beautiful woman in Greece and her father Tyndareus feared there would be war amongst the suitors.
    • Odysseus suggested that each suitor swear an oath to stand behind whomever Tyndareus selected and be ready at any time in the future to defend the favored bridegroom against any wrong done to him in respect to the marriage. Everyone agreed to these terms.
    • It may be important to realize that Helen really had little say-so in this arrangement. Menelaus was a political choice on her father's part. He had wealth and power, mainly through his brother Agamemnon, but for Helen, he did not offer the good looks and glamour of some of her other suitors.
book 4 helen menelaus
Book 4 –Helen & Menelaus
  • Helen marries Menelaus
  • Helen marries (or lives with) Paris
  • Helen repents what she has done
  • Helen doesn’t betray O. in the Trojan camp
  • Helen does try to get Greeks to answer from within Trojan horse
  • Helen asks forgiveness of Menelaus and receives it
book five
Book Five
  • Odysseus with Kalypso--
    • She represents one of the temptations--or life trials--that he must win against. She represents sexual temptation, or being slave to the sensual rather than focusing on the spiritual.
    • Because of Athena, Zeus orders Hermes to tell Kalypso to release O
    • O makes a raft which Poseidon sinks, but O reaches land
book six
Book Six
  • Skhería Island, Alkínoös’ kingdom, is perfect place for Athena to send O.--island of shipbuilders
  • Once more, Athena shape shifts, this time into form of a girl to stir interest in the stranger O
  • Nausika finds O and Athena makes him look godlike
book seven
Book Seven
  • Athena appears as girl child
  • We learn why Poseidon loves these people--they are his descendants
  • Arêtê is woman of wisdom; settles disputes between just men
  • O begs for & is granted conveyance home
  • Odysseus asked to tell story of his escape--repetition of part of what we’ve already heard
book eight
Book Eight
  • Athena stirs interest in the stranger as O reaches another island
  • King’s court speaks of O’s adventures, but O does not reveal himself
  • King says O should be rewarded
  • Only then does O reveal himself
book nine
Book Nine
  • Odysseus’ answer is to tell his story of the last 9-10 years
  • These episodes are, perhaps, symbolic of the variety of temptations that O. must overcome to return home
    • Perhaps like the things that Gilgamesh must see and do in order to become wise
episodes and temptations
Episodes and Temptations
  • Kalypso--lust
  • the Lotus Eaters (drugged)--sloth
  • the Cyclopês (slaughtered and stole sheep and goats)--unthinking violence
    • The story of Nobody
    • Giant asks Poseidon to curse O
book ten episodes
Book Ten: Episodes
  • the Aiolians (give O a bag containing wind so he can get home, but his sailors open the bag of winds thinking it is treasure)--greed, jealousy, lack of prudence, lack of vigilance.
  • the Laestrygonians (they are cannibals)--gluttony, lack of respect for life.
  • Circe (magically turns men into pigs)--lack of reason, which differentiates us from animals.
book eleven episodes
Book Eleven: Episodes
  • Journey to the Underworld--journey into wisdom, death and resurrection myth. O…
    • Must accept that death is unavoidable.
    • Learns to appreciate life as it is--accept.
    • Sees that it is better to have lowliest life than highest honor in death. Once dead, there is no more returning to the world of men.
view of women21
View of Women
  • Klytemnéstra and Helen both blamed for what happened to their husbands and to whole nations.
  • But there’s more to the story. K. grieved over her husband sacrificing their daughter; Helen, in some accounts, was kidnapped and held hostage.
  • “Indulge a woman never,/ and never tell her all you know”
  • Agamemnon (from hades) warns O. against trusting Penelope enough to just walk back in at home--
    • “give no warning./ The day of faithful wives is gone forever” That’s exactly what O. does in Book XVII.
book twelve
Book Twelve
  • Sirens—[magical singers in the ocean that lure men to drown – O has all men plug their ears but he is tied to a mast so he can listen safely]. Danger of women and sexuality; lust for knowledge.
  • Skylla (eats 6 men of every ship that passes by – O does not warn his men afraid they will stop the journey) O. learns guilt of his actions determining fate of/hurting other people.
  • Charybdis (a whirpool that sink ships )—O learns of despair as most men die
book thirteen
Book Thirteen
  • The Phaiakans do convey O home, and Poseidon punishes them
  • Athena shape-shifts Odysseus for the first time in to an old man.
  • He must be willing to be patient, old, ridiculed.
  • O must be willing to be powerless.
book fourteen
Book Fourteen
  • Hospitality, courtesy still alive on Ithaka, but in old swineherd’s hut. Nobility becomes matter of behavior, not birth.
  • In Odysseus’ home, hospitality is usurped, not granted.
  • **Note throughout the whole last half of the epic that O. can lie convincingly at a moment’s notice.
book fifteen nineteen
Book Fifteen-Nineteen
  • Story speeds up, moving toward final revelation of who Odysseus is and the retaking of his house.
  • Only dog and old maid initially recognize O, but O reveals himself to T
  • Sign of how far O’s house has fallen that even beggars and servant girls can be rude toward strangers with impunity [totally against Greek values].
  • Penelope’s unsure it is really O, so designs a contest – to shoot an arrow thru 12 axes
book twenty
Book Twenty
  • Once more, there is a “personal relationship” between Athena and Odysseus.
  • Nonetheless, the gods arbitrarily make people do things that seem bad to us (causing the suitors to become more and more belligerent with Telemachus, O. as stranger, and the servants).
book twenty one
Book Twenty-One
  • The test of the bow maintains level of suspense through the end of the epic--
    • Penelope says she will marry the best archer
    • T failed 3 times, would have succeeded on 4th but O stops him
    • All suitors fail
    • O succeeds
book twenty two
Book Twenty-Two
  • This begins the denouement, the tying up of things, the setting right of things.
    • Scurrilous suitors killed 1 by 1--differentiating detail for many.
    • Unfaithful servants, both men and women, punished.
book twenty three
Book Twenty-Three
  • Reunion of the wandering husband and faithful wife (both amusing and tender)
    • In making him wait, Penelope gives him back some of what she’s taken in last 20 years.
    • Penelope still wary, afraid some trick of the gods.
    • Amusing banter of 2 people who love each other and feel comfortable in other’s presence.
    • Penelope sets the test of the bed
      • Essentially – bed cannot be moved but only O would know this.
book twenty four
Book Twenty-Four
  • Last loose ends--
    • Achilles and Agamémnon share war stories in Hades.
    • Shades of suitors seen in Hades.
      • This war has brought death to them all, but in different forms.
    • O. pays respects to his aged father.
    • “Outrage and injury have been avenged” with death of suitors
    • Parents of suitors appeased with help of Athena.