CL103/EN203 (fall 2009)

Schedule and study questions for Homer's Odyssey and the Homeric Hymn to Demeter:

book-by-book summaries of the Odyssey


September 28: books 1, 3, 4

a. Since Book 1 is the start of the poem, what information is given in this book to get the plot moving?  What, to your mind, should be here and isn't?
b. From the point of view of plot organization, contrast the structure of the Odyssey as it is seen in this first book with the plot structure of the Iliad.
c. Describe Telemakhos as he is seen in these opening books of the Odyssey.

d. Describe Athena as she is seen in these opening books of the Odyssey.

e. Compare/contrast the role of the gods in these opening books of the Odyssey with the role of the gods in the Iliad.

f. Compare Helen as we see her here with Helen in the Iliad.  How is she the same? how is she different?  Which is the “real” Helen?  What does “real” in this context mean?



October 1: books 5, 6

a. Looking back on the books 1, 3 and 4, we can see in retrospect that an image was presented of the absent Odysseus.  How does this image compare with the reality of the man as we see him for the first time specifically in books 5?
b. What is the role of the gods in book 5?
c. What is Nausikaa like?  Why does Homer spend as much time as he does on her?
d. Xenia (“hospitality”), both xenia properly offered and received and xenia abused, is a major theme in the Odyssey.  How is this theme touched on in these books?



October 5: books  7, 9

a. What is the world of the Phaiakians like?  How does this portrayal of the Phaiakians fit into the Odyssey as you understand it thus far?
b. How does book 9 in particular develop the character of Odysseus?  What, if anything, do the events in books 10 and 12 add to this picture of Odysseus?
c. Contrast the world of the Phaiakians with the world of the Kyklopes?
d. How do the various episodes in books 7 and 9 fit into the theme of xenia ("hospitality")?



October 8: books 10, 12

a. How do the various episodes in these books fit into the theme of xenia?
b. In these books we see Odysseus functioning as a leader of his band of men.  How is he as a leader?
c. To your mind, which is the most "visual" of the episodes in these books?  Why?



October 13: books 16, 17

a. What does the meeting of Odysseus and Telemakhos tell us about each?
b. Telemakhos, as we see him in the Odyssey, is at the point of transition between being a boy and being a man.  How has he already progressed from being one to becoming the other?  How is the Telemakhos we see here more of a man than the Telemakhos we saw in book 1?  How is he still a boy?

c. What is the comparable transition in Odysseus’ life that the hero is now undergoing?  What has he been?  What is he is the process of becoming?

d. Eumaios is obviously socially out-of-place with most of the other characters in the Odyssey.  Why do you think Homer introduces such a socially inferior person?  What is the signficance of his "social differentness"?  How does it affect the reader/listener's view of Odysseus? of Homeric society as a whole?
e. What in particular is the role of the incident with Melanthios in book 17?  What of the meeting with Argos there?



October 15: books 19, 21

a. Books 16, 17 and 19 are, in their way, a prologue to the contest which will result in the defeat and death of the suitors, but what do we learn in this prologue?  What are these books contributing to the development of the Odyssey?
b. What is Penelope like, as we see her in book 19?
c. Why does Odysseus conceal his identity from Penelope?
d. What in particular is the role of the incident of Eurykleia and the scar?
e. Time seems to slow down as we move through the episode of bow-contest, almost to a standstill by the time we reach the end of the book.   What is there in the narrative that contributes to this impression?


October 19: books 22, 23

a. Compare/contrast the great battle in the palace with the battles in the Iliad.
b. How do you personally react to the killing of the maidservants and Melanthios?  How do you imagine Homer expected his listeners to react?  If there is a difference in the two, how would you account for it?
c. What adjectives would you use to describe the reunion of Odysseus and Penelope?
d. In terms of the Odyssey as a whole, what does the tale of Odysseus' homecoming have to do with the very different tale of Odysseus' wanderings?



October 24:

I. book 24
a. Is this book necessary to make the Odyssey feel “complete”?  Or could the poem have ended earlier?  If it could, where?
b. How is the conversation between Agamemnon and Achilleus relevant to the Odyssey as a whole?  Or is it irrelevant?  If it’s irrelevant, what is it doing here?
c. What will become of Odysseus now?  Is this a “happy ending” for the hero or a “sad” one?  Why?
d. Which did you like better, the Iliad or the Odyssey?  Why?
e. Some people have quite seriously suggested that the Odyssey was written by a woman.  What do you see in this Odyssey that would lead one to make such a suggestion?

f. Why is neither this nor this a good representation of Homeric performance?

II. Homeric Hymn to Demeter

Note: You may find it helpful to read the brief note on Demeter at this link before reading the Hymn.

a. What do you imagine was the original occasion for the performance of this Hymn? How do you think it was performed? What is there in the Hymn that leads you to answer these two questions as you have?

b. What is Demeter like?

c. How does the account of Demeter’s stay at Eleusis fit into the Hymn as a whole?

d. Is there any point to the story the Hymn tells? If so, what is it?