READING GUIDE: The underlined questions should be answered in your Odyssey notebook in time to meet 1/8, 1/14, and 1/20 deadlines.
Book I: What Went On in the House of Odysseus
Athena appeals to Zeus for permission to help Odysseus reach home. Odysseus's home in Ithaca is overrun with suitors who are trying to win Penelope's hand. With the help of Athena disguised as Mentes, Telemachus finds the courage to confront the suitors.
1. Where is Odysseus?
2. What or whom is Athena disguised as?
3. How does Telemachus treat his mother?
4. Why do Telemachus and his mother need Odysseus?
5. Why does Odysseus's wife have suitors?
6. What does Athena advise Telemachus to do?
7. If you were Telemachus, how would you handle the problem of the suitors?
Book II: How the Council Met in the Market-place of Ithaca; and What Came of It
In a town meeting, Telemachus announces his intentions to locate his father and rid his house of the suitors. He is met with ridicule and doubt, especially from Antinous who confronts Telemachus twice. Athena helps Telemachus prepare for his journey, and he sets sail in secret that night.
1. Describe the trick that Penelope plays on her suitors.
2. What specifically does Athena do to help Telemachus in this book?
3. Why don't the townsfolk help Telemachus put a stop to the suitors’ behavior?
Book III: What Happened in Sandy Pylos
Following Athena's advice, Telemachus visits King Nestor of Pylos to get information about his father. Athena accompanies him disguised as an old family friend, Mentor. Nestor tells Telemachus stories about Odysseus. Telemachus continues his search on horseback with Nestor's son Megapenthes.
1. What is Nestor's opinion of Odysseus?
2. Describe Nestor's reaction when he realizes that Telemachus's companion is Athena.
Book IV: What Happened in Lacedaimon
Telemachus and Megapenthes arrive at and are welcomed into the home of Menelaus and Helen. Menelaus tells Telemachus of his travels with Odysseus and that Odysseus is trapped on an island by Calypso. Meanwhile, Antinous has learned that Telemachus has embarked on his journey and plots with the other suitors to kill him upon his return to Ithaca. Penelope learns of Telemachus's leaving and is upset.
1. What clues tell Menelaus and Helen that Telemachus is Odysseus's son?
2. What is Menelaus' opinion of Odysseus?
3. Describe Antinous' plan to destroy Telemachus.
4. Why does Homer spend the first four books of an epic devoted to Odysseus in talking about his son, Telemachus? What must Telemachus learn? What must the audience learn? For example, why do you think Telemachus so often expresses puzzlement about who his father is or says that Odysseus is dead?
5. Why do you think various people (and gods) keep retelling the story of Agamemnon and his homecoming?
Book V: Hermes Is Sent to Calypso's Island; Odysseus Makes a Raft
and Is Carried to the Coast of Scheria
Athena again pleads to Zeus for Odysseus's release. Zeus sends Hermes to Calypso with orders that she release Odysseus. Calypso grudgingly complies. Odysseus is given much trouble by Poseidon, but with the help of Leucothea and Athena, he finally reaches the land of the Phaiacians, where he collapses, exhausted.
Why do you think Odysseus refuses Calypso's offer of immortality (76)? (Is he being a bit uppity here?) If given the same choice, how would you answer? (See also p. 90.)
1. Who is Hermes, and what is his mission?
2. What can Hermes do with his wand?
3. Who is holding Odysseus captive?
4. What is Calypso's reaction to having to let Odysseus go?
5. Who is causing most of the problems Odysseus faces while traveling by sea? Why is this entity upset with Odysseus?
6. What happens to Odysseus at the end of Book 5?
Book VI: How Odysseus Appealed to Nausicaa, and She Brought Him
to Her Father's House
Athena appears in Nausicaa's dream, telling her to go to the river and wash clothes. Nausicaa and her maids meet Odysseus at the river, and all but Nausicaa are frightened of him because of his appearance. He begs her to help him and she agrees. He bathes and follows Nausicaa's instructions for asking her parents for assistance.
1. What "subliminal" message does Athena give to Nausicaa while she lies sleeping?
2. Who is the only person who doesn't run away from the terrifying Odysseus? Why doesn't she run away?
3. Is it pure luck that Nausicaa helps Odysseus? Explain.
4. What does the fact that Odysseus won't bathe in front of the girls tell us about the kind of person he is?
5. Does Nausicaa believe her parents will help Odysseus?
6. Why won't Nausicaa let Odysseus ride in her cart?
7. What instructions does she give Odysseus?
Book VII: What Happened to Odysseus in the Palace of Alcinous
Odysseus arrives at the palace of Alcinous and Arete and begs for their help in getting him home. They feed him, ask about his situation, and agree to give him the help he needs.
1. What craft are the Phaiacians best known for?
2. As guest, how is Odysseus treated?
3. Why do you think Odysseus takes so long to tell the Phaiacians his name? Can a hero have no name?
Book VIII: How They Held Games and Sports in Phaiacia
The next day Alcinous sends the boys of the town to construct a ship for Odysseus's voyage and gathers the men for a day of entertainment for Odysseus. Demodocus sings of famous men, including Odysseus. When Alcinous sees Odysseus crying during the minstrel's story, he commences the games and dancing to keep his guest happy. At dinner, Odysseus again weeps when Demodocus sings about the Trojan War. At this point, Alcinous finally demands to know who Odysseus is.
1. Describe the activities that King Alcinous arranges to entertain Odysseus.
2. Who is Demodocus?
3. How is King Alcinous helping Odysseus to get home?
4. What is Odysseus's reaction whenever Demodocus sings about the Trojan War?
5. Athena is something of a guardian angel for Odysseus. Do you believe in guardian angels? Explain your answer.
6. Could Odysseus still be a hero if he didn’t make it back
home again? Why or why not?
Book IX: How Odysseus Visited the Lotus-Eaters and the Cyclops
Odysseus tells Alcinous who he is and what things have happened to him since he left Troy. He tells of his adventures in Ismaros, in the land of the Lotus-Eaters, and in the land of the Cyclopians, violent and lawless one-eyed giants. Odysseus and his men run into trouble with one of the Cyclopians. Men are killed and Poseidon's vendetta against Odysseus begins.
1. What was the effect of the Lotus plant?
2. How heavy is the door of the Cyclops' cave?
How are the Cyclopes like and unlike the Phaeacians? How are they like and unlike men and gods?
3. What is the first villainous thing the Cyclops does?
4. Why doesn't Odysseus kill the Cyclops when he has the chance?
5. What does Odysseus give the Cyclops as a gift?
6. What gift does the Cyclops give in return?
7. What does Odysseus gain by telling the Cyclops that his name is “Noman”?
8. How do Odysseus and his men sneak out of the Cyclops' cave?
9. What foolish thing does Odysseus do?
10. What did a soothsayer once predict would happen to the Cyclops?
11. What does the Cyclops ask his father Poseidon to do for him?
12. In what ways could you say that book 9 (and the rest of the Odyssey) illustrates the tensions between being a good host and being a good warrior? What are the plusses and minuses of hospitality vs. raiding as a way to deal with strangers?
Book X: The Island of the Winds; the Land of the Midnight Sun; Circe
Odysseus tells of his visit to Aeolia, where Aeolus Hippotades, manager of the winds, helps Odysseus and his crew get home. He puts wind in a bag, which Odysseus carries on board the ship. Unfortunately, his curious crew decides to open the bag, and the released winds drive them away from home. They arrive at the land of the Laestrygonians, who eat most of Odysseus's crew before his ship escapes. Then they land on the island of Aiaia, the home of Circe. She traps some of the men and turns them into pigs. Odysseus, with the help of Hermes, gets her to release his men and help him reach home. She instructs him to visit Hades, where he will meet Tieresias, who will tell him how to get home.
1. Who is the god of wind?
2. What favor does he do for Odysseus and his men?
3. What stupid mistake do some of the men make on the ship?
4. How do even more men die after the bag accident?
5. What does Circe do to some of Odysseus's men?
6. How does Odysseus get her to release his men?
7. Why do you think Circe is so dangerous? What do you think this episode says about relations between men and women in this society? (Consider the symbolic implications of men as pigs, drug and antidote, the threat of becoming "unman[ned]" [10.321 and 10.363], and Odysseus' sharp sword.) How is Circe like or unlike Helen of Troy?
8. What instructions does Circe give Odysseus?
Book XI: How Odysseus Visited the Kingdom of the Dead
Odysseus follows Circe's instructions. In Hades, he first sees a dead shipmate, Elpenor, then his mother, Anticleia, then Tieresias. Tieresias tells him what will happen to him next, including a warning about the cattle of Helios and how to reconcile with Poseidon. He then gets to talk with his mother, and she answers many questions for him. At this point, Odysseus tries to conclude his storytelling, but Alcinous begs him to continue. Odysseus says only that he met the souls of many who had died, then left Hades.
1. What steps does Odysseus take to call the souls of the dead to him? What substance attracts the dead, and why does it attract them?
2. Who is Teiresias and what does Odysseus want from him?
3. What does Teiresias predict for Odysseus?
4. What should Odysseus do to the suitors at his house?
5. What does Teiresias say Odysseus should do after dealing with the suitors?
6. What is the name of Odysseus's mother and how did she die?
7. Why can't Odysseus hug his dead mother?
8. Compare and contrast Achilles' speech in book 11 of the Odyssey with his speeches and attitudes in the Iliad. Do you think he has changed his attitude? What points do you think Homer is making about life, fame, glory, fate, and death?
Book XII: The Singing Sirens, and the Terrors of Scylla and Charybdis
Odysseus tells of their return to Aiaia to bury Elpenor and of Circe's warning of the dangers to come: the Sirens, Scylla, Charybdis, and Helios's cattle. The men make it through the perils of the sea, as predicted. On land, when they run out of provisions, they eat Helios's cattle even though Odysseus made them promise not to. At sea, all except Odysseus are killed as punishment. Odysseus is adrift for nine days before landing on the island of Ogygia, Calypso's home. Alcinous and the other listeners are now up-to-date on the travels of Odysseus.
1. Why should Odysseus be wary of the Sirens?
2. What should Odysseus and his men do to keep safe from the Sirens?
3. Why should only Odysseus (and no one else) be allowed to listen to the Sirens’ song?
4. Describe Scylla.
4. What will Charybdis do if Odysseus's ship gets too close?
5. What does Odysseus keep secret from his men?
6. Describe the circumstances of Odysseus's shipmates' deaths. Is it Odysseus's fault?
Book XIII: How Odysseus Came to Ithaca
Odysseus is finished telling his story. King Alcinous gives Odysseus a ship with a crew and supplies, and the townspeople all give him gifts. The crew delivers Odysseus to Ithaca and returns home. Poseidon, who is angry that anyone would make Odysseus's travels by sea so easy, turns the ship and crew into stone as they return to their harbor. Odysseus does not believe he is home until Athena convinces him. She disguises him as an old beggar and sends to him to his faithful pigkeeper.
1. Describe Odysseus's journey home from Scheria.
2. What does Poseidon initially want to do to the Phaeacian ship?
3. What decision does Alcinous make because of the wrath of Poseidon?
4. Why and for how long does Athena want Odysseus to be in disguise?
5. What does Athena instruct Odysseus to do now that he has returned to Ithaca?
6. Who does Athena instruct Odysseus to visit first? Why?
Book XIV: Odysseus and the Swineherd
Athena goes to Lacedaimon to bring Telemachus home. Odysseus goes to the swineherd Eumaius' house. Odysseus is made welcome and is pleased to see how faithful Eumaeus has been during his absence.
1. What is the name of the swineherd?
2. What does Odysseus tell the swineherd about himself?
3. Describe Odysseus's disguise.
Book XV: How Telemachus Sailed Back to Ithaca
Athena finds Telemachus at the mansion of Menelaus and instructs him to return home. Odysseus learns from Eumaeus about his (Odysseus's) parents and how Eumaeus was bought by Laertes when he was a child. Telemachus lands safely back in Ithaca and, by Athena's instructions, goes straight to Eumaeus.
1. How has Eumaeus proven his faithfulness in this and previous books?
2. Who do you think will be the first person to know Odysseus for who he really is?
Book XVI: How Telemachus Met His Father
Athena instructs Odysseus to reveal his identity to Telemachus and to plan their revenge on the suitors. Eumaeus tells Penelope that Telemachus has returned safely to Ithaca. When the suitors, led by Antinous, learn that their plan to kill Telemachus has failed, they plot to kill him another way.
1. What does Telemachus call Eumaeus? Why?
2. Describe Athena's changes to Odysseus's appearance.
3. Who does Telemachus think Odysseus is when Athena removes his disguise?
4. What do Odysseus and Telemachus plan to do?
5. Describe Penelope's confrontation with Antinous.
6. Have you ever wanted to know what people said and thought about you when you weren’t around? If you could disguise yourself in some way and be around the people you know, how would you carry it out? Describe your ideal disguise and a scenario that you imagine would take place if you could be a “fly on the wall.”
Book XVII: How Odysseus Returned to His Own Home
Telemachus returns home, accompanied by Theoclymenus. Eumaeus brings the disguised Odysseus to his home where the suitors are entertaining themselves as usual. Odysseus is recognized only by Argos, his old hunting dog, who dies after hearing his master' s voice one last time. Odysseus tests the suitors by begging for food from each one. Penelope tells Eumaeus to bring the beggar to her; she wants to know if he has any news about Odysseus.
1. What does Theoclymenus prophesy to Penelope?
2. How does Odysseus test the suitors?
3. Who recognizes Odysseus right away? How does he recognize him?
4. Describe Melanthius.
5. Who makes Odysseus extremely angry?
6. Odysseus wants to test his servants and his wife before revealing his identity to see who’s remained loyal. Why, in each case, is that important to know?
Book XVIII: How Odysseus Fought the Sturdy Beggar
Odysseus fights with another beggar, Irus, who is used to being the only beggar at the castle. Penelope decides to address the suitors, saying she will choose a husband according to who brings her the best gift. Odysseus recognizes this as a trick on the suitors. Odysseus is further antagonized by Melantho, a maid, and Eurymachus.
1. Why does Odysseus get in a fight with Irus? Who wins? What do you think is the point of the story of Odysseus' fight with Irus (276-280)? Do you see any similarities between Polyphemus the Cyclops and Irus the beggar?
2. What trick does Penelope play on the suitors in this book?
3. Which three characters anger Odysseus in this book?
Book XIX: How the Old Nurse Knew Her Master
The women are shut up in their rooms, and Odysseus and Telemachus hide all the weapons in a storeroom. Odysseus, still disguised as a beggar, goes to see Penelope. He convinces her that he did meet Odysseus and that he has heard also that Odysseus is on his way home. Penelope is grateful and orders Eurycleia to bathe and clothe the beggar. Eurycleia recognizes Odysseus by a scar on his leg, but he swears her to secrecy. Penelope, discouraged, decides to go ahead and marry whomever can meet the challenge that she will put forth to the suitors: to string Odysseus's bow and shoot an arrow through twelve axe-heads in a row.
1. What does Odysseus the beggar tell Penelope about Odysseus?
2. How does Eurycleia recognize Odysseus?
3. How did Odysseus get the scar on his leg?
4. Describe Penelope's challenge for the suitors.
Book XX: How God Sent Omens of the Wrath to Come
It is a new day and Telemachus receives the beggar (Odysseus) into his house. The beggar is ridiculed by many, but he remains calm. Philoetius proves himself a faithful servant.
1. Name two people who are cruel to Odysseus the beggar.
2. Who proves himself to be a kind and loyal servant?
3. What do you think Odysseus is going to do to the suitors?
Book XXI: The Contest with the Great Bow
Penelope issues her challenge to the suitors, but none of the men can bend the bow to string it. Odysseus finds a chance to confide in Philoetius and Eumaeus and to include them in his plans for revenge. Odysseus easily strings the bow and shoots an a arrow through the twelve axe-heads. Eumaeus tells the women to lock themselves in the bedrooms, and Telemachus and Odysseus arm themselves against the suitors.
1. Who does Odysseus trust to help him defeat the suitors?
2. What are two reasons the suitors don’t want Odysseus to try to string the bow?
3. How does Odysseus prove his true identity?
Book XXII: The Battle in the Hall
Immediately Odysseus reveals himself and kills Antinous with an arrow. Eurymachus tries to convince Odysseus that Antinous is to blame for everything and that he shouldn't kill the other suitors. Odysseus gives them a chance to run away, but they choose to fight, led by Eurymachus. Odysseus, Telemachus, and the two servants kill everyone except Phemius and Medon. Odysseus asks Eurycleia to identify the maids who have been unfaithful and bring them to him. He makes them clean up the blood and dead bodies in the hall and then Telemachus hangs them. Melanthius is cut up and fed to the dogs. The maids and servants come and celebrate the return of Odysseus.
1. What did Odysseus prove about his abilities when he shot the arrow through the twelve axes? Why is that important at this point in the story?
2. Whom does Odysseus kill first and why?
3. How does Eurymachus plead his case with Odysseus?
4. Who does Telemachus catch raiding the storeroom of weapons and what do they do with him?
What do you think is Homer's message about servants and slaves in this epic? How can you tell good slaves from bad?
6. Which two servants are spared?
7. Why do you think Eurycleia is so willing to identify the unfaithful maids?
8. What does Odysseus do to the unfaithful maids?
9. What is done to Melanthius?
Book XXIII: How Odysseus Found His Wife Again
Odysseus reveals his identity to Penelope, but she is skeptical. She tests Odysseus by having Eurycleia provide Odysseus a place to sleep by moving a bed into the hallway. Odysseus becomes angry because he built this bed out of a tree trunk so that it could not be moved. Penelope then knows that he is truly her husband. He tells her that, according to Tieresias, he must carry an oar inland and make sacrifices to Poseidon. He also feels he must regain all the livestock and goods that he lost because of the suitors. He sets out to see his father and tells Penelope to stay locked in her room with her maids until he returns.
1. How does Penelope test Odysseus? Why does she test him? Do you think she
knows it’s him and is just playing games?
2. Describe the one last task that Tieresias told Odysseus to complete. What will be his reward for this task?
3. After Odysseus tells Penelope about all his adventures, he sets off again. What does he go to do? What does he tell Penelope to do?
4. Do you think Odysseus is cruel when he decides not to reveal himself right away to Penelope (pp. 358-60) and his father Laertes (pp. 371-375)? Why do you think he tests them?
Book XXIV: How Odysseus Found His Old Father and How the Story Ended
The souls of the dead men pass to Hades, led by Hermes. Odysseus goes to see Laertes, pretending to be someone else at first, but then he reveals his identity. Laertes asks for proof that he is Odysseus. He tells about the scar on his leg and spending time in his father's orchard. Relatives of the suitors, led by Eupeithes, Antinous' father, come to battle Odysseus. Odysseus kills Eupeithes, then Athena stops the battle and makes peace between the two sides.
1. How does Odysseus prove that he is really Laertes' son?
2. What is Laertes afraid of?
3. Who comes to battle Odysseus? Who are they led by?
4. Who does Odysseus kill?
5. Who stops the battle?
6. If someone claimed to be your long-lost relative, a person nobody in your family had ever seen or heard of, how would you test that person to be sure of his identity? Include three specific questions you’d ask as you explain how you would test the stranger.
7. Does the ending (the gods intervene to stop the feud) satisfy you? Why or why not?
The questions below may appear on your final exam at the end of the semester.
What qualities does the text hold up as heroic? Keep track of heroic qualities and the episodes in which they are most evident and necessary. Are there different kinds of heroism? If so, what is the distinction between the different kinds of heroism?
What kinds of behavior are treated as contemptible in the Odyssey? Keep track of these qualities and the characters who embody them. Find episodes where contemptible behavior occurs.
What is the purpose of the many allusions to the legend about the homecoming of Agamemnon?
What outstanding personal qualities enable Odysseus to survive all his dangerous adventures and to surmount all obstacles to return home safely and regain his old status?
What are some of Odysseus' weaknesses?
When does the dramatic climax of the Odyssey take place? Is this before or after reunion of Odysseus and Penelope? Why?
What do you think is Odysseus' worst action of his wanderings and why?
Why is the "Odyssey" a story read by so many after years and years?
3=This excellent answer is thorough and demonstrates style (good word choice, sentence variety, voice). It uses details and examples as evidence.
2=This average answer may leave questions in the reader’s mind because it lacks thoroughness, or it may be lacking in style, details, and/or evidence.
1=This answer doesn’t address the question very well at all. It uses too few words, or has hardly any style, details and/or evidence OR this is too wordy.
GRADING SHEET FOR JAN. 8 TOTAL POINTS: _________/27
_________/3 If you were Telemachus, how would you handle the problem of the
_________/3 Why don’t the townsfolk help Telemachus put a stop to the suitors’ behavior?
_________/3 What is Nestor's opinion of Odysseus?
_________/3 Why does Homer spend the first four books of an epic devoted to Odysseus in
talking about his son, Telemachus? What must he learn? For example, why do
you think Telemachus so often expresses puzzlement about who his father is or
says that Odysseus is dead?
_________/3 Who is causing most of the problems Odysseus faces while traveling by sea?
Why is this entity upset with Odysseus?
_________/3 Is it pure luck that Nausicaa helps Odysseus? Explain.
_________/3 What does the fact that Odysseus won't bathe in front of the girls tell us about the kind of person he is?
_________/3 Why do you think Odysseus takes so long to tell the Phaiacians his name? Can a
hero have no name?
_________/3 Athena is something of a guardian angel for Odysseus. Do you believe in guardian angels? Explain your answer.
_________/3 Could Odysseus still be a hero if he didn’t make it back
home again? Why or why not?
GRADING SHEET FOR JAN. 14 TOTAL POINTS: __________/27
_________/3 What does Odysseus gain by telling the Cyclops that his name is “Noman”?
_________/3 In what ways could you say that book 9 (and the rest of the Odyssey) illustrates
the tensions between being a good host and being a good warrior? What are the
plusses and minuses of hospitality vs. raiding as a way to deal with strangers?
_________/3 Why do you think Circe is so dangerous? What do you think this episode says
about relations between men and women in this society? (Consider the symbolic
implications of men as pigs; drug and antidote; the threat of becoming
unman[ned]” in 10.321and 10.363; and Odysseus’ sharp sword.) How is Circe
like or unlike Helen?
_________/3 What steps does Odysseus do to call the souls of the dead to him? What
substance attracts the dead, and why does it attract them?
_________/3 Compare and contrast Achilles’ speech in book 11 of the Odyssey with his
speeches and attitudes in the Iliad. Do you think he has changed his attitude?
What points do you think Homer is making about life, fame, glory, fate, and
_________/3 Why should only Odysseus (and no one else) be allowed to listen to the Sirens’
_________/3 Why and for how long does Athena want Odysseus to be in disguise?
_________/3 Who does Athena instruct Odysseus to visit first? Why?
________/3 Have you ever wanted to know what people said and thought about you when you weren’t around? If you could disguise yourselfin some way and be around the people you know, how would you carry it out? Describe your ideal disguise and a scenario that you imagine would take place if you could be a “fly on the wall.”
GRADING SHEET FOR JAN. 20 TOTAL POINTS: __________/39
_________/3 How does Odysseus test the suitors?
_________/3 Odysseus wants to test his servants and his wife before revealing his identity to
see who’s remained loyal. Why, in each case, is that important to know?
_________/3 What trick does Penelope play on the suitors in this book?
_________/3 For what two reasons don't the suitors want Odysseus to try to string the bow?
_________/3 Why do you think Eurycleia is so willing to identify the unfaithful maids?
_________/3 How does Penelope test Odysseus? Why does she test him? Do you think she
knows it’s him and is just playing games?
_________/3 Do you think Odysseus is cruel when he decides not to reveal himself right away
to Penelope (pp. 358-60) and his father Laertes (pp. 371-375)? Why do you think
he tests them?
_________/3 If someone claimed to be your long-lost relative, a person nobody in your
family had ever seen or heard of, how would you test that person to be sure of
his identity? Explain how you would test the stranger.
________/10 Notebook cover demonstrates understanding of line, color, viewer appeal. Cover demonstrates attention to detail and sophistication of approach. Notebook cover looks like a real book cover. Cover includes, minimally, title and author.
9-10=A (Exemplary) 8=B (Good) 6-7=C(Acceptable) 3-5=D (Needs Work)
__________/5 Paragraph clearly explains elements of cover and how they relate to the poem.