Homer Odyssey Books 1-8 Study Guide Questions

For those of you who may be following our reading of Homer remotely or just via the web, here’s our schedule of reading over the next three months and below that I have put the reading questions that I distributed to each reader for the first call, which is tonight. 

Discussion #1 To be done by early October
Books 1-8 Recognitions (Lombardo translation pp. 1-124)
1-4 Telemachus’ coming of age, “recognized” as heir
5-8 Odyssseus permitted to complete last leg of his return home, “recognized” publicly for the first time in many years on Phaeacia

Discussion #2 To be done by early November
Books 9- 16 Reconciliations (Lombardo translation pp. 125-255)
9-12 Odysseus’ wanderings, “reconciling” Poseidon’s curse
13-16 Odysseus’ return to his native land, “reconciling” with Telemachus

Discussion #3 To be done by early December
Books 17-24 Revenge (Lombardo translation pp. 256-381)
17-20 Odysseus and Telemachus return to the palace in imminent danger
21-24 The contest of the bow and ultimate revenge on the suitors



— Books 1-4 Telemachus’ coming of age, “recognized” as heir

1. Why is the fate of Agamemnon in particular, brought up so quickly at the beginning of this epic?

2. What are the gods like?  Why are they introduced first (i.e. instead of Odysseus)?  How is divine intervention portrayed in these opening chapters?

3. Looking at the gods in chs. 1-4, what sense of Justice is there for Telemachus?  For the 
suitors?  For Penelope?  How is hospitality defined?  How is hospitality actually practiced in books 1-4?

4. Given Sheila Murnaghan’s mention of “nostos” on p. xiii, what key ingredients are showcased in books 1-4 before we are introduced to the character of Odysseus in books 5-8?  What can be applied to today’s war veteran missing in action and his eventual homecoming?  What is the legacy of the Trojan war ten years after it was fought?

— Books 5-8 
Odyssseus permitted to complete last leg of his return home, “recognized” publicly for the first time in many years on Phaeacia

1. Compared to the emotions brewing in books 1-4, how does Homer set the tone in book 5 both with the interaction of the gods and with the introduction of Odysseus?  In what ways is our hero Odysseus forced to show humility?  Even though Odysseus is gifted with words and cleverness, why must Athena assist him as he approaches the palace of Alcinous (books 6 & 7)?  What does this say about society and travelers in the ancient world?

2. In book 7, Odysseus is carefully counseled by two women (one a princess, the other a goddess) in how to approach Queen Arete.  How is hospitality defined according to Odysseus’ experience at the palace in Phaeacia?  How does it compare to Telemachus’ experience earlier at Pylos and Sparta? How does it compare to the scenes at Ithaca in Odysseus’ own palace with the suitors?

3. In Book 8, how does Odysseus’ interaction with Nausicaa compare to the first one in Book 6? Note Arete’s gift to Odysseus (a chest of clothes) and Odysseus’ palace bath.  How important are women in how strangers are treated?  Compare Menelaus’ and Helen’s hospitality towards Telemachus in Book 4 to Alcinous’ and Arete’s hospitality toward Odysseus here in Book 8.  How are Telemachus’ and Odysseus’ identities recognized in each case?  Why didn’t they show their ID at the door as in modern times?

4. Looking at pp. 403-411 in the back of Lombardo’s translation, one can see the extent of speeches found in the Odyssey.  Does this surprise you in terms of reading a epic?  Is Homer allowing too much dramatic dialogue to invade the epic narrative?  What is the one speech that stands out for you in the section we will discuss next call?

06. October 2009 by Arrian
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