What seems to be Homer’s conception of the ideal hero? Do you find Odysseus altogether admirable? How may the Odyssey have reflected the values of the culture to which it was directed, or its particular auditors?
Why do you think the Odyssey has continued to be read through the centuries, and to inspire many imitations and reworkings? What features of the story seem most attractive or universal in their appeal? Which might especially have appealed to nineteenth century British readers?
Is the Odyssey well-arranged for the greatest possible narrative effect? How are its books arranged to create balance, repetition, suspense and closure?
How does Homer’s use of supernatural beings affect the tone and meaning of his story?
Without Athena, Zeus, and Poisedon, would Odysseus’s tale have been equally interesting?
What view of religion seems to be held by the author of the Odyssey?
Most of the Odyssey’s nineteenth-century British readers were Christians; why do you think a poem suffused with Greek religion nonetheless appealed to them?
How is the tale of the Trojan War interwoven in the tale of Odysseus? What themes are reinforced by these flashbacks and memories?
How does Homer treat the figure of the harper? What qualities does he ascribe to the singer? What other arts and crafts are most important to the storyteller?
What attitudes do Homer and his heroes seem to have towards women? How gender-segregated is the society presented in the Odyssey? Do women and/or men seem to fall into certain predetermined patterns of character?
To what extent is the Odyssey a tale of a young man’s maturation and search for his father and identity? Alternately, how may it be seen as a poem of early middle-age, or the tale of a marriage which survives under stress? Is the Odyssey a successful family drama?
How does Homer’s narrative reflect his views on government and civic morality? What view of the proper relationship between aristocrats and servants does the plot seem to enforce?
What effect do Odysseus’s deceptions have on the plot and general tone of the epic? Would the poem be worse without them?
What are some features of the poem’s use of language, description, and epic similes? How do they contribute to the story’s gracefulness and meaning? What effect is created by the poet’s use of repetition?
What seems to be Homer’s conception of justice? (emphasis on revenge) Are aspects of it open to question? How might Socrates have judged the morality of Homer’s world?
How are prophecies used as a structural element of the plot?
How does the heroic ethic of hospitality reflect Homer’s view of ideal government? Or alternately, how does the presentation of a code of hospitality aid in structuring the plot?
Can you imagine an alternate episode or ending to the narrative? For example, how might the story of Odysseus’ visit be told from the point of view of Kirke or the Kyklops?
Several nineteenth-century and modern writers have retold the story of Odysseus; what types of adaptations or changes do you think would have made this story more conformable to modern literary tastes?
Some have hypothecized that this poem was written by more than one author. Can you see evidence for or against this view?
Which features of the poem did you admire or dislike? What effect, if any, do you think this widely read and taught poem may have had on the way in which later readers tended to view their world?
Questions on Selected Chapters (in progress):
Chapters 17: The Beggar at the Manor
Why does Telmakhos instruct Eumaios to lead Odyyseus out to beg? How does Odysseus conbritute to the deception?
What news of Odysseus does Telemakhos tell his mother? What purpose is served by the repetition of earlier parts of the narrative? What items does Telmakhos emphasize?
What outcome is foreshadowed by the epic simile on page 313 of the lion who kills the doe sucklings in his nest?
What does Theoklymenos prephcy? Why doesn’t the queen immediately question him further? What may this indicate about her character or state of mind? Do you think she suspects anything?
How does Melanthios treat Eumaios and Odysseus? Why doesn’t he wish his masters return? What purpose is served by presenting a goatherd who insults a swineherd?
Who in his household first recognizes Odysseus? What does the audience learn from hearing Argos’ history?
How do the suitors behave toward Odysseus? How does Antinoos distinguish himself from the others? On what grounds does Odysseus curse him? If this scene is an indication, what seems to have been the contemporary Greek attitude toward beggars?
Why is Penelope’s conversation with her maid introduced at this point of the story? What emotions are shown in her response to the beggar? Why does Odysseus delay in visiting her?
Chapter 18: Blows and a Queen’s Beauty
What is shown by the episode in which Iros fights Odysseus? By Odysseus’ warning to Amphinomos?
What prompts Penelope to visit her son and the suitors in the hall? What is the effect of the trance Athena imposes on her?
What dramatic function is served by Penelope’s account of Odysseus’ leavetaking and final instructions? Does Odysseus suspect her motives in expecting gifts from her suitors?
What kind of courtship gifts does Penelope collect? Why does Odysseus wish to tend the fire at this point? Why is the episode of his argument with Melantho included? His threat to Eurymakhos?
What finally motivates the suitors to desist their taunts?
Chapter 19: Recognitions and a Dream
Why does Telemakhos instruct Eurykleia to lock the maids in their quarters? What good omen attends the hiding of the weapons? Why does Odysseus not disclose its source to his son?
Why does Penelope speak sharply to Melantho? Why do you think she confides her problem to a visiting beggar?
What indirections does Odysseus use to tell her news of himself? What facts does he emphasize? Are there any important ones which he omits? What prediction does he make?
What is Penelope’s response to his story?
Why is Odysseus cautious about who bathes him? Why does Eurykleia first notice about Odysseus, and what piece of evidence confirms his identity? What purpose is served by the account of the boar hunt?
Why does Odysseus threaten his old nurse? Do you think his reaction overdone? Why does Penelope compare her grief to that of the nightingale?
From what dream has Penelope just awakened, and what seems to be its significance? Why does she fear it may have entered her mind by the “gate of horn”? What do you think suddenly prompts her to hold a contest to decide her marital fate?
What familiar patterns are echoed in the closing of this book?
Chapter 20: Signs and a Vision
What is Odysseus’ mental state the night before his fight with the suitors? Do you think this is useful to him? Why is he angry at the female servants?
What attitude toward him does Athena reveal in her nighttime advent? How does Penelope’s prayer differ from previous ones she had made? For what omen does Odysseus pray?
What response does Odysseus in his beggar’s disguise receive from Philoitos? What prediction doe Odysseus make to him?
What omen causes the suitors to suspend their plan to murder Telemakhos?
Over what issue does Telemakhos finally assert his authority in his own house? What argument does Agelaos use in response, and how does Telemakhos counter it?
What prophecy does Theoklymenos utter? How does it differ from his earlier one? How do the suitors react? What does Eurymakhos suggest be done with him?
What is the final target of the suitors’ insults? Where does Penelope place her chair, and why? What prediction ends the book?
Chapter 21: The Test of the Bow
How had Odysseus earned the great bow? With what remarks and what promise does Penelope present it to the suitors? Is this a dangerous pledge?
What causes Telemakhos to stop stringing the bow? Why do you think the poet prevents him from testing himself with his father’s weapon?
Does the first suitor, Leodes, exhibit any redeeming traits? At what point doe Odysseus reveal himself to Eumaios and Philoitios? Why does he make promises to them, and what actions does he instruct them to perform?
Why is Eurymakhos disturbed that he cannot string the bow? Does he seem to regret the loss of Penelope? Had it been accepted, what effect would Antinoos’ plan to postpone the contest have had on Odysseus’ chances and the outcome of the scene?
Why are the suitors reluctant to permit the beggar to join the contest? Do you think they may have some inkling of his strength? Are there ironic or dishonest features of Anitnoos’ arguments for forbidding Odysseus to attempt the bow?
On what grounds does Penelope request that he be allowed to try? At this point, why does Telemakhos ask her to withdraw? Do you think he is tactful in making his point?
What is unprecedented about Telemakhos’ next instructions to his servants? Who takes the bow to Odysseus, and who instructs Eurykleia to close the door? Do you think she understands the implications of what she is doing?
What ironies inhere in the suitors’ comments on Odysseus’ handling of the bow?
What metaphor is used to describe Odysseus’ stringing of the bow? Is it appropriate? What sign does Zeus send? What is the irony of Odysseus’ closing words?
Chapter 22: Death in the Great Hall
In what act is Antinoos arrested? Why do the suitors at first not understand what has happened? Why7 does Odysseus pause to reveal his identity?
What stategem does Eurymakhos use in attempting to propitiate Odysseus? Why does Odysseus relent? What is Eurymakhos doing at the moment of his death?
What crucial action does Malanthios take, and how is he punished? What details of the battle scene are most fully described?
What finally turns the tide of battle? In the ethos of the poem, why doesn’t Athena intervene more directly until the end?
How does Ktestippos’ punishment directly revenge his earlier rudeness? What metaphors are used to describe the effect of Athena’s shield? Of Odysseus and his colleagues?
Why does Odysseus deny Leodes’ request for mercy? On what grounds is Phemios made an exception? Why does Telemakhos plead for Medon?
What punishment does Odysseus mandate for the servingwomen who had consorted with the suitors? What proportion of the total number of servingmaids had been guilty of this behavior?
What fate is reserved for Melanthios? Do you think Homer expects his audience to approve?
What does Odysseus desire to occur before meeting Penelope? What is the emotional effect of this final act?
What are some features of the writing in this section? In what ways is the story well-told?