Ia 2 –Fighting Fate in

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IA 2 –Fighting Fate in The Odyssey

Unit Overview

Narrative Premise

Epic Poetry—A Hero’s Quest


7-8 weeks

Genre of Text(s)


Primary Authors

Connection to Course Narrative

In 9th grade Literature, scholars will continuously explore the question of why some stories transcend place and time. While many answers address this question, at the root of many of these answers is the notion that certain stories enable reader to share in the human experience through a set of common narrative premises.

Specifically, the texts within IA Cycle #2 all represent the lasting narrative premise of “the heroic journey,” in which the protagonist, subject, or author of the text engages in some form of a quest through which this person sacrifices for another person or a larger idea. Embedded within these texts are also messages about human purpose and fate that beg us to question our own existence: does Homer’s vision of what makes life worth living resonate with our own modern lives? Does Homer’s vision of the gods and fate connect to our ideas of self-made men and luck?
After reading texts that give historical background on Homer’s life, the values of Ancient Greece, and oral tradition, students will read sections from eight books from Homer’s epic. After exploring ideas of heroism, fate, honor, and family, students will engage in comparative work where they will read poems and works inspired by The Odyssey and perhaps watch clips from the film O Brother Where Art Thou? Ultimately, students should gain an understanding of the thematic relevance of the epic from past to present, while improving reading and analytical skills.

Overview of Unit

Why The Odyssey?
The Odyssey was selected as the anchor text for this IA cycle for a number of reasons:

  1. Institutional memory around the text. The Odyssey is referenced by numerous works of modern art.

  2. Historical significance of the text. Reading The Odyssey is a way for students to learn about the lives and values of Ancient Greeks.

  3. Author and narrative add diversity to the core texts

  4. Text easily excerpts to allow for more close reading rather than having to devote numerous instructional days to reading

  5. Text level allows for more whole text thematic analysis and tracking, appropriate for IA cycle 2.

Nearly three thousand years after they were composed, the Iliad and the Odyssey remain two of the most celebrated and widely read stories ever told, yet next to nothing is known about their author. He was certainly an accomplished Greek bard, and he probably lived in the late eighth and early seventh centuries b.c.e. Authorship is traditionally ascribed to a blind poet named Homer, and it is under this name that the works are still published. Greeks of the third and second centuries b.c.e., however, already questioned whether Homer existed and whether the two epics were even written by a single individual.
Most modern scholars believe that even if a single person wrote the epics, his work owed a tremendous debt to a long tradition of unwritten, oral poetry. Stories of a glorious expedition to the East and of its leaders’ fateful journeys home had been circulating in Greece for hundreds of years before the Iliad and Odyssey were composed. Casual storytellers and semiprofessional minstrels passed these stories down through generations, with each artist developing and polishing the story as he told it. According to this theory, one poet, multiple poets working in collaboration, or perhaps even a series of poets handing down their work in succession finally turned these stories into written works, again with each adding his own touch and expanding or contracting certain episodes in the overall narrative to fit his taste.
Although historical, archaeological, and linguistic evidence suggests that the epics were composed between 750 and 650 b.c.e., they are set in Mycenaean Greece in about the twelfth century b.c.e., during the Bronze Age. This earlier period, the Greeks believed, was a more glorious and sublime age, when gods still frequented the earth and heroic, godlike mortals with superhuman attributes populated Greece. Because the two epics strive to evoke this pristine age, they are written in a high style and generally depict life as it was believed to have been led in the great kingdoms of the Bronze Age. The Greeks are often referred to as “Achaeans,” the name of a large tribe occupying Greece during the Bronze Age.
But Homer’s reconstruction often yields to the realities of eighth- and seventh-century b.c.e. Greece. The feudal social structure apparent in the background of the Odyssey seems more akin to Homer’s Greece than to Odysseus’s, and Homer substitutes the pantheon of deities of his own day for the related but different gods whom Mycenaean Greeks worshipped. Many other minor but obvious anachronisms—such as references to iron tools and to tribes that had not yet migrated to Greece by the Bronze Age—betray the poem’s later, Iron Age origins.

Of the two epics, the Odyssey is the later both in setting and, probably, date of composition. The Iliad tells the story of the Greek struggle to rescue Helen, a Greek queen, from her Trojan captors. The Odyssey takes the fall of the city of Troy as its starting point and crafts a new epic around the struggle of one of those Greek warriors, the hero Odysseus. It tells the story of his nostos, or journey home, to northwest Greece during the ten-year period after the Greek victory over the Trojans. A tale of wandering, it takes place not on a field of battle but on fantastic islands and foreign lands. After the unrelenting tragedy and carnage of the Iliad, the Odyssey often strikes readers as comic or surreal at times. This quality has led some scholars to conclude that Homer wrote the Odyssey at a later time of his life, when he showed less interest in struggles at arms and was more receptive to a storyline that focused on the fortunes and misadventures of a single man. Others argue that someone else must have composed the Odyssey, one who wished to provide a companion work to the Iliad but had different interests from those of the earlier epic’s author.

(Source: SparkNotes)

The chart below outlines the core books and close reading excerpts of The Odyssey, as well as the accompanying myths and articles. They are prioritized in terms of essential excerpts (green) and those where teacher may exercise choice instead of using suggested texts (yellow):



Significant Literary Devices


Various Myths

  From Edith Hamilton’s Mythology:

  • “The Trojan War”—background on The Trojan War

  • “Hercules”—background on heroism

  • “Daedalus and Icarus”—background on Ancient Greece

  • “The House of Atreus”—background on gods and their relationships with men

Teacher’s choice.

 Each is between 5-10 pgs

Introduction to The Odyssey; Joseph Campbell interview; Greek Values 1 pager

 Necessary Background—Teacher’s choice in how to use it.  

  • Intro provides information about Homer’s life

  • Campbell provides insight on a hero’s journey

  • Greek values gives students a window into the lives of ancient Greece

10 pgs altogether


Book I (lines 1-25; 53-95)

   Introduces themes of fate and homecoming; introduces the role of Athena, Zeus and Poseidon in Odysseus’ life; sets the larger narrative premise

  • Text begins “in media res”

  • Epic trope of calling on a muse “Sing to me muse..”

  • Summarizes the whole story right away

  • Characterization of Athena and Zeus

  • Conflict: Gods vs Men

  • Thematic Development: the gods’ role in the lives of men

2.5 pgs

Chapter 9

   Odysseus begins to tell his tale to the Phaecians and starts directly after the Trojan War. Odysseus and his men raid the Ciccones, encounter The Lotus Eaters, and face peril with the Cyclops, Polyphemus.

Central Conflicts: O vs Gods (fate); O vs Polyphemus; O vs Men (characterization) Characterization of Odysseus:

  • concern for his men (lines 48-49)

  • intellect and cunning (lines 50-53)

  • discipline (lines 50-53)

  • courage (lines 288-290, 420-422)

  • intellect and cunning (lines 316-319, 404-411, 461-463, lines 469-474)

  • concern for his men (lines 469-471)

  • desire for glory (line 355)

  • special weapon (sack of wine)(lines 218-219)

Thematic Development:

  • Perseverance and struggle as O and men undergo each obstacle on their journey home

  • Heroism through O’s character development

  • Fate and freewill as evidenced through conflicts between Odysseus and the gods

19 pgs (1-630 lines)

Chapter 10

   Odysseus and his men are set back after foolish mistakes; O and his men are turned away from Aeolus’ land because he fears the gods; O encounters the witch Circe

Central Conflicts: Odysseus’ desire to give up vs. desire to continue journey; O vs Laestrygonians; O vs his crew; O vs Circe

Characterization of Odysseus:

  • discipline - ability (ultimately) to resist or overcome temptation

  • quick-thinking (lines 137-140)

  • concern for his men (lines 287-290, 299-301)

  • authoritative (lines 483-489, 299-301)

  • cunning

  • devotion to his men (lines 422-428)

  • special weapon (potion)(lines 305-341)

  • supernatural helper (Hermes)(lines 305-341)

Thematic Development:

  • Perseverance and struggle as O and men undergo each obstacle on their journey home

  • Heroism through O’s character development

  • Fate and freewill as evidenced through conflicts between Odysseus and the gods

  • Desire to return home and the importance of homecoming

Chapter 12

   Odysseus encounters Scylla and Chalbdis, the sirens, and Helios, where his men eat the forbidden cattle

Central Conflicts: Odysseus’ desire to for pleasure vs. desire to continue journey; O vs monsters; O vs his crew; O vs Helios

Characterization of Odysseus:

  • discipline - ability to resist or overcome temptation (especially in the form of women)(lines 172-179)

  • courage (lines 224-230, 245-250)

  • concern for his men (lines 119-125, 280-282)

  • supernatural helper (Circe)(lines 21-30)

  • Discipline - ability to resist or overcome temptation (lines 293-299, lines 344-348)

Thematic Development:

  • Perseverance and struggle as O and men undergo each obstacle on their journey home

  • Heroism through O’s character development

  • Fate and freewill as evidenced through conflicts between Odysseus and the gods

  • Desire to return home and the importance of homecoming

Chapter 21

   Odysseus returns home in disguise; encounters the suitors

Central Conflicts: Odysseus vs Suitors

Characterization of Odysseus:

  • cunning (lines 303-307)

  • military and physical prowess (lines 451-470)

  • special weapon (Odysseus’ bow)(lines 1-48)

  • return home (Odysseus returns with enhanced ability to deceive and defeat suitors despite overwhelming numbers)

Thematic Development

  • Fate and freewill—is Odysseus’ homecoming successful because of the gods or is it successful because of his own character?

  • Significance of family through homecoming

Chapter 22

  Odysseus encounters the suitors 

Central Conflicts: Odysseus vs Suitors

Characterization of Odysseus:

  • military and physical prowess (lines 15-20, 83-94, 119-126, 306-324)

  • authoritative (lines 36-42)

  • supernatural helper (Athena/Mentor) (lines 216-219)

Thematic Development

  • Fate and freewill—is Odysseus’ homecoming successful because of the gods or is it successful because of his own character?

  • Significance of family through homecoming

Chapter 23

   Odysseus and Penelope solidify their homecoming

Central Conflicts: Odysseus vs Penelope

Characterization of Odysseus

  • authoritative (lines 185-192, 203-213)

  • achievement of goal (lines 337-340)

Thematic Development

  • Fate and freewill—is Odysseus’ homecoming successful because of the gods or is it successful because of his own character?

  • Significance of family through homecoming

  • Power of love as symbolized through O and P’s bed.

“Homer’s Polytheism”

Literary criticism—great information and extension for teachers and students. Use to discuss relevance of Odysseus’ themes.

O Brother Where Art Thou?

Film clips if deemed applicable

Thematic Development and comparison to the original

“Feminist Criticism in Departments of Literature”

Literary criticism and background on Feminist Lens

“Siren Song”

Poem for Feminist analysis


“An Ancient Gesture”

Poem for Feminist analysis


Unit Goals:

The goals of the IA2 cycle require students to demonstrate relative independence with the cores skills of tracking theme and analysis of theme. At this point in the year, students’ ability to effectively and accurately summarize will be put to the test. At this point in the year students should be comfortable with summary; however, summarizing The Odyssey independently requires serious attention to detail and self-monitoring for meaning. These are skills that must be taught. During the first weeks of the unit, a lot of attention will be placed on accurate summary during reading phase lessons. As the unit progresses, this focus will remain as a basic aim, but teacher should only focus on modeling as the class needs. If students continue to struggle with this during latter parts of the unit, it is recommended that you replace one of the current aims to ensure that students are clear on the core parts of the summary and how to craft an effective summary. This emphasis on summary is foundational in how students will demonstrate comprehension.

Beyond summary, there are two core goals where scholars are expected to show proficiency, namely:

  • Tracking theme, conflict, and characterization (particularly when discussion how themes of fate, homecoming and heroism develop)

  • Analysis of theme (particularly where Odysseus’ character development and conflict illuminate theme)

Other significant textual features to be aware of:
The plot structure of The Odyssey as a whole is nonlinear; the poem opens in medias res with prior events described through flashbacks or storytelling. Students will get a small sample of this arc when performing a close reading of Book I and by examining other passages from the novel apart from our core books. When Books 9, 10, 12, 21, 22, and 23 are read and analyzed as a single unit somewhat independently of the rest of the work (as this unit presumes), a more traditional plot structure emerges. The rising action comprises all of the action of the poem within Books 9, 10, 12, 21 and 22 as Odysseus continuously struggles to return home to Ithaca and resume his throne. Odysseus’ reunion with Penelope and their return to their wedding bed (XXIII, Lines 338-9) represents the climax – his journey home now complete. The remaining lines within Book 23, in which Odysseus and Penelope recount the events of the past twenty years, represent the falling action, while Odysseus’ departure to see his father and the family of the suitors represents the resolution.
Within this plot structure, students will notice many recurring themes. It is suggested that your class follow at least three: family and homecoming, heroism and honor, and fate and freewill. However other ideas about justice, principles, pride, loyalty, tradition and custom, hospitality, suffering, and perseverance will enter the text as well.

****Note that this list is not exhaustive and it is up to the teacher’s choice to decide what to track and how. Some suggestions include tracking the above themes and introducing themes after reading the first two books of the novel. It is also suggested that teachers employ the use of post it notes or in-text annotations to track themes. If you do so, check these annotations regularly.
Moreover, each of the books above contains its own plot structure, as do each of the conflicts within each book.
Homer employs several methods of direct and indirect characterization in order to characterize Odysseus as a

heroic figure. Through Odysseus’ speech, thoughts, effect on others, actions and appearance, Homer reveals

Odysseus as a hero, albeit according to Ancient Greek tradition and culture. In fact, in many respects, Odysseus can only be considered as a hero through this lens as several of his traits may strike readers today as decidedly unheroic. Throughout Books 9, 10, 12, 21, 22 and 23, Homer reveals the defining traits of a Homeric leader that align to prescribed Ancient Greek gender roles:

  • physical strength and military prowess

  • courage

  • concern for personal honor

  • devotion to his men/tribe/family

  • desire for glory

  • commanding

    • The decision as to whether to reveal these common heroic traits at the beginning of the unit, thus giving scholars to opportunity to track these qualities from the start, or discover these traits over time is left to individual teachers. If teachers lack confidence in scholars’ abilities to independently identify these qualities through inferences using Odysseus’ STEAL, teachers may want to front-load the qualtieis or post them in the classroom. Thus, the emphasis is placed on scholars identifying clues that prove these traits, making easier the process of making inferences, rather than identifying clues about Odysseus generally and making an accurate inference.

What sets Odysseus apart from other Homeric leaders, such as Achilles of The Illiad, is his intellect and cunning. While not traditionally a trait assigned to Homeric heroes, Odysseus’ many successes that come as a result of this intellect and cunning reveal the theme of the power of intellect over physical strength. When addressing the final PBA prompt, teachers should pose questions about Odysseus’ exemplary character and its relationship to the ideas of fate and freewill.
The point-of-view of the narrator plays an important role, particularly in the transition from Books 9, 10, 12 to Books 21, 22 and 23. In the first three books, Odysseus serves as the narrator, as he tells the story of his adventures to the court of Alcinious. As noted by Robert Fagles in the introduction to his translation of The Odyssey, Odysseus’ narration is typical of that of an Ancient Greek storyteller, and, moreover, his version of events can be questioned for their veracity given that he is the character discussing past events occurring to him and his crew. The reader could question his motivation to emphasize his own heroic traits to the court.
Homer also establishes Odysseus’ identity as an epic hero through the use of epic conventions common to other stories of heroes and the heroic journey. Specifically, The Odyssey is littered with the following conventions (also noted in the chart above):

  • talisman or special weapon

  • supernatural helper

  • the call to adventure

  • return home with heightened wisdom, perspective, skills

  • achievement of goal

  • trials (constitute nearly all of the events within Books 9, 10, 12, 21, 22 and 23)

(Source: ReadWriteThink.org)

  • As indicated in the aim sequence, teachers should introduce these conventions as the start of the unit to allow for scholars to look for them and track them throughout the text as they simultaneously track for conflicts.

Homer employs epithets throughout The Odyssey. Epithets are descriptive titles issued to different characters and objects, and they are typically repeated throughout the text. Some of the most famous examples include:

  • Odysseus, the great tactician

  • …the wine-dark sea

  • wily Odysseus…

  • Athena, the clear-eyed goddess

Homer employs a variety of figurative language throughout The Odyssey. This figurative language is often meant to provide an image for the reader regarding a particular character’s actions. The most common form of figurative language that Homer employs is the extended simile. A comparison between two things using like or as that continues for multiple lines of the poem. An example of an extended simile that Homer uses would be:

  • “The attackers struck like eagles, crook-clawed, hook-beaked, swooping down from a mountain ridge to harry smaller birds that skim across the flatland, cringing under the clouds but the eagles plunge in fury, rip their lives out – hopeless, never a chance of flight or rescue – and people love the sport – so the attackers routed suitors headlong down the hall…” (XXII, Lines 316-321)

Homer also intentionally employs sensory details and, thus, imagery throughout The Odyssey to highlighter particular elements of the setting and, oftentimes, the violence of a character’s actions.

Because of the selections of The Odyssey, it would be a missed opportunity to read the text without noting the rich figurative language and exploring the point of view. In literature class, our instruction must be targeted to core unit goals without ignoring the demands of the text itself. Figurative language must be noted and unpacked and quality responses are expected to ensure both literal and inferential comprehension.
Scholars will develop the necessary skills, thinking and reading comprehension through four key lesson types:

Close Reading

During these lessons, scholars will work through layers of meaning (literal comprehension, analysis and inferencing, and thematic understanding) through multiple readings, ultimately building deep and independent thinking. The aim for all close reading lessons is the same: SWBAT closely read a text and demonstrate deep understanding through paraphrasing (literal comprehension), responses to inferential questions (analysis), and by analyzing theme through response or debate (theme). While achieving this aim, scholars must always provide textual evidence for their responses (oral and written) and during discussions. At its core, close reading requires students to grapple, and this purpose should live in all close reading lessons in every unit.

Reading Workout or

Reading Phase

Scholars will frequently engage in “reading workout” lessons, which serve to both ensure miles-on-the-page and rich, text-based thinking around a variety text-dependent questions. At the end of these lesson, scholars will ultimately answer one, juicy TDQ – called a “Culminating TDQ” –about what they have just read, generally in response to a pattern or core literary element emerging in the text. Over the course of the lesson, scholars answer smaller, more comprehension based TDQs – called “Scaffolding TDQs” – that (a) offer access points for scholars to deeply thinking about, engage with, and understand the text, and (b) build the necessary thinking and understanding to answer the Culminating TDQ. The aim varies depending on the comprehension and inferential demands of the text, though always stays grounded in the idea that the primary purpose is deep understanding of the text.

Content-Acquisition / Reading to Learn

Scholars will occasionally engage in lessons where the purpose is to build the world or background knowledge necessary to understand the core text and build the relevant knowledge-based schema about the core text. The selected knowledge should work to deep scholar access and understanding of the core text. During these lessons, scholars will read texts (frequently informational texts) that require them to acquire the necessary information to access and understand the core text and concepts. The aim varies from class to class, but is phrased in a way that dictates the knowledge that scholars should be able to demonstrate by the end of class (i.e., through an exit ticket).

Analysis / Skill Practice / I-We-You

Scholars will occasionally engage in lessons where the purpose is to acquire and practice a skill aligned to the common core and the demands of the text. The selected skill should work to deepen scholar access and understanding of the core text. During these lessons, scholars will learn and practice a skill with gradually increasing independence. Ultimately scholars will be able to demonstrate mastery and transfer of the skill. The aim varies from class to class, but is heavily rooted in the language of the common core in order to (a) prevent myopic instruction, and (b) dictate the skill that scholars should be able to demonstrate by the end of class (i.e., through an exit ticket on a new text, new section of text, or in a new scenario).


2-3 times a unit, scholars will engage in seminar, or a whole class discussion meant to drive at essential understandings. Students will prepare for seminar either for homework or in class the previous day by generating evidence and an appropriate claim to the focus question. Students will then engage in the seminar for the entirety of the period to build collective interpretations, challenge claims and enrich their understanding of juicy, nuanced questions meant to drive at the unit or text’s central ideas.

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