Homer was a Greek poet born sometime between the 12th and 8th centuries B.C.E. Information about him is rather scarce and often has little backing. Just as his birth date cannot be pinpointed neither can his birthplace, which is believed to be somewhere along the coast of Asia Minor. So little is known of Homer that some theorize he never existed and that “his” writings are the collection of multiple people. In addition being that storytelling was an oral tradition, he may just have been the first to put these tales to paper. Homer was believed to be blind because the character Demodokos in The Odyssey was such and because he like Homer was a minstrel could represent the author; this is only a theory. Whoever the author of this classic may be, they left a work which was key in the education of many Greeks and survives until today in both our ideals and curriculums.
Characteristics of the Genre:
Epic Poems are generally long narratives which follow the journey of a hero who comes from a high position. The heroic endeavors do not serve to merely entertain but also provide a history of a nation or race.
Although there is little known about the actual publication of this epic, it takes many of its roots in the Trojan War. After Paris of Troy kidnapped Helen, war began between the Greeks and Trojans. After nine years of war which featured heroes such as Achilles, Menelaus and Odysseus, Odysseus had a wooden horse constructed to be given to the Trojans so that Greeks could gain easy access to the city and easy victory for the Greeks.
Mythology was always an important component of Greek writings and therefore The Odyssey contains much mythology, especially since it is set in a time when it was believed that the gods still frequented the earth. Based on the language used, The Odyssey was written in the 8th and 7th centuries B.C.E but written about the 12th century B.C.E., a time much revered by Ancient Greeks.
Ten years removed from the Trojan War, our hero Odysseus has yet to return home to Ithaca. He is believed to be dead while he is actually on the island of Calypso. Back at home, suitors swarm his home to court his wife Penelope. After Athena (who often advocated on Odysseus’ behalf) gets her father to release Odysseus, Poseidon brews a storm which leaves Odysseus on the shore of the Phaiakians; it is here he tells his story. At first he found himself and his men on the island of the Lotus eaters, his men need to be taken to the ship by force to escape the addicting lotus. In the next episode, they take on the man-eating cyclops, Polyphemos. Trickery and deception allow Odysseus and his men to narrowly escape. At the island of Aiolos, he receives a bag of winds which his men mistaken for a bag of treasure. The winds which could have gotten them home dissipate and leave them on the island of Circe, land of a sorceress who turns men into pigs. Before parting Circe, he goes to the underworld where the prophet Teiresias tells him he will make it home, but after much difficulty. Odysseus also speaks with many ghosts including that of his mother.
In the final part of his journey he passes by sirens with beautiful voices, braves the two monsters Skylla and Charybdis, ends up on the land of the sun god whose cattle kill off all of Odysseus’ men, and finally before reaching the Phaiakians, he spends seven years captive with Kalypso. The Phaiakians are so moved that they give Odysseus a lot of treasure and offer to take him back home. Once Odysseus is home, Athena makes him into a beggar so that he can get an idea of what is going on. Penelope decides to marry whoever can string her husband’s bow and shoot it through 12 axes. Only Odysseus is able to. After the happy reunion, Odysseus kills all the suitors which angers many and so he hides out until people are less angry. Athena ends the last fight and all ends in peace.
Signifance: The story centers around this hero’s journey back home from the Trojan War. Pride plays a large role in his journey. At times when it becomes hubris, it hurts him while at other times he is able to control it and have better success. Definition of a leader.
Homeric poetry, which is characterized by the Homeric Simile
Homeric Simile Example (Under example of writing style):
I drove my weight on it from above and bored it home like a shipwright bores his beam with a shipwright's drill that men below, whipping the strap back and forth, whirl and the drill keeps twisting, never stopping --So we seized our stake with it fiery tip and bored it round and round in the giant's eye.
- Book 9
Important Quotes + Significance:
"Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns
driven time and again off course, once he had plundered
the hallowed heights of Troy.
Many cities of men he saw and learned their minds,
many pains he suffered, heartsick on the open sea,
fighting to save his life and bring his comrades home.
But he could not save them from disaster, hard as he strove—
the recklessness of their own ways destroyed them all,
the blind fools, they devoured the cattle of the Sun
and the Sungod blotted out the day of their return.
Launch out on his story, Muse, daughter of Zeus,
start from where you will—sing for our time too."
- Book 1
Significance: These are the opening lines of The Odyssey. They set up the story, as well as foreshadow the events that are to come.
you ask my honorable name? Remember
the gift you promised me, and I shall tell you.
my name is Nohbdy: mother father and friends,
everyone calls me Nohbdy.'"
- Book 9
Significance: This quote, taking place in the story just after Odysseus injures Polyphemus and escapes with his men, highlights one of the main themes found in The Odyssey: the idea that mental cunning is more valuable than physical strength. Odysseus escapes the Cyclops not by overpowering him, but by tricking him.
"'Human beings live for only a short time, and when a man is harsh himself, and his mind knows harsh thoughts, all men pray that sufferings will befall him hereafter while he lives; and when he is dead all men make fun of him. But when a man is blameless himself, and his thoughts are blameless, the friends he has entertained carry his fame widely to all mankind, and many are they who call him excellent.' "
- Book 19
Significance: This quote from Penelope signifies the importance of honor and good reputation to Ancient Greeks. This is a recurrent theme in The Odyssey, especially regarding a woman's loyalty to her husband and her avoidance of immodesty, dying in an honorable manner, and being a good host/hostess.
The Odyssey’s setting changes very frequently, but the bundle of locations is all located within the Mediterranean. The most significant part of the setting is that they correlate with different myths. This allows for each of the impediments to Odysseus’ path to transpire
Aiaia- Circe’s home
Aiolia- home of the wind god
Ithaca- Odysseus’s home. The story often phases here when focusing on Penelope or Telemachus. The final parts of the story all transgress here
The Underworld- Odysseus goes here to visit Teiresias, the blind prophet. He sees many old war heroes and even his own mother.
Ogygia- Kalypso’s island, Odysseus spends 7 years here
Time: Bronze Age
Like most epics, the Odyssey starts with an invocation to the muses. The purpose of this ritual was to ask them for help in writing the poem. It is also important to note that the Odyssey starts “in media res,” or in the middle of things. Odysseus has completed much of his journey, as the story begins with his prolonged journey home. Insight on past events are given in the form of a story.
The bow represents strength and kingship. None of the suitors were able to shoot the boy; only Odysseus was able to complete Penelope’s task.
Odysseus’ dog, Argos, represents extreme loyalty. The poor dog barely had the strength to move, and was covered in ticks. He tries to wag his tail, and Odysseus sheds a tear
Feasts are a common motif, and come to mean many different things. Meals are a matter of life and death; they can express a strong volition to live life to the fullest, and can also signify death in both poison and lack of food. The hospitality of the time is combined with meticulous care for rituals that make meals a central part of the poem, from lotus fruit to Penelope’s suitors.
A bed represents the bond between Penelope and Odysseus. Their unmovable, wooden bed comes to represent a marriage that cannot be broken by anything. Penelope’s strong faith in her husband is never broken
Home is the one objective Odysseus always sees. This longing for home comes to represent the Greek idea of “nostos,” or “homecoming.” However, the Greek idea of honor in war, or “kleos,” directly contradicts that, as no one can be a hero sitting at home. Achilleus in the underworld does regret that he was in search of fame his life. In addition, Odysseus finds chaos as he is away from home for so long, hinting that home may be one of the most powerful places.
Linens show a woman’s hospitality. Anyone trying to show this would provide linen or clothing. Penelope, of course, is the main symbol for linens, as she weaves and unravels a shroud for Laertes each night.
Before even discussing the ending scene, it’s important to note that many scholars doubt the validity of the final books of the Odyssey. The ending seems abrupt, and frankly not in Homer’s style. Some scholars believe that the poem really ended as Penelope and Odysseus go to bed together, and that the rest was not told by Homer. However, the final books do clarify some points and create a sounder ending, leading many to accept the final books.
The final scene of the book is a final battle, as the suitors’ families attempt to avenge murder. Eupithes, father of the chief suitor, Antinous, leads the effort. This battle ends as the two main fathers, Euphithes and Laertes, kill each other. Athena calls for peace, and prosperity is restored. This marks a shift to a gentle sense of justice as peace is declared.
Possible themes: Topics of discussion
- Is fate a positive force? Can a man have free will in face of so many events he can’t control?
- Do those who don’t adorn the gods suffer, just as the god-like Odysseus punished those who penetrated his home?
- What does “fair” mean? Is an “eye for an eye” justice system fair, or is it just a way to justify personal vengeance?
- Are benevolent lies justified and useful, or is lying reserved for those who have the power (the gods and their pious followers)?
- Which faucet of loyalty is most important? Among a crew? Between husband and wife? Between a human and a god?
- Is misuse of hospitality a grave sin and a punishable offense?
- Is suffering deserved, or is it a senseless plague on the human race?
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"The Odyssey Quotes."BookRags. BookRags, n.d. Web. 28 Apr. 2013.
"The Odyssey Theme Quotes."Shmoop. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Apr. 2013. "The Odyssey Themes." Shmoop. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Apr. 2013.
"The Odyssey Setting." Shmoop. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Apr. 2013.