The Odyssey–David Adams Leeming essay introduction

Who is thought to have written the Odyssey?
Homer
When did the Trojan battles actually take place?
1200 B.C.
How long did the Trojan war last ?
10 years
Where is Troy thought to have been located?
On a narrow waterway connecting the Aegean Sea to the Black Sea
Who is Paris?
A prince of Troy, who “kidnapped” Helen
Who was Helen?
The daughter of Zeus and Leda, she was supposed to have been the most beautiful woman in the world.
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Who was Menelaus?
Helen’s Husband
What is an epic?
a long narative (a poem or story) that tells the adventures of a hero who, in some way, embodies or represents the values of his civilization (This is a three part answer)
What did the Greeks use the Odyssey and the Illiad to do?
teach the values of the Greek civilization to its children
What story is the primary model for the epic of war?
the Illiad
What story is the model for the epic of the long journey?
What city-state did Menelaus rule?
Sparta
Who was the brother of Menelaus who led the Greek kings to war with Troy?
Agamemnon
Why is Helen called “the woman whose face launched a thousand ships”?
Under the leadership of Agamemnon, a thousand ships set out for Troy to fetch Helen back.
Who was the greatest of the Greek warriors?
Achilles
Why was Achilles unable to be killed or injured in battle?
His mother dipped him in the river Styx and this made him nearly invulnerable.
How was Achilles killed?
an arrow pierced the spot where his mother held him as she dipped him: his heel
How did Agamemnon die?
His unfaithful wife killed him when he returned from Troy.
Odysseus is the king of what island?
Ithaca
Who was Odysseus’ faithful wife?
Penelope
Who was Odysseus’ son?
Telemachus
How did Odysseus try to avoid going to war?
He acted as if he were insane, but when Agamemnon and Menelaus threw Telemachus in front of Odysseus’ plow, Odysseus swerved instead of running over his son.
Why couldn’t the Greeks conquer Troy?
It was a walled city and they couldn’t get in.
How did the Greeks conquer Troy after 10 years?
They made a wooden horse. Some soldiers hid inside; it was wheeled to the city gates and left as a “gift” for the Trojans. When the Trojans wheeled it inside the gates, the Greeks came out of the horse, opened the gates, and let in their fellow Greeks soldiers waiting outside.
While Odysseus is fighting at Troy, what’s happening back in Ithaca?
A bunch of rude, powerful men are swarming around his palace, trying to marry his wife and steal his kingdom.
What is a myth?
a myth is a story that uses fantasy to express ideas about life that can’t be explained in realistic terms
Who is the goddess who works on the side of Odysseus, helping him and advising him?
Athena
What is Athena the goddess of?
Wisdom
What god works against Odysseus, preventing him from succeeding easily?
Poseidon
What is Poseidon god of?
the sea
What is an alter ego?
a person who is a reflection of another, often showing the opposite qualities of the person, good or bad.
What are rhapsodes? What were some of their functions in Greek Society?
They were minstrels or traveling entertainers. They sang about recent events and community news. They also created stories and myths and spread them from town to town.
Why were the rhapsodes so important?
They were the best entertainment available and they carried stories from town to town.
What is a Homeric simile?
A simile that compares heroic or epic events to simple and easily understandable everyday events–events that Homer’s audience would instantly recognize.
What is an epithet?
a phrase or group of words used regularly to characterize a person/thing.
Example: Alexander, the Great
What caused the Trojan War?
The Greek kings supposedly went to Troy to bring Helen back to Sparta, but really the Trojan war might have been more about securing trade between the Aegean and the Black Sea.
Acheans
Greeks; specifically, the people of Achaea in northeastern Greece. This would include those from Ithaca.
Argives
the Greeks who went to fight at Troy
THE WOODEN-HORSE TRICK
Once in Troy, Odysseus performed extremely well as a soldier and commander. It was he, for example, who thought of the famous wooden-horse trick that would lead to the downfall of Troy. For ten years the Greeks had been fighting the Trojans, but they were fighting outside Troy’s massive walls. They had been unable to break through the walls and enter the city. Odysseus’s plan was to build an enormous wooden horse and hide a few Greek soldiers inside its hollow belly. After the horse was built, the Greeks pushed it up to the gates of Troy and withdrew their armies, so that their camp appeared to be abandoned. Thinking that the Greeks had given up the fight and that the horse was a peace offering, the Trojans brought the horse into their city. That night the Greeks hidden inside the hollow belly came out, opened the gates of Troy to the whole Greek army, and began the battle that was to win the war.
THE ANCIENT WORLD AND OURS
The world of Odysseus was harsh, a world familiar with violence. In a certain sense, Odysseus and his men act like pirates on their journey home. They think nothing of entering a town and carrying off all its worldly goods. The “worldly goods” in an ancient city might have been only pots and pans and cattle and sheep. The “palaces” the Greeks raided might have been little more than elaborate mud and stone farmhouses. Yet, in the struggles of Odysseus, Penelope, and Telemachus in their “primitive” society that had little in common with the high Athenian culture that would develop several centuries later, there is something that has a great deal to do with us.
A SEARCH FOR THEIR PLACES IN LIFE
Odysseus and his family are people searching for the right relationships with one another and with the people around them. They want to find their proper places in life. It is this theme that sets the tone for the Odyssey and determines the unusual way in which the poem is structured.
Instead of beginning at the beginning with Odysseus’s departure from Troy, the story begins with his son, Telemachus. Telemachus is now twenty years old. He is threatened by rude, powerful men swarming about his own home, pressuring his mother to marry
one of them. These men are bent on robbing Telemachus of his inheritance. Telemachus is a young man who needs his father, the one person who can put things right at home.
Meanwhile, we hear that his father is stranded on an island, longing to find a way to get back to his wife, child, and home. It is ten years since Odysseus sailed from Troy, twenty years since he left Ithaca to fight in Troy. While Telemachus is in search of his father, Odysseus is in search of a way out of what we might today call his midlife crisis. He is searching for inner peace, for a way to reestablish a natural balance in his life. The quests of father and son provide a framework for the poem and bring us into it as well—because we all are in search of our real identities, our true selves.
RELATIONSHIPS WITH THE GODS
This brings us to mythic and religious questions in the Odyssey. Myths are traditional stories, rooted in a particular culture, that usually explain a belief, a ritual, or a mysterious natural phenomenon. Myths are essentially religious because they are concerned with the relationship between human beings and the unknown or spiritual realm.
As you will see, Homer is always concerned with the relationship between humans and gods. Homer is religious: For him, the gods control all things. Athena, the goddess of wisdom, is always at the side of Odysseus. This is appropriate, because Odysseus is known for his mental abilities. Thus, in Homer’s stories a god can be an alter ego, a reflection of a hero’s best or worst qualities. The god who works against Odysseus is Poseidon, the god of the sea, who is known for arrogance and a certain brutishness. Odysseus himself can be violent and cruel, just as Poseidon is.
WHO WAS HOMER?
No one knows for sure who Homer was. The later Greeks believed he was a blind minstrel, or singer, who came from the island of Chios. Some scholars feel there must have been two Homers; some think he was just a legend. On the whole, it seems sensible to take the word of the Greeks themselves. We can at least accept the existence of Homer as a model for a class of wandering bards or minstrels later called rhapsodes.
These rhapsodes, or “singers of tales,” were the historians and entertainers as well as the mythmakers of their time. There was probably no written history in Homer’s day. So it was that the minstrels traveled about from community to community singing of recent events or of the doings of heroes, gods, and goddesses.The people in Homer’s day saw no conflict among religion, history, and good fun.
HOW WERE THE EPICS TOLD?
Scholars have found that oral epic poets are still composing today in Eastern Europe and other parts of the world. These scholars suggest that stories like the Iliad and the Odyssey were originally told aloud by people who could not read and write. The stories followed a basic story line, but most of the actual words were improvised—made up on the spot—in a way that fit a particular rhythm or meter. The singers of these stories had to be very talented, and they had to work very hard. They also needed an audience that could listen closely.
We can see from this why there is so much repetition in the Homeric epics. The oral storyteller, in fact, had a store of formulas ready in his memory.
When we think about the audience that listened to these stories, we can also understand the value of the extended comparisons that we today call Homeric or epic similes. These similes compare heroic or epic events to simple and easily understandable everyday events—events the audience would recognize instantly.
ODYSSEUS: A HERO IN TROUBLE
In Homer’s day, heroes were thought of as a special class of aristocrats. They were placed somewhere between the gods and ordinary human beings. Heroes experienced pain and death, but they were always sure of themselves, always “on top of the world.” Odysseus is different. He is a hero in trouble. We can relate to Odysseus because like him we also face a world of difficult choices. Like Odysseus we have to cope with unfair authority figures. Like him we have to work very hard to get what we want.
Odysseus was a great soldier in the war, but his war record is not of interest to the monsters that populate the world of his wanderings.
In the years before the great war, Odysseus had married the beautiful and ever-faithful Penelope, one of several very strong women in the man’s world of the Greek epic. (One critic, Robert Graves, was so impressed by the unusual importance of women and home and hearth in the Odyssey that he believed Homer must have been a woman.) Penelope and Odysseus had one son, Telemachus. He was still a toddler when Odysseus was called by Agamemnon and Menelaus to join them in the war against Troy. But
Odysseus was a homebody. He preferred not to go to war, especially a war fought for an unfaithful woman.
THE WAR-STORY BACKGROUND: VIOLENCE AND BRUTALITY
The background for Odysseus’s story is found in the Iliad, which is set in the tenth and final year of the Trojan War. According to the Iliad, the Greeks attacked Troy to avenge the insult suffered by Menelaus, king of Sparta, when his wife, Helen, ran off with Paris, a young prince of Troy. The Greek kings banded together under the leadership of Agamemnon, the brother of Menelaus. In a thousand ships, they sailed across the Aegean Sea and laid siege to the walled city of Troy.
The audience of the Odyssey would have known this war story. Listeners would have known that the Greeks were eventually victorious—that they gained entrance to Troy, reduced the city to smoldering ruins, and butchered all the inhabitants, except for those they took as slaves back to Greece.
EPICS AND VALUES
Epics are long narrative poems that tell of the adventures of heroes who in some way embody the values of their civilizations. The Greeks for centuries used the Iliad and the Odyssey in schools to teach Greek virtues. So it is not surprising that later cultures that admired the Homeric epics created their own epics, imitating Homer’s style but conveying their own value systems.
Still, for all the epics written since Homer’s time and for all the ones composed before it, when people in the Western world think of the word epic, they think primarily of the Iliad and the Odyssey.
The Iliad is the primary model for the epic of war. The Odyssey is the model for the epic of the long journey. The theme of the journey has been basic in Western literature—it is found in fairy tales, in such novels as The Incredible Journey, Moby-Dick, and The Hobbit, and in such movies as The Wizard of Oz and Star Wars. Thus, the Odyssey has been the more widely read of Homer’s two great stories.
Introduction to the Odyssey
An Introduction to the Odyssey
by David Adams Leeming
Almost three thousand years ago, people who lived in the starkly beautiful part of the world we now call Greece were telling stories about a great war. The person credited with later gathering all these stories together and telling them as one unified epic is a man named Homer. Homer’s great war stories are called, in English, the Iliad and the Odyssey. (In Greek, the Iliad is Ilias and the Odyssey is Odysseia.)
Homer’s stories probably can be traced to historical struggles for control of the waterway leading from the Aegean Sea to the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea. These battles might have taken place as early as 1200 B.C.
Homer’s first epic was the Iliad, which tells of a ten-year war fought on the plains outside the walls of a great city called Troy (also known as Ilion). The Iliad tells us that the cause of the war was sexual jealousy: The world’s most beautiful woman, Helen, abandoned her husband, Menelaus, a Greek king, and ran off with Paris, a prince of Troy.
The Odyssey, Homer’s second epic, is the story of the attempt of one Greek soldier, Odysseus, to get home after the Trojan War. All epic poems in the Western world owe something to the basic patterns established by these two stories.