What is The Odyssey’s significance? What is Vladimir Propp’s “Functions of the Folktale”? Compare Odysseus’ journey to the functions: How and why does The Odyssey fit in the 31 steps?

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shake99 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Odyssey is a poem composed by Homer around the year 900 BC. It is an enduring adventure story, steeped in Greek mythology, that has been taught in schools for hundreds of years.

Vladimir Propp is a Soviet folklorist who developed a set of components that most folktales follow, at least to some extent. While The Odyssey is not often called a “folktale,” it does adhere to some of Propp’s guidelines. We’ll look at some of these below. The bold statements come from Jerry Everard’s blog. My brief explanations follow them:

A member of a family leaves home (the hero is introduced): Odysseus leaves Ithaca to go fight in the Trojan War.

Victim taken in by deception, unwittingly helping the enemy: Odysseus is captured and misled several times, once by the sea nymph Calypso, once by the witch Circe.

Villain causes harm/injury to family member: Back in Ithaca during Odysseus’ twenty-year absence, the suitors are eating his wife and son out of house and home, demanding that Penelope choose one of them to marry as Odysseus’ replacement.

Hero is tested, interrogated, attacked etc, preparing the way for his/her receiving magical agent or helper (donor): Odysseus and his men are attacked by various gods and supernatural beings until only Odysseus remains. He finally gets good advice from Laertes in Hades.

Hero acquires use of a magical agent: The goddess Athena helps Odysseus return home and defeat the suitors.

Hero is transferred, delivered or led to whereabouts of an object of the search: Laertes tells Odysseus how to find the person who can direct him home.

Hero and villain join in direct combat: Odysseus and the suitor engage in deadly combat when he returns to Ithaca.

Hero returns: The Phaeacians help Odysseus return to Ithaca.

Hero is recognized: Athena, who has disguised Odysseus in the form of an old man, returns his appearance when he is ready to kill the suitors.

Difficult task proposed to the hero: Odysseus must defeat many suitors with the help of only his son and a servant.  

Read the study guide:
The Odyssey

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