Suggested Essay Topics
Examine the various epithets that are constantly associated with the various characters: “thoughtful” Telemachus; “circumspect” Penelope; “resourceful,” “enduring,” and “godlike” Odysseus; and so on. What function do these epithets serve other than as formulaic constructions used in the oral poetic medium? How are these epithets appropriate to the characters associated with them? When are they not appropriate?
Examine the arguments made by each speaker at the Ithacan assembly. How do the characters’ speeches reflect their individual personalities? Analyze both what the characters say and the manner and mood in which they say it. How do the styles and rhetorical strategies employed by the various speakers compare and contrast with one another? How are these similarities and differences significant? What conclusions can we draw about the speakers’ character traits as depicted in their speech?
Examine Nestor’s personality and character. What distinguishes him from other characters who serve as storytellers during the course of the narrative? What distinguishing features mark his speech? What is the general impression of his character that is given in the Odyssey? What means does Homer employ in order to achieve this impression?
Scholars have dubbed the first four books of the Odyssey as the “Telemachy,” for the books deal almost exclusively with the journeys of Telemachus. In what ways are these books an appropriate introduction to Homer’s work? In what ways are the books an inappropriate introduction? Note the many references to Odysseus in these books. What picture do we have of him before he even walks onto the stage in Book V? Is our view of him negative or positive? How does the picture we have of him coincide with the later Odysseus who appears in the poem?
Examine several of the epic similes found in this and other books of the Odyssey. Identify each element in the simile and its relation to elements (characters, events, objects, etc.) in the narrative proper. What emotions, moods, and other factors can we elicit from the epic simile that were not present in the direct description of the element itself? Are these new feelings appropriate to the events that surround the simile? Does the simile enhance the narrative or distract us from it?
Compare the various comic aspects of Book VI with parallel passages in the poem of a more serious nature. Look, for example, at Odysseus’ decision-making, Athene’s enhancement of beauty, and epic similes. How is the mocking of previous conventions more effective than simply inventing new narrative techniques for comic action?
Examine the many scenes of hospitality in the Odyssey. How are they similar? How do they differ? What is significant about these differences? What commentary does each episode offer concerning the responsibilities of guest and host, such as gift-giving, nourishment, etc. What is the relationship between this motif and the distasteful situation occurring in Odysseus’ home during his absence?
Examine the character of Demodocus in Book VIII. What information does Homer relate to us concerning his profession? How did professional bards survive? Note Penelope’s attempt to silence Phemius in Book I. What is significant about Telemachus’ defense of Phemius’ behavior, and how does this defense relate to Demodocus later in the narrative?
Book IX is the first section of a four-part narrative told by Odysseus himself to the Phaeaceans. What are the differences between Odysseus’ narrative technique and that of the main narrator of the Odyssey? What are the similarities between the two? Does Odysseus’ depiction of himself coincide with that of the main narrator? Explain the significance of your findings.
The loyalty of Odysseus’ crew is constantly in flux. Sometimes they follow him unswervingly, and other times they refuse to obey him and even conspire against him. Examine these...
(The entire section is 1,564 words.)