Illustration of Odysseus tied to a ship's mast

The Odyssey

by Homer

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  • In the "lying speech" to his wife in Book 19, Odysseus says to Penelope (speaking of himself in the third person):"Odysseus would have been home long ago, but he felt in his spirit that it would be better to go all about the world collecting possessions." Consider carefully Odysseus's character, as portrayed by Homer in the poem so far. Do you think he was motivated only by greed? Why or why not? The Greek word chremata, which can be translated as "possessions," can mean money or other valuables: but its literal meaning is "things that are useful or needful." What sorts of "useful" or "needful" things does Odysseus collect on his wanderings?
  • What are the values of a hero (for example, Achilles, Hector, or any of the other major characters in the Iliad)? How do they compare with the values of Odysseus in the Odyssey? What sorts of differences do you find, and which set of values do you think are more likely to produce a harmonious, ordered society? Why? How do those values compare to the ones that prevail in our day and age?
  • How are the gods portrayed in the Odyssey? What differences (or similarities) do you find between this depiction and the one found in the Iliad?
  • Read Alfred, Lord Tennyson's poems The Lotos-Eaters and Ulysses. Do you think the sentiments expressed in the latter poem were intended as an answer to those expressed in the former? Why or why not? Does the portrait Tennyson has painted of Odysseus match Homer's? In what way(s)?

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