pages; ISBN 0-679-72813-9
Translated by Robert Fitzgerald
Preparing to read
For in-class discussion:
II. For further study
Expanding your knowledge:
I. Projects and Themes
I. For further reading
This teacher's guide
is keyed to the Robert Fitzgerald translation of The Odyssey. By
universal consensus, Fitzgerald's Odyssey is acknowledged to have an openness
and immediacy unsurpassed by any other English translation.
Little is certain
when it comes to the origins of The Odyssey or its partner epic,
The Iliad, the prequel, we would now call it, to The Odyssey
in the legendary story of the Greek expedition to reclaim Helen from
the city of Troy. Both epics circulated from the dawn of literacy under
the name of Homer, but who this fabled poet was, and when and where
he lived, remains a riddle. Already some ancient critics doubted a single
poet wrote both epics, and most modern scholars prefer to ascribe the
creation and shaping of both stories to a tradition rather than to one
or even two authors. Legends about the gods, and about a variety of
heroes and their exploits, were in constant circulation and development,
handed down from generation to generation. Over many centuries, bards
developed highly formalized language to chant the stories in public
performances. As the scenes of performances in The Odyssey suggest,
these singers had a large repertoire of tales from which they chose
when they wished to satisfy a particular audience's demand, or more
likely the request of the local lord. The material was familiar, and
the language traditional, indeed formulaic, so that a good singer could
always improvise, in proper style and meter, a song that suited the
performance situation in theme, episodes, details, scope, and tone.
All the songs, as far as we can tell, gave audiences a vision of their
ancestors, people more glorious and admirable than the singer's contemporaries,
whether in victory or in defeat. In their greatness, in their heroic
pursuit of glory and undying fame, the epic characters defined the heroic
code the listeners, at least initially members of a warrior class, were
to follow. What conferred undying fame was epic song itself: listeners
of epic would have aspired to become the subject of song for subsequent
There must have
been many signal events, many great moments in the history of epic before
The Iliad and The Odyssey achieved the forms in which
we know them, but two appear, in retrospect, to have been supremely
significant. Many towns and settlements were sacked as peoples jockeyed
for land and power in what is now Greece and Turkey, but it seems that
a city known as Troy or Ilium, on the northwest coast of Asia Minor
and near the strait known as the Dardanelles, and for that strategic
reason a significant power, was the frequent target of marauding attacks
and sieges. One of the most devastating destructions it suffered fell
shortly before or after 1200 B.C.E., some 3200 years before our time.
Around this destruction there seem to have coalesced stories of a Greek
army on a mammoth campaign to sack the fortified city which sat astride
sea and land lanes to the richer east. What was the reason for the expedition?
Not greed and power politicsso legend has itbut the drive
to recover something yet more precious: Greek honor in the shape of
Helen, beautiful wife of Meneláos, king of Sparta. Helen, so the
story goes, had been abducted by Paris, handsome if effete Trojan prince.
And so the tale was spun backwards.
The legendary campaign
against Troy took ten years. The Iliad, long though it is, narrates
a crucial patch of the tenth year only, when the greatest hero of the
Greeks, Akhilleus, fell out with the Greek commander-in-chief, Agamémnon,
Meneláos' brother. By the end of The Iliad, Akhilleus has lost
his companion, Patróklos, but has killed the great Trojan hero,
Hektor. Troy is doomed, though its fall occurred in the cycle of stories,
now mere fragments, that followed The Iliad, but not before Akhilleus
himself had met his death. The cycle continued with stories of the homecomings
of the various Greek heroes, and it is the homecoming of the craftiest
of those heroes, Odysseus, deviser of the Trojan Horse itself, that
is told in The Odyssey. Odysseus' journey is the longest of all
the heroes'up to another ten years, given the wanderings and delaysand
he faces almost fatal odds when he returns home, but his is the only
truly successful homecoming. But no more of that now, since it is The
Odyssey you are about to read.
The other signal
moment in the development of the two Homeric poems seems to have fallen
in the eighth century B.C.E., for reasons that are hard to pin down.
Whether by destiny or by luck, there was a happy conjunction of, on
the one hand, one or two singers who had so mastered the traditional
material and style that they could spin out monumental versions of these
two episodes of the Trojan cycle, extraordinary in size, subtlety, and
complexity of design, and, on the other hand, the introduction of writing
from the Near East. Whether our great singer or singerswe might
as well let him (or them) bear the name "Homer"learned writing
or not, within one or two generations these two poems were beginning
their own odyssey as texts, written in an alphabet adapted from Phoenician
letters first on scraps of hide, then on papyrus rolls, centuries later
in vellum codices or books, and finally printed on paper, whether in
scholarly editions of the Greek original or in translations in many
languages like the one you have before you.
To say that this
journey, of Homer's poem, rivals Odysseus' own, is to say a great deal,
for not unjustly have Odysseus' long and perilous travels given the
name to all wanderings of epic proportions. Not only does it take him
ten years to travel from Troy, on the northwest coast of Asia Minor,
to his island kingdom Ithaka, off the west coast of mainland Greece.
The distance in miles is not the point. He travels far beyond the "real"
world, visiting the fierce Laistrygonês and monstrous Kyklopês,
Aiolos, king of the winds, the dreamy land of Lotos Eaters, and passing
Skylla and Kharybdis, rarely without losing some of his companions.
He spends longer periods of time with the enchantress Kirkê, and
after all his crew have perished, with the nymph Kalypso. But always
he presses homeward. When, with the aid of Athena and the Phaiákians,
he reaches Ithaka, the homecoming, and the poem, is but half accomplished.
He must disguise himself and marshal a few allies before he can win
back his very hearth and hall from the small army of suitors who lay
siege to his wife, Penélopê, a crafty and cunning force to
be reckoned with, more than a match in wits for the suitors, and even
at times for Odysseus himself. The second half of the poem is a story
of disguise, misleading tales, and recognitions, of reunion not only
of a husband and a wife, but of two father-son pairs. At the end, generations
are reconciled, and civic strife averted.
For how long, no
one can say. Cycles continue, but Homeric poems end "in the middle of
things," as they begin. What has continued without end is the reading
of The Odyssey. At the beginning of the poem, Homer asked the
Muse, guarantor of epic memory, to sing through him. The Muse still
sings in the pages of your book, and she is eager to begin. Attend her,
exercises, and assignments that follow are designed to guide your students
through The Odyssey and to help them approach it primarily as
a compelling narrative that speaks to us directly today, but also as
an artifact from a distant time and place that, by presenting the forms
and ideals of a radically different culture, challenges us to consider
what is human and universal, what culture-bound and relative. The
Odyssey is at once an archaeological treasure and a great read,
an adventure story and a time-machine. As a compelling narrative, questions
will spring to mind, for The Odyssey is the story of a family
reunited against all odds. The saga of Odysseus, Penélopê,
and Telémakhos is a recognizable family drama, and many other figures
are recognizable today. Can't you imagine Telémakhos and Nausikaa
among your students? Odysseus and Penélopê, Helen and Meneláos,
among others, as parents?
To prepare your
students to appreciate the second aspect, you may want to show them
images from Greece and other Eastern Mediterranean cultures from ca.
2000 B.C.E. to 500 B.C.E. to help them visualize the world in which
the Homeric heroes and Homeric audiences lived. If you can arrange a
field trip to a local museum which has a collection of Greek antiquities,
so much the better. You may also want to have them develop a timeline
from the bronze and iron ages to the present on which you can help them
plot the fall of Troy and the final phase of the development of the
Homeric poems (as above) against the events of other cultures. Independent
of such specifics, one should ask what it means for readers today to
"overhear" the voices of so fundamentally other a culture? To what extent
should we be prepared to suspend our own deeply ingrained moral expectations
and accept the fact that Odysseus and his family, for example, own slaves?
Is studying a culture from the past essentially different from studying
a foreign culture contemporary to ours? How does The Odyssey
itself present the reader with questions about cultural difference?
As an epic dedicated
to memorialize culture heroes, The Odyssey is dense with names
and details. Encourage your students to keep a journal of their reading
and to bring to class any and all questions that occur to them as they
read. Finally, don't forget that The Odyssey was, and in your
translation is, poetry. Have each student select and prepare one or
more passages he or she finds particularly significant or intriguing
and then read it aloud to the class with feeling and dramatic gesture.
You could also have pairs or small groups of students do a concerted
reading or even perform certain key scenes, for example, the recognitions
of Odysseus by Telémakhos, Eurýkleia, Penélopê,
For in-class discussion
Book I) What is
the basic situation of each of the main charactersOdysseus, Telémakhos,
Penélopê at the opening of The Odyssey and how
does Homer present it to us? How long has Odysseus has been absent from
Ithaka? Who is Athena? Why does she appear disguised? What song does
the minstrel Phêmios sing, and why does Penélopê object
to his song? What do the suitors seek? How does Telémakhos react?
Book II) What is
the function of the public assembly with which the book begins, and
who called it? Summarize the arguments of the principal suitors and
of Telémakhos. Describe Athena's role.
Book III) Who is
Nestor and how does Nestor know Odysseus? Does Nestor know significant
information about Odysseus that can help Telémakhos find the answer
to his quest for his father? What other stories does Nestor tell? Describe
the details of Agamémnon's homecoming. Who is Orestês? What
is Athena's role? Who is Peisístratos?
Book IV) Who is
Meneláos? How does the court at Sparta compare with Telémakhos'
home in Ithaka? Who is Helen? What indications does Homer give of her
extraordinary nature? What information does Meneláos give Telémakhos
about Odysseus? How does Meneláos know the various details about
Odysseus' wanderings and present whereabouts? What plot do we learn
threatens Telémakhos? What are Penélopê's concerns, and
how are they allayed?
Book V) What new
gods do we meet in Book V and what are their roles in the course of
this book? Who, and what, is Kalypso? Why is she angry at the gods?
Why does Odysseus reject Kalypso's offer of immortality and wish to
leave? Why does Poseidon wish to destroy Odysseus? How long does Odysseus
remain adrift in the sea? To what extent does Odysseus rely on the help
of gods, to what extent is he self-reliant?
Book VI) How does
Athena manage to get a sympathetic native to the seashore to receive
Odysseus? Describe the interchange between Nausikaa and her father.
How are the clothes washed? What precautions does Odysseus take to gain
as friendly a reception as possible from Nausikaa and her companions?
What does Odysseus ask of Nausikaa? What does she provide, and why?
What are her concerns and interests? What restrains Athena from appearing
openly to reassure Odysseus?
Book VII) How does
Athena continue to help Odysseus? What kind of style of life do the
Phaiákians have? Why does Odysseus first approach Queen Arêtê?
How is he received? What questions do the Phaiákians ask of him,
and when? How much of his identity and story is Odysseus willing to
reveal at this point?
Book VIII) What
is the purpose of the athletic games Alkínoös orders? How
is Odysseus treated? With what terms does Seareach inflict his deepest
insult and provocation of Odysseus? What songs does the bard Demódokos
sing, and why? (Imagine both Demódokos' reasons, and Homer's.)
What effects do the individual songs have on various members of the
audience? Describe the meeting of Nausikaa and Odysseus.
Book IX) Why does
Odysseus begin to tell of his travels? Where does he begin his story?
What are the attractions of the land of the Lotos Eaters? Why does Odysseus
wish to explore the cave of the Kyklops Polyphêmos? What is human,
what inhuman about Polyphêmos? Describe the multiple ways Odysseus
tricks Polyphêmos. Why does Odysseus eventually tell Polyphêmos
his name, and what immediate consequences does this have?
Book X) Who is
Aiolos? Why do Odysseus' companions disobey their captain and open the
bag given him by the god of the winds? What results? Contrast the episode
of the Laistrygonês with that of the Kyklopês. Who is Kirkê?
What happens to the first expeditionary force to explore Aiaia? Why
does Odysseus have trouble convincing his men to help him rescue their
captive comrades? How does Odysseus master Kirkê? What information
or advice does Kirkê provide Odysseus?
Book XI) How does
Odysseus summon the souls or shades of the dead to speak to him? What
does Odysseus learn from the prophet Teirêsias? What does he learn
from his mother? Describe the exchanges Odysseus has with his former
comrades-in-arms at Troy. What is the particular message to be drawn
from the speech of Agamémnon's shade? From Akhilleus'? How does
AÓas' ghost respond to Odysseus' appeal for reconciliation?
Book XII) How does
Odysseus manage to hear the song of the Seirênês without risking
shipwreck? What does the proverbial expression "choose between Skylla
and Kharybdis" mean, and why? How does Odysseus handle the choice? What
risk does Odysseus see even before he and his men land on the island
of Hêlios' cattle? How does he seek to prevent catastrophe, and
why and how is he foiled? How does he end his narrative?
Book XIII) How
do the Phaiákians transport Odysseus to Ithaka? What marks their
aid as something more-than-human? What does Odysseus think when he awakes?
Is he correct? How does Athena appear to Odysseus in Book XIII? What
story does Odysseus tell the disguised Athena? Why? What further assistance
does Athena offer Odysseus?
Book XIV) What
qualities mark Eumaios as an admirable figure? How do Eumaios' words
give Odysseus intelligence of the situation in his hall and a sense
of Eumaios' own sympathies? Why is Eumaios not inclined to believe Odysseus
is still alive? Why does Odysseus lie about his identity and story?
What image of this "Kretan" emerges from Odysseus' narrative? How does
the "Kretan" hear tell of Odysseus? What bargain does Odysseus strike
with Eumaios? How does Odysseus manage to get Eumaios to lend him a
cloak for the night?
Book XV) What motivates
Telémakhos' decision to return home? From whom does he part? Who
joins him on his way? What new information does the disguised Odysseus
learn from Eumaios in this book? What do we learn of Eumaios' own past?
List the visions and omens (with their interpretations) that are so
prominent in this book.
Book XVI) What
are Odysseus' first words to Telémakhos, and what is their purpose?
What special part does Athena play in the recognition of Odysseus by
Telémakhos? Does Telémakhos recognize Odysseus at once? Why
not? What finally convinces Telémakhos that his father has returned
and stands before him? How do the suitors react to the news of Telémakhos'
return to Ithaka?
Book XVII) What
information about Odysseus' whereabouts does Telémakhos choose
to tell Penélopê, and what does he conceal? Why? What does
Theoklýmenos contribute to the interview with Penélopê?
Whom does Odysseus meet as he allows Eumaios to guide him to town? What
emerges from this meeting? Describe Odysseus' recognition by Argos,
and Odysseus' reactions. How is Odysseus in beggar's disguise received
by the suitors? Why does Penélopê ask to speak with the beggar?
Book XVIII) Who
is Iros, and what transpires between him and Odysseus? What actions
are attributed to Athena? What does Penélopê say Odysseus'
parting instructions to her were? Is Amphínomos significantly better
than the other suitors?
Book XIX) How does
Odysseus clear the hall of spears and other weapons? Who is Melántho,
and what does she say or do? How has Penélopê used her loom
to put off the suitors, and why can she no longer rely on this famous
ruse? What "news" of Odysseus does the "Kretan" have for Penélopê?
What special place in the story does a certain tunic have? Why might
it be particularly appropriate for Penélopê to ask about Odysseus'
clothing? Identify details in this version of the Kretan's travels that
diverge from details in the stories he told earlier. How does Eurýkleia
recognize Odysseus' true identity? When and how did Odysseus receive
his scar? Who gave Odysseus his name? How does the poet link these events
from three distinct periods in Odysseus' life? How does Odysseus prevent
Eurýkleia from revealing his identity to Penélopê? Describe
Penélopê's dream, its interpretation, and the ensuing plan
of action she announces to her visitor.
Book XX) Compare
Odysseus' interaction with Athena and Penélopê's with Artemis.
What sign does Zeus send? Who is Philoítios? Contrast his character
with that of Melánthios. What is particularly appropriate or prophetic
about Apollo that the poet would mention that the Ithakans were leading
sacrifices to him? In what further ways does Athena provoke bad or strange
behavior on the part of the suitors? What is the reaction of Theoklýmenos
to the suitors' crazed hilarity?
Book XXI) What
is special about the bow Penélopê brings out for the contest?
What must a contestant do to win the contest? Who first tries to string
the bow, and nearly succeeds? How do the suitors try to make the task
of stringing the bow easier? To whom does Odysseus now reveal his identity,
and why? How do the suitors react to the "beggar's" proposal that he
try the bow after all the others have failed? Who insists that he be
given a chance, and why? Why does Telémakhos so firmly order his
mother out of the hall? Describe the swift series of events with which
this book ends.
Book XXII) What
is Odysseus' first target in this book, and why? What is the suitors'
reaction? When does Odysseus explicitly reveal his true identity? What
ensues? Who are Odysseus' assistants? What unexpected development nearly
upsets Odysseus' careful strategy? What role does Athena play? Who begs
for mercy and is denied? Who begs for mercy and has it granted? What
does Odysseus tell Telémakhos to do with the serving girls? What
is in fact the fate of the serving girls?
Book XXIII) What
is Penélopê's initial reaction to the nurse's news of Odysseus'
return? What other explanation does Penélopê have for the
massacre of the suitors? What other concerns does Odysseus still have?
What so angers Odysseus about Penélopê's suggestion that his
bed be moved outside the bedchamber for him to sleep on? Why must Odysseus
travel yet again? How will Odysseus regain the wealth consumed by the
Book XXIV) How
does Homer round out his account of the suitors' fate? What is the theme
of the interchange between Akhilleus and Agamémnon, and why might
it be fitting for the final book of the epic? How accurate is Amphímedon's
account of the causes of his and the other suitors' deaths? What is
the situation of Laërtês, Odysseus' father, when Odysseus
comes upon him? What is the subject of the assembly called hastily in
Ithaka, and what is its outcome? What roles does Athena play in effecting
the final resolution of the book? What does Zeus decree, and how does
it come about?
For further study
Book I) What are
the signs of Telémakhos' immaturity? Why and how does Telémakhos
begin to change? How do Penélopê and various suitors note
this, and how do they react?
Book II) What indicates
that Telémakhos still has some maturing to do? How does Homer help
us distinguish between some of the most important suitors?
Book III) Are there
lessons for Telémakhos personally in Nestor's stories about the
homecomings of other Greeks? Some readers have been troubled by the
intimacies of Telémakhos bunking with Peisístratos and being
bathed by Polykástê; how are the attitudes of Homer's world
different from our own?
Book IV) Is the
presentation of Helen entirely positive? Are there any signs of tension
between Helen and Meneláos? (Pay particular attention to the stories
each tells about episodes from the Trojan War.)
Book V) Kalypso
accuses the gods of "double standards," as it is often called; what
does this mean? It could have been risky for Odysseus to reject Kalypso's
offer; how does he do so diplomatically?
Book VI) Consider
Athena's interventions in Books I-VI. Why is she so concerned with Odysseus'
fate? What are the limits on her contacts with humans?
Book VII) Based
on the behavior of all the characters, describe the etiquette of guestfriendship
(Greek xenia). Are the Phaiákians perfect hosts in every
Book VIII) Demódokos
sings one song exclusively about the gods. Do the gods appear admirable?
If not, why do the Greeks worship them? How might this story be related
to the larger theme of The Odyssey?
Book IX) What strengths,
what weaknesses emerge from Odysseus' account of the first stages of
his travels? Is Odysseus in some way responsible for the trouble he
gets into during the episode of the Kyklopês? Are there any parallels
between his predicament when Polyphêmos confronts him and the one
he's in as he tells his story?
Book X) Characterize
Odysseus' comrades, including some of the individuals among them. (You
may want to consider Book XII as well for this question.) Is Odysseus
necessarily the best witness for the reasons all his comrades have perished?
Book XI) A descent
to the underworld (Greek nekuia) is a standard feature of virtually
all epics. Why might that be? Does Odysseus actually descend to the
underworld? What are the most important things he learns from the ghosts?
What do we learn?
Book XII) With
what other episodes and characters are the Seirênês and their
temptations linked? What does Odysseus' solution reveal about his character?
Book XIII) Consider
the fate of the Phaiákians. Shouldn't they have known to expect
this? In what ways does this event mark the end of the magical portion
of The Odyssey?
Book XIV) How well
does Eumaios fulfill the required duty of a host, despite his straitened
circumstances? What is the range of ways the disguised Odysseus presents
himself in Books XIII and XIV?
Book XV) Discuss
the structure of Book XV. Why are omens and prophecy so prominent in
this book? What can we learn, on various levels, from Eumaios' autobiographical
narrative? What might explain similarities between portions of Eumaios'
story and portions of the Kretan's story in Book XIV?
Book XVI) What
emerges about both Odysseus' and Telémakhos' characters in the
course of the recognition scene? Imagine meeting your father for the
first time after twenty years. In what ways does Odysseus start to act
as Telémakhos' father?
Book XVII) In what
way is it a challenge for Odysseus to put up with the abuse, verbal
and physical, inflicted on the beggar and not show his true feelings?
Is "turning the other cheek" an ideal Odysseus would have held? Is this
trial of self-control as great as those he passed on his travels?
Book XVIII) What
is the function of Penélopê's appearance in the hall? Is it
Book XIX) Why doesn't
Odysseus let Penélopê learn his true identity yet? Doesn't
he trust her?
Book XX) In what
ways does the poet play at foreshadowing the destruction of the suitors
to come? Why? In other words, what pleasure do we get from irony, from
knowing more than the characters? How does the poet underscore the blindness
of the suitors?
Book XXI) Why does
Penélopê now want to stage the test of the bow? What role
has the appearance and stories of the stranger played in her decision?
Do you think Penélopê might suspect the stranger is Odysseus?
What arguments could be mounted in support of such an argument? What
arguments tell against it?
Book XXII) How
does the poet manage to make Odysseus' victory over so many enemies
seem believable, or if it is not, does it matter? What is the point
of the horrible carnage of Book XXII? How would you compare the violence
of The Odyssey with action films and television programs today?
Even in the most violent film, would you be likely to find the mass
execution of a group of women? What might this tell us about differences
between Homeric society and our own? Do you think the first audience
of The Odyssey would have found Book XXII too violent?
Book XXIII) Is
Penélopê excessively suspicious and reluctant to believe that
Odysseus has returned? How does she finally satisfy herself that the
stranger really is her husband? Does she prove herself Odysseus' match
Book XIV) Why does
Odysseus "test" Laërtês and not reveal his identity at once?
Many scholars feel that all the episodes of this book are add-ons to
The Odyssey. Do you? Can you make a case that the so-called second
nekuia, in other words, the underworld scene, belongs to a unified Odyssey?
What about the reunion of Laërtês and Odysseus and the final
skirmishes? Do you find the poem's conclusion satisfactory?
On a map, locate
the following locations and describe the role they play in The Odyssey:
Troy, Ithaka, Sparta, Pylos, Krete, Sidon, Egypt.
Consider the situations
of The Odyssey from Telémakhos' point of view. Describe
what you think growing up in Ithaka without Odysseus would have been
like. Was Telémakhos right in going off against his mother's wishes?
What are the stages in his development both before and after Odysseus'
return to Ithaka?
The "real world"
societies described in The OdysseyIthaka, Sparta, Pylos,
war-time Troy in flashbackare vastly different from modern societies.
Try to describe and discuss some of these differences. Among the difference
you might consider are: political systems, slaves and servants, marriage
and the role of women, religion. Try to imagine what it would have been
like to be a king or prince; a slave or serving girl in Odysseus' household
during his absence and immediately after his return; a priest or prophet;
a worker of the land or tender of flocks. How difficult would it really
have been for a prince to put up patiently with the abuse meted out
to a beggar?
with the other female figures presented or described in The Odyssey.
How is she contrasted with Helen and Klytaimnéstra? With Kirkê
and Kalypso? What characteristics does she share with her "like-minded"
Discuss the gods
in The Odyssey. What are the particular roles of Zeus, Athena,
Poseidon, and Hermês? Why and in what ways do humans honor the
gods? If you had lived in the time of the Homeric heroes, would you
have worshiped the gods?
is a poem about the return of a war hero to civilian life, the reintegration
of the extraordinary into the everyday. Discuss this with reference
to events of our own century, your own lifetime.
Do we have any
heroes or story cycles comparable to the tales told about Odysseus and
the Trojan War? If so, what are they? If not, why do you think that
is? As far as we can tell, The Odyssey was immensely popular
in ancient Greece. How does it differ from popular entertainment today?
Are there any ways in which it is similar?
Odyssey with science fiction, whether in books or films or on television.
Why is it, do you think, that while epic poetry turns to a heroic past,
our most compelling legends imagine a future?
For further reading
The most helpful
other book to read as background to The Odyssey is surely The
Iliad. Numerous translations are available. There is also A Guide
to the Odyssey: A Commentary on the English Translation of Robert Fitzgerald
by Ralph Hexter (New York, 1993). For background to the world of The
Odyssey, one may consult Moses I. Finley, The World of Odysseus
(New York, 1978). On the matter of oral composition, basic is Alfred
Lord's Singer of Tales (Cambridge, 1960). Among the abundant
books available on the topic see also Geoffrey S. Kirk, The Songs
of Homer (Cambridge, 1962) and Andrew Ford's Homer: The Poetry
of the Past (Princeton, 1992), as well as the works of Gregory Nagy
(The Best of the Achaeans [Baltimore, 1979] and Pindar's Homer
[Baltimore, 1991]). Individual studies of The Odyssey abound.
Recent and balanced overviews are Jasper Griffin, Homer: The Odyssey
(Cambridge, 1987) and William G. Thalmann, The Odyssey: An Epic of
Return (New York, 1992). Recently, there have been provocative studies
of Odysseus' nature by Pietro Pucci (Odysseus Polutropos [Ithaca,
1987]) and John Peradotto (Man in the Middle Voice [Princeton,
1990]), but, notably, many of the most recent outstanding studies have
focused on Penélopê and the epic's female figures (Marylin
A. Katz, Penelope's Renown [Princeton, 1991]; Nancy Felson-Rubin,
Regarding Penelope [Princeton, 1994], and Beth Cohen, ed., The
Distaff Side: Representing the Female in Homer's Odyssey [New York,
1995]). Mary Renault, who wrote so many wonderful fictions about ancient
Greece (including The Bull From the Sea, The King Must Die,
Fire From Heaven, The Mask of Apollo, and The Last
of the Wine), describes the life of the slightly later Greek poet
Simonides as he travels through the Greek world performing in The
Praise Singer (New York, 1978).
Of the several
film Odysseys, director Mario Camerini's 1954 version (known
variously as Ulisse or Ulysses) starring Kirk Douglas
as a swashbuckling Odysseus is a classic. It is creative and intelligent,
and no wonder, since the writers, other than Homer, were Ben Hecht and
Irwin Shaw. In addition, there have been at least two versions originally
broadcast on television, including The Adventures of Ulysses
(1968) and the 1992 CBC production The Odyssey.
Of the various
videotapes available on ancient Greek culture, note in particular "In
Search of the Trojan War," written and presented by Michael Wood (BBC,
1986). For images of ancient Greek art and other background material,
commercial software is available. Students can also access many of the
numerous Websites featuring information on the ancient Mediterranean
guide was written by Ralph Hexter. Ralph Hexter has degrees in English,
Classics, and Comparative Literature from Harvard, Oxford, and Yale
Universities. The author of several studies of ancient and medieval
literature, including A Guide to the Odyssey (Vintage Books,
New York, 1993), he is Professor of Classics and Comparative Literature
and Chair of Comparative Literature at the University of California,
1996 by VINTAGE BOOKS
For more information,
please email Random House Academic
Marketing or write to them at:
Random House Academic
299 Park Avenue, 3rd Floor
New York, NY 10171
to Random House, Inc. Teacher's Guides
Readers can find
a host of resources including a list of reading guides for Vintage Books
online at the Vintage Books Reading Group Center