Notice some nice features of this edition of the Odyssey:
· Introduction by Sheila Murnaghan (xiii-lxiii),
· Glossary of Names (385-402),
· Index of Speeches (403-411),
· Suggestions for Further Reading (412-414).
Odyssey, lines 1-5:
A)/ndra moi e)/nnepe, Mou=sa, polutropon, o(\s ma/la
Andra moi ennepe, Mousa, polytropon, hos mala polla
Speak, Memory [Muse]--Of the cunning hero [man], / The wanderer,
pla/gxqh, e(pei\ Troi/hj i(ero\n ptoli/eqron e)/perse:
plangchthe, epei Troies ieron ptoliethron eperse.
blown off course time and again, / After he plundered Troy's sacred heights.
pollw=n d' a)nqrw/pwn i)/den a)/stea kai\ no/on
pollon d'anthropon iden astea kai noon egno
Speak / Of all the cities he saw, the minds he grasped,
polla\ d' o(/ g' e)n po/ntw? pa/qen a)/lgea o(/n
polla d'ho g'en ponto pathen algea hon kata thumon
The suffering deep in his heart at sea
a)rnu/menoj h(n te yuxh\n kai\ no/ston e(tai/ron.
arnumenos en te psychen kai noston hetairon
As he struggled to survive and bring his men home.
Odyssey Notes and Questions, Books 1-4 Read Introduction, "A Tale of Homecoming" (xiii-xviii) and "History and the Poetic Tradition" (li-lxiii). Notes are keyed to book and line number. Thus "1.68" means "book 1, line 68."
(1.40) Aegisthus --along with his lover, Agamemnon's wife Clytemnestra,
Aegisthus killed Agamemnon upon his return from Troy.
(1.68) Odysseus so odious --an effort to translate a pun on Odysseus' name, which means "he who gives or receives pain." See Murnaghan's introduction, xxvi-xxvii and the Notes on Odysseus' Name and Pseudonyms.
(1.121) Telemachus = "Faraway fighter" (Named for his father, away at the war at Troy.)
(1.404) Antinous = "anti-mind." He is the leading, and most obnoxious, suitor. Think of ways in which the meaning of his name is appropriate for an antagonist of Odysseus.
(1.452) Eurycleia --somewhat ironically, the nurse's name means "widely famed."
(2.101-03) She set up a great loom . . . And started weaving--Penelope's name derives from the Greek word péné, the "woof," or threads that run crosswise in a fabric on a loom (at right angles to the warp threads). In the plural, péné means "the web," a term for fabric in process of being woven on the loom. At 19.149 Homer puns on her name.
Vase Painting: Penelope at Her Loom (from the Perseus Project). See also Women working wool and Women weaving.
(2.149) Furies = spirits of vengeance.
(2.455) libations = pouring wine on ground as an offering to the gods.
(4.232) a drug --The Greek word pharmakon can mean both "drug" and "poison."
(4.375) Old Man of the Sea = Proteus, a sea god who changes shapes. See 4.41.
(4.525) Ajax went down = Ajax the lesser, who dragged the Trojan prophetess Cassandra from the temple of Athena where she had taken refuge after the fall of Troy. For this sacrilege, Athena asked Poseidon to provide a bitter homecoming for the Greeks. (Nestor gives additional reasons for Athena's anger at 3.142-221). As Proteus relates, Poseidon allowed Ajax the lesser to survive shipwreck and reach the Greek mainland, only to destroy him for his boast that he had beaten the sea. After Ajax died, Cassandra ended up as a slave to (who else?) the greedy Agamemnon. Compare and contrast the arrogance (hubris) and homecomings of Ajax and Agamemnon with those of Odysseus.
(4.593) Elysian Fields Since Menelaus is married to Zeus' daughter Helen, he will not die or go to the underworld. We shall see in book 11 that Menelaus' happy fate contrasts sharply with the normal fate of mortals after death.
1. How is the opening of the epic similar / different in tone or subject to opening of the Iliad? If the Iliad is about a hero's anger and its effects on a war, what is this epic about? As you read, notice how people react when the war at Troy is mentioned.
2. Zeus raises an interesting question at the start of the epic. Where do men's "troubles" (1.38) come from, men or gods? (Compare 1.366-69 and the "fable of the jars," Iliad 483-484.) Do the gods control fate or do men or some combination of both?
3. Why do you suppose Homer spends the first four books of an epic devoted to Odysseus in talking about his son, Telemachus? What must he learn? (For example, why do you think Telemachus so often expresses puzzlement about who his father is or says that Odysseus is dead? See pp. 6-9, 11-13, 30-31, 35, 52-23.)
4. Do you think the suitors are contravening the laws of hospitality as set out by Homer? (See pp. 4-9, 16-19). If so, how? Why don't the townsfolk help Telemachus put a stop to their behavior? What do you think will happen when Telemachus comes of age? (see pp. 12-13 and 24-25).
5. What differences do you notice between the gods' council and the men's?
6. Why do you think Homer put so much feasting in the Odyssey? What do you think are some functions of the sacrifices (pp. 28-30, 39-42) in this society? In what ways is sacrifice related to hospitality (28-31, 44-46)? Why do humans respect the gods? Vase painting: A Scene of Hospitality (Perseus).
7. Can you relate the stories that Helen and Menelaus tell in Book 4 to events in the rest of the epic? What can you tell about Menelaus' and Helen's relationship from reading their two stories on pp. 51-52? (Compare / contrast with Odysseus and Penelope.)
8. Why do you think Homer spends so much time on the story of Menelaus' return and his meeting with Proteus (55-61)? (Hint: Compare / contrast Menelaus with Odysseus.)
9. See if you can start to make some connections between pain and fame (glory, "news"). (See 1.250-69, 3.90-111, 4.107-124, 4.175-250, 4.344-355, 4.396-99.) Notice how often people cry when they hear stories, which spread fame and the news. (See pp. 11, 17, 47, 49-50, 55, 59-60, 65, 74, 296). Why do you think Homer emphasizes the connections between hearing stories and crying (tears and pain)? (See the next question # 7.)
10. Why do you think various people (and gods) keep retelling the story of Agamemnon and his homecoming? (See pp. 2, 9-10, 33-34, 35-37, 46, 59-60.)
11. Why do you think the "phantom" won't tell Penelope whether Odysseus is alive (69)? Vase Painting: Penelope at Her Loom (from the Perseus Project). See also Women working wool and Women weaving.
(5.8) Calypso = both "the hidden or buried one" and "she who
hides" (Vernant 106).
(5.103) Zeus has the aegis = Zeus has the power, symbolized by his aegis, a protective, magical skin worn over the chest and shoulders like a breastplate.
(5.273-4) the Bear . . . pivots in place: the "Bear" = the Big Dipper, which "pivots" around the North Star. By keeping the North Star on his left (port), Odysseus sails east.
(5.498-99) Odysseus buried / Himself --Homer uses the verb kalypsato (the same word as Calypso's name) to describe how Odysseus hides himself in the leaves.
(6.8) Schería, from the verb "to hold, to steer"--hence, "secure" (Dimock 74).
(7.72) Arete--the Queen's name means "prayed for" and possibly also "prayed to." Alcinous means "strong-minded" while Nausicaa is derived from naus, or "ship."
1. Notice Odysseus' first speech (5.172-178). How is this speech characteristic of him?
2. Why do you think Odysseus refuses Calypso's offer of immortality (76)? (Is he being a bit uppity here?) If given the same choice, how would you answer? (See also p. 90.)
3. In what senses is Odysseus "hidden" or "buried" (kalypsato) on Calypso's island? Notice how book 5 ends, and notice the various ways in which Odysseus hides or reveals himself and his identity (name, fame) throughout the Odyssey.
4. As you read, compare and contrast Odysseus' behavior towards mortal women and goddesses (Calypso, Nausicaa [pp. 88-91], Circe, Penelope, his serving-women at home) with the behavior of the heroes in the Iliad. Vase painting: Odysseus with Athena and Nausicaa and a drawing of the same vase (Perseus Project)
5. Do you think the Phaeacians are more like men or gods? (Give details to support your answer.) Why do you suppose Homer characterizes them as he does?
6. In book 8, the bard Demodocus sings 3 different songs (pp. 108, 114-17, 121-22). Why do you think Homer contrasts these 3 songs? What might his point be here? Why do you think Odysseus reacts as he does to the three songs, especially the last?
7. Why do you think Odysseus takes so long to tell the Phaiacians his name? Can a hero have no name? Could Odysseus still be a hero if he didn't make it back? Why or why not? (Relate name to fame and pain—see pp. 102-03, 123-126, 131-32, 134-35, 138-39.)
(9.114) Cyclopes = "Circle-eyed ones."
(9.313-14) a huge pole / Of green olive --the olive is sacred to Athena.
(9.361) my glorious name --in Greek, m'onoma kluton or "my famous name."
(9.364) Noman = Outis = "no man" or "no one" in Greek. When the other Cyclopes say, "Is some man is rustling your flocks" and "If no man is hurting you" (9.404, 9.409), they use another Greek form of the negative, mê tis, which means "no one" or "no man." This word sounds very much like another Greek word--mêtis--which means "cunning intelligence," and which forms part of Odysseus's usual epithet polymêtis, or "much cunning intelligence." Odysseus himself makes the pun at 9.411-12, which might be more literally translated as: "my heart within laughed / at how my name and faultless cunning [mêtis] had fooled him."
(9.402) Polyphemus --In Greek, "much telling" or "much fame"--in other words, a braggart. Note that we learn the Cyclops' name only now, and that Odysseus, too, both hides his own name and talks a lot about his fame.
Vase paintings: The Men Heat the Wooden Stake and The Blinding of Polyphemus (Perseus).
(9.519) 'no mortal man will.' For some reason, the next few lines in which Odysseus responds to the Cyclops have been left out here. Robert Fagles translates them like this:
2. Why do you think Odysseus is so anxious (9.218-19) to see the Cyclops, despite his "premonition" (9.204)? Note when Odysseus might be breaking the hospitality rules. List as many examples of bad hospitality as you can find in book nine.
3. In what ways could you say that book 9 (and the rest of the Odyssey) illustrates the tensions between the hospitality code and the warrior (raiding) code? What are the plusses and minuses of hospitality vs. raiding as a way to deal with strangers?
4. Do you think Odysseus suffers from excessive hubris (arrogance against the gods)? Do you think that he in some way deserve to be punished by Poseidon for blinding Polyphemus? Why or why not?
5. Odysseus tells his real name twice in book 9 (pp. 125-6, 138-39). What are his reasons each time? Why do you think Homer has him describe himself differently each time? Why is it a mistake for Odysseus to tell his real name to Polyphemus?
(10.2) Aeolus = "Shifting" or "variable."
(10.82) Anticleia = "anti-glory." Anticleia is Odysseus' mom.
(10.128) Antiphates = "anti-news" or "anti-fame." (Contrast with Polyphemus.)
(10.152) Circe = a type of hawk that circles; as a verb, "to circle or hoop in." Some scholars have suggested that Circe's name (Kirkê in Greek) sounds like the Greek word kerkis, or "shuttle," an implement used in weaving (Nagler 152).
(10.308) this herb --the Greek reads pharmakon esthlon or "good drug." The same word pharmakon is used for Circe's "drugs" at 10.310 and for Helen's "drug" at 4.232.
(10.321) unsex = anênora in Greek, or "unman," the same word used at 10.363. This word is a derivative of andra, or "man," the word that begins the Odyssey.
(10.326) Moly, the gods call it. a still unidentified plant.
6. Why do you think Aeolus drives Odysseus away (pp. 142-3)? In what ways do the men (here and elsewhere) behave like the suitors?
7. Considering his one-year stay (10.488) with the goddess Circe, how badly do you think Odysseus wants to get home?
8. Why do you think Circe is so dangerous? What do you think this episode
says about psycho-sexual relations between men and women in this society?
(Consider the symbolic implications of men as pigs, drug and antidote,
the threat of becoming "unman[ned]" [10.321 and 10.363], and Odysseus'
sharp sword.) How is Circe like or unlike Helen? Vase painting: Circe
and the transformed men (Circe at cent; Odysseus at right--from the
9. In what ways is Circe's drug and the reactions to it like / unlike Helen's drug (4.232), the songs of the bard (pp. 108, 114-17, 121-22) the lotus (p. 127), wine for the Cyclops (134-6), gifts (142), the moly (pp. 149-151), the Sirens' song (pp. 179, 182-84) and the blood-potion that Odysseus prepares for the souls in the underworld (156-159)?
10. Name some similarities between the mortal females (Penelope, Helen, Nausicaa, Arêtê) and the immortal ones (Calypso, Circe, the Sirens, Scylla).
11. What similarities and / or differences do you see in the various obstacles that prevent Odysseus from returning home?
(10.514, 11.47) Tiresias suggests teiro, "to wear out
or distress" + eiresies, "rowing" and thus, "weary rowing" (Dimock
132, 145). Homer uses both words in one line at 10.91.
(10.82) Anticleia = "anti-glory."
Vase painting: Elpenor and Odysseus (from the Perseus Project).
(10.125) a winnowing fan --used to fan the chaff away from the wheat, not to row ships.
(10.227) the women came --try to figure out why these women are famous and whether their fame connects in some way to the themes of pain or hospitality.
(10.569-70) Telamonian Ajax / Stood apart --Big Ajax was the strongest warrior at Troy, second only to the greatest Greek fighter, Achilles. Ajax was so angry when Achilles' armor was given to Odysseus that he went mad and slaughtered some sheep. When Ajax realized what he had done, he was so ashamed that he took his own life.
(10.611) Tantalus was eternally punished (tantalized with food he could never taste) because he once decided to test the gods' powers of perception by cooking up his own son, Pelops, and serving him to the gods at a banquet. Only Demeter was deceived--she dined on a bit of Pelops' shoulder. The gods condemned Tantalus to his eternal hunger and thirst, and they re-assembled Pelops, replacing his injured shoulder with a marble prosthesis.
(10.622) Sisyphus, a trickster figure who on his deathbed asked his wife not to perform funeral rites for him. When he arrived in the underworld, he complained that he had not had the proper rites and asked to return home to be properly buried. When he returned to the upper world he refused to go back to the underworld and thus lived to a ripe old age.
(10.656-57) sent me . . . to fetch / The Hound of Hell = Cerberus, the three-headed underworld guard-dog.
(10.670) the Gorgon = a monster with a woman's head, fearsome tusks, and snaky hair.
12. Why do you think Odysseus must go to the Underworld? Do you think the reasons that Homer and Circe give are good ones (pp. 155-57, 161)? Why do the souls in the underworld want to drink blood? In what ways are they like the men, the suitors, beggars? Vase painting: Odysseus consults the shade of Tiresias (Perseus).
13. Why do you think Homer stresses the death of Elpenor? What do you think the oar(s) / winnowing fan (pp. 160-61) could symbolize? Vase painting: Elpenor and Odysseus (from the Perseus Project).
14. Compare and contrast Achilles' speech in book 11 of the Odyssey with his speeches on pp. 169, 171, and 405-406 of the Iliad. Do you think he has changed his attitude? What points do you think Homer is making about life, fame, glory, fate, and death?
15. What do you think Odysseus learns about the life of a man and the afterlife from Elpenor (pp. 159-60), Anticleia (162-164), and Achilles (172-174)? What do you think of the Greek version of the afterlife? What values seem most important to the Greeks?
16.Why do you suppose Homer creates a break in Odysseus' narrative (pp. 167-169)?
(12.199) We know all that happens --this phrase implies to me that the Sirens know the future, but Murnaghan thinks otherwise. See the introduction xxi-xxii. Vase painting: Odysseus and the Sirens (from the Perseus Project).
17. Why do you think people want to listen to the Sirens? What might the Sirens symbolize? How is their song like or unlike the song of the Homeric poet? (What do they sing about?) Why do you think their song leads to destruction for men (p. 179)?
18. Why should only Odysseus (and no one else) be allowed to listen to them?
19. Can you blame the men for eating the Oxen of the Sun (Helios)? Why do you think the gods blame them?
20. What similarities and differences do you see in the behavior and psychology of the gods in the Odyssey as opposed to their actions in the Iliad? See introduction xxvi-xxxiii.
21. How is Odysseus' fame and fate similar to or different from Achilles' fame and fate? How is Odysseus' journey like and unlike a typical hero's journey? (packet 50-53).
22. Comment on the following ideas of Stephen Tracy: "All journeys in the [Odyssey] become a metaphor for life's journey, the natural goal of which for mortals is death. Thus it is that females oversee these journeys and have dual powers both to help and to destroy. Homer here seems to copy nature, for women, by giving birth, set each of us on the path towards death. Each birth inextricably contains in it the necessity to die; the duality is inevitable. Circe embodies it" (66).
(13.265) even in Crete --The Cretans were proverbial for telling a lot of tall tales. To a Greek, "a Cretan tale" was basically a lie. Most of Odysseus' stories in the second half of the Odyssey can be classified as "Cretan tales." (See 13.335-39.) Odysseus' stories:
1. Note when Odysseus sleeps or is asked to sleep (pp. 84, 105, 142, 163 [father], 167-68, 187-88, 194, 198, 309-311). Name some implications of sleep. In what ways could Homer be using sleep as structure or symbol?
2. Why do you suppose Odysseus fails to recognize Ithaca (13.237-374) when he gets home? (See question 8 below.)
3. Compare / contrast the lying stories Odysseus tells on Ithaca with the supposedly true ones he told to the Phaeacians (see 11.373-86). Which stories seem more plausible to you? Why do you think Homer contrasts the lying stories of the second half with the supposedly true stories of the first half of the Odyssey?
4. What connections can you make among story-telling, lies, truth, and hospitality? For example if the Sirens' stories are true, why do you think they spell disaster for mariners? Or, in books 13-19 why do you suppose Homer emphasizes the lies that unscrupulous beggars will tell to get a meal? (See 11.373-86, 13.259-64, 13.299-345, 14.137-182, 14.389-438, 19.219-225, 19.286-345.)
5. What do you think Theoclymenus (pp. 230-31; 237-39, 260-61, 320-21) is doing in this story?
6. Why do you think Homer includes so much talk about fathers and sons at the beginning of book 16 (pp. 240-249)?
7. In what ways can you connect Odysseus' disguise as a beggar with the themes of "a man" and re-establishing his name and fame? In what ways can you connect his disguise with the themes of "the book of the belly"—gifts, greed, hunger, eating? (See pp. 88, 101, 210-211, 232-3 [15.375-79], 263, 265 [17.310-16], 266-271, 276-77, 280, 287-8, 319-21). Why do you think pigs and dogs are associated with recognition scenes (p. 240, 265-66) and with begging and the belly (pp. 263-5, 279)?
A note about the meaning of the
Vase painting: The Nurse Washes Odysseus' Feet (from the Perseus Project).
Plaque with Return of Odysseus (Penelope mourning at center; Odysseus as a beggar at right).
(18.6-7) Arnaeus = "a young ram or male sheep;" called him Irus = a masculine form of the goddess Iris, the rainbow who takes messages from gods to men. The Greek form iros might also suggest ieros, or "sacred," "holy."
(18.149) I know a man should never be an outlaw --In the Greek, Odysseus once again puns on mê tis ("no man") and mêtis ("cunning intelligence").
(19.199) My name is Aethon which means something like "red fire." Dimock suggests that in this passage Odysseus' fiery lies melt and dissolve Penelope to tears (see lines 19.219-225).
(19.284) Ilion that curse --an attempt to translate kakoilion, an untranslatable term of abuse that Penelope invents. Like her husband, she likes to play with words.
(19.431) Autolycus = "self-wolf" or "lone wolf."
(24.313-15) Alybas . . . Apheidas . . . Polypemon --These names that Odysseus tries to pawn off on his father are translated by Robert Fagles as "Roamer-Town," "Unsparing" and "old King Pain" respectively. According to Georg Autenrieth, Polypemon means "A great possessor or sufferer."
(24.315) Eperitus, Odysseus' last pseudonym, is translated by Fagles as "Man of Strife." George Dimock says the name sounds similar to peiretizon, "to put to the test" (328), precisely what Odysseus is doing to his father. (See lines 24.225 and 24.245-47.) To my ear, however, Eperitus seems closest to eperetos, "at the oar," or "furnished with oars."
8. What do you think is the point of the story of Odysseus' fight with Irus (276-280)? Do you see any similarities between Polyphemus the Cyclops and Irus the beggar?
9. In what ways could Odysseus' speech at 18.137-154 be seen as the moral of the story? In what ways can you relate this speech to the themes of "a man" and violence (warrior code) vs. hospitality (home code)? For example, Odysseus says (in a false story) that he "was good at war. But fieldwork / Was not to my taste" (14.244-45). How might this statement be true or false? In what ways do you think he is like / unlike the warrior he depicts on pp. 212-214? Compare / contrast with what he says on at 18.137-154. Compare / contrast with what Penelope says at 19.349-367. Do you think Homer and / or Odysseus would agree with the swineherd that heroes should "honor justice" and "fear the wrath of the gods" (14.94-99) when they engage in violence? (See introduction xxvii.)
10. Note how many omens and recognition scenes (Ithaca 13.237-374, Telemachus 16.178-224, dog 17.317-54, nurse [scar] pp. 301-05, servants 21.214-236, Suitors [bow] pp. 334-38, Penelope [olive-bed] pp. 358-60, Laertes pp. 371-375) occur in the second half of the epic. Why do you suppose so many? For example, in what ways is every stranger or guest-friend (xeinon in Greek) who begs for xenia a nobody? How does Odysseus become a somebody (regain identity)? How do these recognition scenes compare / contrast to others in the epic--Polyphemus (227), Circe (240), and Anticleia (254)? (See introduction, "Fathers and Sons, Master and Slaves" xxxiii-xl) Vase painting: The Nurse Washes Odysseus' Feet (from the Perseus Project).
11. Do you think Penelope really considers marriage to one of the suitors (pp. 222-23, 272, 281-85)? Why do you think she decides to hold the contest with the bow (294-95, 307-308, 311-12) and see introduction xlii-xliv.
12. In what ways do you think Odysseus exemplifies or lives up to the meanings of his pseudonyms ["Noman," "Aethon" (19.199), and "Eperitus" (24.315)] and of his real name? (See Notes on Odysseus' Name and Pseudonyms.)
13. What do you think is Homer's message about servants and slaves in this epic? How can you tell good slaves from bad? (See 17.338-50 and introduction xlviii-l.)
14. Do you think that the slaughter of the suitors and serving women is just? Why or why not? Why do you think Odysseus refuses Eurymachus' offer of restitution at 22.48-63? (Who does Odysseus spare and why?) Would Homer and the Greeks think it just? Vase Painting: Odysseus Slaughters the Suitors (from the Perseus Project).
15. Why do you think Penelope tests Odysseus? What do you think the olive tree and bed symbolize (pp. 358-60)? (See also introduction xliv-xlvi.)
16. Do you think Odysseus is cruel when he decides not to reveal himself right away to Penelope (pp. 358-60) and his father Laertes (pp. 371-375)? Why do you think he tests them? (See introduction xxxvii-xxxviii.)
17. Do you think book 24 of the Odyssey caps off the epic in a way similar to book 24 of the Iliad? Why or why not? Compare / contrast the two endings. Notice: description of Achilles' death and funeral (pp. 366-67), a reconciliation with a grieving father figure (pp. 371-375); an old man gets angry (p. 380); a truce engineered by the gods (380-81).
18. Does the ending (the gods intervene to stop the feud) satisfy you? Why or why not?
A. 1. Cicones (routine violence; [126-27]; Lotus eaters
("forget home"; Odysseus must drag men away .)
2. Polyphemus (monster in a cave; six men devoured; Odysseus uses wits instead of sword [128-140].)
3. Aeolos (wind god; Odysseus sleeps; companions disobey; ship blown back [141-43].)
4. Laestrygonians (giant cannibals, like Cyclopes; only Odysseus' ship and crew survive [143-45].)
C. Circe (Odysseus kills a stag; men drink potion; Odysseus gets advice and a charm from Hermês; drinks potion; draws sword; speaks to and makes love with dangerous goddess [145-57].)B. 1. Sirens ("forget home"; companions tie up Odysseus, forcing him away [182-184].)D. Underworld (Odysseus sacrifices ram and ewe; draws sword; speaks with Elpenor; gets advice from Tiresias, who drinks blood-potion; speaks with the dangerous dead, who also drink the blood-potion [158-67; 169-77.) Interlude in tale (167-169).C. Circe (Odysseus buries Elpenor; Circe serves a feast and gives advice [178-82].)