The Odyssey – Books 1-4 English 10, Ms. Kanaday
TheTelemachy Discussion Questions (adapted from Study Guide for Homer's Odyssey by Robin Mitchell-Boyask, http://www.temple.edu/classics/odysseyho.html)
Book 1 p. 77: Invocation to the Muse; survey of Odysseus' condition in the 10th year of his wanderings. "The whole of the action and most of the principal persons are introduced in the first few hundred lines." 1. What is missing from the proem (the opening lines)? 2. How does it define Odysseus? 3. Why is Poseidon angry? 4. As you read on, ask whether the action goes as the proem says it will. pp. 78-80: Council of the gods on Olympus. 5. What types of gods does Homer present? 6. How do they match your expectations? 7. Why is Aegisthus singled out by Zeus? 8. What kind of system of morality does Zeus invoke? 9. Why is Athena so concerned with Odysseus? 10. Why is Zeus so surprised with her plea?
pp. 81-86: Athena goes disguised to Ithaca to see Telemachus and persuade him to seek news of his father. 11. What is happening in Ithaca? 12. What kind of person is Telemachus? How old is he? What does he need? 13. Why does Athena mention Orestes to him? 14. And why start in Ithaca, not with Odysseus? Note the concern with hospitality, which will be a key theme throughout the epic.
pp. 88-9: Penelope is upset at the song of a bard who tells of the sufferings of the heroes. Telemachus replies that Zeus, not the bard, is to blame. Zeus earlier blamed humans for their sufferings. 15. As you read the rest of the epic, think about whether Zeus or Telemachus is correct.
Book 2 pp. 93-96 Telemachus complains in the assembly of the suitors' bad behavior and smashes a scepter to the ground.
pp. 97-106 Athena, disguised as Mentor, appears to Telemachus and promises help. 1. What are two reasons he appears as Mentor, and not some other Ithacan?
2. He sails off, after asking Eurycleia under oath of secrecy, to prepare provisions. Why is there such strict secrecy?
3. Who is in charge in Ithaca? How do we know?
4. Where is Odysseus's father?
5. Is T. just looking for Odysseus? And why should Telemachus visit Nestor and Menelaus?
6. How has Penelope kept the suitors at bay for so long? What things does this reveal about her character?
7. What does the makeup and response of the crowd reveal about Ithacan society and its present values?
8. How effective is the assembly? Give examples from both during and afterward the gathering that support your answer.
Book 3 The travels begin. At each place, act as an anthropologist, noting the customs, landscape and character of the people; start with Ithaca itself. Telemachus. arrives first at the palace of Nestor. Note the gracious hospitality he receives from Nestor; compare T.'s reception of Athena earlier. Keep your eyes open for other such encounters. One thing to watch: when does the guest reveal his name? 1. Why go there first?
2. What is happening at Pylos as T. arrives?
3. Describe Telemachus’s manner as he approaches Nestor’s palace.
4. Describe the manner in which Telemachus is received at the palace. Why would this be?
5. What do we learn about O. here (both during and after the Trojan War)?
6. Although Telemachus gains confidence as he speaks to Nestor, what indicates that his confidence and faith are still not completely developed? (p.114)
7. What is the other story Nestor tells Telemachus, besides the tales of his father? (pp. 113, 115-17). Why does Nestor tell him this, beyond the reasons we’ve already discussed?
8. (p. 119: What sign does Nestor see as indicating Athena's presence? What does he tell Telemachus this means?
9. How many pages does the description of the second sacrifice and feast take up? Why would Homer devote so many lines to this ritual? Explain, using specific examples.
Book 4 1. (pp. 124-25): What event is taking place in Sparta when Telemachus and Pisistratus arrive? How is it in keeping with the events from Pylos? How might it be important symbolically?
2. Why is Menelaus irritated with Lord Eteoneus’s reaction to the arrival of the two princes?
3. (pp. 125-26): Briefly describe the palace of Menelaus using specific words or phrases. To what does Telemachus compare it? How does Sparta compare to Ithaca?
4. On page 126, ll. 59-66: Where have we seen this imagery before? Why is it significant?
5. What does Menelaus say about his wealth and the extent to which he can enjoy it? What does his response reveal about his character?
6. Why does Menelaus describe Odysseus as “that man who makes sleep hateful, even [also] food” in line 118?
7. Who is the first to recognize Telemachus out loud?
8. What does Pisistratus request of Menelaus in lines 214-17? How does Helen help honor his request?
9. Why might Homer have devoted so many lines to Antilochus’ and Odysseus’s exploits in Troy, an event that is 11 years in the past by now?
10. Summarize the particular events/highlights Helen and Menelaus recall in the passage above (ll. 270-324).
11. Is Helen as you expect her to be? Is there anything strange about her marriage? Explain your answer.
12. Explain the epic simile Menelaus uses in ll. 374-79.
13. (pp. 134-43) Menelaus predicts the destruction of the suitors and tells the story of his return, including the encounter with Proteus, who told him of the other homecomings. What are the functions of this episode? What special powers does Proteus have? What specific things do we see him become as he tries to escape Menelaus? What do you make of Proteus?
14. How does Eidothea, the daughter of Proteus, tell Menelaus to escape the island Pharos where he has become stranded along with his crew?
15. Who are the three Aegeans Proteus tells about to Menelaus? Briefly, what does he reveal about each? Do M and H deserve the happy afterlife Proteus predicts?
16. What does Menelaus have to do before he goes back to Sparta? What does he do in honor of his brother? Do you see any pattern in the accounts of the heroes as they return from Troy?
17. What offer does Menelaus extend to Telemachus? What gifts does he offer? What is Telemachus’s response?
18. In general, do you see any signs that Telemachus is maturing? Explain your answer.
19. (144-152) What is going on in Ithaca in Telemachus’s absence?
20. (144) How do the suitors discover that Telemachus has left?
21. (145) How do the suitors react to Telemachus’s actions? What are significant phrases describing Antinous’s reaction?
22. (146) Note the father imagery in ll. 771-783 – Why is this an apt way for Penelope to describe Odysseus as a leader?
23. (147) Note the language Penelope uses to describe her son on this page. What do you notice about the way she refers to him?
24. (149) How does the description of Penelope in ll.888-890 parallel the imagery Menelaus uses to describe Odysseus on page 135?
25. (150): What gives Penelope reassurance?