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The Odyssey: Book Review for Teachers

written by: Trent Lorcher • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 1/17/2012

Is the Odyssey worth teaching to your students? Of course! Read on for details and suggestions on teaching.

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    The Summary

    Ten years after the fall of Troy and thousands of years before Mapquest and Onstar, Odysseus has not returned to his home in Ithaca, where his wife and son are trying to fend off a mob of disrespectful suitors. As the narrative begins, Odysseus is imprisoned by the goddess Calypso who refuses to let him go and forces him to do things he probably enjoys. Zeus and Hermes convince Calypso to release Odysseus. He washes up on the island of Phaecia where he narrates his adventures to King Alcinous, adventures that involve pillaging, fornication, seances, gluttony, boasting, the slaying of monsters, and the slaughtering of sacred cattle.

    After hearing his story, the Phaecians deliver him to Ithaca where he finds his house in disarray. With the help of Athena, goddess of war and wisdom, Odysseus concocts a plan, one that involves his son and the merciless slaughter of traitorous suitors and disloyal servants.

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    Literary Merit

    An analysis of The Odyssey shows the epic is much more than an adventure story. It's an exploration of human weakness and the thin line between heroism and stupidity. It also examines the relationship between human and deity. The following epic conventions are present:

    • In Media Res - The Odyssey begins in the middle. Much of the story is told via flashback.
    • Epic Invocation - The Odyssey begins with an appeal to the muse.
    • Supernatural Intervention - Gods, magic, and fate play an important role.
    • Stock Epithets - The Odyssey contains stock phrases that describe characters, things, and events -- gray-eyed Athena, wise Odysseus, for example.
    • Vast Settings - Odysseus' voyage consists of all the known world, which at the time was the Mediterranean area.
    • Epic Hero - The epic hero embodies the positive characteristics of his society. Odysseus is strong, wise, good-looking, and loyal.
    • Epic Similes - Really long comparisons of unlike things using like, as, or so.

    Pointing out characteristics of the epic will help students understand The Odyssey.

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    Teachability

    It doesn't matter how good the book is if you can't teach it. Here are some suggestions.

    1. Read it out loud or listen to the audio version.
    2. Use the Internet. There are several online activities for The Odyssey.
    3. Find an abridged version. There's no need to teach the entire thing to high school students. Many literature textbooks contain the highlights. They can read the whole thing in college, already having been exposed to it in high school.
    4. Have students create a travel log.
    5. Show clips from the made for TV movie. High school kids love the Cyclops' scene and the slaying of the suitors. Avoid the scenes with Circe and Calypso. Watch them during your prep if you wish.
    6. Check out this Odyssey Study Guide.
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    After teaching The Odyssey, instruct students to write their ownbook review.

    1. Write a brief summary of the epic, 100-200 words.
    2. Write a brief analysis, extolling its literary merit, 150-200 words.
    3. List teaching ideas for the novel, 3-4 ideas in a bulleted list.
    4. Give each section a rating of 1-5 stars.

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