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1.3: Bonus Discussion Questions

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    82598
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    DAY ONE

     

    Ritual Friendship and Hospitality

    Read the sections on hospitality and ritual friendship (xenia) and the oikos and on slavery in The Worlds of the Odyssey (1.2).

    How does the author play with expectations of the “right behavior” of guests and the household of Agamemnon and Odysseus’ households in books one and two? How do expectations vary from class to class and between genders?  How do the suitors violate the laws of xenia? (books 1-2)

    Track the treatment of xenia in books 1-4. How are hospitality and ritual friendship meant to function ideally and how have they gone wrong in Ithaca? Compare the treatment of hosts and guests by age, gender, and free/unfree status.

    The Power of Speech

    Read the section on master narratives in the critical introduction (1.1) and on gender roles and the oikos in The Worlds of the Odyssey (1.2)

    Consider the power of gendered speech as demonstrated in Zeus’ relationship with Athena in book 1, also Penelope and Telemachus (and the bard) in book 1.

    For example, we hear of Penelope from Telemachus before she makes her appearance in the hall (bk. 1); she orders the bard to stop singing about how Athena cursed the return journey of the Greek-speaking forces from Troy. Telemachus then bites back with a scolding speech. What does this exchange reveal of the tensions between the two and gender and generational roles in ancient Greece societies (bk. 1)?

    What do we learn of Penelope from Antinous’ speech? Is it proper for a woman to be discussed in public by her son and suitors? (bk. 2) Why is Mentor left in charge and not Penelope? (bk. 2)

    Telemachus’ Dilemma

    Read the sections on the oikos and guest hospitality (xenia) in The Worlds of the Odyssey (1.2), and leadership in the critical introduction (1.1).

    Why does “Homer” have Telemachus visit or hear of so many households (Agamemnon, Nestor, Menelaus, Telemachus’ own household in Ithaca, Phaeacia)? Which household do you think is closest to the Greek ideal in terms of display of hospitality, wealth, and functionality?

    What challenges face Telemachus by virtue of his youth? Why does he undertake his Telemachy or journey (yes, to find out about his father, but what other motives and agendas drive him as a young man?) (bks. 1-3)

    How do the memories of Nestor and Menelaus of the war compare? What do we learn of them and their wartime experiences? (bks. 3-4).

    The Greek-speakers and Other Cultures

    Read the section on cultures in The Worlds of the Odyssey (1.2) on race and racism, and on monsters in the critical introduction (1.1).

    We begin to encounter the wider world around Greece in books 3-4. How do Greek leaders interact with other cultures and why do they (is it for war, trade, piracy, marriage)? Try books 3 and 4, 6, also 10 and 14.

    We should perhaps look at the Phaeacians as the anti-types of the Cyclopes and an idealized utopian culture. What does this fantasy culture tell us about Greek ideals for "civilization"? (bk. 6)

    Penelope, Helen, Clytemnestra and Calypso

    Read the sections on gender roles and the oikos in The Worlds of the Odyssey (1.2), and on gods and goddesses in the critical introduction (1.1).

    Compare Helen’s entrance and actions to Penelope’s (try books 1, 2, and 4). How are the two women perceived and treated by the men around them? Why? And why is Agamemnon’s wife (Clytemnestra) mentioned so much?

    In book five we meet Calpyso, the first of the semi-divine women who detain Odysseus on his way home. If Helen, Penelope and Clytemnestra are a triad of women useful for exploring what it means to be a wife of a prince, what is Calypso being used to think about?

    Compare Arete to Penelope, Clytemnestra, Helen, and Venus. Who is the best wife and queen? Why? (bk. 8)

    Unmarried women, slaves and disability

    Read the sections on gender roles, the oikos, and slavery in the critical introduction and Worlds of the Odyssey (1.2).

    What makes for a “good” servant and a “good” owner? What obligations and limitations bind each? Compare Odysseus, Telemachus, Penelope, Medon, Dolius, and Eurycleia (try bks. 1 and 4).

    If Phaeacia is a fantasy civilization, Nausicaa might be an idealized unmarried high status woman. What are the expectations for her behavior? (bk. 6)  For that of her mother, father, brothers and the slaves? (bks. 6-7)

    What does Odysseus’ stay among the Phaeceians tell us about Greek attitudes towards disability (Demodocus the bard, Vulcan, Odysseus as older man in the games)(try bks. 6-8)?

     

    DAY TWO

     

    Greek-speakers and other civilizations

    Read the sections on cultures in The Worlds of the Odyssey (1.2), and on race and racism and monsters in the critical introduction (1.1).

    What do Odysseus’ actions among the Cicons tell you about Greeks’ attitudes towards other cultures? (bk. 9)

    How do the Cyclops rate as a civilization according to Odysseus? What makes them “uncivilized” in comparison to the inhabitants of Scheria? (bk. 9) Who is more civilized--Odysseus and his men or the Cyclops? How/why?

    What do Odysseus’ actions among the inhabitants of Scheria tell you about Greeks’ attitudes towards other cultures? (bks. 6, 9) How does Scheria rate as a civilization according to Odysseus?

    What do Odysseus’ actions among the Laestrygones tell you about Greeks’ attitudes towards other cultures? How do the Laestrygones (Laestrygonians) rate as a civilization according to Odysseus? (bk. 10)

    Odysseus and Male Leadership Expectations

    Read the section on leadership and PTSD in the critical introduction (1.1).

    What do books 9 and 10 tell us of the relationship between Odysseus and his men and about Odysseus as a leader? See also book 24.

    Circe

    Read the sections on gender roles and the oikos in The Worlds of the Odyssey (1.2), and on magic, gods and goddesses in the critical introduction (1.1).

    We meet Circe in book 10 and again in book 12. How does she compare to Calypso and the other women we have seen thus far?  Compare her story to the expectations for a  good wife laid out in the historical documents. Why is Circe both terrifying and alluring?

    Name and Shame “That Woman”

    Read the sections on gender roles and the oikos in The Worlds of the Odyssey (1.2), and on double standards in the critical introduction (1.1).

    In bk. 11 we find out about Penelope from Odysseus’ mother Anticlea and encounter a parade of famous Greek women. What do we learn about Greek gender roles from their stories and Odysseus’ reaction to them? Why are their stories combined with the stories of Greek heroes in the same book (some of these “heroes” did some pretty despicable things which Odysseus doesn’t mention)?

     

    An (un)reliable narrator?

    Read the section on master narratives and monsters in the critical introduction (1.1) and gender roles in The Worlds of the Odyssey (1.2)

    In book 12 we have layers and layers of narrators; Odysseus, Circe, Calypso. Do we believe Odysseus’ tale? How does he craft his own image and rationalize his actions? Why are the monsters he meets in this chapter all female (Scylla, Charybdis, the Sirens)?

    What about the stories Penelope and Odysseus tell each other in book 23? Is Odysseus master of “constant self-reinvention” through storytelling, disguise, and deceit (Wilson, 62)? Would ancient audiences have approved of or been appalled by his tactics? 

     

    DAY THREE  

     

    Slaves and Masters

    Read the entries on slavery, poverty, and double standards in the critical introduction (1.1) and gender roles, the oikos, and slavery in The Worlds of the Odyssey (1.2)

    What do books 13-24 tell us about the complexity of slavery and master-slave relationships in ancient Greece? Think about Eumaeus, Philoeteus, Eurycleia, Melanthius, Medon, Melantho, Laertes, Dolius

     

    The “Marginal”?

    Read the entries on journeys, slavery, poverty, and double standards in the critical introduction (1.1) and gender roles, the oikos, race, and the free and unfree in The Worlds of the Odyssey (1.2)

    What do books 13-24 tell us about the position of wanderers and the elderly/very young and poor in ancient Greece? Think about Odysseus, Eumaeus, Philoeteus, Eurycleia, Melanthius, Medon, Melantho, Laertes, Dolius. 

    What does the position of Theoclymenus tell us about the nature of exile in ancient Greece? Why was exile used as a penalty and why was it so horrible? (bk. 15)

     

    Telagony (Telemachus in agony)

    Read the articles on leadership, slavery, and double standards in the critical introduction (1.1) and on the free and unfree, gender roles and the oikos in The Worlds of the Odyssey (1.2)

    Several crises hit Telemachus in books 16-17. What makes his and Penelope’s position so very tricky? What is their relationship like?  How does our perception of Penelope and Telemachus change in books 18-23?

     

    The Kyrios Returns

    Read the articles on leadership, slavery, and double standards in the critical introduction (1.1) and on the free and unfree, gender roles and the oikos in The Worlds of the Odyssey (1.2)  

    How do Odysseus’ list of grievances and his behavior in books 23-24 change our opinion of him? Are his actions justified? Who deserved to die? Who deserved to live and why? What do we think of his actions after he kills the suitors in books 23-24?

     

    Male Insecurities

    Read the articles on leadership and double standards in the critical introduction (1.1) and on gender roles and the oikos in The Worlds of the Odyssey (1.2)  

    What do we learn about Greek males’ insecurities from Athena’s speech about Penelope and Telemachus’ reaction in book 15? Also the story of the Phoenician woman in book 15? And peoples’ reactions to Odysseus’ ruse in book 23?

    Why does the Odyssey end with yet another comparison of Penelope and Clytemnestra (bk. 24)?


    1.3: Bonus Discussion Questions is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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