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Invitation to World Literature

The Odyssey The Odyssey: Key Points

Key Teaching Points and Discussion Prompts



  1. Athena is Odysseus’ patron deity; he is her favorite human being. Look at some of the scenes in The Odyssey in which they interact, and describe their relationship in some detail, giving specific examples from more than one book of The Odyssey.
  2. Compare Odysseus to a modern hero―a political leader, entertainer, or athlete, real or fictional. Think about how that hero’s family life, beliefs, friendships, activities, heroic behaviors, and so on, affect or reflect society.
  3. Choose a character in The Odyssey that you think is the most “monstrous,” and explain what you find so notable about him/her/it, and why.

Plot Actions

  1. Why does Odysseus go to Hades and what does he learn there?
  2. Why doesn’t Athena just get Odysseus home rather than let him suffer at the hands of other, lesser beings than herself?
  3. The ending of The Odyssey is interesting and troubling. Why are the female servants killed? Why is the one good suitor killed? Why does Odysseus want to start a war on Ithaca?


  1. In Homer’s time, Greeks were just beginning to explore and colonize the western Mediterranean, founding cities in Italy and southern France. How do you think this plays into Odysseus’ various encounters?
  2. Think of several women, mortal and divine, in The Odyssey.What does their portrayal suggest about the ancient Greek perception of the proper role of women in society?
  3. Review the scenes that take place in Hades in Books 11 and 24 of The Odyssey. What can these teach you about Homer’s conception of life after death?
  4. How are the different places Odysseus visits represented? Are they all equally “foreign,” or do they each have unique characteristics and civilizations? What differentiates human from magical kingdoms?
  5. On earth, among the living, social class is strictly observed, and people are judged and ranked, punished or rewarded for their actions. But in the underworld, all the dead are grouped together―great heroes like Achilles rub shoulders with people of no distinction. Why do you think this is?

Discussion Prompts to Encourage Critical Thinking

  1. Odysseus as an imperialist: Is he representative of conquering Greeks when he plunders and takes resources from other creatures’ lands and possessions? Greeks of Homer’s time were beginning to set up colonies to the West in today’s Italy and France? How much of that political activity is expressed in the epic?
  2. Address the differences among the civilizations of Homer’s time.
  3. Readers have debated Odysseus’ “morality” for centuries, especially in terms of his infidelity to Penelope. Can we ever understand how Odysseus’ actions would have been seen by the original audiences for the epic? How does that relate to the way the actions might be judged today? How and why might modern-day responses vary?
  4. Odysseus is often described as restless, a natural traveler who always wants to be off to a new destination. But is he really so restless? Doesn’t he want always to go home to Ithaca?
  5. Do you think the original Greek audiences actually believed in the gods they heard about in the story?
  6. Odysseus survives many ordeals that kill his men. Evaluate Odysseus as a leader. Is he a good leader or a criminally bad one? Why do you think he survives while his followers do not?
  7. Penelope’s one required virtue is faithfulness. She could have had many great virtues, but had she cheated on Odysseus, she would have died at his hand. Yet Odysseus betrays her repeatedly and is not condemned for it. What does this say about the different standards of morality for men and women? Are there different standards of moral behavior for slaves, freemen, nobles, gods and monsters?

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Invitation to World Literature


Produced by the WGBH Educational Foundation with Seftel Productions. 2010.
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  • ISBN: 1-57680-892-0