the odyssey

Monsters Autumn, 2020 First Essay

1. The first essay will be due on-line (UBMail) by midnight Sunday, 18 October, 2020.

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2. This is a 3-5-page double-spaced exercise on any one of the topics below. Topics are on:

a. the labors of Heracles

b. Euripides’ Alcestis

c. the Odyssey

3. Because this is our first paper together, I thought that you might find it useful if I made a few suggestions—

a. the topic needs to be really small—that is, really focused—nothing like “Heroes in Greek Literature” or even “Odysseus in Greek Literature”—something which focuses specifically upon Odysseus in the Odyssey is the way to go, for example

b. and the treatment of the subject needs to be small—some specific aspect of Odysseus– for example, his prayers to the gods

c. the whole point is to find the smallest useful subject which can give you the biggest return—this is something you can learn to be able to feel, as you learn to write essays

d. remember to think first on paper:

1. once you’ve decided upon a topic, make the simplest of outlines—and if you have trouble working towards a conclusion, why not try the conclusion first?

2. such an outline can be a numbered list—it needn’t be an old-fashioned lots of capital and lower case letters and Roman numerals outline—the whole point being to lay out what you’re thinking so that you move from 1 to 2 to 3 to 4 in a logical fashion (and, if you get stuck later, you can always go back and check your points to see where you might have made a wrong turn)—think of writing an essay as being like building a ladder, each rung being a point made in a logical series—and you should be able to climb both up and down on it!

e. as you write:

1. give us your big idea early—let us know what you want to talk about so that we can follow you more easily—and why not lure the reader in by making it a question—or an outrageous statement? The idea here is to begin with something you can work from. If you begin, for example, by saying that “by the custom of xenia, the suitors deserve what they get”, then you can go from there to:

a. what is xenia?

b. how does it work?

c. how is it well handled in other episodes between other characters?

d. what happens in other episodes when it’s not well handled?

e. who are the suitors?

f. how do they abuse xenia?

g. so what happens to them?

2. use short paragraphs as building blocks in your argument (each might be a number in your simple outline)—no paragraph should be more than half-a-page and usually they should be no longer than a quarter page—paragraphing helps your readers to follow your argument—very long paragraphs are not only harder to read, but can easily become confusing!

3. remember always to back up every point you make with citations from the text—here’s how to do that:

a. for Apollodorus: book number (it’s all Book 2), then the section number, then the paragraph number—like this: Apollodorus 2.1.12

b. for Euripides: Alcestis, then the line/lines number/s—Alcestis, 331-2

c. for the Odyssey: Odyssey, then the book number, then the line number/s—Odyssey, Book 2, 122-25

e. avoid

1. big generalizations like “the Odyssey is one of the world’s great classics”—we know this already

2. beginning with things like “According to Webster’s Dictionary, ‘xenia’ “—definitions are a very tired trick

3. a lot of plot summary—if you think you need a sentence or two to give context, do so, but no more than that—always assume that your reader knows the basic story

4. being too personal—no slang, no appeals to the reader, like “you know what I’m saying?” no personal experiences

f. when you finish, proofread—no one wants to read an essay full of spelling and grammatical errors

1. if you have a good eye for spotting problems, put the essay aside for a while, then come back

2. if your system has a spell-checker, use it—although this won’t help with grammatical problems

3. have a friend read your essay over, or read it to a friend: if it’s awkward or unclear when it’s presented in this way, a bit of rewriting may be necessary!

5. when you first present your essay, I will review it, but I will treat it as a first draft: if it seems complete and ready to go, I’ll grade it. If I think it needs a bit of polishing, I’ll make a separate sheet of comments which will be keyed to your essay and send it back to you for reworking. Having rewritten it, you’ll send the second draft back to me within a week of receiving it. At that time, I’ll read and grade it.






1. Why is Eurystheus involved in the labors of Heracles? (why, for instance, doesn’t Heracles hand creatures over to his patron, Athena?) And how might Eurystheus’ reactions to what Heracles brings him be part of the story? Do they make the story more comic? Maybe sadder? What do you think? (This will require a bit more research on him—but who knows what you’ll turn up?)

2. Admetus has been given a deadly gift: someone must die, if he uses it, or if he doesn’t. By the play’s end, what is he: a victim? Or a victimizer?


3. After reading the Alcestis, do any of the characters come out as totally sympathetic? Or is everyone compromised in some way or the other? What does death do to them?

4. The scene between Admetus and his father has been foreshadowed in earlier remarks about Pheres. In the actual scene between Admetus and Pheres, who do you think comes off better—and why?





5. This poem is called the Odyssey, but it really begins with the story of Telemachos. Why do you think that the editors who created this work decide to begin with his story and not that of Odysseus? What does it add to—or detract from—the story?

6. Why are Demodokos and Phemios in the story? What function/functions do they serve?




7. People pray in the Odyssey in different ways—sometimes with elaborate ceremony, sometimes by themselves. How does prayer work? How might you gain a god’s attention? Are prayers always answered?

8. It seems that people, both men and women, burst into tears on a regular basis in the poem. Is there a pattern to this weeping? Do only certain characters weep? And, if so, what might that tell us about them?


9. How important are minor characters to the plot of the Odyssey? Pick one (Eumaios/Arnaios/Nausikaa/Eurykleia or any other) and trace how she/he affects the narrative.


10. Do the suitors really deserve what happens to them? Using the text, can you build a convincing justification for their miserable end?


11. Odysseus, at one point, accuses Athena of neglecting him, but can you make a case that, in fact, Athena is actually almost the author of the story in the quiet ways in which she is always managing things?





12. After so much adventure over so many books, the story seems to conclude almost abruptly. Can you explain why the Odyssey ends where it does? Is it a satisfying conclusion, or would you like more? (And what about Teiresias’ words to Odysseus in Book 11?)

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