Homer's Odyssey

4-5 pages

Bring your paper to the Honors Program office (Wyatt 139)

  1. The actions and values of epic poetry are often accused of being a man's game.  But Homer's Odyssey offers an uncommonly wide scope for the actions and words of female characters, both human and divine. In fact, the English novelist Samuel Butler (1835-1902) was convinced that the Odyssey was written by a woman.  While Butler's theory of authorship has not gained many supporters, most readers agree that there is a strong feminine presence in the poem.  Discuss the role of women in this poem.  Focus on a limited number of characters in order to avoid too diffuse a paper, but do attempt a general assessment of the importance of women in the world and events of the Odyssey.

  2. Discuss the perennially fascinating question of the role of supernatural forces in the human actions of the Odyssey.  Early in Book 1 Zeus complains that mortals have a bad habit of blaming the gods for their misfortunes.  To what extent do the gods deserve blame or credit for what happens to mortals in the Odyssey? Focus your attention particularly on the main characters: Odysseus, Penelope and Telemachus.

  3. A question frequently asked about Penelope's dealing with her disguised husband is: "what does she know, and when does she know it?"  Explore this question, take a side in the debate, and construct the strongest argument you can to support your position.  Take account of passages in the narrative that may seem to pose a problem for your argument (= the ‘counter-argument’).

  4. Action in the Odyssey is governed by a clear set of behavioral norms or values: hospitality, fame, honor, cleverness, boldness, family integrity, rhetorical prowess, etc.  Focusing your attention on any one of these "Homeric" values, demonstrate how Homer articulates that value.  Unify you response by concentrating your attention on a single character, scene, or book.

  5. In Book XI of the Odyssey the dead seer Teirêsias encouragingly predicts that Odysseus will face the suitors of Penelope and "crush their insolence."  By the end of the poem both the suitors and the faithless slave girls have indeed paid dearly with their lives.  Do you accept that Odysseus' vengeance on the suitors and the slave girls is justified, considered within the context of the epic itself? Explain you answer—and take account of significant challenges to your view that emerge in the poem.