Welcome to our encounter with one of the greatest works of literature, The Odyssey. This epic poem is one of the earliest poems in the Western tradition, and its author is assumed to be a blind bard named Homer. In this first module, we will seek to understand the genre of the epic and learn the stylistic conventions that are expected in an epic in the Western tradition. We will look carefully at The Odyssey, Homer’s narrative account of a Greek war hero (Odysseus) who ends up taking 10 years trying to return home after spending 10 years at war in Troy (in modern-day Turkey). Odysseus’ wife Penelope is waiting for him, and his son Telemachus, who was an infant when Odysseus left, is now on the brink of manhood. New suitors are pressuring Penelope to remarry, and Telemachus isn’t sure how he can connect with his father who wasn’t there to see him grow up, and may not even be alive anymore. The Odyssey is a great story of returning home, of hospitality and hostility, heroic suffering and endurance, and of the value of storytelling. We’re beginning our class with one of the greatest works of literature ever created.
Because of this epic poem, the word odyssey now refers to a long journey, one that typically includes wandering (rather than a straight shot from point A to point B). Odysseus’ wandering is partly inadvertent, and wandering with the aim of finally arriving home is the great theme of this poem. While Odysseus acts in the polytheistic world of Ancient Greek literature, his wanderings might cause us to reflect on the way we also wander in our spiritual journey. Here are a couple of passages from the Bible on the subject of wandering:
- You Yourself have recorded my wanderings. Put my tears in Your bottle. Are they not in Your records? Then my enemies will retreat on the day when I call. This I know: God is for me. Psalm 56:8 -9 (Holman Christian Standard Bible)
- A man wandering from his home is like a bird wandering from its nest. Proverbs 27:8 (HCSB)
And because Odysseus is not the only one who suffers because he is wandering, here’s a Bible verse that deserves reflection as you consider Penelope’s faithfulness and strength in this poem:
- A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Proverbs 31:10 (New International Version)
For this discussion forum, provide a response to the provided question on the first thread as well as your own question on the week’s reading in a new thread.
Initial Discussion Question: (300-word count) due on Wednesday
At the beginning of The Odyssey, Zeus, the king of the gods, complains that humans tend to blame the gods for the bad things that happen to them, even though these bad things are usually the consequences of human choices, not divine intervention. He mentions that the gods warned Aegisthus not to get involved with Agamemnon’s wife, and Aegisthus’s sorrowful death was his own fault, not the gods (Odyssey 1.37-52). In other passages, however, humans seem to argue that the gods, and Zeus in particular, are responsible for human sorrows (1.400-403; 8.647-650). Given the events of the readings so far, which perspective is more correct? Who is to blame for human suffering, the immortal gods or the mortal humans? To support your answer, refer to at least one specific example of suffering or of a character talking about suffering in the readings, and cite the book and line number. Remember to post a question of your own in your thread.