The Odyssey Assignment

Assignments to hand in:    Note Chart on Ancient Greek Values in The Odyssey    &    Comprehension Questions

Introduction: Look at the picture below and read the following text:

The Odyssey's Author - Homer The Odyssey is a 12,000-line Greek epic poem dating from the eighth century B.C.E. An epic poem is a long poem divided into sections, or "books," that focuses on the extraordinary deeds and adventures of a hero. According to ancient Greek tradition, heroes were men who were born to one divine and one human parent. The story of The Odyssey recounts the adventures of the Greek hero Odysseus during his 10-year voyage home to Ithaca after the end of the Trojan War in the thirteenth century B.C.E. Odysseus is considered the ideal Greek hero: an aristocratic soldier of superior strength, intelligence, and courage, favored by the Gods.

The poem is traditionally ascribed to Homer (circa 700 B.C.E.), who is considered the earliest Greek poet. Little is known about Homer's life, but ancient Greek playwrights referred to him as a "gifted blind poet." Some scholars believe that a line from a choral song attributed to Homer confirms this description:

"If anyone should ask you whose song is sweetest, say: blind is the man and he lives in rocky Chios."

Other scholars believe that "Homer" was the name given to a collective group of bards who sang Mycenaean folktales to entertain the nobles of Ionia, located on the west coast of Asia Minor.

It is generally believed that the exact author of The Odyssey is not as important as the ancient Greek values it contains. By listening to the stories in the poem, ancient Greeks learned standards of honorable behavior. These values, forged in the "Age of Heroes" during the Mycenaean Period, became the foundations of ancient Greek society.

Download and print the following handouts: Note Chart on Ancient Greek Values in The Odyssey & Excerpts from The Odyssey

Interpreting Excerpts From The Odyssey: Fill out the Note Chart on Ancient Greek Values in The Odyssey by following these steps:

1. Look at each PICTURE below.
2. Read the DESCRIPTION of the picture below and the description in the EXCERPTS handout.
3. Listen to the AUDIO TRACK (Windows Media Player will do) and read along with each passage on the Note Chart.
4. Fill out the column, "Greek Value Illustrated in Excerpt." Choose from the following GREEK VALUES and explain why you chose the one you did. (You may click on any of them for a definition of each value):

Athleticism        Hospitality        Ingenuity        Intuition        Justice        Loyalty        Respect        Teamwork

5. Draw a VISUAL that represents that Greek value in the corresponding column on your Note Chart.

Excerpt A: In this picture we see a vase painting of Penelope seated in front of her loom and next to her son Telemachus. Penelope's unfinished weaving stretches across the top of the loom and is decorated with patterns and fanciful creatures. This scene appears on a Red-Figure vase dating to the second half of the fifth century B.C.E.    (Audio Track)

Excerpt B: In this picture we see a vase painting or Odysseus and one of his men blinding the Cyclops Polyphemus with a large branch. Odysseus is the figure in the center. Polyphemus holds a wine cup, illustrating Odysseus's plan to make the Cyclops drunk before attacking him. This scene appears on a late-geometric vase dating to 670 B.C.E. (Audio Track)

Excerpt C: In this picture we see a vase painting of Circe stirring the potion that turned Odysseus's men into animals. The men surround Circe, who looks masculine herself, while Odysseus approaches at left with a sword to stop her. This scene appears on a Black-Figure vase dating to 550 B.C.E. (Audio Track)

Excerpt D: In this picture we see a vase painting of Odysseus seated at the mouth of Hades, in front of the ghost of one of his men, Elpenor. Odysseus has sacrificed two calves to the spirits of the dead so they will converse with him. He speaks first with his dead shipmate Elpenor, while waiting to speak with the prophet Tiresias. The figures appear to be floating because the geographic features that were originally drawn around them have faded. This scene appears on a Red-Figure vase dating to the second half of the fifth century B.C.E. (Audio Track)

Excerpt E: In this picture we see a vase painting of Odysseus tied to the mast of his ship as he listens to the song of the Sirens. One of the winged Sirens swoops down in front of him, while two others are perched on cliffs in the upper right and left corners. Odysseus's men, their ears plugged with wax, row the boat oblivious to the charm of the Siren song. This scene appears on a Red-Figure vase dating to 475 to 450 B.C.E. (Audio Track)

Excerpt F: In this picture we see a vase painting of two men, a pig, and a piglet. The scene is commonly thought to represent Odysseus, left, and the swineherd Eumaeus, who unknowingly put Odysseus up for a night before the hero returned home to confront his wife's suitors. This scene appears on a Red-Figure vase dating to 470 to 460 B.C.E. (Audio Track)

Excerpt G: In this picture we see a vase painting of a banquet scene like the one Odysseus might have encountered on his return home. The male guests hold drinking cups, recline on benches piled with striped cushions, and listen to a female servant play a double pipe. This scene appears on a Red-Figure vase dating to 450 B.C.E. (Audio Track)

Excerpt H: In this picture we see vase paintings that show Odysseus using a bow and arrow to slay Penelope's suitors. Two female servants stand behind him. Caught by surprise, one suitor is wounded and another hides behind an overturned bench. These two paintings appear on opposite sides of a Red-Figure vase dating to 450 to 440 B.C.E. (Audio Track)

Comprehension Questions - Answer the following questions on lined paper in paragraph form:

1. What values seem to have been most important to the early Greeks?
2. Why do you think these values were so important?
3. Which Greek values do you think are similar to American values today? Which do you think are different?
4. Why do you think the ancient Greeks illustrated their values through epic literature?

Supplemental Videos:
Mythology - Homer's Odyssey
Great Books - The Odyssey

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