Odyssey Books 17-20 Reading Questions


Dear all,

congratulations on finishing your first paper for LitHum! I look forward to reading them and I'm sure i'm going to learn a lot from them. This week we finish our reading of Homer (that went quick, right?) Here are the reading questions for Monday.

As a reminder, you are requested to do a blog post once a week. For tomorrow, you can answer the questions below, the questions I posted for Books 13-16 last week, or come up with your own ideas. The posts are supposed to be around 200 words or less. These are very low stakes assignments that are only for the sake of getting your thinking started. I'm not expecting any magisterial, polished gems, only your rough, initial thoughts that will get our seminar conversation started.

1.) Pay attention to the different scenes of recognition: Odysseus and Telemachus (16.200ff.). Odysseus and Argos (17.315ff.). Odysseus and the nurse Euryclea (19.400ff.). The scene with Odysseus and his Nurse is a famous one in world literature. What’s the process of recognition here? Why this digression into the boar hunt? What does this episode reveal to us about Odysseus’ rite de passage?

2.) Why does Odysseus chose to disguise himself as a beggar? Why not some other role? How might this impersonation deepen the poem’s exploration of the guest-host relationship?

3.) How do the suitors—and other inhabitants of Ithaca—treat this stranger? What does it reveal about their “inner hearts”? What do we learn of the social class on the island?

4.) Books 17-20 seem the more “realistic”—in the sense that the gods hardly make an appearance—what do you make of the absence of the divine? What’s the image of society that portrayed here?

5a.) In 19.48 Odysseus tells his son that “I’ll stay here behind to test the women, test your mother too.” How does he test him? What does he find out? Do they pass?

5b.) In 19.246, Penelope herself decides to test Odysseus, “Now stranger, I think I’ll test you.” How does she test him? What does she find out?

6.) What’s the tale that Odysseus weaves for Penelope (19.195)? How does it compare to his previous Cretan tales? (what he tells Eumaeus in 14.228ff.)

7.) Pay attention to this beautiful simile: “As she listened on, her tears flowed and soaked her cheeks / as the heavy snow melts down from the high mountain ridges . . .” (19.235) Or this vivid one: “but he himself kept tossing, turning, intent as a cook before some white-hot blazing fire who rolls his sizzling sausage back and forth. . . ” (20.28-31). We have talked a little about their functions in seminar. There are many striking ones in today’s reading. Any thoughts?

8.) Remember that at this point Odysseus has only revealed himself to his son. In what ways is Telemachus now being trained as a master tactician? What kind of father/son bonding is happening?

82 thoughts on “Odyssey Books 17-20 Reading Questions

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