"Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns

Driven time and again off course, once he had plundered

the hallowed heights of Troy. . . .

Launch out on his story, Muse, daughter of Zeus, start from where you will -- sing for our time too."


Assess Odysseus as a character.  What are his distinguishing features?  What motivates him?  In the opening lines of the epic, Odysseus is described as "the man of twists and turns" and as a man of "many pains."  To what extent do these descriptions capture something essential about Odysseus?  Would you describe him as a hero?  Why or why not?

Compare and contrast Odysseus with Moses and Abraham.

What is the nature of Odysseus' quest?  What major themes connect his different adventures?  How does he change throughout these years?  How would you compare his long journey home with the Israelites' move from Egypt to the Promised Land?

What other character or characters from the Odyssey most interest you and why?

What role do the Gods play in the Odyssey?  How would you describe these gods and their relationship with mortals?

Analyze the relationship between Odysseus and the gods.  What is the nature of the relationship with individual gods (eg. Athena, Poseidon, Calypso, Hermes) and what themes recur?

To what extent do the gods determine humans' fates in the Odyssey?  What role is assigned to free will?  What comparisons would you offer with Genesis and Exodus here?

Discuss hospitality as a theme in the Odyssey.  Explore the concept of xenia, or proper guest-host relations, through an analysis of such episodes as the encounter with the Cyclops, Odysseus' time with the Phaecians, the actions of the suitors on Ithaka, and Telemachus' visit to the palaces of Nestor and Menelaus.

What other values are emphasized within the Odyssey?  What seems to be most important to ancient Greek society?

Discuss the portrayal and role of women (mortal and divine) in the Odyssey.  Introduce specific characters but also explore general themes and patterns.

What is the nature of Odysseus' relationship with his fellow men?  Is he a good leader?  Would you volunteer for his crew?

To what extent would you interpret the Odyssey as a meditation upon wars and its impact on individuals and society?  Where in the epic is the Trojan War invoked or remembered, and what is said here?

What does the Odyssey seem to say about the meaning and nature of life?  About the relationship between life and death?

What role do animals play in the Odyssey?  Are there ways in which they can be used to explore key themes within the epic?

What is distinctive about the narrative structure of the first 12 books of the Odyssey?  How does the meaning and effect of the story change as a result of replacing a more traditional outline with this one, in which we move from a focus on Ithaca; to Calypso's Isle when Odysseus is already 9 years into his voyage; and then to Phaecia, where Odysseus recounts his adventures to his hosts?

Individual Episodes

Offer a close analysis of one episode from within the Odyssey (egs. the encounter with Polyphemus; the time on Circe's Isle; Odysseus' trip to the entrance of the Underworld; Telemachus' voyage to Pylos and Sparta).  How might you use that story to explore themes that rest at the heart of the epic?

The first four books focus not on Odysseus himself but on Ithaka in his absence and on Telemachus' trip to Pylos and Sparta.  How does this long opening section help to set up the narrative?

We first meet Odysseus on Calypso's Isle.  Why does Odysseus reject the offer of immortality and how is this connected to the story overall?

How would you compare and contrast Odysseus' time with Calypso to his encounter with Circe?

In what ways is the showdown with Polyphemus the pivot upon which the epic turns?  How can this episode be read as an exploration of the relationship between civilization and nature, or of that between the human and divine worlds?  What does this episode reveal about Odysseus and his character?  How is even much more than just a life-saving trick when Odysseus tells Polyphemus that his name is "Nobody"?

Major Characters

Minor Characters (Mortal)

Minor Characters (Gods)

Episodes (Major)

Episodes (Minor)




Isle of the Cyclops

Lotus Eaters




Circe's Isle

Aeolus and the Bag of Wind


Menelaus and Helen


Visit to the Underworld





Calypso's Isle

Scylla and Charybdis




Island of the Phaecians

Cattle of Helios

Some Extra Resources

"Emily Wilson, Classicist And Translator, 2019 MacArthur Fellow," MacArthur Foundation, September 25, 2019.  (3 mins)

Wyatt Mason, "The First Woman To Translate The 'Odyssey' Into English," New York Times Magazine, November 2, 2017.

Charlotte Higgins, "'The Odyssey,' Translated By Emily Wilson Review -- A New Cultural Landmark," Guardian, December 8, 2017.

Gregory Hays, "A Version Of Homer That Dares To Match Him Line For Line," New York Times, December 5, 2017.

Richard H. Armstrong, "Homer For Scalaways: Emily Wilson's 'Odyssey,'" Los Angeles Review Of Books (August 5, 2018).

Anna North, "Historically, Men Translated 'The Odyssey': Here's What Happened When A Woman Took The Job," Vox, November 20, 2017.

Annalisa Quinn, "Emily Wilson's 'Odyssey' Scrapes The Barnacles Off Homer's Hull," NPR, December 2, 2017.

Emily Wilson's Odyssey Translation, Book 1, Read By Emily Wilson.

Emily Wilson's Odyssey Translation, Book 2, Read By Emily Wilson.

Emily Wilson's Odyssey Translation, Book 3, Read By Emily Wilson.

Emily Wilson's Odyssey Translation, Book 4, Read By Emily Wilson.

Emily Wilson's Odyssey Translation, Book 5, Read By Emily Wilson.

Emily Wilson's Odyssey Translation, Book 6, Read By Emily Wilson.

Emily Wilson's Odyssey Translation, Book 7, Read By Emily Wilson.

Emily Wilson's Odyssey Translation, Book 8, Read By Emily Wilson.

Emily Wilson's Odyssey Translation, Book 9, Read By Emily Wilson.

Emily Wilson's Odyssey Translation, Book 10, Read By Emily Wilson.

Emily Wilson's Odyssey Translation, Book 11, Read By Emily Wilson.

Emily Wilson's Odyssey Translation, Book 12, Read By Emily Wilson.

"Classicist Emily Wilson: Why Homer's 'Odyssey' Is A Great Story," The Western Canon Podcast, January 3, 2018.  (7 mins)

"Emily Wilson: On Gender And Being The First Woman To Translate Homer's 'Odyssey' Into English," iWizard, January 4, 2018.  (22 mins)

Emily Wilson, "A Translator's Reckoning With The Women Of 'The Odyssey,'" New Yorker (December 8, 2017).

Emily Wilson, "Translating The Classics Again: How And Why," Yale University, March 27, 2019.  (55 mins)

Amy Brady, "How Emily Wilson Translated 'The Odyssey,'" Chicago Review Of Books (January 16, 2018).

Meghan O'Rourke, Parul Sehgal and Katy Waldman, "The Odyssey," Slate Audio Book Club, December 19, 2017:  The panelists discuss Emily Wilson's translation.

"Epic Voices: Emily Wilson On 'The Odyssey,'" Poet's House, September 20, 2018.  (77 mins)

Corinne Pache, "Review Of 'Homer: The Odyssey' By Emily Wilson," Bryn Mawr Classical Review (2018).

  Video SparkNotes -- Homer's The Odyssey Summary Part 1; Part 2; Part 3

  Odyssey, 1997:  A feature-length television version of the Homeric epic.

  Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, "'The Odyssey' And The Other," Atlantic (December 2017).

  Clash Of The Gods -- Odysseus:  An extensive introduction to the Homeric hero from the History Channel's big-budget-but-ultimately-disappointing introduction to mythology.

Episode 1: Curse Of The Sea

Episode 2:  Warrior's Revenge

  "The Odyssey," In Our Time, September 9, 2004:  BBC host and guests discuss Homer's classic.



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