An Odyssey: A Father, A Son, And An Epic: Discussion Questions
"A son in search of his father. This is how the Odyssey begins, and this is how it ends."
--Daniel Mendelsohn, An Odyssey: A Father, A Son, And An Epic . (p. 270)
Some Questions To Consider
To what extent did Mendelsohn's book deepen your appreciation for the Odyssey? What are some insights that you gained here?
Where would you start in opening the conversation and comparison between Homer's Odyssey and Daniel Mendelsohn's An Odyssey?
Daniel Mendelsohn: "If you're a classicist, merely to open a copy of the Iliad or the Odyssey is to be reminded of this vast lineage of scholarship, of the immense hivelike labor that has slowly added drops of knowledge over the course of 25 centuries to our understanding of what the poems are and what they say." How does Mendelsohn's background as a classical scholar inform An Odyssey: A Father, A Son and An Epic?
Mendelsohn tells us that the Odyssey is written in "ring composition," in which the narrator begins to tell one story but then circles to earlier moments, and then back again. How does Mendelsohn make use of this same approach?
Mendelsohn notes that the Odyssey is filled with "sudden mishaps and surprising detours." To what extent does that serve as a model of An Odyssey? What most surprised you about An Odyssey?
"All classical epics," explains Mendelsohn, "begin with what scholars called a proem: the introductory lines that announce to the audience what the epic is about." (p. 10) How would you begin to assess the proem of An Odyssey?
What are the other ways in which Mendelsohn uses classical terms to structure the telling of An Odyssey? (I have listed the basic structure of the book below) How does this inform, enrich, or detract from his account?
Proem (Invocation) 1964-2011
Telemachy (Education) January-February 2011
1. Paideusis (Fathers And Sons)
2. Homophrosyne (Husbands And Wives)
Apologoi (Adventures) March/June
Nostos (Homecoming) April
Anagnorisis (Recognition) May
Sema (The Sign) April 6, 2012
How helpful is it to compare the relationships in Mendelsohn's family to those from the Odyssey (egs. Daniel Mendelsohn and his father to Telemachus and Odysseus or his father and mother to Odysseus and Penelope)?
How would you compare the bed made from an old door by Mendelsohn's father for his son as a child with the marriage bed of Odysseus and Penelope?
To what extent was Daniel Mendelsohn's father, "Daddy Loopy", a complex polytropos man, one of many twists and turns?
Why do you think Jay Mendelsohn took Classics 125?
To what extent is Daniel Mendelsohn's An Odyssey a book about the challenge of seeing? How is this connected to Homer's Odyssey?
What are the various ways in which the concept of mentorship informs Mendelsohn's An Odyssey?
How did Mendelsohn's An Odyssey inform your thinking about the classroom?
The Greeks had no terms that exactly corresponds to our word "family" but instead had the words genos -- suggesting lineage -- and oikos, meaning "house or household." To what extent is Mendelsohn's book not just about the relationship between father and son and husband wife, but also, in essence, about Mendelsohn's genos and oikos as well?
"The book ends with the father's death," writes Emily Wilson in her review of An Odyssey: A father, A Son, And An Epic, "and it can be read as a kind of Kaddish: an act of mourning that involves making peace with the dead." How would you respond to her comment? To what extent can this serve as a bridge between the traditions represents by the Odyssey and the Iliad, and those represented by Genesis and Exodus?
Some Extra Resources
Audio And Video
"Episode 11 -- 'The Odyssey' With Daniel Mendelsohn," The Good Life Podcast, March 9, 2020. (45 mins)
"'An Odyssey' Author Daniel Mendelsohn Answers Your Questions," PBS Newshour, May 30, 2019. (7 mins)
"Daniel Mendelsohn Interview With His Mother, Marlene," PBS Newshour, May 24, 2019. (34 mins)
"Greek To Him: An Odyssey," Kent Presents, November 2, 2018. (52 mins)
"Daniel Mendelsohn -- 'An Odyssey: A Father, A Son, And An Epic," UMBCtube, October 22, 2018. (61 mins)
"Daniel Mendelsohn On His Journey With His Father Through Homer's 'Odyssey,'" Writers And Company, CBC, February 25, 2018. (52 mins)
"Daniel Mendelsohn," Arts And Ideas At The JCCSF, November 10, 2017. (61 mins)
"Daniel Mendelsohn Discusses Homer's 'Odyssey,'" The Western Canon Podcast, November 5, 2017. (71 mins)
James Ley, "A Complicated Man: 'The Odyssey' And Daniel Mendelsohn," Sydney Review Of Books, April 13, 2018.
Dwight Garner, "A Father And Son Sail Through Homer's 'Odyssey' Together," New York Times, September 18, 2017.
Jonathan Russell Clark, "'An Odyssey: A Father, A Son, And En Epic,' By Daniel Mendelsohn," SF Gate, September 15, 2017.
Emily Wilson, "'An Odyssey,' By Daniel Mendelsohn Review -- A Father, A Son And Homer's Epic," Guardian, September 13, 2017.
William Skidelsky, "'An Odyssey: A Father, A Son, And An Epic' Review -- A Neat Melding Of Family Memoir And Homer," Guardian, September 5, 2017.
Daniel Mendelsohn, "A Father's Final Odyssey," New Yorker (April 17, 2017).