Homer, Odyssey, Books 4, 5, 6, 7

Book 4‑‑Telemakhos and Nestor's son, Peisistratos, by chariot overland to Sparta to seek word of Odysseus from Menelaos and Helen

1)  How is the double wedding in Sparta unusual, and what might be its significance?

2) Why is Eteoneus' blunder in receiving Telemakhos at Menelaos'  household so important?

3) What is Menelaos' response to Telemakhos?  Pay special  attention to the "type scene" in which Odysseus' story is told  with references to his son while his son is there unknown.  What are the codes Menelaos detects to identify Telemakhos?

4) How does this visit create another set of analogues to the  family‑relations sub‑plot?

5)  How does Helen react to the scene at the dinner table?  How does this affect your reading of her character?  Be alert for parallels with women Odysseus meets.

6)  What effect is Helen's story supposed to have on each of her hearers? 

7)  What effect does Menelaos hope for from his story?  In what way is it an answer to Helen's story?

8)  How does Menelaos describe the suitors?  Note especially his repetition of thematic formulae from other books (esp. 3 and 1).

9)  How did Menelaos find out how to return home?  What would you have done to discover how to return home, and why is his method different from yours?

10)  What character did Aeschylus derive from this book of the Odyssey?  How did Aeschylus change the version of Agamemnon's death he found in Homer, and why?

11)  What does Menelaos plan for Telemakhos, and why doesn't Telemakhos give in to his plans?

12)  Note the "flashback" in this book.  What is the effect of cutting away from Telemakhos in Sparta to the suitors in Ithaka at this particular moment

13)  How is Medon identified in epithets, and how does this construct his relationship with Penelope?

14)  What does Athena do for Penelope and what does she refuse to do?  Why?  How is the poet using Penelope to influence your response to events?

15)  How does Book 4 end?  Why?  If you are unsure, read ahead into Book 5 and understand one source of the poet's dramatic art--suspense.

Book 5‑‑Odysseus, held by the witch, Kalypso, wins his freedom, builds a raft, and sails homeward until shipwrecked by Poseidon on Phaiakia

1)  Many Homeric epithets are described as "merely formulaic,"  but researchers have shown that poets may practice "the artful  avoidance of economy" even when they have the opportunity  (Russom).  Why refer to Dawn's relationship with Tithonos at the  beginning of Book 5 (vs. the common "rosy‑fingered dawn")?

2)  Compare the opening of Book 5 with the council of the gods in  Book 1.  Compare both to Genesis 1 and 2.  What is going on?  How  does it clearly belong here (and not in Book 1) and why is it  redundant in the way that it is?

3)  In 5: 32‑57 we have a forecast of events in Books 5, 6, 7,  and 8.  We also have a means of calculating how long in real time  it takes Odysseus to come home after the gods' council in Book 1.   The events described here will not take place until Book 13.  Why  not?  What is the epic's structural principle?

4)  When Hermes confronts Kalypso, how does she react to his  demand and what is his answer?  What theme does this develop?

5)  How does the poet characterize Odysseus' relationship with  Kalypso, and how do we first see Odysseus? 

6)  In Odysseus' first reported speech in the epic (5: 181‑90),  how does he respond to Kalypso's offer.  What does this tell you  about "all he had endured" (181)?  Compare his speech in The  Iliad‑‑how has he changed?

7)  At dinner, Kalypso tests Odysseus.  What does Odysseus answer  and why is this the "right answer"?  The passage from 181‑236  raises an important issue for the poet‑‑how has s/he attempted to  deal with it?  Might you describe Odysseus' choice as "heroic"?

8)  Why spend so much time describing how Odysseus builds his  boat?  Does it have anything to do with the shipwreck which  follows?

9)  Odysseus' lament (5:309‑323) parallels a lament by Achilles  (21: 307‑20 in the Fagles translation).  Compare the two‑‑how has  the author of Odysseus' lament varied Achilles' lament, and why?

10)  COAST GUARD ADVICE!: What precaution does Odysseus take when  the boat was filled with water, and why?  (5: 333‑37 and 369‑77)   IF EVER YOU FIND YOURSELF IN THIS SITUATION, DO LIKEWISE!

11) When Odysseus, swimming, finally sees land, the poet  describes it in an extended simile.  Why this simile?  What does  it do to your expectations because of its analogy?  As Odysseus  is battered against the rocks in the surf, another extended  simile describes his injuries‑‑note its similar reversal of the  expected analogy.

12)  What gift of Athena's, more important even than Ino's cloak,  preserves Odysseus as he battles in the surf?

13)  What natural phenomenon is being described in the scene in  which Odysseus prays to the river god and the god draws Odysseus  into the shallows?  What is the basis of Odysseus' appeal in his  prayer, and why would it work?  How does it differ, utterly, from  Achilles' encounter with the River Scamander in Iliad Book 21,  and what does this mean about these two heroes and their  audiences' expectations?

14)  Yet another extended simile ends Book 5.  What medical  condition does the poet imply threatens Odysseus, and how does  the metaphor describe the solution.  What is the poet's simile for life, itself?

Book 6‑‑Nausicaa, princess and daughter of Alkinoos and Arete, rulers of Phaiakia, discovers Odysseus on the beach and aids his arrival at court.

1)  Upon what occasion does Athena visit Nausikaa, and how does  it charge with meaning N's encounter with Odysseus?

2)  How does Nausikaa's version of why she must go to river  differ from the one told to her by Athena/Dymas' daughter?  What  does this tell you about Nausikaa?  How does dad "read" her?

3)  What is laundry‑day like in Homer's era?  Who does what?

4)  How does the poet describe Odysseus' first encounter with  Nausikaa and her maids, and how does N respond to O's presence?   What choice does O have to make, and what does he decide?  Why?

5)  How is Odysseus' speech designed to charm Nausikaa?  To what  does he appeal?  What prayer for her does he utter?  What kinds  of thematic associations has it acquired in this context?  If you look carefully at Odysseus' rhetoric, you can detect him speaking like a poet, using a specific poetic device to praise her.

6)  Why does Nausikaa say Odysseus should be helped?

7)  What role does Athena play in Odysseus' bath, and what simile  does the poet use to describe the effect?  What has O become?   How does Nausikaa respond to this and what may it portend?

8)  What route does Nausikaa command O to take into town and why?  What must Odysseus do as soon as he enters the palace?  Why?   What interesting socio‑political phenomenon might this be?

9)  Why doesn't Athena openly assist Odysseus, and how does this  explain the relationships among the gods?

10)  Look up Nausikaa's name in Graves' Greek Myths.  In what  senses does she deserve it?  Consult the note on the name "Helen"  in Roche's translation of the Orestia (55).  What is the connection?

Book 7--Odysseus arrives at the court of Alkinoos and Arete

1)  How does Athena aid Odysseus' entrance to the court of Alkinoos and Arete, and what tradition does this implicitly suggest among the inhabitants of the Greek islands from C10-C8 BCE?  Also, how has Nausicaa's final speech in Book 6 set up this entrance?

2)  What is the full family relationship between Alkinoos and Arete?  How do you account for this, politically?

3)  In terms of our ranking of households by order and prosperity, how would you rank Alkinoos' hall?  What do you make of the decorations?

4)  What is Odysseus' first position (self-chosen) in the hall, and what folk-motif does it recall?  How does it fit into the "hospitality" motif we've been tracing from Ithaca to Pylos to Sparta to Ogygia?

5)  How does Odysseus explain his sojourn with Kalypso?

6)  How does Odysseus describe his encounter with Nausicaa to her father, and how does he respond?  Why?

7)  When Odysseus hears the whole of Alkinoos' plans for him (VII: 331-52), he responds in a way that ignores a possibility Alkinoos had mentioned.  What is the possibility and how does it relate to the thematic content of O's travels?