Sample Questions

1. What use does Homer make of traditional myth?

Firstly, consider the word "traditional". How do we know what is traditional and what is not? Ancient writers had a great deal of freedom in how they could tell their stories, for Greek myths were not written in a fixed dogmatic canon, but were part of a living literary tradition.

How does Homer alter the more obvious linear narrative of Odysseus' travels, which is a method of telling his story which he could easily have used? Discuss the beginning in medias res and the fact that Homer tells the tale of ten years wandering (with mentions of Odysseus' past from childhood and his death) in a plot which from Book I to the end lasts only a little over a month. Consider the effects of such methods on the traditional myth, and what results accrue.

Some of the myths are inserted into the narrative. Examine the motives, agenda and biases of a few figures who describe other myths. Does it ever have any impact on character (e.g. emphasising Nestor's garrulity when he continually talks of Troy)? Does it ever have a thematic importance, as when Menelaus' and Agamemnon's returns are described in the Telemachy? Are these stories inserted to contrast with Odysseus' plight?

Consider the role of myth in bringing the heroes of the Odyssey into the context of a greater world. The use of patronymics can be seen as emphasising a world where the protagonists are part of a broader society, a world where other heroes have existed and also achieved great deeds. The references to other heroes also elevate the stature of our protagonists by association.

2. Is Odysseus' character convincing?

The first thing to do is explain how you choose to define "convincing"? Is it a term which can be used objectively? Does it refer to how convincing you find his character; or does it mean how credible is he to other characters in the poem?

Briefly consider the analysts' line that Odysseus cannot have a fully developed character because he is the amalgam of too many authors' minds, and thus inconsistent. If you wish to agree with them, there is abundant supporting evidence in cases where he is described as wise in the narrative but is not behaving particularly wisely. If you disagree, show how these examples are normally ironic.

Consider the characterisation applied to Odysseus by direct narrative. Outline the salient features of his character. Next, turn to what other characters say about him. Finally, what does Odysseus say about himself? Are all these consistent? If not, why not? Do the characters of others impinge on how they see Odysseus? Does the audience to whom they are speaking? How does Odysseus' character affect his presentation of his own character?

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