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20090827-930 The Odyssey, Books 9-12 (Group 1)

Page history last edited by whitnej@... 11 years, 10 months ago


     During today's lecture, we discussed the previously mentioned conventions of epics shown in the reading.  This included magic (Circe), similes, and invocations (Muse).  We talked about the term "in medias res", which is when a story begins in the middle of the of all the events.  Along with "in medias res" we reviewed the timeline of events in Odysseus' life. Odysseus was a hero of the Trojan war which took place before the events in The OdysseyThe Odyssey starts out on Calypso's island which is in the middle of Odysseus' journey home from Troy.  The story then backtracks and tells the hardships Odysseus faced, including his encounter with the cyclops, Sirens, journey to the underworld, Scylla and Charybdis, and Circe.  Then, we discussed what the early scenes in the book revealed.  The first stanza of The Odyssey shows that Odysseus is the protagonist of the story and has gone through many trials amidst his journey home.  The beginning also shows the state of affairs at his home and what has become of his family in his absence.   The first book introduces Telemachus and shows him at first as being very immature, but he quickly starts to mature.  He becomes more forceful with both the suitors and his mother like a true Greek man.

    The idea of The Odyssey providing insight to Greek culture was discussed as well. Xenia was the Greek concept of hospitality and a religious obligation back in Homer's day.  Xenia had three aspects to it: respect for the host from the guest, respect for the guest from the host, and a parting gift for the guest.  In ancient Greece, anyone who violated one of the aspects of xenia was at the mercy of the gods, especially Zeus, the protector of travelers.


Word count: 295




"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.

Many cities of men he saw and learned their minds,

many pains he suffered, heartsick on the open sea,

fighting to save his life and bring his comrades home.

But he could not save them from disaster, hard as he strove--

the recklessness of their own ways destroyed them all,

the blind fools, they devoured the cattle of the Sun

and the Sungod blotted out the day of their return.

Launch out on his story, Muse, daughter of Zeus,

Start from where you will--sing for out time too." (Book I, lines 1-12)


     The opening lines of the poem, seen above, set the tone for the rest of the poem and foreshadows some of the events in the poem.  "Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twist and turns..." shows that The Odyssey is about Odysseus and that he is going to go through a lot of trials and tribulations throughout the story.  The opening passage also reveals the fate of Odysseus's men and the event that led to their ultimate demise, "they devoured the cattle of the Sun and the Sungod blotted out the day of their return."   The final line of the passage, tells us that the poem is going to start in medias res and that the story is timeless and can be applicable to any age including today.


"Just as an angler poised on a jutting rock

flings his treacherous bait in the offshore swell,

whips his long rod--hook sheathed in an oxhorn lure--

and whisks up little fish he flips on the beach-break,

writhing, gasping out their live...so now they writhed,

gasping as Scylla swung them up her cliff and there

at her cavern's mouth she bolted them down raw..." (Book XII, lines 271-277)


     The above passage is an example of Homeric simile that was found in the reading for today's class.  Homeric similes are one of the conventions of an epic poem discussed in the last class.  Homeric similes usually involve the crafts of men and nature, and are fairly long. This example carries a certain type of importance due to the fact most of the Greek population lived on the ocean; therefore, any reference to fishing or ocean faring was easily relatable.  This passage also demonstrates how easy it was for Scylla to pick off six of Odysseus' men like that and the udder hopelessness it would have been to fight Scylla.


"Thick, luxuriant woods grew round the cave,

alders and black poplars, pungent cypress too,

and there birds roosted, folding their long wings,

owls and hawks and the spread-beaked ravens of the sea,

black skimmers who make their living off the waves.

And round the mouth of the cavern trailed a vine

laden with clusters, bursting with ripe grapes.

Four springs in a row, bubbling clear and cold,

running side-by-side, took channels left and right.

Soft meadows spreading round were starred with violets,

lush with beds of parsley.  Why, even a deathless god

who came upon that place would gaze in wonder,

heart entranced with pleasure.  Hermes the guide,

the mighty giant-killer, stood there, spellbound..." (Book V, lines 71-84)


     This passage shows how the The Odyssey is like an instructional book for Greek culture.  The aspects of Calypso's island are described in such detail and with such awe that it shows that the Greeks of Homer's time found those things to be beautiful and highly respected through their daily deeds.  This also reveals how the Greeks value self respect along with suppliants, previously mentioned in the summary.


""Give the stranger food and drink, my girls."

They hung on her words and did her will at once,

set before Odysseus food and drink....."  (Book VI, lines 272-274)


     This small exert from the poem is another example of  "host to guest" xenia, this time directed towards Odysseus, who received it kindly.  It also shows the continuity of xenia and how it is persistently evident within the Greek culture throughout the entire poem.






  • invocation- calling for the assistance of some greater being (e.g. invoking a muse to help tell a story)
  • xenia- the concept of hospitality towards strangers (and from guests to hosts) seen in Ancient Greece.
  • suppliant- someone who humbly requests something such as hospitality.
  • in medias res- when a passage or reading begins in the middle of the overall storyline.

Comments (2)

Brian Croxall said

at 2:10 pm on Sep 4, 2009

For your first crack at the notes from a day's class, you've done a pretty good job. You've chosen two good passages to look at and the terms you have chosen were certainly the most important for the day. In fact, I can't think of a word that you didn't include. In general the writing of the notes is clear and there is a minimum of mistakes.

Still, there are some places where the notes could be stronger. In particular, the summary of the class seems like an effort (albeit a good one) to capture as much as what was said in class as possible. Some of what's there isn't all that important, such as the observation that the Sirens or Scylla and Charbydis are phrases that we know from how they are used today. A more relevant topic that isn't covered at all is how the first book shows us how Telemachus starts to mature (or at least gives us a starting point to see this process of maturation). Your coverage of in medias res is good, as is the discussion of xenia; but the latter might have profited from a mention of its status as a religious obligation. For a better summary, consider trying to cover less but covering that more in depth.

As far as your passages are concerned, I'm surprised that you didn't include the first lines from the book, which we spent a lot of time with. And in your discussion of the simile linked to Scylla, the ideal notes would have discussed not only the relation to a craft that people are familiar with but also how this simile makes it plain how easy it is for Scylla to grab these men.

Let me give you a secret hint for future summaries: If you don't have space to talk about everything, you can use a passage to talk about something else that we did in class (and that you don't have space for in the summary).

Brian Croxall said

at 5:10 pm on Sep 11, 2009

Your edits to the notes have improved them in the main. You've added important points to the summary, and you'll continue to get better as you write more of these throughout the semester. You also added the bits about Scylla to the passages, which is helpful for understanding the many ways in which it works.

I'm a bit confused by some changes, however. In the first place, a fourth passage has been added. It's not a bad passage in that it shows xenia, which is something that you hadn't had a passage about. But you're only allowed to have three passages per page of notes. I'm also confused by the addition of a line about xenia in the third passage (the one about Greek ideals of beauty). I just don't see how it's a germane comment.

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