Using Study Strategies for Reading The Odyssey
The Odyssey, an epic poem, is believed to have been written in the seventh or eighth century B.C, by a Greek poet named Homer. It has been read throughout the centuries because it tells a compelling story of heroic adventure and is so beautifully written. Imagery such as “wine-dark sea” and “rosy-fingered dawn” are among the Homeric contributions to language, and are still effective after 2700 years. The word “odyssey” has become part of the English language. It is defined as an extended adventurous wandering beset by changes of fortune
Robert Fagles came out with an absolutely stellar translation of The Odyssey in 1996. There are certainly a myriad of translations out there. It would be interesting in teaching The Odyssey to demonstrate how different versions of the great work can vary.
Probably the best way to do this would be to take one particular passage from the poem and show three different versions side by side. This could be done with a handout or an online file. The students would be divided into groups and would compare and contrast the three versions, using a compare/contrast matrix. The areas to be compared and contrasted could be word choice, characterization, use of figures of speech, line length and meter, other poetic qualities.
It is one thing to talk about the language of a poem written in the original language. It is another thing to talk about the language of a poem that has been translated into another language. How true to the original language and how true to the author’s intent and the author’s language is the translation? These are questions the students should grapple with. They should summarize their analysis by writing a paragraph stating which translation they thought was the most effective and why, backing up their statements with line references from the poems.
The students are somewhat familiar with the terms epic, epic poem, epic narrative, epic hero, but should be asked to look up all of the terms and include as many of them as possible in a semantic map. List all four topics on the board, asking the students for characteristics of each of the topics, and listing those under each of the topics.
Start the map on the board by writing the central word “epic” in a box or an oval, and asking the students for suggestions of subtopics that could be connected to “epic”. List things such as language and form, story or action, hero and characters, and historical importance as subtopics. Take one of the subtopics and ask the students for suggestions as to which topics could be listed under (and connected to) one of the subtopics. Draw this on the board and connect it to the subtopic. Ask the students to complete the semantic map on their own. Give them a specific amount of time, for instance, 10 minutes to do this.
Tell them they may use a dictionary and thesaurus. Once the 10 minutes are up, put the students into groups, have the members within each group share their maps with each other, then have the members do a group semantic map, incorporating ideas from their own maps. Both the group maps and the individual maps should be handed in.
Before reading the poem you should discuss how it is structured. First of all, The Odyssey is divided into books or chapters. Have the students quickly read through the title of the books or chapters. What do they tell you? Is this a good way to track Odysseus’s adventures – from chapter to chapter? We see that in book 1 Athena inspires the prince, Odysseus. She actually helps him launch his journey. For the next 14 chapters Odysseus experiences many adventures on his journey. We see that in book 15 Odysseus is headed for home and that in book 16 he is reunited with his son. There are 24 books in the work. What seems to be happening in the last 8 books? Isn’t Odysseus adventure supposed to be over by book 16? Tell the students to use the chapter headings to construct a framework for the story.
Hand out the Chapter Summary Notes Form (on the following pages) to the students. Instruct them to fill this out after they complete each chapter. Tell them that what they should be doing as they read is to take notes as they go along, only noting the more important events of the narrative. Once they have read the chapter and taken notes on it, they should summarize these notes in the Chapter Summary Notes Form.
To get started, have the students read the first chapter to themselves and take notes as they are reading, then divide into groups, discuss the action of the story among themselves within their groups and fill out the summary notes for the first chapter as a group. Each group would then read out their summaries to the rest of the class. The students would continue to take notes as they read each chapter and complete the summary notes after they finished the chapter. The summary notes would function not only as an excellent study guide but also as an excellent review for tests and research projects.
Give the students a Character Matrix Form (follows the Summary Notes Form) to complete as they read through the narrative with the directions to add any additional characters whom they deemed important. This should help the students sort out the many characters and classify them as to importance in the story. Caution them against overloading the list since there are so many characters in the story, and an excess of names could confuse rather than illuminate.
All of these study strategies should help the students to carefully read, understand, and most of all, enjoy and appreciate, this wonderful classic, The Odyssey.
ChapterSummary NotesBook 1: Athena Inspires the Prince
Book 2: Telemachus Sets Sail
Book 3: King Nestor Remembers
Book 4: The King and Queen of Sparta
Book 5: Odysseus – Nymph and Shipwreck
Book 6: The Princess and the Stranger
Book 7: Phaeacia’s Halls and Gardens
Book 8: A Day for Songs and Contests
Book 9: In the One-Eyed Giant’s Cave
Book 10: The Bewitching Queen of Aeaea
Book 11: The Kingdom of the Dead
Book 12: The Cattle of the Sun
Book 13: Ithaca at Last
Book 14: The Royal Swineherd
Book 15: The Prince Sets Sail for Home
Book 16: Father and Son
Book 17: Stranger at the Gates
Book 18: The Beggar-King of Ithaca
Book 19: Penelope and Her Guest
Book 20: Portents Gather
Book 21: Odysseus Strings His Bow
Book 22: Slaughter in the Hall
Book 23: The Great Rooted Bed
Book 24: Peace
Character MatrixNAME / DESCRIPTION / MAGICAL POWERS / IMPORTANCE IN STORY
OdysseusNAME / DESCRIPTION / MAGICAL
POWERS / IMPORTANCE / IN / STORY / IMPORTANCE IN STORY