on Homer's Odyssey

1. Cite from the Odyssey:

instances of irony

recognition scenes


instances of retrospective and prospective narrative

repeated passages


2. What does it mean to say that a work of literature has a certain "form" or "structure"? What is the relationship between the "form" and the "content" of the Odyssey?

3. What does the Odyssey have to tell us about respect for the aged and about the role of women in society? How does our modern view differ?

4. What the characteristics of a mature person as the Odyssey presents maturity? How does Telemachus mature during the course of the story? How does your definition of maturity differ from Homer's?

5. To what extent do the gods actually determine men's fate or men's action? Cite passages where they seem to be decided by the will and design of the gods. Cite passages where men's own choices and activities determine what happens to themselves and to others.

6. Do the gods control Odysseus so completely that he is not free? Is this fate predetermined? What choices does he have?

7. What does Odysseus expect from the gods? What, if anything, does he believe he owes to the gods?

8. Are the rulers in the Odyssey absolute monarchs?

9. What are Odysseus' "kingly virtues"?

10. What obligations to other human beings are the most important in Homer's world?

11. What does the fact that Zeus is the protector of strangers and suppliants say about one's moral obligations to strangers?

12. According to Homeric values, under what circumstances is killing people justified or even praiseworthy?

13. What actions and attitudes of the suitors indicate that they are immoral (according to the value system of their own society)?

14. What constitutes the really "good life" in the opinion of Homer's characters?

15. Does Homer seem to believe the theory that there was once a Golden Age, but men's morality, strength and happiness have since declined?

16. In the Odyssey, how do gods communicate with men? Give some examples. How important are the revelations which the gods give to men?

17. What are the usual ways religion is practiced by Homeric people? What is the purpose of these practices?

18. What is "expiation"? What is "divination"? Give examples of sacrifices made for both purposes in the Odyssey.

19. List the essential attributes of gods and of men. Which characteristics, if any, do they have in common? In what ways are they most dissimilar?

20. What aspects of the gods are examples of psychological anthropomorphism? Which of physical anthropomorphism?

21. Is mortality considered to be a natural attribute of man?

22. Which of the following are functions of the gods?

a. Regulation of the forces and harmony of nature

b. Cause of natural disorders, i.e. floods

c. Establishment and/or enforcement of certain moral laws and customs

d. Enforcement of proper relations between god and man

e. Creation of the world

f. Causal agent in human affairs

g. Others not listed.......................................

23. In what ways does your own value system differ from Homer's?

These study questions for Homer's Odyssey been used for many years by Professor Tom Sienkewicz in his courses at Howard University and at Monmouth College in Monmouth, Illinois. If you have any questions, you may contact him at

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