A teacher will note a natural, general division of the books in
into two groups of twelve.The first twelve books deal with Odysseus away from home and the last twelve books with his return to Ithaca and his eventual reunion with Penelope
The first division may be read in three blocks of four books. Books are best assigned one at a time, but because the first book is replete with references which demand explanation, I believe it will take two days to complete. In the first several paragraphs, after an invocation to the Muse, one is drawn into a council on Mount Olympus, a reference to Aegisthus, and a plea by Athena for Odysseus. A student’s question about any one of these necessarily spins off into references to the Trojan War, the judgment of Paris, the sons of Atreus. A teacher must be prepared to discuss these reference and to give abbreviated notes on the events leading up to
and narrated in that poem.Because of the difficulty for students in assimilating the myriad names and details in the first four books, it is a good idea to quiz briefly but often for details.(What is Ilium? Who is Clytemnestra? What ia Mount Olympus? Who are the Atreidae?)
Early in the first week in which a class is reading, the teacher should devise a chart (1) of major gods and goddesses and their attributes and review it with his class. Then, at the end of this first block of Four books, I believe it is a good idea to quiz the class an the function of the gods and goddesses as well as their Greek and Roman names. This can be simply done by folding a paper vertically in quarters and by heading column with the words
, Function, and Symbol and staggering items in the various columns. For example, the students may be given as a function or attribute ‘goddess of chastity’ and complete the blank columns with Artemis, Diana, and crescent moon/stag. I believe that memorization is the fist step to learning. This activity pulls together odd bits of information to which students have been exposed. And although few gods and goddesses appear in
, they do figure in the preliminary discussion by the teacher and in the oral presentations of the students.
At the end of the reading of the first block of four books, the students will note with surprise that they have yet to meet the hero of this narrative epic. Book I clearly alludes to Odysseus who has suffered from overstepping the bounds of divine constraint. The Greek wanderer and his men have blinded the son of Poseidon, and Odysseus’ surviving crew members have killed the cattle sacred to Helios, the god of the sun. And we are shown in Books II, III, and IV the dramatic contrast between the disorder in Ithaca at the absence of its ruler and the restoration of order in Pylos and Sparta at the return of Nestor and Menelaus.
But when the second block of books, five through eight, introduces the hero of the epic, Odysseus ia pining on the shores of Ogygia, incredulous and wary at the announcement by Calypso that he is free to leave for home. Here is the crafty, mighty warrior, abject and crying. All of Odysseus’ adventures do not compensate for his separation from hearth and home, from wife, from family. And so the social statement of the story, often overlooked because of the high interest and appeal of the narrative Of adventure in Books IX-XII, becomes apparent. In
we are to learn of a return to order deemed necessary by the gods and desired greatly by men, even a man who had attained the heroic stature of warrior extraordinaire.
Soon afterwards, however, Odysseus is thwarted by Poseidon again and finds himself on the island of the Phaeacians where, to King Alcinous and his household, he eventually relates the story of wandering and hardship from the time he left Troy some ten years past.
It is the third block of books, books nine through twelve, which contains the narration by Odysseus of his journey, that fascinates students most. They have heard, seen, or read, somewhere, of the Cyclops or the Sirens, but they are surprised to discover how these stories originate in the text. In fact, the flashback narration becomes so engrossing that they are apt to forget that it is a flashback and that
, itself, encompasses only the last five or six weeks in Odysseus’ twentieth year away from home.
It is at this juncture in the reading of the text that an activity may be introduced which supports deeper appreciation. An outline map of the Mediterranean may be given to each student, who is asked to carry it to class for several days. The teacher should help the students orient themselves to familiar land masses or seas and then begin to plot the wanderings of Odysseus. I have become so fascinated by Ernle Bradford’s conjectural journey for Odysseus that I use his text, Ulysses Found, to trace that journey. Bradford has used a contemporary maritime guide, the Admiralty Pilot, along with Homeric descriptions in the.text, to sail the Mediterranean himself.He takes into account winds, currents, and sailing speed to approximate each landfall. With this recent work in hand and a blank map, students get diversion from the text and become acquainted with the Mediterranean world
With this third block of books I also ask the students to outline books nine, ten, and twelve. (I outline book eleven for them on the board to include the details I think they should remember and to reiterate correct outline form.) The symmetry of the events in the journey becomes apparent, the actual trip is learned more easily, and a skill-building activity is encouraged.
The end of Odysseus’ narration is a good place to stop and to test the students on the material in the first half of the epic. Also, the natural division here between Odysseus’ absence from home and his return to home seems a good place to pause so that the teacher may assign topics for oral presentation drawn from a list of artifacts, sites, stories, and references relevant to the Homeric epics. I should like to have these subjects related to books of the poem os incidents in these books about which we read. One example is relating the restoration of Pylos to descriptions of Nestos’s and Menelaus’ palaces. I would encourage students to keep these topics within a time limit of three to five minutes and to use visual aids where possible. The listeners should take notes, Hence, several skills pertinent to the English class are used for this activity, and these reports certainly make the story of
more meaningful. From the students the teacher will receive a written report from which the oral report has been given It should be well-written and well-researched.
The second half of the epic, Odysseus’ return to his homeland, is easier for students to read because there are fewer new characters and a single-minded purpose—Odysseus must make Ithaca safe for himself and his family by killing the suitors. These men in all their arrogance were introduced in books two and four, as were Telemachus and Penelope. Certainly the skill of the bard is evident even more now when the family principals of the story, at divergent places in the first books— Odysseus on Ogygia, Telemachus setting forth on his own special odyssey to Pylos and Sparta—now converge on Ithaca for the final, climactic, delayed reunion with the epitome of faithfulness, Penelope.
I believe a teaches may assign two books for each reading assignment from books thirteen to twenty-four Unannounced quizzes should be given to students to be sure they are actually doing the reading. Sample questions may be: Who is the Earth Shaker? How is Penelope shown to be as wily as her husband? Who is the son of Cronus? Name a function of Hermes in the second half of the poem different from one in the first half. Who is the clear-eyed daughter of aegis-bearing Zeus? List several omens from the gods—e.g. Helen’s and Theoclymenus’ prophecies, Telemachus’ sneeze, Penelope’s dreams, the thunderclaps. These later quizzes should demand more recall from students now that they have read more from which to recall. I suggest quizzing at the very beginning of class on the day following discussion of the chapters whose material is used.
Throughout the actual day-to-day discussion of the readings, the students should keep a three by five card as a bookmark on which to jot down notes, new words( or comments. There should be some running vocabulary list kept in a student’s notebook for words unique to the text and mythology, in general. It is for the teacher to decide how to incorporate this vocabulary in the unit. It may be part of the unannounced quizzing os an eventual, separate spelling test. A sample vocabulary list is appended at the end of the unit.
Once the reading of the poem has been completed, the teacher and class are ready for the oral reports assigned earlier. A class of twenty-five students should finish these reports in a week. The teacher has to decide the criteria for judging the oral and written reports and has to be sure that the class is aware of these in advance. I suggest a ditto for each student from which to make his choice. The grade for this report should bc separate from the grade of the final test on the basic narrative of the poem.
The entire unit—reading of the text, charts, maps, reports—will probably take forty to forty-five days, a marking period.