I plan to teach Homer’s Odyssey to a high school English class on an intermediate-advanced level. I teach at High School in the Community, where students are divided according to ability, interest and, at times, maturity rather than by grade level. I expect to have in my class sophomores, juniors, and seniors and perhaps a scattering of freshmen.
The purpose of this unit is to help students see themselves in the mirror that mythology holds up to us all. Times have changed and so has the pace of our lives; but people are confronted by the same basic choices today as when Homer decided to put the story of the wanderings, tribulations, and homecoming of Odysseus into his own words. Students who study this great epic poem which tells a fundamental myth of our civilization will read of witches, cannibals, and monsters as well as of Olympian gods, human princesses, and dead spirits out of the underworld. These students will also read a story about human beings, Odysseus, Telemachus, Penelope, and Nausicaa, as well as about others who have experienced many of the same difficulties around growing up, making choices and becoming mature that people of today experience as they leave their childhood and enter the world of adolescence and adulthood.
Today’s high school students are faced with a world that presents ever more complex choices: for example, careers, family, morality, and so forth. In order to choose wisely, young people need a strong sense of who they are, where they are going and what choices will get them there. Maturity is a quality not usually associated with the young. Rather, youth is associated with curiosity, a sense of adventurousness and a willingness to take chances, all of which involve a testing of who they, as young people, are. I feel that students who have been asked to grapple with the concepts of emerging identity and of maturity will be more likely to temper their adventurousness with wise choices in their lives. Students can be asked to see in the experience of Odysseus, the archetypal traveler, and his son Telemachus, a vision of their own search for identity. Although they are not travelers, Penelope and Nausicaa will be looked at as female counterparts to Odysseus and Telemachus,