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The Odyssey | Discussion Questions 31 - 40

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In The Odyssey how do Nestor's and Menelaus's views of Odysseus affect Telemachus?

Though neither Nestor nor Menalaus has information about Odysseus's current whereabouts, they fill in many gaps for Telemachus about the kind of person his father is. Both fought alongside Odysseus in the Trojan War, and both tell Telemachus about his father's bravery and cunning. This information is vital to Telemachus's development as a man, because he did not have his father around to instruct him in these qualities. Indeed, he was raised in a fatherless home. Hearing these details about his father provides him with something of a role model, and Telemachus himself then begins to grow braver and more cunning.

How does the desire for a good reputation influence the actions of kings and princes in The Odyssey?

Being remembered and honored was important to ancient Greek society in general. There were few higher honors than having your life immortalized in the form of a story, as witnessed by the high regard in which citizens held bards such as Demodocus. After death all that remained of a person were the memories that others shared and, through them, the possibility of influencing the behavior of the living. Odysseus prolonging his journey in order to give one of his men, Elpenor, a proper burial is a good example. It was important to Odysseus not only because it was a custom but also because it would help him be remembered as a leader who honored his men.

What does the fact that Odysseus withholds information from his men in The Odyssey say about him as a leader?

Odysseus refrains from giving his men key information at various points throughout their journey. One example of this occurs when facing the temptation of the Sirens. Although Odysseus has his men plug their ears, he does not explain why, and they effectively lose the guidance of their leader while he is temporarily driven mad. Another example is when Odysseus is warned repeatedly that, if his men eat the cattle of Helios, they will be punished. Odysseus doesn't tell his men these prophecies, and so, without the benefit of the warning, they give in to temptation and eat the sacred cattle, which leads to their deaths. While the men's own actions brought about their fate, Odysseus must bear a heavy burden of responsibility. Had he been forthright, they might have chosen differently.

Why is Odysseus's encounter with his childhood dog, Argos, important in Book 17 of The Odyssey?

Odysseus encounters his old dog, Argos, while in disguise on his return to Ithaca. It is telling that at home only the dog and Eurycleia, Odysseus's childhood nurse, recognize the returning hero. Odysseus has been gone a long time, and much has changed, both within himself and within his home. But to his dog he has not changed, and Argos remains loyal until his last breath. This reassures Odysseus. At the same time, the dog is a physical reminder of how long Odysseus has been gone—the animal is no longer young and vigorous. Argos's passing is an indication of what Odysseus has lost because of his ordeal.

In The Odyssey does Odysseus have options other than killing all the suitors? Why or why not?

Odysseus does not seem to take into consideration that all the suitors are not equally guilty of taking advantage of Penelope's hospitality. Some are truly awful, while others are kinder and more empathetic to Penelope and her family. He does try to convince Amphinomus to leave before the massacre, indicating a willingness to be merciful to him. When Amphinomus does not leave, however, Odysseus does not hesitate to kill him along with the others. Odysseus has several reasons for acting as he does. He is a conquering hero and is not obligated to show mercy to the enemy. The rule of hospitality—Zeus's rule—has been violated in his home. In order to show his fealty to Zeus, he must take revenge. In addition, his wife's honor has been threatened, a further justification of revenge. Finally, the serving women were traitors and must be dealt with as all traitors are—by execution.

What elements of The Odyssey might speak to modern audiences?

Despite having been written more than 2,500 years ago and having originated in a society that was extremely hierarchical and male-dominated, The Odyssey contains elements that make it a relevant story in the 21st century. The hero's journey that Odysseus embarks upon is one that has been replicated in countless novels and films, such as The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars series. Trials, obstacles, and self-knowledge are all things that people still experience and wonder about. Even though the idea of gods governing the fates of mortals seems outdated, humans still question the concepts of fate and freedom of choice, as well as justice and vengeance.

Why does Homer distinguish the suitors from one another in The Odyssey?

Homer seems to go to great lengths to distinguish the suitors from one another in order to make the scene of their slaughter more complex and weighty. Were the suitors to remain a nameless, faceless bunch, readers might not have much sympathy for any of them. Yet most readers feel a pang when Amphinomus, one of the kinder suitors, doesn't heed the omens that something terrible is about to happen to him. He stands in contrast to someone like Antinous, the meanest suitor and the one it is easiest to wish vengeance upon. Such differences make the reader's feelings about the suitors' final scenes more complicated.

What attributes of the gods impel them to punish the Phaeacians in The Odyssey?

Poseidon's punishment of the Phaeacians for helping Odysseus demonstrates the willfulness of the gods and their supreme authority. The Phaeacians had no way of knowing of the discord between Poseidon and Odysseus, and they were merely abiding by the important ancient Greek custom of offering hospitality to wayfarers. But because their actions angered Poseidon, they must suffer the consequences. The punishment also suggests that the gods have little regard for mortals' lives. Poseidon does not hesitate to impose his punishment; the Phaeacians receive no warning that they will be punished and cannot appeal Poseidon's judgment. As in the case of Poseidon's actions against Odysseus, the punishment shows that the gods are vengeful. Zeus's willingness to go along with Poseidon's judgment against the Phaeacians shows the greater importance that the gods place on harmony among themselves than on the needs or rights of mortals.

In The Odyssey does Odysseus, Telemachus, or Athena control the plan to kill the suitors?

Odysseus seems to make many of the decisions regarding the plot to murder the suitors, and he develops and carries out his plan with Telemachus. He does all of this under the guidance of Athena, however, and she seems to have a larger plan in place. She even goes so far as to control the behavior of the suitors, making them even more brazen and out of control than usual. Even though the suitors were quite different in temperament and motive—compare Antinous and Amphinomus, for example—she wanted them all killed. In the end, then, the goddess determines the fate of the suitors.

In The Odyssey how does the story of Agamemnon relate to the story of Odysseus?

Nestor and Menelaus tell Telemachus the story of Agamemnon as a parable of the revenge and justice that Telemachus and his family must seek in dealing with the onslaught of the suitors in their home. Telemachus is growing into manhood and is taking on the responsibilities left unfulfilled in Odysseus's absence. Agamemnon's story is similar to that of Odysseus in that their homes and families have been disrespected and their sons are able to get some kind of justice for them. In the two stories, the reader is able to connect the themes of family loyalty, justice, and vengeance that were important in ancient Greece. The story of Agamemnon also reflects favorably on Penelope, because she, unlike Clytemnestra, has remained loyal to her husband.

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