Reading The Odyssey
Who remembers their ancient Greek history? No volunteers? Here's a teen-friendly refresher course in the plot of the epic poem The Odyssey, as well as SAT vocabulary your teen can use to describe what happens for themselves.
If The Iliad, in simplest terms, is the story of the Trojan War, then The Odyssey is the story of the journey back. The epic poem centers on Odysseus, King of Ithaca, husband to Penelope, and father to Telemachus. When the poem opens, all the famous heroes of the Trojan War are accounted for - home or dead - except Odysseus. His long absence has not gone unnoticed. In fact, every single man who believes himself to be a potential suitor for Penelope is now camped out on the grounds of her castle, ready to court her and take over the throne, should the opportunity present itself.
This situation is not only upsetting for Penelope but also for poor Telemachus. He believes his father is still alive and trying to get back to Ithaca, and is soon prompted into action by the goddess Athena. The goddess helps Telemachus stand up to the suitors, and sends him in search for word of his father. Telemachus discovers that his father is the love slave of Calypso, and she refuses to let him go. (How hard do you think he’s trying, really? This is the guy who came up with the Trojan Horse; he can’t get away from a nymph?)
Through divine intervention, Calypso is forced to release Odysseus and allow him to return to Ithaca. Odysseus sets out on the sea for his voyage home forgetting that he has completely annoyed Poseidon, god of the sea, and once Poseidon becomes aware that Odysseus has dared to travel his waters, he sends a huge storm to destroy him. However, Athena protects Odysseus, and he ends up shipwrecked on the shore of Scheria.
- Protagonist - Main character
- Fortitude - Bravery
- Flamboyant - Showy
- Flaunt - To show off
- Hubris - Exaggerated pride
Luckily the people of the island are kind, and Odysseus is taken in by the king and queen. But they don’t know his true identity. During a meal, the musician plays a song about the Trojan War which causes Odysseus to weep uncontrollably. His hosts, the king and queen, become suspicious. Odysseus tells them who he is, and they beg to know how he has come to be in their kingdom. He then tells them the story of his adventures on the sea, recounted here in the form of the lessons our hero should have learned from each near death encounter:
“The Island of the Lotus-eaters” – If a stranger gives you a strange plant and says, “Here, eat this,” never do it! I cannot stress this enough.
“Polyphemus the Cyclops”- If you are captured by a Cyclops who eats several of your men, and you have the incredible luck to escape by blinding his one eye, resist the urge to shout out your name as you are fleeing. The Cyclops may turn out to be the son of a very important deity, who will consequently be very put out.