Homer Odyssey Discussion Questions for Books 17-24

Hi Odyssey readers,
Here are the discussion questions for our next and final conference call on July 16.  I look forward to discussing the conclusion of the Odyssey with you next month along with the three R’s:  Revenge, Reconciliation, and Romance.  Happy reading until then!

Study Guide Questions – Discussion #3

Books 17-24: Revenge

17-20 Odysseus and Telemachus return to the palace in imminent danger

1. Book 17 – Omens
As Odysseus first sets eyes on his own palace after 20 years, what are the ways that he is tested by Athena? ~How much restraint is Odysseus forced to show? ~Why? ~How do the two omens in Book 17 work with respect to each other (i.e. Theoclymenus’ prophecy and Telemachus’ sneeze)?

2. Book 18 – King of the Beggars
What does the fight between Irus and Odysseus symbolize/foretell? ~Book 18 can be said to be important for Amphinomus, one of the suitors. ~What part does he play in the rivalry between Odysseus and the rest of the suitors? ~Why is his part necessary to the story? ~Penelope’s timed appearance is significant here. ~How does it heighten the mounting tension of the story? ~How does Eurymachus’ quarrel with Odysseus at the end of Book 18 balance that of Odysseus’ fight with Irus at the beginning?

3. Book 19 – Tease
The reunion of Odysseus and Penelope is somewhat of a tease. ~How is Odysseus able to hold back his feelings? ~Is he testing Penelope? ~If so, why should he? ~Why is Penelope so steadfast against believing that Odysseus will come back?

4. Book 20 – Gods and Prophecies
For all of Odysseus’ cleverness and fortitude, he still requires encouragement to stick with his disguise until it is time for him to reveal himself. ~At what two points do the gods respond to him? ~How manifest are these divine responses to the situation at hand? ~What is Odysseus’ main concern in Book 20? ~What is Penelope’s? ~How do these two differ, yet overlap?

Books 21-24: The contest of the bow and ultimate revenge on the suitors

5. Book 21 – Contest of the Bow
With Athena prompting Penelope to announce the contest of the bow, the revenge on the suitors is set into motion. ~How much of this plan is Odysseus in control of? ~What is Penelope’s role in this overall plan? ~What is Telemachus’ role in the plan? ~Could the plan come together without Eumaeus’ or Philoetus’ help? ~According to the text of Book 21, in what parts does Athena actively instigate events?

6. Book 22 – Anger Unleashed
Although Odysseus’ anger is justified, shouldn’t he have taken Eurymachus’ offer for compensation after Antinous was killed? ~Wouldn’t that have made sense in light of the family feuds and revenge killings that are sure to follow? ~Why does Athena let Odysseus struggle in combat with the suitors for as long as she does? ~Why does she show the “aegis” when she does, thereby making the suitors flee (p. 345), but not sooner? ~In the midst of the killing, Leodes the soothsayer begs for mercy. ~Leodes was the first to try the bow on p. 326 and foresaw this calamity, but Odysseus still kills him anyway. ~Why? ~Phemius the bard also begs for mercy, but he and Medon the herald are spared. ~~Why? ~Are the punishments of the serving women and Melanthius just or too harsh?

7. Book 23 – Aftermath of Slaughter
Ironically, Penelope wakes up from a “sweet sleep” (line 17, p. 353). ~Why is she now, all of a sudden, blessed with a “sweet sleep”? ~Why does Penelope continue to hold back from believing that Odysseus has returned? ~If Odysseus himself hadn’t killed the suitors, as she says, then who does she believe has killed them? ~Why would this be frightening to her rather than happy? ~~How is Penelope finally convinced that this stranger is her husband? ~Penelope finally recognizes Odysseus as her long-lost husband and Homer uses a simile to describe the moment (p. 360). ~What does the simile show about the relationship between Penelope and Odysseus?

8. Book 24 – Shades and Judgment
Book 24 opens by recalling some of the shades in Hades we met in Book 11. ~Some commentators say that Agamemnon’s and Achilles’ conversation is out of place here. ~Is it or is it not? ~Why does Odysseus continue to put on a false front with his father, even after the suitors have been killed? ~~Eupeithes, Antinous’ father rouses up the Ithacans against Odysseus. ~~What sort of threat is posed to Odysseus and his family? ~Zeus makes an irrevocable judgment of the situation on Ithaca. ~How does Athena respond to what Zeus says? ~Why must Zeus throw a thunderbolt? ~What does the situation on Ithaca show about the Greeks in general? about the Greeks at Troy?
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