Odysseus, an ancient Greek war hero and leader of Ithaca, embarks on a twenty-year long return to his homeland after the fall of Troy. It is an arduous and adventure-filled journey as he attempts to return to his family.
Below are some reading passages that we have hand picked to supplement this book. Be sure to read the passage summaries and our suggestions for instructional use.
In Diane Coutu’s “How Resilience Works,” Coutu discusses the three main traits of resilience and the role that resilience plays in success and survival.
Have students read “How Resilience Works” after reading The Odyssey Book 2, when Penelope’s shroud weaving trick is revealed, in order to analyze character through a psychological construct. In the informational text, Coutu posits three psychological states that are key components of resilience. Like her husband Odysseus, Penelope demonstrates great resilience. Of the three components that Coutu names, which best explains Penelope’s use of the shroud to keep the suitors at bay? Ask students to take a stance and present textual evidence to support it.
In “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” a speaker describes the fleeting nature of youth and beauty.
Have students read the poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay” after reading The Odyssey Book 6, which introduces the character of Nausicaa and her encounter with Odysseus on the beach. In Frost’s poem, how does he characterize youth? What imagery does he use to support this characterization? In comparison, which imagery does Homer use to depict Nausicaa’s youth? In Frost’s poem, there is a sadness associated with the loss of youth. In The Odyssey, Nausicaa’s youth acts as a foil to Odysseus’ maturity. In what ways does Homer similarly suggest a sadness associated with Odysseus’ maturity? In other ways, how is Odysseus's experience and maturity portrayed as something to be admired?
In this passage, the translation taken from the New King James Version Bible, the young and small shepherd David takes up the giant enemy warrior Goliath’s challenge for battle in a true underdog fashion.
Have students read “The Story of David and Goliath” after reading The Odyssey, Book 9, where Odysseus escapes the Cyclops, in order to make connections between character and theme. Compare and contrast Goliath and Polyphemus and David and Odysseus. What evidence is there that David was confident but not arrogant? On the contrary, what evidence is there that Odysseus was both confident and arrogant? David defeated his enemy without any Israelite bloodshed, but Odysseus lost more men before the day was done. To what extent is Odysseus’ greater loss due to his pride? Despite the differences between Odysseus and David are the portrayals of the characteristics of a hero the same?
In “The Necklace,” a poor woman borrows an expensive necklace for a fancy ball. When the necklace goes missing, the woman and her husband spend years living in poverty in order to pay back the debt.
Have students read “The Necklace” after reading The Odyssey Book 12, where Odysseus listens to the Siren’s song, in order to examine the relationship between symbolism and theme. How do both the necklace and the sirens’ song function symbolically to represent the danger of desire? Both Odysseus and Madame Loisel know in advance the fulfillment of their desires will only be temporarily satisfied, thus they try to control their situations so they can afterward return unharmed to the lives they knew. Madame Loisel is not able to maintain that control, but what about Odysseus? What might be the negative consequences of letting himself temporarily hear what he can never hear again?
This informational text explores the various tiers of ancient Greek society, and how class, age, and gender affected people’s daily lives in this classical civilization.
Have students read “Greek Society” after reading Books 21 and 22 of The Odyssey to build background knowledge. According to Cartwright, what role did social hierarchies play in a person’s choices and role in life? How easy was it for a person to move within the social strata? Use this knowledge to create a context for understanding the negative portrayal of the suitors. Remembering that Odysseus was the king of Ithaca, missing for twenty years, what did the suitors want? How does Homer portray the suitor’s activities as deserving of their slaughter by Odysseus? What information does Cartwright provide to support that case?
In Donna L. Washington’s short story “The Roof of Leaves,” a husband and a wife are able to save their marriage due to quick thinking after a fight.
Have students read “The Roof of Leaves” after they have read Book 23 of The Odyssey, in order to examine character and symbolism. In their respective scenes, why are the Congolese wife and Penelope compelled to be clever? What was at stake that each wife was trying to protect? Why might the preservation of marriage require such nimble thinking? Both scenes also center around a key symbol, leaves in one and the bed carved from an olive tree in the other. How does each function as a symbol of the relationship? Why might parts of a house make potent symbols of marriage?