The Odyssey is perhaps one of the most well-known pieces of literature in the world. And for a good reason! It is one of the oldest surviving works of the Western canon. It has hundreds of different translations and even several movie adaptations. There is a good reason it is still being read by people everywhere today! This is why we prepared this comprehensive study guide. Here you can find key facts, the historical context, a breakdown of The Odyssey’s genre, and an exploration of the movie adaptations.
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💁 All You Need to Know about Odyssey
The Odyssey is the second of the two major epic Greek poems, a sequel to The Iliad. The story tells of Odysseus, the hero and king of Ithaca, and his long and perilous journey home. The most important themes appearing in The Odyssey are nostos (the wish to go home) and xenia (hospitality).
The Odyssey is attributed to the Greek poet and bard Homer. However, recent years saw the rise to the Homeric Question – namely, who was Homer and did he write the epic poems? Barely anything is known of Homer’s life besides that he wrote The Iliad and The Odyssey. Many scholars believe that these works were written and performed by multiple different authors. As the stories were originally told orally, it is likely we will never know the truth.
The Odyssey’s publication date in the English language can be traced back to the 16th century. Since then, dozens have attempted to relay this immortal work, like Alexander Pope (1975) and Robert Fitzgerald (1998). Most recently, Dr. Emily Wilson released a version many are already calling revolutionary. However, for this guide, we will be relying on Robert Fagles’ 1999 translation of the epic poem.
🗺️ The Odyssey Study Guide: Navigation
A short summary of The Odyssey’s whole story with illustrations and a clear timeline.
Every book of The Odyssey summarized and analyzed with active themes and characters indicated.
All the essential characters of The Odyssey explored and analyzed.
The most prominent themes that influenced the plot and readers’ perception.
The symbolism and literary devices of The Odyssey explored.
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Critical and overall famous quotes explained.
Numerous questions about The Odyssey answered with explanations.
55 original essay topics that you can use for writing your own paper.
41 high-quality essay samples on The Odyssey written by other students described briefly.
The mysterious figure of Homer explored, and facts about his life analyzed.
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🔑 The Odyssey: Key Facts
|Type Of Work:||Epic poem|
|Language:||Ancient (Homeric) Greek|
|Where does The Odyssey take place?||In or around Ancient Greece: primarily the Aegean Sea (part of the Mediterranean) and the island of Ithaca.|
|When does The Odyssey take place?||Around the 7th or 8th century BCE|
|How long is The Odyssey?||The Odyssey and The Iliad are both divided into 24 books. At 12,109 lines, The Odyssey is only about 560 pages long and contains roughly 134,000 words.|
|Main Themes:||Homecoming, hospitality, loyalty, and cunning|
🏛️ Historical Context of The Odyssey
Even all this time later, much debate still surrounds Homer, The Iliad, and The Odyssey. Despite being written circa 8th century BCE, the events described actually take place around the 12th century BCE. This period is known as the Bronze Age. It was held that this was when gods still regularly visited Earth, and incredible heroes walked amongst men. Except for the fantastical flourishes, the poems were believed to be a fairly accurate depiction of the era.
Of course, some inaccuracies did slip through. At the time of writing, Greece was transitioning from the Bronze Age into the Early Iron Age. The political and social structures depicted in the epics closely resemble those of Homer’s time. It was a period when aristocrats were growing too powerful to be controlled by kings. This is reflected in Odysseus’ struggle against Penelope’s suitors. Also, the references to more modern tools and communities remind us that this is a work from a different time. Therefore, the world portrayed in Homer’s Odyssey is a construction, a mixture of eras.
Even so, in ancient times, it was assumed that the Homeric heroes had once truly existed. No one doubted or questioned the events of the two epic poems. Many Greek families claimed to be related to the people mentioned. The Ancient Romans readily admitted to being descendants of the Trojans. However, there may be more to this story than meets the eye.
It is impossible to understand the historical context of The Odyssey without referring to The Iliad first. After all, it precedes the former and sets up the background for its events. The Iliad talks about the events of the final week of the famous Trojan War. The tales of this great battle are far and wide, mentioned in various myths around the world. According to The Iliad, this conflict occurred between the Trojans and the Greeks and lasted 10 long years. The Trojan War has been an undisputed fact for generations. Nowadays, modern historians have their doubts.
Did the Trojan War Actually Happen?
People throughout history have been keen on finding truth in the story. After all, Homer’s morbid accounts of the battle seem too detailed to be made up. To find the legendary city, Heinrich Schliemann began excavating a site at Hisarlik in Turkey. And the fact is, plenty of evidence was found that Troy did exist. There was even some proof of fire and warfare taking place in approximately the correct period. However, none of these prove that the renowned Trojan War actually happened – and definitely not on the scale imagined by Homer.
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Despite this, the very idea of the war remains an integral part of world history. It had a lasting influence on the Greeks. It continues to have it over the rest of us as well. In the end, we may never know if it was an event that truly happened or simply a myth. What matters is that it still left an enormous mark on human history.
🏺 What Genre Is The Odyssey?
Both Iliad and Odyssey were passed down orally, telling the stories of Odysseus. As they were written down much later, it is difficult to pin them to a specific genre. Most would agree that, just like its predecessor, The Iliad, it is an Ancient Greek epic poem.
Epic poetry is not only a style of writing but also a genre. Its defining features are the length and the content of the narration, with the events of the story typically unfolding a long time ago. Epic poems usually tell of incredible people doing incredible deeds and their dealings with gods and other forces.
Other important narrative devices constitute The Odyssey as epic poetry:
- The story begins with an invocation of the muse, a convention in the Greek world.
- Epithets are used throughout the poem constantly.
- The events begin in medias res, or in the middle of the action.
- The plot is complicated and features a long list of characters.
- Odysseus’ fate constantly keeps changing.
That being said, The Odyssey is a piece fitting multiple genres. Constant reference to Greek gods and their involvement in the action make it a mythological work of fiction. The driving force of Odysseus’ plight, his wish to return home to his wife, classifies this story as a romance. Besides the notions of mystery and romance, The Odyssey’s light tone gives it a comedic side. And its ponderings on the topics of heroism and the human place in the world give it a philosophical edge. Therefore, classifying a work such as The Odyssey into a single genre is limiting at best. At worst, it is a disservice.
📽️ The Odyssey: Movie Adaptations
There have been numerous movies based on The Odyssey. There were even more of those that used its ideas, features, and themes. However, there are only a few notable adaptations that tell Odysseus’ story.
Ulysses (movie, 1954)
Prominent Cast: Silvana Mangano, Kirk Douglas, Anthony Quinn
Mario Camerini’s The Odyssey film takes several liberties with its source material. The plot centers on Ulysses’ (Latin spelling of Odysseus) quest to return home to his wife, Penelope, who longs for his homecoming. The story is shorter, and we begin to see the differences immediately. Upon arriving on Phaeacia, Ulysses finds himself with a case of amnesia, unable to remember his home. Eventually, the memories begin to flood back in the form of an abridged version of The Odyssey. The most memorable moments of his journey are the fight with the Cyclops Polyphemus, the visit to Circe’s island, and the encounter with the sirens. In the end, Ulysses slays the suitors and reunites with Penelope and Telemachus.
Despite being a shortened version of the events, Ulysses (1954) stays mainly faithful to Homer’s original. There aren’t that many differences between The Odyssey movie and the book. The audience and film critics alike rate this adaptation reasonably high.
The Odyssey (miniseries, 1968)
Prominent Cast: Bekim Fehmiu, Irene Papas, Renaud Verley
In this Italian, German, French, and Yugoslavian co-production, multiple European directors tried to depict Ulysses’ story. Except for a few minor plot points (such as the omission of Scylla and Charybdis), this adaptation follows the original perfectly. The Odyssey (miniseries) does get creative a few times in its eight episodes. When they encountered limits, Franco Rossi and his co-directors artistically changed the pace. This miniseries managed to accurately convey the tone, story, and atmosphere of the original work. Greek mythology is at the very heart of the miniseries, with Athena playing an unforgettable part. In fact, this may be as close to Homer’s Odyssey movie as we are ever going to get.
In this version, The Odyssey’s cast was outstanding. Critics have claimed this series to be a wonderful representation of the ancient world. The audience reviews insist that this is one of – if not THE best – adaptations of the timeless classic.
The Odyssey (movie, 1997)
Prominent Cast: Armand Assante, Greta Scacchi, Christopher Lee
Unlike the previous two adaptations, Andrei Konchalovsky’s two-part movie/miniseries starts from the beginning – The Iliad and conquest of Troy. From the very first scenes, it is evident that this version of events will significantly differ from what we’ve seen so far. To say that Konchalovsky takes artistic liberties would be an understatement. The adaptation skips over many crucial scenes. Another significant difference is that, unlike in the original poem, the events are told chronologically. The story is told entirely from Odysseus’ point of view. But as far as movies about The Odyssey go, this is one of the most modern takes on the story.
All in all, The Odyssey (1997) isn’t bad – it’s different. The action is emphasized over anything else, and it is definitely made for the screen. The audience and the critics agree – for a TV-made adaptation, this is an enjoyable watch.
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