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Welcome to the Odyssey!

Whether you've read the Odyssey, are re-reading it, or reading it for the first time, here is an approach to key Books for our opening class.

Books 1 -4 are about Odysseus's son, Telemachus, setting out in search of information about his father. Be sure to read Book 1, and note Athena's appearance, and how Telemachus handles her arrival. Note also his trip to Sparta in Book 4 and visit with Helen and Menelaus. They've been back a long time and "remenisce" about the old days and troubles.

Books 5 - 8 launch Odysseus from his sojourn with Calypso to his landing in the kindgom of the Phaeceans. Be sure to note his interaction with the key women: Calypso (goddess) in Book 5, and Nausicaa (human) (Book 6). His washing up on the beach in Book 6 and "rescue" by Nausicaa is not to be missed and is quintessential Homer.

Books 9 - 12 are the adventures the Odyssey is most famous for. Here we have all the monsters and strange situations that Odysseus navigates, some more successfully than others. You may want to read all of them. Be sure to read the episode with the Cyclops, Polyphemus in Book 9. The Cyclops represent the antithesis to human civilization, and yet even here Homer allows for some compassion. This is where Odysseus also makes things worse for himself by angering Poseidon, which will increase the difficulties he faces on his journey home. Another key encounter is with Circe in Book 10. She presents feminine intelligence and without her, Odysseus would never have gotten directions home. Yes, he needed to stop for directions.  Book 11 is another not to be missed Book. It contains the nekyia, or journey to the underworld, a key element in the epic genre, which we will revisit with Dante this semester. Ezra Pound began his Cantos with an adaptation of Book 11. In Book 12 you will find the proximate cause of much destruction in the episode involving the Cattle of the Sun.

Books 13 - 24 are all about Odysseus's return and restablishment as husband, hed of household, and King of Ithaca. It's about disguise, deception, danger, recognition, reunion, and revenge. Be sure to read Book 19 where Penelope asks questions, the Nurse makes a key observation, and a trial is proposed. Book 21 presents the episode of the contest and use of Odysseus's great bow. Scholars are still trying to reconstruct just how this worked. Book 23 gives us the reunion of Odysseus and Penelope. See if you notice what he tells and what he leaves out of his account of his journey home. Book 24 finally resolves the aftermath of terrible revenge in what many consider to be a tacked on, add-on, possibly not written by Homer.

If you're absolutely, positvely strapped for time, read: Books 1, 5, 6, 9, 11, 19, 21, 23.