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The Odyssey by Homer

Teacher Guide by Rebecca Ray

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The Odyssey Lesson Plans

Student Activities for The Odyssey Include:

The Odyssey by Homer is an epic poem that has survived thousands of years! It is the story of Odysseus, the crafty king of Ithaca, whose Trojan Horse idea helped win the war with Troy. Following his victory in Troy, He encounters many trials that delay him from reaching his home, Ithaca, and his queen, Penelope. Odysseus Hero's Journey is a long and arduous adventure filled with peril, temptation, and wits.

The Odyssey Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

Odysseus Hero's Journey Using Joseph Campbell's Monomyth


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Related to both plot diagram and types of literary conflict, the "Hero’s Journey" is a recurring pattern of stages many heroes undergo over the course of their stories. Joseph Campbell, an American mythologist, writer, and lecturer, articulated this cycle after researching and reviewing numerous myths and stories from a variety of time periods and regions of the world. He found that they all share fundamental principles. This spawned the Hero’s Journey, also known as the Monomyth. The most fundamental version has 12 steps, while more detailed versions can have up to 17.

Odysseus Hero's Journey Example Following the Monomyth Structure

Stage Summary
Ordinary world King Odysseus is at home, in Ithaca, with his wife, Penelope, and newborn son, Telemachus.
Call to Adventure He sets out for a battle at Troy
Refusal He does not want to leave his family and sail to Troy; he knows it will be a long trip.
Mentor/Helper Athena, the goddess of wisdom, crafts, and war, is his guide. She wants to help Odysseus, though she has been instructed not to. She takes pity on him while other gods forsake the hero, continually saves him from death, and gives him guidance.
Cross the Threshold After the war, the gods become angry with the Greeks for their prideful ways. A great storm emerges and throws them off course.
Test/Allies/Enemies Odysseus is thwarted with many tests as he travels back to Ithaca:
  • Polyphemus
  • Circones
  • Lotus Eaters
  • Lastrygonians
  • Sirens
  • Scylla & Charybdis
  • Cattle of the Sun God
Approach Odysseus nearly makes it home, but his crew opens a bag, given to him by Aeolus, god of the winds When the bag is opened, it releases a wind that blows them far away from Ithaca.
Ordeal He travels to the underworld seeking information to guide him home. This quest brings him to the verge of death.
Reward The King of Phaeacia gives Odysseus passage home.
Road back Unlike other heroes, Odysseus was not in search of treasure. Instead, he was desperately trying to reach his home. Once he returns, he finds out that his house has been overrun with suitors attempting to steal his wife and palace.
Atonement Instead of rushing in and killing the suitors, Odysseus is patient. He wishes to learn if his wife has been faithful. With the help of his son and a loyal swineherd, he devises a plan. Athena disguises him as an old beggar so that he can enter his house undetected. Telemachus steals all the suitors’ weapons, and a final test is proposed. Penelope will marry the man who strings Odysseus' bow and shoots an arrow through a line of small circles; a seemingly impossible task.
Return Odysseus, still dressed as a beggar, completes the task and is restored to his original state. He and his son expel the suitors from their home by force. Penelope, seeing how her husband has changed, tests him to make sure it is actually him. She tells him she moved their bed. He replies, correctly, that this would have been impossible, and all is returned to normal.

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Student Instructions

Use the story of The Odyssey and map it to the narrative structure of the Hero's Journey.


  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Depict and describe how the chosen character's story fits (or does not fit ) into each of the stages of the Hero's Journey.
  3. Finalize images, edit, and proofread your work.
  4. Save and submit the assignment. Make sure to use the drop-down menu to save it under the assignment title.



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Setting Map for The Odyssey


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The Odyssey challenges students more than many other stories. The setting and characters are constantly changing, and the narrative begins in medias res, that is, in the middle of things. The story is nonlinear. Readers meet Odysseus part-way through his journey home, then he tells the events of the past 20 years. Eventually, the reader catches up with the hero's present day, and the story continues to its conclusion.

Creating a setting map allows students to document Odysseus’ journey. In the example below, the story begins with Odysseus telling Alcinous, the Phaeacian King, of his travels. It then lists the stops on his way home to Ithaca:


Troy

The story begins with the battle of Troy, where he fought for ten years.


Cicones

Then, he landed on the island of the Cicones, where his men looted the town. Instead of quickly fleeing, they stayed and were slaughtered by the Cicones horsemen seeking revenge.


Island of the Lotus Eaters

Driven off course by storms, Odysseus' ship landed on the island of the Lotus Eaters. There, his men ate lotus flowers that made them forgetful.


Island of Cyclops

After freeing his crew, Odysseus stopped on the island of the Cyclopes. He and his men were captured by Polyphemus, the son of Poseidon. To escape, Odysseus and his men blinded the cyclops. As they sailed away, Polyphemus asks his father to curse Odysseus so he may never return home.


Island of Aeolus

Next, they went to the island of Aeolus, god of the wind. Aeolus gave Odysseus a bag of wind to help them return home. As they neared Ithaca, the greedy sailors opened the bag, thinking Odysseus was hiding gold. The wind escaped and blew them back to Aeolus. At this point, Aeolus believed Odysseus was cursed, and refused to help him further.


Laestrygonians

Odysseus' fleet came near the island of the Laestrygonians, a race of cannibals who hurled rocks at the ships, sinking all but one.


Circe

Narrowly escaping the Laestrygonians, they sailed on and landed on the island of Circe. Here, Odysseus' men were turned into swine, and he was made Circe's lover.


Land of the Dead

After being with her a year, Odysseus was told that if he ever wanted to return home, he had to travel to the Land of the Dead in search of the prophet, Tiresias.


Scylla and Charybdis

Odysseus returned successfully from the underworld, and sailed on, navigating by the island of the Sirens. Between Scylla, a six-headed monster, and Charybdis, a giant whirlpool, nearly all of Odysseus' men perished.


Island of Thrinacia

The weary travelers landed on the island of Thrinacia, home to the Cattle of the Sun God, Helios. Despite a warning not to eat the cows, some of Odysseus' men disobeyed him, and again they paid for it with their lives.


Calypso's Island

Next, they reach Calypso’s island. She offered Odysseus immortality and captivated him as her lover for nearly seven years. Eventually, Zeus intervened, and forced her to let him go.


Island of Scheria

Here the story catches up, and the reader and Odysseus are in the same setting: the land of the Phaeacians, on the island of Scheria. It is the king and queen of this island that finally get Odysseus home to Ithaca, where more obstacles await him.


Ithaca

Odysseus finally returns home. However, he arrives to find his home overrun with suitors.


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Student Instructions

Create a setting map of Odysseus' journey. Click "Add Cells" to change the number of cells.


  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Determine the different locations to which Odysseus goes.
  3. Create a visualization for each location.
  4. Identify the setting, make a description, and list any foreshadowing.
  5. Save and submit the assignment. Make sure to use the drop-down menu to save it under the assignment title.


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Symbols, Themes, & Motifs in The Odyssey


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Valuable aspects of any literary work are its themes, symbols, and motifs. Part of the Common Core ELA standards is to introduce and explain these complex concepts. However, abstract ideas are often difficult for students to break down without assistance. Using a storyboard, students can visually demonstrate their understanding of these concepts, and master analysis of literary elements. For best practices, see our article with specific lesson plan steps on setting up your classroom and activities to teach themes, symbols, and motifs.

In the classroom, students can track the rich symbolism that Homer uses throughout The Odyssey.

Odyssey Themes to Discuss

Greek Hospitality

Throughout his journey, Odysseus and his men are continually tossed into different settings. On each island, they believe that they are entitled to the custom of Greek hospitality. Hosts are expected to provide food, shelter, and protection to any traveler, and guest are expected to be respectful and grateful. In "The Odyssey" breaking these rules causes brings misfortune and the disfavor of the Gods.


Temptation

During the epic journey not only is Odysseus tempted, but his men are as well. Each time they approach a new land, the temptations become stronger. Giving in to these temptations prevent Odysseus and his crew from reaching Ithaca for many years. Temptations they encounter include seduction, immorality, greed, and food.


Brains over Braun

A prominent theme in ancient stories is the use of wit over brute strength. In Odysseus’ case, although he possesses the strength to win battles, the ability to outsmart his enemy is his most valuable asset. A great example is his escape from Polyphemus’ cave.


Motifs and Imagery to Look For

Loyalty

Odysseus continually struggles with his men's disobedience. They show their loyalty to Odysseus much of the time, but, especially when they are faced with temptations, they disobey his direct orders.


Seduction

Over and over again, the men and Odysseus are seduced by various temptations. Examples include Circe, Calypso, the Sirens, and the Lotus-eaters. All these seductions tempt the men to stay, rather than return to Ithaca.


Disguises

Disguises play a significant role in concealing the characters' identities. The particular act of disguising comes primarily in the form of magical help from the gods, or from the enchantment of a spell.


Tests/Trickery

Epics commonly include trickery or a tests of the hero and his followers. This shows the mental strength of the hero, and allows them to earn the rewards needed to reach their goal.


(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)


Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that identifies recurring themes in The Odyssey. Illustrate instances of each theme and write a short description below each cell.


  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Identify the theme(s) from The Odyssey you wish to include and replace the "Theme 1" text.
  3. Create an image for examples that represent this theme.
  4. Write a description of each of the examples.
  5. Save and submit the assignment. Make sure to use the drop-down menu to save it under the assignment title.



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Epic Origins


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Generally, epics are mythological histories, meaning they are a melting pot of famous figures from history and historical events. In the case of The Odyssey, the battle of Troy is the beginning of the epic with the famous Odysseus, warrior of Ithaca, as its hero.

Epics typically begin as oral traditions being passed down for generations before being written down. To this end, epics have an order and repetition of the events that made them easier to remember. Due to their length, these works often took days to tell!


Six Elements of the Epic

A Hero of Legendary Proportions

The epic hero is typically well known in his time, often reaching superstar status. In ancient legends, the hero often is either partially divine, or at least protected by the gods.

"You may have heard of me, Odysseus...inventor of the Trojan Horse." In cell one this quote shows Odysseus’s notoriety. He came up with the idea of using the Trojan Horse to infiltrate Troy and seize the city. For this, and acts like it, he was celebrated as a great leader and warrior.


Adventures of Superhuman Strength and Valor

The hero accomplishes feats no real human could, both physically and mentally.

Odysseus shows his strength many times. However, it is his defeat of the suitors that proves his superiority to normal men. After 20 years at sea, he returns home to find his estate overrun with men squandering his storerooms and trying to take his wife. Outnumbered ten to one, he kills them all, and restores his kingdom.


Multiple Settings

The actions of the hero span the continent, other realms, or even worlds.

In the Odyssey, much of the action takes place in the Mediterranean Sea, on various islands. However, the hero also travels to the underworld in search of the prophet Tiresias.


Involvement of the Supernatural

Gods, demons, angels, time/space travel, cheating death, immortality, and other supernatural elements.

The gods play a significant role in this epic. Athena is Odysseus' aide, Poseidon is his enemy, and Zeus...well he doesn't really want to get involved.


Epic Style of Writing

The style of is frequently ornate, drawn out, or exaggerated.

Homer was not always subtle with his poetry.This is expected of an epic story. Some use of exaggerated style includes:

Epic similes and metaphors: Her mind in torment, wheeling like some lion at bay, dreading the gangs of hunters closing their cunning ring around him for the finish.

Epithets: That man skilled in all ways of contending.


Omniscient Narrator

The narrator sees and knows all.

Throughout The Odyssey, the narrator uses third person omniscient. He writes as though from a god’s point of view, witnessing and experiencing everything that takes place in the story.


(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)


Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that shows the six elements of an epic in The Odyssey.


  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Identify events or characteristics of the story that fit into the elements of an epic.
  3. Illustrate the examples for each event or characteristic.
  4. Write a short description below each cell that specifically relates The Odyssey as an epic.
  5. Save and submit the assignment. Make sure to use the drop-down menu to save it under the assignment title.



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The Odyssey Character Map


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As students read, a storyboard can serves as a helpful character reference log. This log (also called a character map) allows students to recall relevant information about important characters. A story like The Odyssey has many characters to keep track of and a character log can help keep them straight.

Students may also want some background knowledge of the Greek gods and goddesses or Greek Myths. Try using a character map like the one below to conduct internet research. This may help establish domains and attributes of specific gods that play a major role in the epic.


Important Greek Gods, Demigods, Goddesses, and Other Mythological Creatures from The Odyssey.

  • Aeolus - God of Wind
  • Athena - Odysseus' guide, Goddess of War and Wisdom
  • Calypso - Nymph
  • Charybdis - A Great Whirlpool
  • Circe - Witch
  • Helios - Sun God
  • Hermes - Messenger God
  • Polyphemus - Cyclops
  • Poseidon - God of the Seas
  • Sirens - Creatures Who Lure Men to their Deaths with Song
  • Scylla - Six-Headed Beast
  • Zeus - Ruler of All Gods

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)


Student Instructions

Create a character map for the major characters.


  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Identify the major characters in The Odyssey and type their names into the different title boxes.
  3. Choose a character from the "Classical Era" or "Greek Mythology" tabs to represent each of the literary characters.
    • Select colors and a pose appropriate to story and character traits.
  4. Choose a scene or background that makes sense for the character.
  5. Fill in the Textables for Traits, Location, Role in Epic, and For/Against Protagonist and Why.
  6. Save and submit the assignment. Make sure to use the drop-down menu to save it under the assignment title.


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Constant Conflict!


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Literary conflicts are often taught during ELA units. Building on prior knowledge to achieve mastery level with our students is important. An excellent way to focus on the various types of literary conflict is through storyboarding. Having students choose an example of each literary conflict and depict it using the storyboard creator is a great way to reinforce your lesson!

In The Odyssey, conflict is constantly present. Much of the conflict arises from the obstacles Odysseus faces returning home. The wayward traveler and his crew battle against the dangers of the sea and the challenges of temptations. Odysseus constantly battles the supernatural world so he can return home.

Having students create storyboards that show the cause and effect of different conflicts will reinforce their ability to analyze literature.

Examples of Literary Conflict from The Odyssey

MAN vs. SELF

Odysseus struggles with himself. He convinces his men to tie him to the mast of the ship in order to hear the Siren's song.


MAN vs. NATURE

Odysseus struggles with nature. The whirlpool (Charybdis) swallows his boat, kills his men, and leaves him adrift in the sea.


MAN vs. SOCIETY

Odysseus struggles with society. After he returns home, he finds his house overrun with suitors.


(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)


Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that shows at least three forms of literary conflict in The Odyssey.


  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Identify conflicts in The Odyssey.
  3. Categorize each conflict as Character vs. Character, Character vs. Self, Character vs. Society, Character vs. Nature, or Character vs. Technology.
  4. Illustrate conflicts in the cells, using characters from the story.
  5. Write a short description of the conflict below the cell.
  6. Save and submit the assignment. Make sure to use the drop-down menu to save it under the assignment title.



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The Odyssey Summary

Homer's The Odyssey is one of the oldest and best-known works of literature. Taking place after the fall of Troy, the hero, Odysseus, is shipwrecked at sea with the gods against him. As he struggles to return home to Ithaca, he makes his journeys through many lands and overcomes many obstacles. Aided by Athena, Odysseus is guided through the lotus eaters, and Circe’s island, past Polyphemus the Cyclops, through the land of the dead, off the Sun god's island, and back to Ithaca.

His homecoming is not easy. In his absence, his home was overtaken by suitors who ravage his home, land, and compete for his wife’s hand in marriage. Believing that Odysseus is dead, the suitors force his wife, Penelope, to choose one of them to marry. She devises a plan to stall them while her son is out in search of her husband. She promises to choose a suitor once she finishes weaving a tapestry in her husband's honor, but, unbeknownst to the suitors, she pulls the weaving apart each night so she never makes progress.

When Odysseus arrives home, Athena disguises him as an old beggar so he may enter his home undetected. With the help of his son, Telemachus, and a faithful swineherd, they devise a plan to take his home back. Through a series of tests, Odysseus proves his strength and defeats the suitors.


Essential Questions For The Odyssey Unit

  1. What makes a hero?
  2. What are the advantages and disadvantages of immortality?
  3. How has the concept of a hero changed over decades? Over centuries?
  4. How does an epic differ from other works of literature?


Other Lesson Plan Ideas

  1. Tell the story from Telemachus or Penelope's point of view.
  2. Create an alternate ending to the epic with a storyboard.
  3. Show steps or mistakes that lead our hero further from home.
  4. Visually depict one of the island stops.
  5. Make a storyboard depicting some crazy and epic epithets!
  6. Add a presentation to any storyboard project.

Where would heroic tales be if it weren't for the Greeks' epic poetry? The word epic, is even derived from the Greek word for poetry: epikos. Homer, the author of the Odyssey, pioneered Greek epics. The poem itself, a story of love, adventure, war, and gods, is a classic that paved the way for all adventure writing to come.

  • Personal Favorite: I enjoyed all of the different lands Odysseus traveled to, as well as the strange and alluring creatures he encountered.
  • Pro-Tip: Charybdis can be placed in any water, but goes wonderfully in our ocean scenes with a fun whirlpool effect that will look as though it is pulling in your characters' unsuspecting ships!
  • Many of the scenes and characters were created with Greek tales in mind. Be sure to visit our "Historical" and "Outdoor" tabs for scenes and the "Classical" and "Monsters & Myth" categories for characters. Now get out there and put poor Odysseus through some trials!

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•   (English) The Odyssey   •   (Español) La Odisea   •   (Français) L'Odyssée   •   (Deutsch) Die Odyssee   •   (Italiana) L'odissea   •   (Nederlands) De Odyssee   •   (Português) A Odisseia   •   (עברית) האודיסאה   •   (العَرَبِيَّة) الأوديسة   •   (हिन्दी) लम्बी यात्रा   •   (ру́сский язы́к) Одиссея   •   (Dansk) Odysseen   •   (Svenska) The Odyssey   •   (Suomi) Odyssey   •   (Norsk) The Odyssey   •   (Türkçe) Odyssey   •   (Polski) Odyseja   •   (Româna) Odiseea   •   (Ceština) Odyssey   •   (Slovenský) Odyssey   •   (Magyar) az Odyssey   •   (Hrvatski) Odiseja   •   (български) Одисеята   •   (Lietuvos) Odisėja   •   (Slovenščina) Odyssey   •   (Latvijas) Odyssey   •   (eesti) Odyssey