Themes, Symbols, & Motifs in The Odyssey

This Storyboard That activity is part of the lesson plans for The Odyssey

The Odyssey - Themes


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Activity Overview

Themes, symbols, and motifs are valuable aspects of any literary work, and they add richness to stories. Part of the Common Core ELA standards is to introduce and explain these complex concepts. However, abstract ideas are often difficult for students to analyze 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 supplementary 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 themes, symbols, and motifs that Homer uses throughout The Odyssey, analyzing examples and the significance of themes.

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 guests are expected to be respectful and grateful in return. In The Odyssey, breaking these rules brings misfortune and the disfavor of the Gods.


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 Brawn

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


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.


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 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.


Epics commonly include trickery or a test 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.

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Template and Class Instructions

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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. Identify the theme(s) from The Odyssey you wish to include and replace the "Theme 1" text.
  2. Create an image for examples that represent this theme.
  3. Write a description of each of the examples.

Template: Theme


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