March 10

The Odyssey : Book Club Discussion Questions

Odyssey coverYou’re reading the Odyssey for your book club? Congratulations. It’s a tricky and tangled work. I hope these questions help you to pick through some of its features.

Please be aware that our book club discussion questions contain spoilers!

  • The narrative structure of the book is odd. Why is that? We start with Telemachus, and then we shift to Odysseus as our point of view character. He then has a series of what we’d call flashbacks in a more visual medium, before being dropped home for a revenge which draws down a counter-stroke that a god averts. Why does Homer do this? What does this emphasize and de-emphasize in the story?
  • What is the role of the gods in this story? Why do those who stop to make offerings to the gods after the sack of Troy suffer, while those who just head home arrive unscathed? Is Odysseus truly a hero if a goddess is following him about and making his life easier? Why does Greek religion look so much like a series of barbeques?
  • Is there a double standard in Odysseus’s treatment of his maids? How many women does he have sex with voluntarily in the book?
  • He is often offered eternal life, without fame or consequence, or mortal life. Why does he choose mortal life, given that the afterlife is so miserable?
  • Why is the Afterlife so miserable? Culturally, what’s the value in having an afterlife that is basically forgetfulness and longing, even for those who are good?

The Gold Coast Library Service has the Odyssey in a ridiculous variety of formats. Note that many are abridged. There are multiple e-text versions on Internet Archive and Project Gutenberg.  For example, the Alexander Pope translation. There’s a free audiobook version on Librivox, but it’s one of the earlier recordings and doesn’t have quite the polish of the later recordings. It’s only 11 hours 18 minutes, which is relatively short for something often read as a novel.