Understanding The Odyssey

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For thousands of years, The Odyssey has resonated throughout the Western world. Homer has been an original source of inspiration to writers, painters, sculptors, and filmmakers, as well as a vital source of information about the mythology, history, and culture of ancient Greece. This casebook uniquely blends commentary and primary documents, situating the epic within historical contexts that are important for students to understand.

The literary analysis chapter is ideal for readers coming to The Odyssey for the first time, introducing the work with a chronology of events and identification of major characters and themes. Topical chapters carefully consider matters of mythology, geography, archeology, and class issues pertinent to The Odyssey. Excerpts from classical and scholarly sources, including Herodotus, Plato, Thucydides, and Bulfinch, help students understand the historical framework, and materials from government documents and newspaper accounts help students make connections betweenThe Odyssey's thematic ideas and current events, such as the September 11th attacks and the ongoing conflict in Ireland.

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Editorial Reviews

These two volumes by Claudia and Vernon Johnson and by James Morrison exhibit different approaches to studying the Odyssey. The Morrison book, which is a stand-alone title, begins with three essays discussing the Odyssey as literature, Homeric values, and Homer and history. Later chapters discuss each book of the Odyssey, dealing with plot, characterization, and other literary features as well as the main themes. Many quotations and references to other works such as the Iliad are used. Offset boxes act like sidebars with detailed information about Greek language, geography, and interesting facts about life in ancient Greece. The book finishes with several appendixes, including a character index and pronunciation guide, activities and classroom projects, Odyssean themes and the movies, and Web sites devoted to Homer. The author explains literary technique quite clearly through his readable prose. This book will be a good reference for students just beginning to study the Odyssey, or for students or teachers who want to understand it better. The activities listed in the appendix cover all levels from elementary through college. The Johnsons' book is a work of scholarly argument about the many issues surrounding Homer and the Odyssey for older students interested in serious research. It is a part of the Literature in Context series. Each chapter deals with a particular aspect of Homer and the Odyssey, such as geography, archaeological excavations, history, the Trojan War, revenge, athletes, heroes, and the contemporary relevance of the themes. Chapters begin with an introduction to the topic and contain quotes relevant to the context from ancient to modern writers. Useful questions for oraland written discussion and suggestions for further reading are included at the end of each chapter. Teachers could find this book helpful for understanding different aspects of the book before teaching it. Both volumes would be quite useful to anyone trying to teach or understand the Odyssey. Morrison's contribution is more accessible to younger high school students and is more of a direct aid to reading the book, whereas the Johnsons' book deals more with analysis. Depending on a library's need, both books could easily be useful. 2003, Greenwood, 248p.; Index. Illus. Photos. Maps. Further Reading., PLB Ages 12 to Adult.
—Cindy Faughnan
School Library Journal
Gr 10 Up-Complementary aids to one of the West's foundational works. After an analysis of central themes, the Johnsons devote six chapters to context (mythology, geography, archaeology, history, the Trojan War, and the social structures of the Achaeans). They close by examining contemporary echoes of the issues of revenge, athletics, and the heroic ideal. Each chapter also includes relevant documents, projects or questions for exploration, and a bibliography. Little attention is paid to the Internet, and there are two abominable maps, but this is an intelligent and well-conceived book. Morrison takes readers book-by-book through the epic. Opening chapters discuss structure, the oral tradition, Homeric values, and history. The author's style is enthusiastic and takes a personal tone. The informative text and sidebars provide a wealth of information on literary form, themes, techniques, background, context, linguistic insights, and later influence. A few black-and-white pictures show Greek artworks or artifacts, and the three small maps are useful. Brief appendixes cover pronunciation, the literary legacy, further reading, online connections, and more. Although accessible and engaging rather than scholarly and exhaustive, Companion does go beyond the guides available online. Neither book ties itself to a single translation; both open the epic to first-time readers. If your budget will stretch to only one title, the Johnsons' volume is the one of choice. It will save students and teachers many hours because it gathers together excerpts from ancient and modern writers to expand the points at which readers might connect to this immortal epic.-Patricia D. Lothrop, St. George's School, Newport, RI Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

Meet the Author

CLAUDIA DURST JOHNSON, former chairperson of English at the University of Alabama, is currently a freelance scholar and writer in Berkeley, California. She is the author of books on American history and literature, as well as theater history. She is also series editor for Greenwood Press's Exploring Social Issues through Literature Series and the Literature in Context Series, for which she has authored several volumes including Understanding To Kill a Mockingbird and Understanding The Grapes of Wrath.

VERNON JOHNSON has wide experience as an author, theater director, and professor of world literature. He is co-author of Understanding The Crucible. He now resides in Berkeley, California, where he continues to write and teach.

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Table of Contents


A Literary Analysis of Homer's The Odyssey: Transformation and Return

Greek Mythology and Homer

The Geography of The Odyssey

Summary of Archeological Excavations

The Historical Context of The Odyssey

The Trojan War Myth and Legend

Supporting Players in The Odyssey: The Underclasses

Contemporary Applications: The Problem of Revenge

Contemporary Applications: The Athlete and Athletics

Contemporary Applications: The Evolution of the Heroic Ideal


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