Shimer students study The Odyssey during their great books studies
Even three thousand years after its composition, Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey remains one of the most widely told stories in the world. It is believed the story of The Odyssey was originally passed orally by professional storytellers. It was polished and fine-tuned over the years, until it was eventually transcribed in order to preserve it for generations to come.
Today, students, avid readers, and history enthusiasts alike can all delve into this classic poem for its rich themes of homecoming, friendship, and loyalty. Its core ideals have remained relevant over the past thousands of years, inspiring countless works of literature and film.
Interested in the epic tale of Odysseus and his long journey home from the 10-year Trojan War? Read on to discover how Homer's epic poem has gone on to inspire many writers, poets, and playwrights throughout the centuries.
The Epic Poem: Told for Generations and Now Read By Students in Great Books College
The Odyssey is the story of Odysseus and his journey home to his wife Penelope and son Telemachus after the Trojan War. Throughout his ten-year expedition, he encounters many mythical creatures and faces the wrath of Greek gods he has angered. Meanwhile, his wife and son attempt to stave off suitors vying for Penelope's hand. These dangerous suitors even resort to planning to kill Telemachus, because they believe he is the only obstacle to winning over Penelope’s heart.
Many believe Homer to be the first and greatest of the epic poets. As students in great books college may know, there is mysterious speculation surrounding when exactly Homer lived or if he ever lived at all. Many experts believe Homer was not one person, but a group of storytellers who wrote collaboratively. Others think Homer inhabited Greece sometime around 850 BC, and that he was the sole author of The Odyssey.
Cyclops: The Satyr Play Based Off The Odyssey's Great Books Foundations
During Odysseus’ travels, he encounters many monsters, including a one-eyed cyclops who is the son of Poseidon. After witnessing it devour several of his journey-mates, Odysseus devises a plan with his remaining crew and together they burn the Cyclops' eye in order to escape and continue on their journey.
This dramatic turn of events, which takes place in Book 9 of The Odyssey, has inspired many great works—some even dating back to ancient Greek times. Ancient Greek playwright Euripides, for example, created his own humorous adaptation in his satyr play Cyclops.
Not to be confused with a satire play, satyr is the ancient Greek art of tragicomedy storytelling. The play version of Book 9 is much more humorous than Homer's original, perhaps due to the Cyclops’ outwardly drunken behavior. True to satyr form, the play has a notable burlesque theme—meant to add levity to an otherwise dark chapter.
The Odyssey Inspired Ulysses and Great Books to Come
The age-old story about the homecoming of a man and the adversities he faces along the way is an underlying theme in many books and novels. The Odyssey has inspired works like True Story by Lucian, Omeros by Derek Walcott, and most notably Ulysses by James Joyce.
Published in 1922, Ulysses tells the captivating tale of a man named Leopold Bloom. In this adaption, Leopold, like Odysseus, goes on an epic journey. However, unlike The Odyssey which takes place over many years, the novel only chronicles the adventures Bloom faces during one day in Dublin.
After students in great books studies read The Odyssey, they may come to realize the parallels between the epic poem and this novel are significant. Each chapter, or episode, of Ulysses represents a different part of The Odyssey, from Episode 4’s Calypso, to Episode 18’s Penelope. In Ulysses, the characters and events of The Odyssey are brought to life in a new setting; the cyclops Odysseus faces becomes an anti-Semite Bloom fights in a bar, the sirens living in a burlesque house.
Not only has The Odyssey gone on to inspire these specific great works, but it has also influenced hundreds of others in minor and major ways. Students in great books programs like Shimer College’s can also look forward to being inspired by The Odyssey and many other outstanding literary works they will delve into during their studies.
Are you interested in studying Homer's The Odyssey at a great books college?
Visit Shimer College to learn how you can get started!