Ancient Greek Literature and Archaeology: Reading and Understanding the Odyssey

Spyridon (Spiros) Loumakis
Average rating:4.9Number of reviews:(731)
In this 9-week course we are going to read and understand the epic journey of Odysseus after the fall of Troy, his adventures against gods, monsters and nature itself, a story that addresses human destiny in general.

Class Experience

US Grade 7 - 9
First and foremost in my series of ancient Greek and Roman literature classes, the most important goal is for young students, who genuinely love mythology, to read not a modern book about mythology (as they most often do) but an ancient Greek or Roman work containing the original myths.

In this multi-day course in particular, we are going to approach the poem of the Odyssey by keeping the following three observations constantly in our mind:
(i) For the ancient Greeks the epic poem Odyssey is first and foremost a divine product of the ancient Greek creativity inspired (as always) by the Muse of epic poetry Calliope. 
(ii) It is an epic poem that includes the greatest tales of the hero Odysseus who belonged to the so-called heroic age of humanity as the ancient Greeks called it. As most ancient Greek heroes he was a source of inspiration, hope and strength, in order to solve problems and defeat fears, fight dangers and overcome obstacles. Life never comes wiithout them, neither then nor now! 
(iii) It is, also, an epic poem that entails the stories of a hero vis-a-vis gods, monsters, beasts, and other heroes, forming a part of the ancient Greek mythology. 

Therefore, in this class students will understand that the magic of myths lies not only in the stories themselves, fascinating as they are, but in the logic behind them and in their deeper meaning. Myths will be appreciated as a system of beliefs and a way of thinking about the world, as it was created by the ancient Greeks. The goal for the students is to learn how Greeks were structuring their myths and some of the narrative patterns that they were employing to tell meaningful stories about their gods, in this case about the heroic deeds of the Trojan War. 

They will learn variations of certain myths of Odysseus and their purpose. And together we will try to interpret and explain them, compare them with other myths, and trace their origins. 

We will put particular emphasis on the role of the gods and goddess and the many roles they fulfill in the Odyssey. After all, for the ancient Greeks this was the most crucial part. We should better "listen" to them if we want to understand their point of view.

We will discuss together how were these stories played out in the social and artistic life of the ancient Greeks, reflected even in the worship of gods and heroes. What did the Odyssey mean to Greek men and women of the ancient Greek society? 
I have a BA in ancient Greek History and Archaeology, an MA in ancient Greek Archaeology and History of Art and an MA in the History and Philosophy of Religions, and I am a PhD Candidate of Religion, specialized in ancient Greek and Roman religions.
Homework Offered
The students are asked to read in advance the assigned chapters for each week of the course. This is why I schedule the class every other week, to allow students have enough time to read carefully and come prepared for class dicussion. If this is still not possible for students before every single week of the course, or if students prefer to read some of the chapters before each class , they will still be able to follow the entire course. If they decide to do all the readings, this will help them considerably in terms of class participation, they will absorb the material easier and at the end they will have the pleasure of having read the entire epic poem.
2 - 4 hours per week outside of class
Assessments Offered
I do not believe that a letter grade is meaningful for an 8-week course on the Odyssey. However, as I often do with my one-time classes, which are always small classes (up to 5 or 6 students), I communication with the parents and the children directly, providing my personal comments, private feedback and an informal assessment.
Grades Offered
A strongly recommended translation of the Iliad in English that from a great series of translations, Oxford World's Classics, which comes from a leading publication house in classical studies, the Oxford University Press.
This is the one I am going to use for myself and trust with all my heart! 

Another alternative is an older translation which is completely free and easily accessible online by the University of Tufts, but less user-friendly. It can be found in the following link:
The above translation was made for Harvard University Press in the 1920s in the context of the academic series The Loeb Classical Library.
Learners will not need to use any apps or websites beyond the standard Outschool tools.
In the ancient Greek art gods are depicted often (but not always) naked. The Greek word for a naked man is "gymnos" and that is why in English today we say "gymnastics" or "gym" although our children and athletes wear uniforms. This being said, any artistic reproduction of the Iliad in ancient art should be expected to show nude gods. I try to use as less as possible, but it is not always within my hands since this is the nature of the ancient Greek art itself. Since, it is an art that comes from an era where there were no photographs, or videos, the art is found only on painted vases, wall paintings and sculpture. Nudity was never meant to provoke, but to tell to the ancient viewer that gods are not mortal humans, and, thus, they do not really need clothes, or that heroes are not just ordinary humans, and need to be singled out with their god-like depiction. 

In addition, and most important of all, the content in the Odyssey is sometimes sensitive to younger readers. In this class students are required to read the entire poem, book by book for 8 weeks, but I am not going, of course, to discuss these parts, as for example when the hero is feeling a great physical attraction for a woman or a heroine. This is a 8-week class of discussion as we unfold the story all together. My goal is to stop only on the major parts of the book in terms of mythology or ideas in it. So, any sensitive parts are not parts of the class. There are way bigger issues dealt by Homer in this poem. However, if students raise any of the sensitive issues in class, I cannot pretend they are not there. They are part of Homer's work. Sooner or later, they will learn that Homer and Greek literature are the basis of western literature, considered masterpieces and world intellectual heritage, and that this does not mean they are polished, good-looking Hollywood movies. Humans are not like this, and the Odyssey reflects that.

Truth is that I can change neither Greek art nor Greek literature. Only, to put them in their own historical context. My best weapon is that the ancient Greek artists do not use sensitive topics to provoke or horrify or entertain, but symbolically to explain deeper ideas. Both Greek art and literature are highly symbolic. For the Greeks, Homer was something like a god, and definitely their greater philosopher (not just a god-inspired poet) and they would "religiously" follow what he has composed with his poetic language. 

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Meet the teacher

Average rating:4.9Number of reviews:(731)
As a father of two young kids, I put a lot of effort so as to entertain them in a productive, and educational way, making sure I feed their natural curiosity and encourage them to keep asking questions. Undoubtedly, television and video games are... 
Group Class


weekly or $180 for 9 classes
1x per week, 9 weeks
60 min

Average rating:5.0Number of reviews:(13)
Completed by 40 learners
Live video meetings
Ages 12-15
3-7 learners per class

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