Homer’s Muse still sings.
His epic tale follows the wily warrior Odysseus as he twists and turns his way back home to the shores of Ithaca after fighting a 10-year war at Troy. As readers everywhere know, the story’s themes of homecoming and hospitality, hubris and humility, suffering and survival continue to resonate across the centuries.
Three recent books show that much remains to be said and discovered about the epic and its relationship to our lives today. In 2017, the first English translation of the “Odyssey” by a woman, the British classicist Emily Wilson, was published to much acclaim, replacing older translations on some high school and college syllabuses. The same year, Daniel Mendelsohn’s memoir, “An Odyssey: A Father, A Son, and an Epic,” recounted what happened when his 81-year old father decided to sit in on the author’s seminar on the “Odyssey” at Bard College. And in the spring of 2018, Madeline Miller released “Circe,” a novel written from the enchantress’s perspective that expands her story both before and after her affair with Odysseus.
Below, five lesson ideas that draw on Times resources to help students navigate the wine-dark seas and discover how the “Odyssey” might speak to their own lives and the world around them.
1. The Hero’s Journey
Daniel Mendelsohn explains in his memoir that the word “odyssey” has three meanings: “voyage,” “journey,” and “travel.” As an epic poem, the ”Odyssey” further prepares us for a long narrative told on a grand scale of time and place, featuring a larger-than-life protagonist who is also Western civilization’s oldest hero. Odysseus, whose very name echoes “odyssey,” is often translated to mean “son of pain.” Taken together the man and his journey seem fated for hardship.
At a time when more than 65 million people around the world are officially displaced from their homes by conflict, violence and persecution — the highest figure recorded by the United Nations since World War II — The Times has chronicled many real-life odysseys in reports of those journeys. Invite students to read articles like “What Refugees Face on the World’s Deadliest Migration Route” and “Desperate Crossing” to learn more, and to find links to themes and ideas in the “Odyssey.” (For more on teaching with this material, you might also consider some of the questions and activities suggested in this Learning Network lesson plan.)
But epic journeys have also been fodder for comedy. Examples include the cartoonist Roz Chast’s take on the hero’s journey, Brian Gordon’s modern take on the Sirens, Lapham’s Quarterly Odyssey Game (tagline: “lose years, gain strength, return to wife”) and the doughnut-fueled “Lemon of Troy” episode of “The Simpsons” (Season 6, Episode 24), featuring America’s favorite cartoon dad.
The archetypal hero’s journey takes many forms and is particularly accessible for students through film. Have them read Times reviews of a favorite superhero film, like “Black Panther,” “Wonder Woman” or “Iron Man,” then write their own review explaining how the hero develops. They can do this either using the stages of Joseph Campbell’s hero cycle, or compare the journeys of their chosen protagonist to Odysseus’ journey.
While any Marvel or DC Comics hero should suffice, students can also look to animated films such as “The Incredibles” and “Wall-E,” dramas like “The Natural,” “Glory,” “A Better Life,” or classic comedies like “Coming to America,” “Goonies,” “Back to the Future” or even “Some Like It Hot.”
2. On Xenia
Xenia is the Greek concept of hospitality. In the “Odyssey,” it is both a civic responsibility — serving the weary traveler who landed on the shores of one’s front door — and a spiritual duty, for it would always be entirely possible that the weary traveler could end up being a god in disguise.
The Learning Network runs an annual Connections Contest, in which students are invited to link anything they’re studying in school with something in the news. This year, one of the winners, Alex Iyer, a student from San Antonio, linked Homer’s “Odyssey” with the Times piece, “As Rich Nations Close the Door on Refugees, Uganda Welcomes Them” and talked about the role of xenia in both. Here is his essay:
In literature, we learned that in Homer’s epic poem “The Odyssey,” Homer uses the tribulations of the hero Odysseus to illustrate the Ancient Grecian custom of xenia. This custom focused on extending hospitality to those who found themselves far from home. As Odysseus navigates the treacherous path back to his own home, he encounters both morally upstanding and malevolent individuals. They range from a charitable princess who offers food and clothing, to an evil Cyclops who attempts to murder the hero and his fellow men. In class, we agreed that Homer employs these contrasting characters to exemplify not only proper, but also poor forms of xenia.
For the people of its time, the “Odyssey” cemented the idea that xenia was fundamental for good character; resulting in hospitality becoming engrained in the fabric of Ancient Grecian society. I saw a parallel to this in a New York Times article called “As Rich Nations Close the Door on Refugees, Uganda Welcomes Them” published on October 28, 2018. Similar to the prevalent custom of xenia in Ancient Greece, Uganda has made hosting refugees a national policy. The country is now occupied by up to 1.25 million refugees, many of whom are fleeing the violent unrest of South Sudan.
The xenia of Homeric times implied a mutually beneficial relationship between host and guest. We see this in Uganda, where villagers share land with South Sudanese refugees. Grateful for this generosity, the refugees gladly help out with farming, carpentry, and even translation. Many Ugandans remember when they themselves had to look to Sudan for sanctuary. During the murderous rampages of Idi Amin and Joseph Kony, the Sudanese provided critical support to Ugandan refugees. These memories are motivating modern-day Ugandans to assist refugees, bringing the world a little closer to what xenia strived for over 2,000 years ago.
Uganda and South Sudan are by no means wealthy utopias. However, xenia was never about the rich blindly giving to the poor. It aspired to foster symbiotic relationships of openness and inclusivity that would endure through time. It’s interesting that a quaint Greek ideal from thousands of years ago would find a practical application in Uganda. When Amos Chandiga was asked why he lent two acres of his own land to refugees, he simply responded “They asked me, and I gave it to them.” He then patted his chest and said “It comes from here, in my heart.” Perhaps this can serve as a lesson to Americans, as we grapple with modernizing our own asylum policies. Teaching us that, whether rich or poor, open borders give way to open hearts.
You might challenge students to find more articles in The Times that relate to xenia, the spirit behind welcoming the stranger — pieces like “Refugees Encounter a Foreign Word: Welcome,” “Love Thy Stranger As Thyself,” “A Lesson on Immigration From Pablo Neruda,” “Texas Pulls Up the Welcome Mat” and “Where Companies Welcome Refugees.”
And since school functions as students’ September-through-June “home,” they might then work with their counselors and student government to develop a welcoming committee, mission statement, and a set of resources that would have them sharing their hospitality to all those who make their way to the shores of the school, whether incoming freshmen, transfer students, parents at an open house, or athletes visiting the school for a sporting event or competition. They may also work to propose programs and extracurricular activities to ensure that students from diverse backgrounds have a welcome place at the school.
3. Epic Music Playlists
The British author and screenwriter Nick Hornby explained the art of the mixtape his 1995 novel "High Fidelity,” which was later adapted into film. His protagonist, Rob Flemings, explains:
To me, making a tape is like writing a letter — there’s a lot of erasing and rethinking and starting again. A good compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do. You’ve got to kick off with a corker, to hold the attention … and then you’ve got to up it a notch, or cool it a notch … and you can’t have two tracks by the same artist side by side, unless you’ve done the whole thing in pairs and … oh, there are loads of rules.
In the digital age, we still use the analog concept of a “mixtape" to talk about digital playlists or a compilation of related songs. (For example, consider the “Hamilton Mixtape.”) Many of the playlists streamed on Pandora, Spotify and Apple Music are curated by algorithms based on listener data. That said, these services and others like Mixcloud and SoundCloud also celebrate human curation.
The Times has covered many notable playlists. A Vows column explored how songs texted between a Hollywood couple became the Spotify “mixtape” for their Palm Springs wedding; the Food section wrote about a musician who curated a soundscape for a restaurant; Politics covered a presidential playlist; and the Arts section featured the playlist one nonfiction writer created to accompany his book on hip-hop. (Meanwhile, this piece in The Guardian covers the playlists that fiction writers like Stephen King create that are inspired by their books’ characters or themes.)
The New York Times Music section shares weekly playlists of notable new music and videos, and they maintain a Spotify profile with playlists related to their criticism and reporting. The Learning Network has even asked students to share their favorite playlists in the past.
Inspired by these, we created a playlist for the “Odyssey,” which focuses on allusions or retellings of Homer’s epic poem.
See what you think, then tell us: What playlist might you make? Your tracks can be informed by a character’s point of view: How would Telemachus’ playlist differ from Athena’s? Would Calypso’s playlist sound anything like Penelope’s? Students might also create a playlist that addresses a theme like courage or deception, or design one that mirrors the plot in some way, as does a movie soundtrack. Whatever songs you think will capture a unique musical point-of-view of Homer’s epic tale, we invite you to share them as a comment on this lesson, or by tagging us on Twitter @NYTimesLearning.
Finally, you might check out the Learning Network lesson plan “Nine Teaching Ideas for Using Music to Inspire Student Writing” to find even more ideas for creating playlists related to topics you are studying in class.
4. Here Be Monsters
Monsters are here, there and everywhere in film and literature. Many Times articles have explored monsters as metaphor. Film Critics have written about what movie monsters teach us about our cultures, childhoods or, most recently, how racism ise the monster in director Jordan Peele’s award-winning film “Get Out.”
Literary and historical monsters are also rich sources for discussion. During Odysseus’ journey he encounters a wide range of supernatural creatures, including the Sirens, Cyclops and the Lotus Eaters. He is caught between the famous Scylla and Charybdis and, at Circe’s behest, visits the Underworld. Many of these places and characters can be read as metaphors for large challenges we face in life.
The New York-based nonprofit organization Artolution recently asked students, “What would creatures in a world without violence look like?” Their short film shows elementary students imagining and creating peaceful creatures. We’d like to suggest a Homeric riff on this idea. Ask students, “What type of monsters would a school-aged Odysseus encounter if he were to spend three years in your middle school or four years in your high school?” Students can draw or use a free monster-making app like this one to create their creatures. You might also share Andrew Bell’s ‘Creatures in My Head’ website for inspiration. Artwork should be accompanied by a creative narrative or poem about their monster and how it was inspired by “The Odyssey.”
5. Lasting Legacies
It is a minor character in the “Odyssey” who develops one of its most vital themes — the importance of one’s legacy.
Elpenor, one of Odysseus’ men, suffers an unremarkable death, meeting his demise when he falls from a rooftop in a drunken stupor. His story becomes poignant when he meets his leader in the Underworld, and begs to be properly buried and remembered. He pleads:
Don’t sail off
and desert me, left behind unwept …
No, burn me in full armor, all my harness,
heap my mound by churning gray surf —
a man whose luck ran out —
so even men to come will learn my story (11.79 - 85).
Elpenor’s desire for his story to outlive him highlights the human desire to achieve some mark of the immortality reserved for the gods. At The Times, a team of obituary writers does the important work of summing up those legacies, both for the famous and for those less well-known whose lives nonetheless “put a wrinkle in the social fabric.” The 2016 documentary “Obit” follows that team, as you can see in the film’s trailer, embedded above. In it, Margalit Fox, one of the team, suggests that “obits have next to nothing to do with death and in fact absolutely everything to do with the life.”
While Benjamin Franklin and others did write their own epitaphs, students need not imagine their own deaths in order to ponder the legacy they would like to leave behind. Students can read a selection of Times tributes that commemorate those who have made a lasting impression on the world. Recent tributes include reflections on Aretha Franklin, John McCain, Stan Mikita, and Mac Miller, as well as a collection of tributes The Times put together called “Overlooked” that celebrate remarkable people, mostly women, who did not receive a Times obituary when they died.
Students can jigsaw those we suggested or choose someone who interests them. In groups, students might then use these learning experience organizers to think about what makes a life well lived. (Organizers for “cartoonist,” “framer” or “lawyer” work nicely here.) After this process students can brainstorm their life goals for school using the WOOP (Wish-Outcome-Obstacle-Plan) goal-writing method. The “Hidden Brain” podcast and related book explain the science behind the method.
Have students imagine that, 25 years after their graduation, they have been chosen to receive the distinguished alumnus or alumna award for their class. What will the nominating committee say about them? How will they describe what they have achieved and the legacy it will leave for their chosen field? Or, if students would rather write about someone else, have them reflect on the legacy of someone they know personally, such as a friend, parent or mentor.
Let students have fun and focus on making meaning of a life well lived for whatever legacy they choose to write. If they would like to muse about their own lives, invite them to contribute comments to a recent Learning Network Student Opinion question, What Legacy Do You Want to Leave Behind? They could also consider making a mixed media collage about their own or someone else’s legacy, as suggested in this lesson plan by the artist and teacher Clara Lieu.
From Around the Web:
• To give your students a useful summary before reading scenes and excerpts from Homer’s poem, try this resource from The Conversation that describes the story and its themes, as well as its links to films like “O Brother Where Art Thou?” and, more loosely, “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “Paris, Texas.”
• Creative visual retellings include Gareth Hinds’s graphic novel “The Odyssey,” Marvel’s comic series from 2008-2009 and the Eisner Award-winning cartoonist Eric Shanower’s multivolume Trojan War series, “Age of Bronze.” Readers of all ages will benefit from Marcia William’s beautiful and succinct picture book retelling of the “Iliad” and “Odyssey.” And here is a rubric designed by the instructional coach Nessa Slowinski and the English teacher Lauren Schewe, our colleagues at Glenbard West High School, to help students do comic annotations of the “Odyssey,” as modeled by Nick Sousanis’s comics studies class at San Francisco State University.
• Brandon Bourgeois has been working on a hip-hop version of the “Odyssey” since he was a graduate student in classics, while students at the University of Michigan have made modern interpretations of Homer’s work the subject of “The Translation Game.” An anthropomorphic take can be found in Gwen Cooper’s “Homer’s Odyssey: A Fearless Feline Tale, or How I Learned about Love and Life with a Blind Wonder Cat.”
• If you are teaching the “Odyssey” as part of a humanities course you might explore the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Resource for Educators: Greek Art from Prehistoric to Classical and the Art Institute of Chicago’s resource packet that puts the African-American experience in dialogue with Homer through the Harlem Renaissance artist Romare Bearden’s collage “The Return of Odysseus (Homage to Pintoricchio and Benin).”
• Poems that consider the “Odyssey” from different angles abound. Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “Ulysses” imagines Odysseus years after his return to Ithaca, bored and longing again for adventure. Margaret Atwood’s much-anthologized “Siren Song” transfers attention to the half-female half-bird mythical creatures. And Louise Glück’s 1996 collection, “Meadowlands,” is a poetic exploration of the relationship between Odysseus and Penelope. Teachers might also join a Twitter discussion about poems to teach with the “Odyssey.”
From The New York Times:
1997 Arts Article: All-Nighter With the ‘Odyssey’ Two Stamford High School English teachers gave their freshmen students a challenge: How about spending 17 hours overnight at the school to study nearly 500 pages of Homer’s “Odyssey,” hearing it aloud as the epic poet might have offered the adventures of Odysseus to his hungry listeners 2,700 years ago?
1998 Op-Ed: An Odyssey The children who sit before me saw in Homer’s hero that one person can be both powerful and foolish, equally full of influence and errors. When my students learn to see this in themselves, they will become — at last — good leaders.
2007 Op-Ed: The Odyssey Years There used to be four common life phases: childhood, adolescence, adulthood and old age. Now, there are at least six: childhood, adolescence, odyssey, adulthood, active retirement and old age. Of the new ones, the least understood is odyssey, the decade of wandering that frequently occurs between adolescence and adulthood.
2008 Science Article: Homecoming of Odysseus May Have Been in Eclipse Two scientists have concluded that the homecoming of Odysseus possibly coincided with a solar eclipse in 1178 B.C.
2008 Book Review: A Long, Strange Trip A British classics professor traces the lengthy shadow Homer’s “Odyssey” casts across Western culture.
2009 Op-Ed: Back From War, but Not Really Home A sense of dislocation has been shared by veterans returning from war since Homer conjured Odysseus’ inauspicious return some 2,800 years ago. (Related Learning Network lesson plan)
2010 T Magazine Article: Speak Easy | Laura Marling An interview with a musician inspired by The “Odyssey.”
2011 Travel Article: Lost in the Odyssey Inspired by Odysseus, who took 10 years to get to Ithaca from the coast of Turkey, an 11-day journey of epic beauty, hospitality and frustrating ferry schedules.
2011 Video and Article: Odysseus in Socrates Sculpture Park and Odysseus Is Parading Into Queens Using puppets and much imagination, two artists are bringing “The Odyssey” to a riverfront park in Long Island City.
2015 Theater Review: ‘The Odyssey’ Takes a Populist Turn as a Musical Professional actors like Brandon Victor Dixon and amateur entertainers combine to turn this adaptation of Homer’s poem into a vibrant tapestry.
2016 Book Review: ‘Why Homer Matters,’ by Adam Nicolson For the voyager Adam Nicolson, Homer is impossible to understand while sitting behind a desk.
2017 Magazine Article: The First Woman to Translate the ‘Odyssey’ Into English The classicist Emily Wilson has given Homer’s epic a radically contemporary voice.
2017 Science Article: A Grecian Artifact Evokes Tales From the ‘Iliad’ and ‘Odyssey’ An engraved stone with a finely detailed battle scene was found in the grave of a warrior buried about 1450 B.C.
2017: Book Review: A Version of Homer That Dares to Match Him Line for Line Emily Wilson’s landmark translation of the “Odyssey” matches the original’s line count while drawing on a spare, simple and direct idiom.
2018 Book Review: Turning Circe Into a Good Witch In Madeline Miller’s latest adaptation of Greek myth, “Circe,” we encounter a thoughtful and compassionate woman who learns to love unselfishly.
Ryan R. Goble is the Teaching & Learning Coordinator at Glenbard Township High School District 87 Public Schools in Glen Ellyn, IL. and the co-author of Making Curriculum Pop: Developing Literacies across Content Areas.
Elizabeth Wiersum teaches English at Glenbard West High School in Glen Ellyn, IL.B:
六合色彩“【小】【楚】【总】，【你】【要】【不】【要】【重】【新】【找】***【谈】【一】【下】？”【林】【岩】【试】【探】【性】【的】【问】【道】，【他】【想】boss【都】【已】【经】【知】【道】【了】【自】【己】【做】【错】【了】，【想】【来】【为】【了】【自】【己】【的】【病】【情】【应】【该】【会】【找】***【道】【个】【歉】【什】【么】【的】【吧】？ 【楚】【郁】【闻】【言】，【沉】【默】【了】，【没】【有】【说】【话】—— 【要】【他】【去】【道】【歉】？ 【这】【脸】【皮】【啊】【真】【是】【被】【自】【己】【扯】【到】【了】【地】【上】【狠】【狠】【地】【摩】【擦】【啊】！ 【自】【己】【当】【初】【那】【么】【信】【誓】【旦】【旦】【的】【跟】【别】【人】【说】【白】
【五】【月】【八】【日】，【天】【色】【尚】【早】。 【早】【晨】【八】【点】【正】【是】【早】【高】【峰】【时】【段】，【富】【力】【大】【厦】【前】【人】【山】【人】【海】，【无】【数】【吃】【瓜】【群】【众】【将】【此】【地】【围】【的】【水】【泄】【不】【通】。 【因】【为】【富】【力】【大】【厦】【的】【楼】【顶】【出】【现】【了】【一】【个】【硬】【核】【大】【瓜】。 【不】！【准】【确】【的】【是】【三】【个】【大】【瓜】，【有】【三】【个】【人】【颤】【颤】【巍】【巍】【的】【站】【在】【楼】【顶】，【双】【腿】【跨】【过】【栏】【杆】，【在】【几】【十】【米】【的】【高】【空】【一】【副】【即】【将】【信】【仰】【之】【跃】【的】【模】【样】。 【他】【们】【想】【跳】【楼】！ 【记】【者】，
“【吴】【生】！”【她】【咬】【牙】【切】【齿】。 【吴】【生】【挑】【挑】【眉】，【不】【动】【声】【色】【的】【靠】【在】【她】【椅】【子】【的】【把】【手】【上】，【靠】【近】【她】【的】【耳】【朵】，【低】【声】【笑】【道】:“【如】【果】【你】【再】【想】【挣】【脱】，【难】【保】【我】【不】【会】【做】【出】【什】【么】【疯】【狂】【的】【事】【哦】？” 【方】【曙】【心】【尖】【剧】【烈】【跳】【动】，【却】【还】【要】【强】【稳】【心】【神】，“……【什】【么】【事】？” “【比】【如】，【把】【我】【们】【十】【指】【相】【扣】【的】【手】【指】【举】【起】【来】，【让】【大】【家】【好】【好】【看】【看】【我】【们】【的】【关】【系】。” 【方】【曙】【瞪】
【李】【哲】【记】【得】【很】【清】【楚】【的】【一】【件】【事】【情】，【就】【是】TX【花】【了】90【亿】【美】【元】【鲸】【吞】Super Cell，【而】【这】【家】【公】【司】【就】【是】【制】【作】【出】《【部】【落】【冲】【突】》【的】【公】【司】。 【免】【费】，【维】【持】【高】【水】【准】【的】【可】【玩】【性】【和】【能】【让】【玩】【家】【享】【受】【游】【戏】，【就】【是】【一】【款】【成】【功】【的】【好】【游】【戏】。 《【部】【落】【冲】【突】》【是】【免】【费】【加】【内】【购】【成】【功】【的】【典】【型】【范】【例】。 【李】【哲】【自】【从】【有】【了】【做】【这】【个】【游】【戏】【的】【想】【法】【之】【后】，【马】【上】【就】【和】六合色彩【去】【广】【东】【出】【差】【一】【趟】，【少】【说】【可】【能】【需】【要】【十】【天】。
【正】【如】【大】【家】【所】【见】，【新】【书】《【余】【烬】【之】【铳】》【又】【名】《【二】【流】【侦】【探】【与】【他】【亲】【爱】【的】【温】【彻】【斯】【特】》【已】【发】【布】。 …… 【几】【曲】【悠】【扬】【的】【旋】【律】【下】，【雾】【气】【笼】【罩】【的】【建】【筑】【缓】【缓】【露】【出】【真】【容】，【随】【着】【蒸】【汽】【机】【的】【轰】【鸣】【运】【转】，【幽】【暗】【泥】【泞】、【尔】【虞】【我】【诈】、【三】【教】【九】【流】【的】【旧】【敦】【灵】【扑】【面】【而】【来】。 【阴】【影】【里】【扭】【曲】【的】【血】【肉】【挣】【扎】【蠕】【动】，【下】【水】【道】【里】【携】【带】【着】【疫】【病】【的】【鼠】【群】【四】【腾】【奔】【走】。 【在】【这】【诡】【异】
【不】【管】【这】【位】【是】【不】【是】【来】【自】【山】【海】【界】，【仅】【是】【这】【份】【无】【匹】【的】【力】【量】，【就】【可】【以】【让】【天】【也】【退】【避】【三】【舍】。 “【我】【们】【冥】【族】【的】【初】【代】【先】【祖】，【曾】【为】【天】【帝】【守】【过】【夜】！”【永】【恒】【之】【夜】【苍】【老】【的】【脸】【庞】【之】【上】，【是】【发】【自】【内】【心】【的】【骄】【傲】【和】【自】【豪】，【在】【他】【看】【来】，【这】【是】【莫】【大】【的】【荣】【誉】，【和】【天】【帝】【扯】【上】【了】【一】【些】【关】【系】，【足】【以】【令】【他】【们】【这】【些】【后】【辈】【感】【到】【无】【与】【伦】【比】【的】【崇】【高】【感】。 【即】【便】【山】【海】【经】【也】【记】【载】【了】【他】【们】
“【圣】【子】！” 【柳】【冉】【源】【直】【接】【被】【白】【毛】【巨】【猿】【那】【冷】【漠】【的】【眼】【神】【给】【吓】【住】【了】，【不】【敢】【与】【其】【对】【视】，【慌】【忙】【对】【着】【林】【澜】【道】：“【圣】【子】【快】【救】【我】！” 【到】【了】【这】【个】【时】【候】，【柳】【冉】【源】【哪】【里】【还】【敢】【再】【称】【呼】【林】【澜】【为】【小】【友】？【开】【口】【闭】【口】【已】【经】【完】【全】【变】【成】【了】‘【圣】【子】’。 “【圣】【子】？” 【白】【毛】【巨】【猿】【嘿】【嘿】【笑】【道】。 “【这】【小】【子】【可】【不】【是】【你】【们】【人】【类】【的】【圣】【子】，【他】【的】【身】【份】【没】【那】【么】【卑】【劣】！