First Paper Topics

Due date: Rough draft: Friday, September 24, by 5 pm.  Final version: Friday, October 8, by 5 pm (note change from original schedule).  Please submit both an electronic version (MS-Word compatible) to

Length: 4-5 pages, double spaced, standard fonts and margins.  Please number your pages and include both your name and mine on the front page or cover sheet.  Don’t forget to find a descriptive title! For this paper, you will write a brief analysis of one of the passages indicated below.  You are encouraged to draw upon your knowledge of the entire Odyssey and make comparisons to other episodes, but the lines in the assignment should serve as the backbone of your paper.  Remember that works of literature express meaning not only through content, but also through form!

Since this is your first paper, you are not allowed to consult any outside sources (this includes the introduction to our text).  Stick to the Odyssey itself and write an argument about the poem, not about something that is extrinsic to it, such as your perception of Mycenean civilization or the possible lessons that Odysseus’ travels hold for the modern reader.

Remember that an analytical paper ultimately rises and falls on the strengths of your ideas; mere summary alone does not create an academic essay!

Although you are only submitting a “rough draft” by September 24, you should still try to make this the best paper you possibly can.  2/3 of the grade for this assignment will be determine by the draft; the final 1/3 will depend on how well you implement my suggestions to make your writing even better.

If you need help, I have office hours on Wednesdays from 10:30-12:00 and on Thursdays from 2:00-3:00.  You can also schedule appointments via email, if those times don’t work for you.  Finally, remember that the Writing Center (see the hyperlink to the right) is there to help you!

1)      In Book VIII, lines 78-110, the harper at the court of the Phaiakians sings a story of the Trojan War, to which Odysseus has a rather strong emotional reaction.  What does this passage tell us about the role of storytelling in the Homeric world?  What does it tell us about Odysseus?  And how might it change our attitude towards the Odyssey itself?  Where else in the text do people tell stories about Troy?  Is there a connection between those passages and this one?

2)      In Book X, lines 432-45, Odysseus forces Kirke to free his men, thanks to a prior enchantment that Hermes wrought upon him.  The men, however, do not react in quite the way that we might expect.  Why?  What does this passage tell us about the value system that informs the Odyssey?  Are there other episodes to which we might compare it?  Would Odysseus have been better off to let his men be, or perhaps to willingly accept Kirke’s spell himself?

3)      In Book XI, lines 449-545, Odysseus interrogates Agamemnon, the former supreme commander of the Greek expeditionary force to Troy, in the underworld.  Agamemnon’s story resembles that of Odysseus in many ways, which the text highlights fairly explicitly, both here and in several other scenes (including one in Book III, which you may want to read if you choose this assignment).  But what are the differences?  How is Odysseus as a hero different from Agamemnon?  And how do the members of his household differ from those of Agamemnon’s?  Is Odysseus himself aware of these differences? And besides the story of Agamemnon, are there other stories of homecoming from which we might derive useful lessons?

4)      In Book XII, lines 220-46, Odysseus encounters the Sirens.  Somewhat surprisingly (given that their song is supposed to be deadly), the Homeric poet reproduces what Odysseus hears.  What is the significance of these lyrics?  Why are they so tempting, and what does that tell us about the Odyssey?  Are there other passages in the text that have a similar focus and if so, are they dangerous as well?


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