The Odyssey of Homer
Take a detailed look at Homer's ancient Greek masterpiece of adventure.
Dr. Elizabeth Vandiver is Professor of Classics and Clement Biddle Penrose Professor of Latin at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington. She was formerly Director of the Honors Humanities program at the University of Maryland at College Park, where she also taught in the Department of Classics. She completed her undergraduate work at Shimer College and went on to earn her MA and PhD from The University of Texas at Austin.
Prior to taking her position at Maryland, she held visiting professorships at Northwestern University, the University of Georgia, the Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies in Rome, Loyola University of New Orleans, and Utah State University.
In 1998, The American Philological Association recognized her achievements as a lecturer with its Excellence in Teaching Award, the most prestigious teaching prize given to American classicists. In 2013 she received Whitman College's G. Thomas Edwards Award for Excellence in Teaching and Scholarship. Her other awards include the Northwestern University Department of Classics Excellence in Teaching Award and two University of Georgia Outstanding Honors Professor Awards.
Professor Vandiver is the author of Stand in the Trench, Achilles: Classical Receptions in British Poetry of the Great War and Heroes in Herodotus: The Interaction of Myth and History. She has also written numerous articles and has delivered many papers at national and international conferences.
01: Heroes' Homecomings
After an overview of the background story, we examine the difference between a kleos epic such as The Iliad, with its primary focus on glory, and a nostos epic such as The Odyssey, which deals with homecoming. We then examine The Odyssey's own complicated chronology and plot.
02: Guests and Hosts
This lecture defines and examines xenia, guest-host relations, which is a key concept in The Odyssey. How does xenia permeate the first four books of The Odyssey and affect our understanding of Telemachos and the suitors? Why does Homer continually evoke Agamemnon's story as a parallel to that of Odysseus? What drives Telemachos?
03: A Goddess and a Princess
In this lecture, we examine the first appearance of Odysseus, in Book V, and his interaction with Kalypso and later the Phaiakian princess Nausikaa. The lecture focuses on the rhetorical skills of Odysseus, and on his desire to return home and re-establish his own identity. Finally, we discuss the ongoing thematic importance of xenia.
04: Odysseus among the Phaiakians
We see Odysseus as bard, relating a narrative of his adventures to his Phaiakian hosts. These lead us to ponder key themes of xenia and glory. We ask whether The Odyssey handles the latter theme the same way The Iliad does. Book IX brings us to the famous encounter with the Cyclops.
05: Odysseus Tells His Own Story
We continue following Odysseus's retelling of his "Great Wanderings." His encounter with Circe raises the issue of the sexual double standard in Homer. Finally, the lecture looks at the first half of the pivotal episode in the Great Wanderings, Odysseus's sojourn among the dead in Hades.
06: From Persephone's Land to the Island of Helios
We note how Odysseus tailors his Hades narrative to his Phaiakian audience. A question has always troubled readers of Homer: Is Odysseus telling the truth?
07: The Goddess, the Swineherd, and the Beggar
This lecture begins our study of the second half of The Odyssey by discussing the change in pace and subject matter in the Ithakan books. From Book XIII onward, the pace is much slower, and the challenges Odysseus faces are very different from those we have seen earlier. The lecture looks in detail at Odysseus's arrival on Ithaka and the situation he finds there.
08: Reunion and Return
Books XVI and XVII include Odysseus's reunion with Telemachos, and his entry, disguised as a beggar, into the royal court of Ithaka. Throughout the poet stresses how hard Odysseus must strive to conceal his emotions during a series of encounters. Each encounter reiterates Odysseus's supreme self-control and moves him closer to the tremendous danger and difficulty that await him in his own palace.
09: Odysseus and Penelope
In Book XIX we hear two lengthy conversations between the disguised Odysseus and Penelope that are separated by a scene in which Odysseus's old nurse recognizes him. We look at the significance of Odysseus's name, and then at the great enigma of whether Penelope recognizes the ragged beggar.
10: Recognitions and Revenge
Books XX to XXII recount the "contest of the bow," Odysseus's revelation of his identity to the loyal slaves Eumaios and Philoitios, and the slaughter of the suitors. We continue to ask what Penelope knows, and what motives drive her, and then ask: Were Odysseus's slaughter of the suitors and the disloyal slave woman justified?
11: Reunion and Resolution
The final lecture on The Odyssey turns to the final reunion of Odysseus and Penelope in Book XXIII, and to resolve several themes in Book XXIV. The lecture analyzes the tremendous symbolic and narrative significance of Odysseus's and Penelope's marriage bed. Finally, we look at Book XXIV and discuss whether The Odyssey's conclusion is an effective one.
12: The Trojan War and the Archaeologists
What can history and archaeology tell us about the Trojan War? We examine the famous 19th-century excavations of Heinrich Schliemann and touch on some of the controversies he left behind. Finally, we trace the discoveries made by more recent excavators.