Saturday, January 17, 2015

An Odyssey for the New Year

Every New Year begins a new journey.  An odyssey, if you will, where we aspire to reach a destination of goals, resolutions, and ambitions.  Of course there are always deterrents.  Sometimes monsters as ferociously daunting as Scylla or Charybdis from Homer’s Odyssey obstruct our path.  But we are resolute, steadfastly brave and courageous as we face down our demons, just as Odysseus was in trying to reach his destination of Ithaca - home to his beloved Penelope and Telemachus.

This semester I will be undertaking an odyssey of my own, as I teach Homer’s epic.  After a quick invocation to the literary muse, I review the following epic conventions, pleasantly surprised as my students eagerly take notes and ask clarifying questions.  

  • The Epic Hero
  • Lengthy Narrative
  • Lofty Tone and Style
  • Epic Similes
  • Catalogs/Genealogies
  • Supernatural Involvement
  • Invocation
  • In Medias Res
  • Voyage Across the Sea
  • Trip to the Underworld
  • Epic Battles

At first, I’m bewildered how much they dig Homer’s interminable tome; yet, a quick analysis reveals the striking similarities they have with Odysseus and the epic genre itself.  Just like Odysseus, tweens are heroes of their own story.  Getting through a day of middle school might seem like a trip to the Underworld; they certainly have their own epic battles of drama to fight; and don’t even get me started on their plights of temptation.  But like Odysseus, they persevere (with a little help from the gods of course).  And in the end, they are winning the contest to prove their identity and retake their own throne, hopefully having grown in wisdom, judgment, and self-control.

As adults, the theme of The Odyssey retains its relevance as well.  Maybe we haven’t even reached our own Ithaca yet, but we’re still traveling and battling, island after island.  And that’s okay because as we know by now, life isn’t about the destination - it’s about the journey.  It’s our odyssey – monsters, goddesses, and all.

For classroom activities and lessons on The Odyssey and other classics, visit my store at TeachersPayTeachers:

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