Teaching The Odyssey: Turn Teaching Epic into Epic Teaching

Teaching The Odyssey
The Odyssey is a classic piece of literature that teachers of all levels have the pleasure of introducing to their students.
Penlighten Staff
Last Updated: Mar 26, 2018
The Odyssey is a spectacular piece by Homer that recounts the trials and tribulations of Odysseus as he makes his way home to his wife, Penelope, after the Trojan War. It takes him twenty years to get home, and he encounters many monsters and vixens on his way, making it a delightful read for students of all ages.
The Odyssey
Whether they are reading it as a translation or in the original Greek as students of classical languages, or whether they have a toned-down version that is friendly for younger students, they will love the stories from the Cyclops, to Scylla and Charybdis, to Circe, to the suitors begging for Penelope's hand in marriage. While the story is captivating in and of itself, having the right teaching tools makes all the difference.
Other Books Based on The Odyssey
Epic journeys have always been a popular theme in literature, and many of them have been based on The Odyssey without the audience even knowing about it. Using these as teaching tools can help spark interest in students. Perhaps the most popular adaptation of the famous Greek poem is Ulyssesby James Joyce. This novel follows Leopold Bloom on an epic, one day long journey through Dublin, Ireland on June 16, 1904.
The chapter names are characters in The Odyssey, and each chapter contains a monster-like encounter similar to that of the epic poem. Another popular adaptation of Odysseus' journey is Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier. This is a Civil War novel, but the epic journey and hero's quest is very similar to that of The Odyssey. In this novel, W.P. Inman is the Odysseus character, and he is a deserter from the Confederate Army. He is wounded and trying to return to his love, Ada Monroe. This novel has also been made into a film. Among many other adaptations of The Odyssey, there is The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood. In true, feminist, Atwood fashion, this novel is told from the perspective of Penelope and her maids. It gives a very interesting perspective we do not get from the poem itself.
Possible Projects
With higher-level students, a great project would be to pair The Odyssey with one of these other novels and have the students compare the two in some way. They could create a presentation for the class. Each student could take on a different novel, which would give all the students in the class an idea of what these other novels were about. With lower-level classes, the teacher can have the students analyze the hero's quest and compare it with quests of other heroes in literature. With very young students, an idea for a project would be to create a theme park based on The Odyssey. Divide the students into groups and have each group tackle a specific monster from the epic poem. Each group should come up with a ride that represents the monster, characters that will walk around the park, and menu items for the food court. Once all the groups put their ideas together, you will have a class theme park that represents the entire story.
Illustrations
There are many famous illustrations of The Odyssey out there, and a quick internet search will yield many results to study. However, teachers can also have students create their own graphic representations of the poem. This works especially well with students who are artistically talented. They can create these representations and then share them with the class to see if they have similar ideas about what the poem looks like when visualized.