Example Essay Questions For The Odyssey

Below you will find five outstanding thesis statements for The Odyssey by Homer that can be used as essay starters or paper topics. All five incorporate at least one of the themes in The Odyssey by Homer and are broad enough so that it will be easy to find textual support, yet narrow enough to provide a focused clear thesis statement. These thesis statements offer a short summary of The Odyssey in terms of different elements that could be important in an essay. You are, of course, free to add your own analysis and understanding of the plot or themes to them for your essay. Using the essay topics below in conjunction with the list of important quotes from The Odyssey by Homer, you should have no trouble connecting with the text and writing an excellent essay.

Be sure to also check out the Paperstarter entry on The Iliad, also by Homer

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #1: Like Father, Like Son : Father & Son Relationships in “The Odyssey”

The main character of The Odyssey is Odysseus, a man of advancing age who has earned the glory and hero worship of his people in response to his acts of valor in defending Ithaca's honor. Odysseus is the model of ideal manhood, and he is admired far and wide for his intelligence, skill, and demeanor. A character who becomes increasingly important over the course of the tale, however, is Odysseus's son, Telemachus. Like Odysseus, Telemachus is undertaking his own journey in an important sub-plot to Odysseus's return voyage to Ithaca. By examining this sub-plot and the character and trials of Telemachus, the reader is able to predict how Ithaca will go on once Odysseus dies. Telemachus is clearly following in his father's footsteps, and Ithaca will be in good hands. Furthermore, for a long essay on The Odyssey, consider the nature of father and son relationships in The Odyssey by Homer and consider this essay topic in the context of Greek society. For further information on this potential thesis statement for The Odyssey, check out this article.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #2 The Role of Women in The Odyssey

Although women occupied an entirely different position in society compared to men, they too held a certain sphere of influence and power; they simply exerted it in ways that were distinct from men's strategies. By examining the character of Penelope, the wife of Odysseus, one can see just how women exerted their power and influence in The Odyssey and to what ends. Penelope uses clever cunning and sexual charm to toy with men's emotions and to meet her own needs while she is waiting for her husband to return from battle. The types of strategies and her relative success in using them will be examined in this essay. For help with this essay topic, check out this article on the role of women in the Odyssey.

Thesis Statement/Essay Topic #3: The Importance of Hospitality in “The Odyssey”

One might wonder why it takes Odysseus ten years to return to his homeland after he has achieved victory for Ithaca in the Trojan War. One of the reasons that his return journey is so long is that he is subject to the obligation of accepting the welcoming hospitality of people he meets along his path. Hospitality is an important part of social exchange, honor, and the negotiation of relationships in The Odyssey. This essay will examine several episodes of hospitality to comment upon the varied functions of cordiality in Homer's society. For more information on this topic, check out this article comparing the theme of hospitality in The Odyssey and in the medieval text, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #4: Defining The Odyssey as an Epic

The Odyssey is typically classified as an epic, but the general reader may not identify all of the elements that justify this categorization. The Odyssey is indeed an epic because it meets several criteria of the genre. First, the epic revolves around a heroic journey that is filled with obstacles to overcome. Second, the narrative style is elaborate and characterized by an admiring tone, which underscores the hero's worthiness. Finally, The Odyssey is filled with mentions of supernatural or mysterious forces that influence the outcome of certain challenging episodes. In this essay, each of these three epic characteristics will be examined at greater length, and their significance to the overall framework of the narrative will be discussed.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #5: The Functions of Disguise in “The Odyssey”

Throughout The Odyssey the reader notices that different characters adopt disguises to either facilitate or complicate their own or another's passage through the world. In fact, some characters take on multiple disguises over the course of the tale. The goddess Athena, for example, takes on no fewer than three guises. It is not only gods and goddesses who take on disguises, however. Odysseus also negotiates the power of disguise to advance his goals and objectives. By comparing and contrasting the characters' varied use of disguises, the writer will explain how disguise functions not only for pragmatic purposes, but for psychological motives as well.

Here are a few links to some great articles on a few of the thesis statements for “The Odyssey” by Homer that might be of assistance: The Development of the Character Telemakhos in The Odyssey : Father and Son and Family Relationships in The Odyssey by Homer : The Narrow Role of Women The Odyssey by Homer : Hospitality in The Odyssey and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight : Food Imagery and Temptation in The Odyssey

Be sure to also check out the Paperstarter entry on The Iliad, also by Homer

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  • 1

    Argue against the claim that The Odyssey ought to be read as a tragedy because of all the pain inflicted upon its protagonist, Odysseus.

    Although Odysseus' name means "Son of Pain" and he is made to suffer greatly before achieving his nostos (homecoming), the fact remains that he ultimately does achieve nostos. When he returns to Ithaca, he finds that his immediate family has remained faithful to him, and is able to reclaim his rightful place as the king of Ithaca. Although the amount of hardship he has had to endure may make such an outcome seem implausible, the implausibility is better explained by the epic nature of the work, rather than by calling it a tragedy.

  • 2

    Works like The Odyssey offer us insight into the customs and beliefs of the ancient cultures that produced them. Describe one such custom that The Odyssey makes clear was important in ancient Greece.

    One example of such a custom is that of hospitality: it was thought that guests might always be gods in disguise, and therefore ought to be treated with the utmost respect. To this end, guests were often fed, clothed, and so forth, prior to the host asking after their lineage and purpose in their land.

  • 3

    Is Odysseus a just man? Provide evidence to support your answer.

    Although Odysseus has character flaws and may not hold what we consider a modern conception of justice, he does seem to act justly in most regards. He only deceives Polyphemus after Polyphemus has rejected the custom of a guest-gift and eaten several of Odysseus' men; he only disguises himself in Ithaca in order to test his family and the suitors. And, perhaps the most important piece of evidence in favor of his being just, he only punishes those servants and suitors who wronged his household while he was away; he lets the innocent live.

  • 4

    Discuss fidelity in the poem. Was Odysseus faithful to his household?

    Although Odysseus has many affairs on his journey home, the implication is always that he had to do so in order to progress towards home; there were many moments when it would have been easier for him to give up or surrender, but he never truly lost sight of home. (The year he spent with Circe might be seen as a counterexample to this; nonetheless, the fact remains that he returned to his quest and did not forsake his homeland). At minimum, it is evident that the text's notion of fidelity is not reducible to something as simple as sexual relations.

  • 5

    Discuss fidelity in the poem. Was Odysseus' household faithful to him?

    Many servants of Ithaca betrayed Odysseus and sided with the suitors, but the "principle players" of his homeland -- the Swineherd, Telemachus, Penelope, Argos, and Laertes -- remained faithful to him despite his absence. This fidelity is symbolized best by Argos, who seemingly staved off death until he could see his master home safely. Penelope, too, could easily have remarried, and was under tremendous pressure to do so; yet she employed every possible means of keeping the suitors at bay in order to continue waiting for her true husband to return to her.

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