A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Reading Homer's heroic epic poem, The Odyssey, introduces middle and high school students to many of the Greek myths, gods, and goddesses that are referred to in centuries of literature that came afterward; along with Shakespeare and the Bible, the Greeks are essential background for any modern literature student.
Though morality in the world of The Odyssey bears little resemblance to 21st-century codes of behavior, goodness and courage do win out in this poem, and the gods eventually reward Odysseus for his steadfastness and past heroic deeds.
Positive Role Models
The hero of The Odyssey, Odysseus, occasionally strays from his homeward path, but he always returns to his mission of returning home to his family. He fights his enemies bravely and honors the gods. Odysseus' son, Telemakhos, is also courageous and resolute in his mission to find news of his father out in the world. Odysseus' wife, Penelope, shows cleverness and loyalty when she fools the suitors by unraveling her weaving every night.
Violence & Scariness
The Odyssey contains plenty to offend pacifists and vegetarians. The slaughter and cooking of animals for foods, and for religious sacrifice, is described in detail. Odysseus loses several crewmen to the six-headed monster Scylla, and faces numerous dangerous threats in his journey. When he returns home, he kills the evil suitors with bow and arrows, and with the help of the goddess Athena. The events in The Odyssey take place 10 years after Odysseus fought in the Trojan War. Throughout the poem, Odysseus' achievements as a warrior are recounted.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
There's a degree of implied sex in The Odyssey, as readers know that Odysseus spends long visits with various temptresses, and beautiful young women bathe and adorn men in the book. However, sexual acts are not described in detail.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Lots of wine is consumed by the travelers and the suitors in Ithaca. The suitors are particularly greedy, and they consume much of the wine in Odysseus' cellar while he's away.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that, as the name implies, The Odyssey is an epic poem of journey and discovery. It's an essential book for students of literature and students of Greek history and culture. Because the book recounts not only Odysseus' tumultuous journey home and his son Telemakhos' coming of age but also tales of Odysseus' bravery in the Trojan War, it includes a good deal of violence. There's also some implied sexual activity (though nothing graphic).
Is It Any Good?
The Odyssey isn't just an important book, it's also a very exciting book and a beautiful work of literature. As the popular Percy Jackson series for younger readers attests, kids are fascinated by Greek tales of gods, monsters, and heroes, and The Odyssey is the original Olympian tale. The epic hero, Odysseus, overcomes supernatural creatures and all kinds of magic, thanks to gods warring among themselves. The prose of The Odyssey, while possibly daunting for middle school and younger kids, is worth appreciating with its beautiful, rhythmically repeated images: "grey-eyed Athena," dawn spreading her "fingertips of rose," etc.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.