A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What 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).
What's the story?
When THE ODYSSEY begins, the heroic warrior, Odysseus, has been missing for 10 years, and dozens of greedy suitors are camped out in his house in Ithaca, courting his wife, Penelope, eating his meat and drinking his wine. Odysseus' son, Telemakhos wants to take his place as head of the household, but he is too young and inexperienced to rule over the suitors and he doesn't know if his father is coming home. With the help of the goddess Athena (who disguises herself as a family friend), Telemakhos embarks on a journey of discovery where he meets people who have known his father, and learns a great deal about Odysseus and about himself. Meanwhile, Odysseus is still trying to sail home from the wars; he must overcome numerous supernatural obstacles before he can reclaim his home and family.
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.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why Telemakhos' journey is important. What does he learn about his father and about himself?
How do the Greek gods compare with modern ideas of god and religion?
What other books have you read that involve a long, arduous journey? Are any of them similar to The Odyssey?
Why do you think The Odyssey is required reading for so many high school students?
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