For many students, the Odyssey is the first, sometimes the only, work of ancient literature they read. How can teachers use this text as an opportunity to open students’ minds to the possibilities of exploring and engaging with ancient myth, history, and literature? How, too, can students better learn about the cultures and values of pre-modern Greek-speakers, which were utterly different from those of modernity, as well as fascinatingly similar in surprising ways? The Odyssey is also, for many, the first (sometimes only) long epic poem they study. In this class, we’ll talk about how to engage students in conversations about narrative and poetic form, considering the complexities of this poem’s approach to its own story. We’ll explore how teachers might move beyond the common framing of the poem in terms of “the hero’s journey” to engage more deeply with its diverse cast of characters and wide range of narrative perspectives. We’ll discuss how to frame conversations about the poem’s themes that feel particularly resonant with major issues in the modern US, such as immigration, xenophobia, colonialism, mass killings, trauma and the legacy of long foreign wars, deception, false rhetoric and conspiracy, rage and gendered violence. We’ll also consider themes that often resonate in personal ways with young readers’ own lives, such as a broken family.
Emily Wilson is a professor in the department of classical studies and chair of the program in comparative literature and literary theory at the University of Pennsylvania; she is the College for Women Class of 1963 Term Professor in the Humanities. Her books include Mocked with Death: Tragic Overliving from Sophocles to Milton; The Death of Socrates: Hero, Villain, Chatterbox, Saint; and The Greatest Empire: A Life of Seneca. She is the classics editor of the revised Norton Anthology of World Literature. Her verse translations include Six Tragedies of Seneca; four translations of plays by Euripides in the Modern Library, The Greek Plays; Oedipus Tyrannos; and the Odyssey. She also edited a volume on Ancient Tragedy for Bloomsbury Cultural Histories. A Rome Prize fellow, a MacArthur fellow, and a Guggenheim fellow, she is currently working on a new translation of the Iliad.