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Free Study Guide-The Odyssey by Homer-Free Book Notes Summary
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PLOT (Structure)

At a cursory glance, it would seem that The Odyssey has a totally traditional structure. The first four Books are largely expository and expound the themes of the poem. The rising action begins in Book 5 and continues until the climax in Book 22, when Odysseus slays the suitors. The falling action occurs in the next chapter when Odysseus is reunited with Penelope. The final chapter, which was probably added at a date late than the rest of the poem, is the conclusion or denouement. Within this standard framework, however, there are innovations that make this epic different. References to the past repeatedly penetrate the present, especially in Books 9-12, where Odysseus narrates his previous adventures. At these times, the linear narration is not maintained, and the reader learns not only about the events that follow the council of the gods that open the work but also about people and events of the past. Some critics maintain that The Odyssey has a cyclic structure. Books 1-4 are concerned with human drama, Books 5-12 are on a more fabulous, incredible, and exalted scale, and Books 13-24 once again revert to human drama and tell the age-old tale of the hero's return and vengeance.

The Odyssey begins with the traditional invocation to the Muse, after which the story begins. The first four Books emphasize the general plight of Ithaca and the particular plight of Penelope and Telemachus in the absence of Odysseus. They build up the need for Odysseus' return and a growing assurance of it. In Books 5 to 8, the tale of Odysseus' departure from Ogygia and his arrival and welcome in Phaecia are told in the third person with outstanding objectivity. These Books provide a skillful transition to the wonders that are to follow. The events are not yet marvelous.


Odysseus shows his physical prowess by swimming in a rough sea for two days and two nights and his resourcefulness by winning the help of the Phaecian royal family. In Books 9 to 12, the more extravagant actions are told by Odysseus himself. He recounts those adventures in the two years between the fall of Troy and his captivity on Calypso's island. The reader is brought back to the present when Odysseus reaches Ithaca in Book 13. He is disguised as a beggar and stays with Eumaeus, a swineherd. His reunion with his son takes place in Book 16.

Now Homer moves through a series of recognitions, each separate and distinct and marking a step forward. The climax is reached in Book 22, when Odysseus reveals himself to the suitors and proceeds to slay them. The outcome of Odysseus' journey is wrapped up in the last two Books. Penelope and Laertes accept him after initial doubts and the feud between the suitors' kinsmen and Odysseus' supporters is stopped by the gods. There is also another view of the underworld, re-introducing characters from The Iliad. The traditional plot has been elevated to an epic scale by the inclusion of this larger canvas and the mention of other legends and stories outside Odysseus' own.

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