We know that Homer’s The Odyssey is a daunting text, so we’re here to provide some starting points to propel your lesson planning forward. Some might consider the complexity of Odysseus’s journey home an obstacle, but the key is to understand each of the many components as a cool learning opportunity.

The Odyssey plot follows the 17 stages of Joseph Cambell’s Monomyth/The Hero’s Journey (or the more basic 12 stages, adapted by Christopher Vogler). Using this framework for instruction, have students identify the various stages in the context of Homer’s work. This strategy will help you divide up the intimidating text and make it more accessible and engaging. Fortunately, the stages cover all the major conflicts present in The Odyssey—man vs. man, man vs. nature, man vs. self, and man vs. society. (Talk about a journey riddled with struggles!)

To further entice students, compare Odysseus’s journey to that of popular heroic figures in modern literature or film, such as Harry Potter, Frodo Baggins, or Luke Skywalker. Make sure to use Cambell’s stages as a guide, not as a rule; no journey follows the stages perfectly.

Within this timeless epic poem is a world of literary techniques whose effects can be easily examined—in medias res, deus ex machina, digression, static vs. dynamic characters, epic similes, and loads of symbolism, just to name a few. In addition, The Odyssey includes many Greek mythological figures, including Zeus, Athena, and Poseidon, so you might consider a pre-reading lesson that dives into the history, personality, and role of each Greek god or goddess. In short, there is plenty to explore during Odysseus’s epic travels. Clear a nice, big time block in your syllabus, for sure, though.

Below, learn more about teaching The Odyssey.

Summary of The Odyssey

Key Facts

The Odyssey chronicles the long-winded epic journey of war hero Odysseus, who is returning home after the Trojan War. Unfortunately for Odysseus (but perhaps fortunately for reader entertainment purposes), he runs into abundant obstacles, including imprisonment, death-defying storms, Cyclopes, drugs, Sirens, and threats of the Underworld. He eventually returns home, in disguise, to win back his wife Penelope.

Content Warning: The Odyssey contains some sexual content.

What Your Students Will Love About The Odyssey

  • The epic thrills and adventures
  • Odysseus’s comparability to modern literary heroes

Potential Student Struggles With The Odyssey

  • Boy, is it a dense text!
  • The old English translation

Learning Objectives for The Odyssey

  • Explain how The Odyssey fits the definition of an epic poem and how Odysseus can be characterized as an epic hero.
  • Diagram the plot of The Odyssey in the context of 17 Stages of Cambell’s Monomyth.
  • Identify the four major conflicts (man vs. man, man vs. nature, man vs. self, man vs. society) throughout the text.
  • Understand the symbolic significance of the sea, Laertes’s shroud, Odysseus’s bow, and Odysseus’s home.
  • Compare the roles and values of epic heroes to those of modern heroes.
  • Differentiate between static and dynamic characters.
  • Discuss oral tradition, specifically why ancient civilians repeated stories.

Literary Elements in The Odyssey

  • Allusion
  • Anthromorphism
  • Conflict
  • Deus ex machina
  • Epix simile
  • Epithet
  • Foreshadowing
  • In medias res
  • Omen
  • Symbolism
  • And more!

Major Themes in The Odyssey

HospitalityXenia, the Ancient Greek term for the guest-host relationship, is a keystone in this society. The Odyssey offers examples of both good and pretty terrible hospitality.

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Loyalty — Various characters in the text demonstrate that loyalty holds great significance in this ancient society, and that disloyalty yields grave consequences.

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Vengeance — Poseidon seeks revenge by punishing Odysseus for blinding the Cyclops, Poseidon’s son.

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Other Resources for The Odyssey

Order The Odyssey Resources from Prestwick House

Resource Format
The Odyssey Paperback Student Edition
The Odyssey Teaching Unit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
The Odyssey AP Teaching Unit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
The Odyssey Activity Pack Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
The Odyssey Response Journal Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
The Odyssey Complete Teacher's Kit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set