The Odyssey of Homer

Rated 3 out of 5 by from Lacking illustrations Once again, the Great Courses fails to take advantage of the ability to illustrate the subject. The most glaring example comes in the last lecture. Instead of just talking about Schliemann's "excavations" at Troy - a big ditch plowed through the hill - there should be a picture of it. The Lion Gate at Mycenae is "famous", but how any people taking this course have actually seen it? Few, I'll wager. Same goes for the "Mask of Priam" or the "Diadem of Helen". To go a step farther, the Odyssey had a massive impact on art. Collier's "Clymenestra", Poynter's "Helen", Waterhouse's "Circe" and "Circe Invidiosa", Mackennal's bronze statue "Circe", to name just a few. Failure to use this visual material is just plain laziness.
Date published: 2021-03-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very Enjoyable I listened to this course while pairing the lectures to a reading of Homer's The Odyssey. Doing this allowed me to notice and to consider elements that I may have missed by reading the classic by itself. I really appreciated the inciteful commentary and the professor's knowledge and enthusiasm of the subject was evident. My only criticism was that the lectures were limited to The Odyssey as literature, but did not explore it as a classic. What makes this work a classic? What impact did this work have on Western thought, culture, art? What is the relevance and applicability of The Odyssey today? I would have like to hear the professors thoughts on these subjects. Nonetheless, I did enjoy the lessons and I would certainly recommend the course to others.
Date published: 2021-02-05
Rated 2 out of 5 by from We Need Much More Than A Plot Discussion Two many of the literature Great Courses, such as this one, are primarily recitations of plots. I can get that from many good online sources for free. This course, for example, should have discussed why the Odyssey is a classic. Does it still belong in high school courses? Why? How did it impact history? Art? Other literature? How has its reception changed over time?
Date published: 2021-01-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great overview I enjoyed the course completely. My only criticism is that I would have liked it to be longer with more readings from the actual epic. But what was covered was well presented and very interesting.
Date published: 2020-07-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Absolutely Sensational Commentary I had the Iliad, so I know how great professor Elizabeth Vandiver is. While buying the Iliad, the salesperson suggested the Odyssey at $15, and I told him I had read the Odyssey nine times and while driving around the country visited bookstores all over the place. I had simply read every piece of commentary back to the 1950s and Moses Finley who offered that the Trojan War was a mass-metals raid. I guess I am old. When the salesperson said, “You must know more than the professor,“ I began to feel queasy, but still declined the course. While buying Elizabeth Vandiver’s course on the Aeneid for help with Dante, I accepted the salesperson’s suggestion of the Odyssey for $20. (When I got the history course, Hitler’s Empire 2nd Edition, I had read every single entry in the bibliography, and nothing he said was new. The main draw to the course was watching a university history professor in action and the cogency of the examples he selected.) When the Odyssey arrived, I was shocked senseless that I didn’t recognize a single entry in the bibliography, the first place I go to in these courses, to the guidebook. And during her six hours with this work she managed to break new ground. Mostly for me, she was connecting dots I had already known, but very effectively. If I could give this course 1000 stars I would give it 1000 stars. This course is sheer joy—the quality of her voice, her perfectly paced enunciation, and her most profound insights, of course if you agree with me that the Odyssey is the most wonderful story of all time.
Date published: 2020-06-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Couldn’t push the stop button A pleasure to hear the Professor. She guides you all the way.
Date published: 2020-06-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent This is an excellent course - fast-paced and well-presented. Prof. Vandiver proves to be the perfect choice; she knows her subject, moves it along in a way that leaves you wanting to enjoy more, and injects humour where appropriate. I've not got a great attention span at all but I watched 2.5 hours of lectures in one go and only stopped temporarily there because it was late at night. I've got her course on The Iliad and can't wait to enjoy that too. Her university students are exceptionally lucky to have her.
Date published: 2020-03-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Odyssey, briefly done My purpose in the offering purchase was to quickly review the "Odyssey", themes and plots, before delving into the "Ulysses by James Joyce" Great Courses offering. I read Ulysses way many years ago, with insufficient background, and was mystified and knew some day I'd be in for a reread. So as a viewing experience, Prof Vandiver was a gifted presenter with an obvious great love of Greek classics. I was going to give a 4 star, not five, because there is no CC on the DVD or streaming, and the resources are just the Guidebook (early TGC 1999); however, I was able to manage due mainly to the clarity of presentation, so 5. As a quick review and synopsis, Prof Vandiver met my goals. Great presenter and presentation, with great language context and summary of the Greek culture of Homer, and the way of the bards like Homer. Prof Vandiver notes that the problems with a male dominated, hierarchical domination society were there, and are grounds for current day discussion issues (and critique, like Joyce's Ulysses). My grandchildren may also benefit. I've had nieces and nephews who have seriously questioned why "hard to understand" Homer was on their reading list. The explanation that Homer prompted some of the earliest (and difficult) composition programs in history at the ramp up of the human written language experience sometimes works. That the Trojan war has inspired countless innovative written adaptations (like Ulysses), is the source of so many of our cultural ideas (like, the Trojan horse), and has prompted many movies usually seals the deal.
Date published: 2020-01-27
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The Odyssey of Homer
Course Trailer
Heroes' Homecomings
1: Heroes' Homecomings

After an overview of the background story, we examine the difference between a kleos epic such as The Iliad, with its primary focus on glory, and a nostos epic such as The Odyssey, which deals with homecoming. We then examine The Odyssey's own complicated chronology and plot.

33 min
Guests and Hosts
2: Guests and Hosts

This lecture defines and examines xenia, guest-host relations, which is a key concept in The Odyssey. How does xenia permeate the first four books of The Odyssey and affect our understanding of Telemachos and the suitors? Why does Homer continually evoke Agamemnon's story as a parallel to that of Odysseus? What drives Telemachos?

31 min
A Goddess and a Princess
3: A Goddess and a Princess

In this lecture, we examine the first appearance of Odysseus, in Book V, and his interaction with Kalypso and later the Phaiakian princess Nausikaa. The lecture focuses on the rhetorical skills of Odysseus, and on his desire to return home and re-establish his own identity. Finally, we discuss the ongoing thematic importance of xenia.

31 min
Odysseus among the Phaiakians
4: Odysseus among the Phaiakians

We see Odysseus as bard, relating a narrative of his adventures to his Phaiakian hosts. These lead us to ponder key themes of xenia and glory. We ask whether The Odyssey handles the latter theme the same way The Iliad does. Book IX brings us to the famous encounter with the Cyclops.

31 min
Odysseus Tells His Own Story
5: Odysseus Tells His Own Story

We continue following Odysseus's retelling of his "Great Wanderings." His encounter with Circe raises the issue of the sexual double standard in Homer. Finally, the lecture looks at the first half of the pivotal episode in the Great Wanderings, Odysseus's sojourn among the dead in Hades.

31 min
From Persephone's Land to the Island of Helios
6: From Persephone's Land to the Island of Helios

We note how Odysseus tailors his Hades narrative to his Phaiakian audience. A question has always troubled readers of Homer: Is Odysseus telling the truth?

29 min
The Goddess, the Swineherd, and the Beggar
7: The Goddess, the Swineherd, and the Beggar

This lecture begins our study of the second half of The Odyssey by discussing the change in pace and subject matter in the Ithakan books. From Book XIII onward, the pace is much slower, and the challenges Odysseus faces are very different from those we have seen earlier. The lecture looks in detail at Odysseus's arrival on Ithaka and the situation he finds there.

30 min
Reunion and Return
8: Reunion and Return

Books XVI and XVII include Odysseus's reunion with Telemachos, and his entry, disguised as a beggar, into the royal court of Ithaka. Throughout the poet stresses how hard Odysseus must strive to conceal his emotions during a series of encounters. Each encounter reiterates Odysseus's supreme self-control and moves him closer to the tremendous danger and difficulty that await him in his own palace.

29 min
Odysseus and Penelope
9: Odysseus and Penelope

In Book XIX we hear two lengthy conversations between the disguised Odysseus and Penelope that are separated by a scene in which Odysseus's old nurse recognizes him. We look at the significance of Odysseus's name, and then at the great enigma of whether Penelope recognizes the ragged beggar.

30 min
Recognitions and Revenge
10: Recognitions and Revenge

Books XX to XXII recount the "contest of the bow," Odysseus's revelation of his identity to the loyal slaves Eumaios and Philoitios, and the slaughter of the suitors. We continue to ask what Penelope knows, and what motives drive her, and then ask: Were Odysseus's slaughter of the suitors and the disloyal slave woman justified?

31 min
Reunion and Resolution
11: Reunion and Resolution

The final lecture on The Odyssey turns to the final reunion of Odysseus and Penelope in Book XXIII, and to resolve several themes in Book XXIV. The lecture analyzes the tremendous symbolic and narrative significance of Odysseus's and Penelope's marriage bed. Finally, we look at Book XXIV and discuss whether The Odyssey's conclusion is an effective one.

31 min
The Trojan War and the Archaeologists
12: The Trojan War and the Archaeologists

What can history and archaeology tell us about the Trojan War? We examine the famous 19th-century excavations of Heinrich Schliemann and touch on some of the controversies he left behind. Finally, we trace the discoveries made by more recent excavators.

30 min
Elizabeth Vandiver

I think many of the stories that we tell ourselves as a society–the stories that encode our hopes, aspirations, and fears–preserve the traces of classical culture and myth and are part of our classical legacy.


University of Texas, Austin


Whitman College

About Elizabeth Vandiver

Dr. Elizabeth Vandiver is Professor of Classics and Clement Biddle Penrose Professor of Latin at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington. She was formerly Director of the Honors Humanities program at the University of Maryland at College Park, where she also taught in the Department of Classics. She completed her undergraduate work at Shimer College and went on to earn her MA and PhD from The University of Texas at Austin.

Prior to taking her position at Maryland, she held visiting professorships at Northwestern University, the University of Georgia, the Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies in Rome, Loyola University of New Orleans, and Utah State University.

In 1998, The American Philological Association recognized her achievements as a lecturer with its Excellence in Teaching Award, the most prestigious teaching prize given to American classicists. In 2013 she received Whitman College's G. Thomas Edwards Award for Excellence in Teaching and Scholarship. Her other awards include the Northwestern University Department of Classics Excellence in Teaching Award and two University of Georgia Outstanding Honors Professor Awards.

Professor Vandiver is the author of Stand in the Trench, Achilles: Classical Receptions in British Poetry of the Great War and Heroes in Herodotus: The Interaction of Myth and History. She has also written numerous articles and has delivered many papers at national and international conferences.

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