Greek kingship – Kingship was determined not by birth but by acclaim, superior wealth and achievement. No one is automatically the next king in Ithaca, even if he does marry Penelope; however, the position would help.
Hospitality/Courtesy – Hospitality was crucial to the ancient Greeks. As sailors and travelers through wild countries, they depended on strangers. They might ask to be hosted, fed and given gifts as guests. At same time, they might raid, kill, steal, & kidnap women. Odysseus does both.
Magical elements – Prophecies were common elements in Greek tales; they often lend irony to a story, as a character does not realize a prophecy is coming true until it has happened. Curses were also common; an effective curse required clearly identifying the offender – as by name and home – so the gods could find and punish him. Oaths, as in promises, were absolutely binding; breaking them would be punished by the gods.
Athena’s fury with the Achaeans – Athena was enraged when an Achaean man named Ajax (not the famous one) tried to rape Trojan King Priam’s daughter Cassandra, who had taken refuge in Athena’s temple. When the Achaeans failed to punish Ajax, Athena sent storm winds that kept them from going home. Ajax was killed; Menelaus wandered for 7 years, and Odysseus for 10. When the Odyssey opens, Athena is on Odysseus’s side; this change is not explained. Probably, she felt he’d paid his debt to her.
Helen – The Trojan War happened because Menelaus called all his Greek allies (Greece was not all one country yet) to help get back his wife and the many treasures stolen by Paris. Did Helen go willingly with Paris? Not likely. Paris chose Aphrodite as the most beautiful goddess, (angering Athena and Hera, by the way) and the goddess promised to get him Helen. Some sources think Helen wanted to go with him, but others describe it as abduction and rape. Maybe Aphrodite magicked Helen to go with Paris, and this magic later wore off.
Agamemnon’s story – Agamemnon’s family history is a tangle of betrayal and murder; read Wikipedia’s article on him and click over to Aegisthus, Clytemnestra, and Orestes to get sufficient background to discuss this in class. Major facts: he sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia and came home from Troy with a princess-concubine, Cassandra; he was murdered by Aegisthus, possibly working with Clytemnestra, possibly by his wife alone; later, Orestes murdered both Aegisthus and Clytemnestra in revenge. Note that Homer does not include a complete account of Agamemnon’s complicated history; nor does he say that Orestes killed his mother, although she is dead. (Interestingly, this mythical story may be an account of patriarchy taking over and supplanting a matriarchal tradition. We probably won’t get to talk about this in class, but if you are interested, ask me sometime after school.) Why is he important? First, because this was a really famous story; second, because Telemachus is told over and over how he might compare to Orestes, and the implication is that his mother could be like Clytemnestra.