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On Teaching Homer's Odyssey



The father of Plutarch had him learn his Homer that he might get heroic ideas of life. Had the boy been put through his Homer as a classical grind, as a machine for the development of faculty, a pedant would have come out, and not a man of the world in touch with life at many points, capable of bringing men and affairs to the touchstone of a sane and generous mind.
- Charlotte Mason, Volume 3, p. 152

Plutarch AND Homer in a quote from Charlotte Mason?  Yes, please! And in that quote lies the key to how to go about reading Homer.  Avoid the "classical grind" and keep in mind those "living" goals mentioned - a man of the world in touch with life at many points (science of relations, anyone?) and the ability to bring men and events into correct perspective and the richness of life.

Mason's Parents' Union Schools read The Odyssey (Chapman's translation) over the course of 2 years (8th and 9th grades), covering 4 of the 24 chapters each term.

My favorite teacher resource for The Odyssey.  This little series is excellent!

We have a group of high school students that meets once a month for Chemistry (now Health), Government, Citizenship, Literature, Composition, and a few other subjects.  The assignments and readings are all done at home and we get together to do experiments, share narrations, have conversations, and challenge one another.

We took 6 months to read through The Odyssey.  Here are some of the resources we used and things we did.  First, we read the  Fagle's translation.  Some even used the audio with Ian McKellen reading this translation along with their reading. I had the students fill out this sheet as they went along.  The column labeled "Retelling" was a place to write a reminder of at least one episode from each chapter that they would narrate to the group when we would meet next, which could possibly be 4 weeks later!  The "Chapter/My Title" column was interesting as each student was to give each chapter their own title, other than what the Fagle's translation stated.  That was pretty fun to listen to everyone's take on what was key to the chapter.

Here are some other narrations that we implemented.

1. Write an obituary on a character of your choice.

2. Pick an element of an epic and demonstrate how that was shown in The Odyssey.

3. Draw a picture of a favorite scene.

I think that when we were done, each student had a few new heroic ideas and became more in touch with life at many points.

Warmly,
Nancy
Retelling that I read with youngest daughter.


21 comments:

  1. I was listening to a Circe podcast about Homer this morning - how not to kill him! - avoiding the classical grind, as you put it. So good to read this on the same day!

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  2. Dear Carol,
    Don't you just love it when that happens?! Thanks, I will go look that podcast up.
    Warmly,
    Nancy

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  3. Jemimah and I are reading Fagle's Aeneid this term and loving it. It's certainly not a grind here!

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    1. Glad the both of you are enjoying it, Jeanne!
      Warmly,
      Nancy

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  4. Such a fabulous idea! I'll have to add this to next year's study.

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    1. Thanks, Penny! Let me know how it goes!
      Warmly,
      Nancy

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  5. Excellent article Nancy. Thank you! Charlotte Mason hits the nail on the head again with that Plutarch, Homer quote. And you do also for bringing it to our attention and implementing it so beautifully with your own students. Thanks again. You are an inspiration : )

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    1. Dear Shelley,
      I just love that quote, too! Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I appreciate it!
      Warmly,
      Nancy

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  6. Here is a poem and a song and a movie:On First Looking into Chapman's Homer
    BY JOHN KEATS
    The Weepies: Sirens: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fjQTxyp5Sgw
    Of course, O Brother Where Art Thou (modern take on The Odyssey)

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    1. Excellent enrichment ideas, Bonnie! Thank you as always!
      Fondly,
      Nancy

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  7. I'm reading right about at the same place in Vol. 3 and noticed that quote. Looking forward to digging into to Homer with my children in the future!

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    1. Dear Amy,
      Yes, just another journey we get to do with our kids! So much richness...
      Fondly,
      Nancy

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  8. Excellent timing Nancy as I look ahead to fall with a rising 7th grader, trying to decide on how to approach Homer. I've also been listening the CiRCE podcasts Carol mentioned. Can you share a bit more about how you handled retelling with younger students, namely middle school age? Or at what level did you use a retelling? I have Church's Iliad/Odyssey and Aeneid, as well as Sutcliff's retellings. Do you prefer one over the other? I believe I will start with a retelling in middle school. Then follow-up with Lattimore or Fagles translation in high school. BTW, I will have a 6th and 7th grader in the fall.

    Thanks,
    Melissa

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    1. Hi, Melissa!
      Yes, each of my students had read at least the Sutcliff retelling in 6th - 8th grade. I'm reading it with my 6th grade dd right now. Some of them picked up other retellings that we have on our shelves, but the Sutcliff was just fine, I think. The students in the class I mention we 9-11th grade.
      Warmly,
      Nancy

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    2. That's very helpful Nancy...thank you!

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  10. My students are doing a storyboard on a Century Chart of the journey. We also will look at the art of Romare Bearden : A Black Odyssey. He was born in Charlotte then moved to Harlem. It is a set of 20 collages. "What I tried to is take the elements of African American life . . . and place it in a universal framework." —Romare Bearden, American artist (1911-1988) -:

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  11. I am trying to figure out if The Odyssey would work well on The Way of the Will Chart. What do you think?

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