How Far is Odysseus Responsible for the Suffering of his Men?

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This essay question comes from OCR's Classical Civilisation A-Level Paper "Homer's Odyssey and Society" 2014.

In the exam you need to spend about 45 minutes answering this question. I would advocate spending approximately 10 minutes planning. If you know what you are going to write it will be faster and better structured than if you make it up as you go along.

1. READ the question and the guidance for answering it. When examiners give you advice the best thing that you can do is to take it. It shows that they are expecting/looking for a particular style of answer. In this question you are given the following help:

- consider what happens to Odysseus' men during their travels

- discuss the extent to which Odysseus is to blame for their hardships

- support your answer with evidence from the Odyssey

2. THINK of a handful of examples of things that happen to Odysseus' men. Make a list of them in rough. Remember that the questions asks about their suffering, not just death, so take that into account when choosing your examples.

3. Try to think of general and more specific examples:

Book 9: Odysseus' men are capitvated by the Lotus Flowers

Book 9: Odysseus and his men are trapped in the Cyclops' cave and many of them die

Book 10: Odysseus' men are transformed into pigs by Circe

Book 10: Elpenor dies by falling off a roof

Book 10: Odysseus is given the bag of winds by Aeolus

Book 12: Odysseus and his men successfully pass the Sirens

Book 12: Odysseus and his men pass Scylla and Charybdis with some loss of life

Book 12: Odysseus' men kill the Sun God's cattle on Thrinacie

4. Now go through your examples and decide who is to blame for the suffering in each one.

Book 9: Odysseus did not know about the Lotus Eaters and could not have stopped his men from eating the fruit. He caused them suffering by taking them away but did it to save their lives.

Book 9: Odysseus refused to listen to his men when they were reluctant to go into the cave and wait for the owner. He wanted to receive guest friendship, showing that he valued glory above his companions. Again when they left the island he did not listen to them and shouted out his name to boast of his achievements. As a direct result of this Poseidon knew who he was and could punish him

Book 10: Odysseus' men were deceived by Circe in Odysseus' absence. Once he knew what had happened to them he found a way to rescue them without anyone dying.

Book 10: Elpenor should not have got so drunk that he fell off the roof. However, he was one of Odysseus' men so did Odysseus have a responsibility to make sure that he was safe after he did get drunk?

Book 10: Odysseus did not trust his men enough to tell them what was in the bag. Should he have trusted them more? If he had a right to keep his secret should his men have tried harder to control their temptation?

Book 12: Odysseus successfully gets his men past the Sirens and gets glory in the process for suriving their song. He protected them from danger.

Book 12: Odysseus did not have to navigate Scylla and Charybdis at all - he could have gone by the clashing rocks like the Argo, but this would not bring him glory because it was not new. He might have saved them all by avoiding Scylla and Charybdis when he knew that at least 6 of his men would die.

Book 12: Odysseus' men directly disobeyed him by killing the cattle. He did not want to land on the island at all but was persauded. Should he have been more assertive towards his men?

5. Once you have your examples and have analysed them you are ready to start writing. It is up to you how to structure your essay, but make sure that you get in all your evidence.

REMEMBER: it doesn't matter whether you argue that Odysseus was to blame, or his men, or indeed both. The examiners want to see that you can make a decision based on evidence from the text and then explain that decision clearly.

- In your introduction say who you think is the most responsible for the suffering of Odysseus' men.

- Then give the evidence that supports that point of view.

- Acknowledge evidence to the contrary and explain why it is less important or convincing

- Conclude by reiterating how the evidence proves your point.

Amy D. A Level Classical Greek tutor, A Level Classical Civilisation ...

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is an online A Level Classical Civilisation tutor with MyTutor studying at Oxford, The Queen's College University

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