A Long and Difficult Journey, or The Odyssey: Crash Course Literature 201

Hi, I’m John Green, welcome to
Crash Course Literature! You can tell I’m an English teacher because I’m wearing a sweater, but you tell I’m the kind of English teacher who wants to be your friend because I’m wearing awesome sneakers. This is actually season two of
Crash Course Literature. If you want to watch season one, you can
do so over here. It’s season four of Crash Course Humanities –
it might even be like, season 7 or 8 if you count
all the science stuff. Whatever let’s just get started! [Theme Music] We’re going to start at the beginning of literature,
or, at least, a beginning of literature. Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the
story of a man who lets all his shipmates die, lies to everyone he meets, cheats on his
wife with assorted nymphs, and takes 10 years to complete a voyage that, according to Google Maps, should have taken 2 weeks. That man is, of course, one of the great
heroes of the ancient world. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Odysseus,
star of Homer’s The Odyssey. Did I just say the odd at sea? That’s a good pun.
Not in the original Greek though. Now everyone knows that you can’t properly
enjoy a book until you know a lot about its author, so before we discuss The Odyssey, we’re going to begin with a biographical sketch of Homer, the legendary blind poet of ancient Greece. What’s that? Apparently we know nothing about him. Well, in fact we know that whoever wrote them didn’t actually write them, because they were composed orally. And was Homer even blind? Well, there are some verses about blindness in the Homeric Hymns and there’s a blind bard who appears in The Odyssey, But if authors only wrote about characters
who were like themselves, then James Joyce’s characters would have all had one eye, and I would
be an astonishingly handsome seventeen-year-old. As for the subject of Homer’s poems, archeological
evidence tells us that the Trojan War occurred around the twelfth century BCE, although it
probably included far fewer gods and similes
than in the epics based on it. Then again, maybe not;
it’s not like we have pictures. Anyway, Homer composed The Iliad and
The Odyssey in the eighth century BCE,
so centuries after the events it describes. And then no one bothered to write them
down for another 200 years, which means that they probably changed a lot
as they were passed down via the oral tradition, and even today there are arguments about
which parts are original and which parts are additions. There were a lot of competing poems about the
Trojan War, but Homer’s were by far the most famous, and they are now the most famous
because they were also the only ones to survive
the burning of the Library at Alexandria. So The Iliad and The Odyssey are epic poems,
and we define an epic as “a long narrative poem; on a serious subject; written in a grand or
elevated style; centered on a larger-than-life hero.” By the way, that was an example of dactylic
hexameter, just like you see in epic poems. So the events of The Odyssey take place
after those of The Iliad, so let’s have a brief
recap Thought Bubble. So Helen, the wife of Menelaus, runs off with Paris, a Trojan prince; or maybe she’s abducted, it’s not clear. Anyway, Menelaus’s brother Agamemnon gathers
allies and goes to Troy to get her back, but the war
drags on for ten years. At which point everyone is really tired and
bored and wants to go home, until things suddenly get pretty tense because Agamemnon seizes a concubine of Achilles’ and Achilles gets really angry and says he won’t fight anymore. And things go really badly for the Greeks
until Patroclus – Achilles’ best friend and
maybe also lover, it’s not clear – goes into battle in his place and does a pretty awesome job until he’s slain by Hector, the Trojans’ great warrior. Which forces Achilles to reconcile himself
with his own mortality, and return to the field where he becomes
the ultimate death-dealing machine, slaying hordes of Trojans including Hector,
whose body he drags behind his chariot
because that’s how Achilles rolls, until Hector’s father, Priam, comes and
begs for his son’s corpse and Achilles relents and they have dinner together, and then the book ends
with the war still going on and nothing really resolved. And that’s The Iliad. When The Odyssey opens, it’s 10 years
later, and everyone is already back home
except for Odysseus. His son Telemachus and his wife Penelope
don’t know if he’s dead or alive, but Homer
reveals that he’s on the Isle of Ogygia. Imprisoned by the nymph Calypso, who’s so hot for Odysseus even though he pends his days laying on the beach and crying that she won’t let him go. But finally the gods intervene and after a series of adventures and a whole lot of backstory he finally returns home to Ithaca in disguise, and kills several dozen suitors who have been
drinking all of his wine, eating his beeves, annoying
his wife and plotting to kill his son. And it seems like a cycle of violence is just
going to continue on, probably forever, until the goddess Athena who loves Odysseus
intervenes and restores peace. The end. Thanks, Thought Bubble. So, some of the big
questions around The Odyssey are Odysseus’
heroic characteristics, the epic’s double standard for women, and whether
you can ever actually stop a cycle of violence. Odysseus hardly appears in The Iliad and he’s not a particularly great fighter; in fact, he’s a pretty sleazy guy. He leads a night raid into the enemy
camp and kills a bunch of sleeping Trojans. That’s not particularly glorious. But it is typical of Odysseus, who will pretty
much do whatever it takes to survive. I mean, his distinguishing quality is metis,
which means skill, or cunning. Odysseus is smart; he’s really smart. I mean, he’s an incredibly persuasive speaker and he can talk his way out of the stickiest of situations, even ones
that involve, like, Cyclopses. He’s also kind of a monster of self-interest, and if he weren’t so smug and overconfident he might have gotten home in less than, you know, like, a gajllion years. The best example of this is probably Odysseus’
encounter with the Cyclops. So Odysseus and his men land on the
island of the Cyclops, and he and several of his guys settle into the Cyclops’ cave, feasting on the delicious goat cheese that the Cyclops has hoarded, and then, expecting the Cyclops to return
and offer them gifts, because that’s what you
do when someone breaks into your house. I mean yes, there was an ancient Greek tradition
of hospitality, but that’s taking it pretty far; and for the record, it’s also pretty much
exactly what the suitors are doing in Odysseus’
house, for which he kills them. So the Cyclops comes home and he’s so thoroughly
not psyched about these guys in his cave that he begins to eat them, and in response
Odysseus gets the Cyclops drunk and then
blinds him with a flaming spear, which is fairly easy to do because of
course he only has one eye. Odysseus has given his name as Noman,
so when the Cyclops cries out, “No man is hurting me! No man is killing me!” the other Cyclopes don’t come to his aide, because you know they think there’s no man hurting him. It’s a pun. It’s a blindingly good pun. But then when it seems like Odysseus might get away
with it, he can’t tolerate the idea that “no man” is going to get the credit so he announces his actual name, causing the Cyclops to call down curses on him, which culminates in all of his men being killed. Just as a rule of thumb, you do not want to
be friends with Odysseus, and you also don’t
want to be his enemy. Just stay away. So Odysseus is a trickster and a liar and
a pirate and a serial adulterer, and he’s responsible for the death of a lot
of people, and he also has probably the worst
sense of direction in all of Greek literature. But is he a hero?
Yes. To the Greeks, heroism didn’t mean perfection, it meant that you had an extraordinary attribute or ability, and Odysseus definitely does. It’s not for nothing that he’s the favorite of
Athena, the goddess of wisdom. I mean, she applauds all of his tricks and stratagems, and she encourages us to applaud them too, even though from our contemporary perspective, he’s a pretty shady dude. Speaking of contemporary perspective,
one of Odysseus’ least stellar qualities is his
attitude toward women. He’s really big on this sexual double standard in which the exact same behavior types women as sluts and men as studs. Actually the whole epic in general is incredibly—wait, why is my desk moving? Oh, the secret compartment is open.
It must be time for the open letter. What have we got today? Well, it’s Medusa, a
representation of woman as a monstrous serpent. An open letter to the patriarchy: how are
you so incredibly resilient? Also, please explain something to me: How is it that the only way for someone
to become like a good heroic strong man
is to have sex with lots of women, but if a woman has sex with lots of men,
she’s like tainted and impure and horrible? Patriarchy, I don’t want to get too deeply into math but in order for men to have sex with a lot of women, a lot of women have to have sex with men. That’s it, that’s the only way, patriarchy! So basically you’re saying that the only way
for men to achieve manliness is for women
to fail at womanliness! It’s bad! Actually, it’s evil! I hate you!
Best wishes, John Green. Yeah, so the whole epic is incredibly paranoid
about female sexuality. I mean the story that haunts The Odyssey is that of Agamemnon, the leader of the Achaeans, who returns victorious from the war, only to be murdered by his wife
and her lover. And then when they meet in the underworld, Agamemnon’s ghost warns Odysseus that he better come home in secret because Penelope might try and have him killed too. And the misogyny doesn’t end there; I mean this is a book full of monsters, and,
Cyclops aside, a lot of them are female; like the Sirens who lure men too their deaths,
or Scylla, who’s basically an octopus with teeth. And then of course there’s Charybdis,
a hole that sucks men to their doom. You can explore the Freudian implications of that
one over at Crash Course Psychology. Meanwhile Odysseus sleeps with like every
manner of magical lady and nearly marries
an island princess, but he assures us that he was always true
to his wife “in his heart.” Which is nice, but it would be even nicer
if he were true to his wife in his pants. Stan, who is ever the stickler for historical
accuracy, would like me to acknowledge that Odysseus didn’t wear pants because they
weren’t a thing in Greece yet, so he wasn’t true to his wife in like his toga or his loincloth
or whatever. Anyway, even as he’s sleeping around,
Odysseus is incredibly concerned with whether
or not Penelope is chaste. If she isn’t, he’ll likely kill her. After all, he later executes all the
housemaids for sleeping with the suitors,
and he’s not even married to them. The epic seems like it’s building to a
climactic scene wherein Odysseus is going
to test Penelope’s faithfulness, but instead it’s Penelope who tests Odysseus. When he reveals himself to her, she
doesn’t recognize him. She forces him to prove himself by speaking the secret of their marriage bed, and only then does she embrace
him in one of the most beautiful lines in all of Homer: “And so she too rejoiced, her gaze upon her husband,
her white arms round him pressed as though forever.” Some ancient commentators believed the poem
should end right there like any good romance would, with Odysseus and Penelope blissfully
reunited, but it doesn’t. See Odysseus and a couple of his friends, with a big assist from Athena, have slaughtered all the suitors, and the serving maids, and that’s a problem,
because this isn’t The Iliad. They aren’t at war. The Iliad is a poem of war, and it’s
main concern is kleos, which means glory or renown achieved on the battlefield that guarantees
you a kind of immortality because your deeds are so amazing that everyone’s going to
sing about you forever. Achilles didn’t get to go home.
He had two choices: he could stay and fight and win glory, or he
could go home and live a long and quiet life. In The Iliad, Achilles went for glory. But The Odyssey is about the alternative. It’s about what we do after a war,
how we put war away. Odysseus isn’t particularly good at this. He’s sort of an ancient example of Post
Traumatic Stress Disorder. He’s been through so much that he
doesn’t know how to adjust to peacetime; his response to young men taking over his dining hall and barbecuing all of his pigs is mass slaughter. And the slaughter of the suitors leads to their relatives coming to try to slaughter Odysseus, and if Athena
hadn’t descended from Olympus, conveniently, and put a stop to it, pretty soon there would
have been no one left on Ithaca alive. And that’s a sobering final thought: if it weren’t for divine intervention, the humans in this story might have continued that cycle of violence
forever. The Odyssey is a poem set in peacetime, but it reminds us that humans have never been particularly good at leaving war behind them. Next week we’ll be discussing another story
with lots of sex and violence and Greeks: Oedipus. Thanks for watching. I’ll see you
then. Crash Course is made with the help of all
of these nice people and it is brought to you today by Crash Course viewer and Subbable
subscriber Damian Shaw. Damian wants to say thanks for all your support to Bryonie, Stew,
Peter, Morgan and Maureen. And today’s video is cosponsored by Max Loutzenheiser and Katy
Cocco. Thank you so much for subscribing on Subbable and supporting Crash Course so we
can keep making it free for everyone forever. You can help the show continue and grow at
Subbable.com. Thank you for watching, and as we say in my hometown, don’t forget to
be awesome.

100 Replies to “A Long and Difficult Journey, or The Odyssey: Crash Course Literature 201

  1. Thank you teacher. I have read lot's of texts about Odysseyes, and I love all them. I also had the chance to read Dante and the passage where he meets Ulisse in hell. I love my name and the stories about Ulysses.

  2. "Achilles didn't get to go home" – I'm not sure this is quite right. Achilles had every opportunity to go home, and that's exactly what he planned to do, as he told the embassy in book 9. He spoke of exactly that choice, of dying in battle and achieving κλέος or going home and living a long life, and he chose the latter. So, yes, he did go for glory in the end, but I don't think it's as straightforward as Achilles in the Iliad being all about κλέος, as he outright rejects going back into battle, at least until Patroclus is killed by Hector.

  3. A brilliant video but I've always felt it is but a single reading and PoV of the epic that doesn't really do justice to the deeper human experiences and thoughts behind it. It can (and probably should) be read with the understanding of what all their experiences have done to the characters. Odysseus is a survivor of a bloody and vicious war that lasted 10 years, which he never really wanted to take part in; he has seen and heard nothing of his kingdom and more importantly his family in 20 years due to a combination of horrid luck, the grudge of a god and the failings of his ego and that of his crew, on occasion. But that's the point — Odysseus' own arrogance is what starts his troubles on a grander scale and he suffers the full consequences of it as expected of Greek tradition of heroes. That's his tragedy, that he allows his arrogance to get the better of him. But there is a problem in this interpretation of 'self-interest'. For the ancient Greeks, one's legacy was an extremely important thing. The desire to be remembered and spoken of through deeds is one of the core concepts of ancient Greek ethos and explains the often apparently arrogant behavior of heroes. It's important not to dismiss that out of hand without considering that — we're talking about works that were written almost millennia ago and express the hopes and expectations of very different cultures and outlooks. Our morality is not their morality, but their morality has colored ours. It's healthy to comprehend the great differences between them and us. Odysseus may seem sleazy to us today, but for the time this epic was written and retold, he was remarkably forward and a model for human outlook.

    Regarding the Cyclops and suitors thing — Both of them break the sacred tradition of xenia that includes EXCHANGING gifts with their host. The Cyclops refuses to honor the xenia and in fact declares he does not even care for the gods and their wrath and starts EATING the men so Odysseus is justified in his actions — after all he's trying to save the rest of his men! He BROUGHT a gift for the Cyclops, the wine sack he uses to get him drunk in order to blind him. And as for the suitors, they ALSO break the xenia by ABUSING the hospitality of Odysseus' home, being disrespectful to his name and moreso his wife who doesn't even want them there and they plot to kill his son! They offer nothing in exchange but lies and cruelty and death.

    "He cheated on his wife with nymphs!" you'll say, but you probably haven't read what happens to people who say no to the gods and neither Circe nor Calypso were little nobody nymphs, they were potent and respected deities in their own right and Odysseus is but a man who by the time he meets them, has already pissed off one god by going against him. I doubt he was in the mood to say no to others. And then he gets home to find his house and family besieged by a bunch of layabouts who spend time conspiring how to divide his wealth amongst them, force his wife into marriage and KILL HIS SON. Reading the epic from a good translation and keeping in mind the subtexts grants the Odyssey a level of emotional maturity not found in the Iliad or other epics, where everything is about the great deeds. The Odyssey is really about the unspoken consequences of these great deeds and how they affect both the people who do them, and those around them. It also exemplifies how open with their emotions the ancient Greeks were — a lot of emotional outbursts and crying and weeping happens from both men and women. These people felt things keenly and expressed them openly with none of the toxic bottling we often see today.

    And on the matter of Odysseus seen as 'sleazy' — this is 100% the Roman influence. The Romans loathed the hero with the fire of a thousand suns as their hypocritical honor somehow was offended by the concept of a man using his wits and genius to get the upper hand in hopeless situations or swaying things to his favor. The Greeks on the other hand saw this as a greatness of mind, which frankly it is! He's a trickster hero and the Romans made sure to vilify that and keep that streak in every culture affected by them since.

  4. I prefer the Fitzgerald translation of "Nohbdy" rather than "Noman" because I think it makes the joke funnier…

  5. why does it get blue pill from about 6minutes on? you're not going to get a female by supplicating to gynocentrism, idiot

  6. “Oh I wanna be a nurse”

    “Ok before you become a nurse tell me about the odyssey ?”

    Like fr 😂 why do we need to learn this in school 🤷🏼‍♀️

  7. Just a retiring IT guy chasing a reference on a news/politics program, thanks for catching me up. Skillfully explained! Host and the team are great!

  8. Wasn't Odysseus, you know, FORCED to stay on Calypso's island? Those weren't tears of joy that he was crying.

  9. review was biased, but thanks
    you cannot expect ancient greeks to be as advanced as now. that is just how they were raised.

  10. yeah …so he wins a war, , looses all his comrades, survives divine trials , recovers his rule, saves his wife and son and he learns to be humble …also he sleeps with mythical creatures, godesses and still he returns to his wife…. if you put off your femmi glasses you could actually know what this is about! 🙂

  11. Well, but, you see,
    if Odysseus had not killed the suitors, they would have killed Odysseus. I don't see Odysseus as "an ancient example of PTSD", he just needed to really end everything that was wrong. I mean, I really cheered up when the suitors died because, man, they were horrible!!! I CAN'T BE THE ONLY ONE!!!

    And, yeah, Odyssey is pretty misogynistic, and it's a nice thing to point out, but ultimately, that's just how Ancient Greece worked, so, it's not like it compromises Odysseus' morals (unlike Achilles dragging Hector's corpse around, which everyone agreed was not ok). For me, Odysseu's flaw is that he just CAN'T SHUP THE F UP! Unlike Penelope, who can be smart and quiet, he just NEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEDS to tell everyone about how smart he is, and it leads to so many problems. In the end of the poem, he finally learns to keep things to himself until everything is done. And it's really cool this development, 'cause it's not really common in epic poems. Telemachus' development is very important too!

  12. When he first said " HI! I'm John Green" I was like "Yeah sure" and I locked it up in google and then I looked up to my computer and back to my phone and I was like " Wow, he really is John Green"

  13. I remember reading this in Greek class and honestly most of what I remember was formulaic lines about sailing and milking ewes and early-born rosy-fingered dawn. And the opening because my teacher made us memorize it.

  14. A key that can open any lock is a master key, a lock that can be opened by key is a shitty lock.

  15. odysseus doesn't actually sleep around that much. calypso literally enslaved him and he only had sex with circe because hermes told him he had to

  16. This dude is judging moral values of a book written 2000 years ago with the values of 21st century feminists.

  17. 6:13 – I literally facepalmed my way through the Odyssey (when I read it) because of Odysseus' actions.

  18. This is your worst history video. Odysseus was not a playboy like some god called Zeus. He was tricked many times by gods, males and females who tried to kill or to make him forget his wife. Athena came to his aid and guided him safely back home.

  19. 7:20 As you ask, I'll explain.
    It's impressive for a man to seduce many women because this is hard to do.
    It's not impressive for a women to seduce many men because that is easy to to.

  20. Because a man needs skill to sleep with a lot of women

    A woman just has to have no self control to have sex with a lot of men.

  21. Thank you SO much for this I couldn’t understand the book and really want to get into English honors!!! Wish me luck for the test!! 🤞🥰😋

  22. I enjoyed this up until the PoMoMoment around 7:21 "an open letter to the patriarchy"??? I enjoy your videos but your bias is pretty clear, especially when it comes to literature. It seems easier to keep in check when talking more about pure sciences like math etc. But you seem to want to undercut and talk down a lot of classic literature in a very patronizing way. Maybe its the comedy style I dunno. Food for thought.

  23. Does this guy realize that the politically correct comments he is making are out of place with a 2000 year old story? Just another liberal bashing art and trying to push their agenda.

  24. I am reading George Chapman's translation of the Odyssey. An unbelievable piece of literature. A grand addition to this magnificent work of Homeric tradition.

  25. Im wondering as to which part of the story exactly did Achillies meet Penthesilia and banged her corpse?

  26. I don't think you understand why in that day and age, women sleeping around was a problem and men sleeping around wasn't. When Odysseus returned he tells Penelope about ALL his adventures. He told her about his having sex with other women.

    Yes, it is a double standard, but their morality was far different than what ours is today. So, they didn't venerate the idea that he keeps his business in "his toga".

  27. Patriarchy and double standards. Great lesson…
    Why not just do a blurb about it in the beginning or end of the video instead of banging the drum of equality every 60 seconds?

  28. By being so opinionated you are effectively stopping students from forming their own opinions or even reading The Odyssey themselves.

    What would your history teacher say?

  29. You blather on about how awful the story is about the way it portrays women, then totally gloss over the female goddess ending the war as if it is of no significance.

    Stop with the white Knight history lessons.

  30. Was informative until the rant about the patriarchy, understood the point but went slightly off topic there buddy.

  31. I don’t even know why I’m watching this. I wanted to find the twilight episode, “The odyssey of flight 33”.

  32. When you just wanna hear about The Odyssey, and you get slapped in the face with ''the patriarchy''.. Double double standards. All around, fat women are beautiful. Fat men are discusting. The list goes on, leave it alone already.

  33. You're not fit to speak on these topics because of you don't comprehend what this story, and others like it, are actually about.

  34. You misrepresent the patriarchy. The patriarchy implies that despite claims to female”equality”, men must be there to enforce it. Therefore, yielding power to women ultimately leads to them losing power, albeit to a foreign group of men.

  35. Oh yes. The straw man argument from literal millennial ago. How about you shut the tuck up and teach rather than talk about the patriarchy

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