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

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.

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    Letícia Monteiro

    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!

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    Comunidad LHLNZR

    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"

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    Sedim Entari

    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.

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    Rohan The Artist

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

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    SharksFartingOutLasers

    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

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    The dude

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

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    Lola Wright

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

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    Muffiiet Kaliman

    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.

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    Ashley Field

    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.

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    Fernando Vargas Mejía

    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.

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    Cotton Candy

    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!! 🤞🥰😋

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    RickGtr271

    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.

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    hist man313

    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.

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    Nate•Niel23

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

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    William Giovinazzo

    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".

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    SofaCity

    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?

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    SofaCity

    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?

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    Azseth

    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.

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    Jason Ballsack

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

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    Joseph DeFlorio

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

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    Alexander

    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.

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    ar_ aktual

    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.

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    custer264

    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.

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    Cody Butcher

    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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    starzseed 56

    This epic story serves as one more reminder to women of how Society works against women and their rights, therefore encourages them no to do the same mistakes and fight this behaviour, but unfortunately there seem to be always women Who dont get it and go with the flow wich is the opposite From what men do: they even write novels to their convinience and keep the same behaviours that opose completely anything that isnt or has the potential of being inconvenient to them.

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    Max Soze

    Jesus did you just put your gender politics and feminism in to a greek myth? Stop forcing your false theories and double standards to explain something you cleatly read one sided to make a video so others like minded will praise you as a woke channel. Go and read again the Classics in the original stop being a barbarian.

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    2Xcitizen

    The point of the soldier taking ten years to return when he could have returned in two weeks is that he has Post Traumatic Stress and needed to wonder for a while before going home.

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    The Iron-hearted Wolf

    this is terrible! you prefered to rant about the things that were progressive back then but are not today {and judged them by today's stadard} instead of actually telling us the story, the importance in ancient greece and in the history of westrn civ…. I don't know if you wrote the script, but whoever did sucks at this job

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    Alison Armstrong

    This has me wondering if the intended audience is second-graders… I am a college teacher and l appalled at the silliness of this presentation…which is also a series of spoilers, a synopsis of events. How things unfold is more important than what occurs; this is very skillfully plotted story. And he may be clever, but Odysseus is not a Dude! Not a "Stud"! And the attitude toward women was of his time…don't impose today's standards (e.g., Catholic, Puritanism) on the ancient story. Leave out the male/female judgemental silliness.

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    Alison Armstrong

    Oral tradition probably more consistent than writing down over years…too much 'enthusiasm' here, prof. Don't try to be as young as your students…this implies that the students (College. High School?? Grade School???) are incapable of appreciating the epic as Homer presents it. It is not clear that you have even read the poem! O. had to sleep with the witch Circe–and couldn't avoid the 2nd goddess, Calypso, but he got away with help of Zeus. You are doing a deeply suspect disservice to students.

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    Yes Sir!

    This book is banned at my school. 😞
    It's considered racist because of the ending where the immigrant freeloaders and the traitors to the nation get slaughtered.
    But I think the banning of this and a couple of other classics has raised the interest among the pupils.

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    lucas tanner

    Looks like somebody is ignoring a lot of textual evidence and evident facts about the suitors. Is Odyssey unjust in slaughtering them? Well they try to kill his son, they openly take his resources for years, they are openly abusive (they strike and throw chairs at the disguised Odysseus). Athena and Zeus approve of the slaughter, Penelope, Eurycleia, Telemachus, and Eumeaus hope for and rejoice at the slaughter. Someone can personally think Odysseus’ actions were bad, but the text itself clearly does not. Neither is Odysseus “hot-headed” as many people in the comments are noting. He never makes decisions rashly, in fact the text is explicit about his thoughtfulness, cunningness, and careful planning. Odyssey is called hot-headed one time in the text… and it’s by his mutinous crewman. So not the most reliable source.
    If I wrote a paper for my great books course using some of the interpretations from this video I would get most likely get an F and at best a C- for lack of basic understanding of the text. Interpreting ancient text according to what you feel isn’t academic, it’s just another attempt to confirm yourself in your opinions and not seek to ask genuine and honest questions.
    “The purpose of art is to lay bare the questions that have been hidden by the answers.” – James Baldwin

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    John Smiff

    This whole video isn’t a summary of the odyssey, it’s just about the “double standards” of a story from 3000 years ago

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    Adriana Alvarado

    Great explanation, but you speak sooooo fast that I had to watch it 3 times to make sure I got all the details correct

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    Al Cd

    Guys who wear sweaters can also be film critics! Case in point: the late Roger Ebert wore sweaters most of the time on his show.

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    Ashley Thomasina Grant Madden-Pierce

    So I would love it if you would for the love of John Green actually do a full episode on the illiad.

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