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Episode 10: A Beggar in his Own Palace

Teaching activities

  • Starting points
  • Follow-up
  • Further activities

Father and son: Recall the end of the last episode, and the thoughts of Odysseus as we imagined them. Have you ever welcomed back someone in your family, after they have been away for a long time? What was the meeting like? Remember that Telemachus had no photographs of Odysseus to look at and no contact while he was away. Sometimes people are separated for a long time and do not really know one another. How might Telemachus have imagined that his father would be?

  • Father and son; all those questions!: When Telemachus finally realises that he is indeed standing in front of his father, he begins to fire questions. (When did you get here? How long have you been here? How did you get home?) When there is much to find out, we often start with lots of short questions. Set up some pair work. (Speaking as Telemachus, they should bombard their partner for a minute with as many questions as possible, not giving them time to answer.)

  • Asking different types of questions: Questions can be open, closed, rhetorical. (Was Scylla fierce? Tell me all about Scylla? Scylla must have been fierce!) They affect the reply. Odysseus would have questions as well. (Give some starter phrases then ask them to illustrate different question types by writing a range of questions as speech bubbles, around pictures of the heads of the characters.)

  • Telemachus: To find out about his character ask them to list all the people with whom Telemachus speaks. Divide the class into small groups. Ask each group to consider one meeting. Each encounter tells us something about him. Appoint scribes to write down the ideas. Groups then present their ideas to the class. Slowly the class works out how Telemachus is portrayed through his relationship with other characters. (Group discussion and interaction.)

  • How was it for Penelope?: Use the illustration [pdf] Penelope and Telemachus as a focus for speculating about the thoughts, feelings and experiences of Penelope. This is important in preparation for the next episode and its follow up. We see Penelope beside her weaving. Athene explained that Penelope had kept unravelling the shroud, to delay having to choose a suitor. We know little about her except that she has waited all these years, and that Odysseus chose to come back to her. (Ask them to reflect on Penelope’s feelings using the language of possibility.) Use prompts e.g. She might have… felt very lonely; Perhaps she… was worried in case Odysseus had been killed; It is possible that… she thought he had found another lover. Maybe…

  • A beggar’s welcome: How did you feel about the welcome from Odysseus’ dog? There was no one to recognise him, except for his dog on a dung heap. Odysseus remembers the welcome he had imagined for himself. Look back at this and compare it with the homecoming that he actually receives. (The way he is treated by the suitors in what is his own hall; the kindness of Telemachus and Eumaeus; having to keep his identity secret.)

  • Details in the setting: The storyteller helps us to picture what is happening by putting in small details of everyday lives. What examples can you find in this and the last two episodes? (The latch for the door; sleeping on the floor wrapped in a blanket; wearing a cloak; putting on sandals.) What is different from today? (Write a modern day description of a family having a meal in the kitchen. Choose language to include brand names, clothing, materials and small details to set it firmly in its time.)

Father and son — Playscript: This activity results in performing a scene from this episode using a playscript written by their classmates.

After all the questions of that first meeting, we are told that Odysseus and Telemachus spent the whole day talking. Imagine their feelings, and the way they would have spoken. They may have been sitting; they may have stood or paced around; they may have hugged one another or cried. There would have been time to answer all the questions that first tumbled out.

Look at the questions you have written for father and son. (Use them to help write a playscript of their conversation.) As well as questions and answers, describe the hut to give the scene its setting. Include stage directions to tell the performers how to speak the words, how to position their bodies (e.g. head in hands) and when to move. Try to choose questions and answers which follow on from one another. Test out the scripts by asking others to perform them.

Visual aids

Penelope and Telemachus

Based on an Attic red figure skyphos attributed to the Penelope painter, 430 BC, Museo Civico, Chiusi
Telemachus speaks with Penelope as she sits discouraged by her loom. A partially woven cloth is on the loom (perhaps Laertes’ shroud, which Penelope is secretly unravelling during the night). In the Odyssey, Telemachus is never represented as visiting Penelope in her chambers. Why do you think that might be?

Suggested activities
This is a very clear picture of a loom and we can see how it works. There are warp threads hanging down, held in place by weights tied on at the bottom. At the top is the roll of cloth which has been woven and below it the section of weaving in progress showing a pattern of animals. This is the bit that Penelope would have kept undoing. There are bars going across to separate the threads.

See also Teaching activities for Episode 10.

Line drawing of Penelope and Telemachus. Penelope sits at her loom resting her chin on her hand, and Telemachus stands beside her holding a spear.