Ancient World Now:Odysseus in the Underworld

Click here for direct link to audio Episode #24.

Click here for previous episodes.

Today I begin our reading of Book XI of The Odyssey, wherein Odysseus travels to the Underworld. He is one of a number of mortals to complete a round-trip to Hades and live to buy a round of drinks in celebration-Orpheus and Aeneas being a couple of others.

Over the next five weeks we will be studying this, one of the most famous books, of the most famous adventure story ever told.

Week 1: I read from Richmond Lattimore’s translation, lines 1-384.

Week 2: commentary on the reading

Week 3: I read from Richmond Lattimore’s translation, lines 385-640.

Week 4: commentary on the reading

Week 5: Death & The Underworld in Ancient Greece

Part of my commentary will be aimed at teaching you how to approach reading and analyzing a book in any ancient epic, such as The Iliad, The Odyssey, or The Aeneid.

So, sit back and enjoy!

7 Responses to “Ancient World Now:Odysseus in the Underworld”

  1. Sam D Says:

    Certainly more than three mortals completed such a journey, a few that come to mind immediately are Herakles (in pursuit of Cerberus as one of his labours), Theseus (in an attempt to kidnap Persephone), and even the heroine Psyche (to obtain “beauty” for Aphrodite from Persephone). In order to be a real hero in Greek or Roman mythology, it was pretty much required that you undertake a katabasis, or journey to the underworld. It was so common they even have a word for it!

  2. Gwen Minor Says:

    Hi Sam, Thank you for writing. Very grateful to you for your learned correction! I try to avoid making those absolute statements unless I have a source to back it up. I did read in my browsings that there were those three completed underworld visitors. But I’ve looked through all my main sources & have not located it. But I am glad, because you gave me a new lesson: katabasis. So grateful to you. If there is one thing I am sure of, it’s that I know nothing! I updated the post to include a change in wording that allows for your correction, and further, you have spurred me on to keep notes on my sources for each blog I do. Keep in touch!

  3. question about pictures Says:

    I was just wondering if you could give me any information about the picture you put on your site about Odysseus visiting the underworld:
    I’d like to cite it for my students.
    Lauren Downey

  4. Gwen Minor Says:

    Hi Lauren, Thank you for writing! It’s always good to hear from a fellow teacher. I copied the image from another website (, but there was no information on that site for the image. I looked for an hour or so to see if I could find out, but no luck. However, the image resembles those done by Gustave Dore, a 19th century illustrator & engraver. His vision is macabre & gets raves from the teen set. He did a particularly fine illustration of Charon crossing the Styx. You need only Google his name, hit Images in your left-hand panel, and you will see loads of cool images to use in the classroom. Another, though older illustrator, is Albrecht Durer, German, 15th century. I found another great Charon image from the 19th century, this one by a Russian artist, Alexander Litovchenko. I hesitate to include links for my images because some of them can lead my younger readers astray. Also, the issue of Creative Commons and attribution is an evolving one. Very controversial. I always tell my students to cite the source where they found the information. So, if you want to use the image, I suppose you could just have them cite my website. That said, you’ve given me great cause for keeping better records! Thanks again, say hello to your kids, and may the cyclops be with you!

  5. Bernard Barryte Says:

    Dear Lauren,
    Please let me know the source of your image of “Odysseus in the Underworld.”
    Thanks very much.

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