Externalization & Foregrounding in The Odyssey

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Homer's epic leaves nothing unexternalized and places in the foreground all future actions. The conflict is always focused on actions not mental states within characters. The Odyssey is a work without prolonged periods of literary question or doubt.  The following are examples of how everything is essentially foreshadowed for the audience:

1.225-242: Athena as Mentes predicts Odysseus' return.

1.292-308: Athena as Mentes notes that Odysseus will return to make the suitors pay.

2.153-184: Zeus' sign of the attacking eagles and Halitherses' prediction of Odysseus' vengeful return

2.294-297: Athena as Mentor hints that judgment on the suitors is to come.

3.224-237: Nestor suggests that Athena will help Odysseus if he is still alive.

4.354-367: Menelaos predicts Odysseus' vengeance on the suitors.

4.580-584: Proteus tells Menelaos that Odysseus is held by Kalypso.

5.24-47: Zeus recognizes Athena's intervention and himself decrees that Odysseus will return.

11.120-146: The shade of Teiresias predicts destruction of the suitors and a long life for Odysseus.

13.459-463: Athena's promise that the hall will be covered with slaughter.

15.175-198: Another sign of Odysseus' return--an eagle gripping a goose.

15.589-599: Sign of Telemachos' house's continuing power.

17.170-181: Theoklymenos predicts that Odysseus is on the island ready to judge the suitors.

17.625-635: Telemachos' sneeze at Penelope's wish for Odysseus' return & revenge on the suitors.

18.139-167: Odysseus as beggar warns Amphinoos.

19.292-334: Odysseus as beggar tells Penelope that Odysseus will return soon and even now may be on the island.

19.572-598: Penelope dreams of the eagle slaying the geese.

20.100-124: Zeus' sign of the servant's prayer to Odysseus.

20.364-384: Theoklymenos' prophecy of the doom of the suitors.


  1. If there are so many prophecies of Odysseus' return, why do Penelope and Telemachos still doubt?
  2. Is the reader's experience of the story different from that of the characters?  How do we see and understand events differently from the suitors or Penelope?
  3. Does Homer's method eliminate the suspense of the plot?  Why or why not?

"All manner of thing shall be well/ When the tongues of flame are in-folded/ Into the crowned knot of fire/ And the fire and the rose are one." -- T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding