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READING GROUP GUIDE for

TROY and ITHAKA


by Adèle Geras

Praise and Honors for Troy


An ALA Best Book for Young Adults
A Publishers Weekly Best Children’s Book of the Year
A Smithsonian Magazine
Magazine Notable Book for Children
A Carnegie Medal Finalist
A Whitbread Award Finalist
A Boston Globe–Horn Book Honor Book
A New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age

★“With exceptional grace and enormous energy, Geras recreates the saga
of the Trojan War from a feminist perspective . . . Captivating.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
★“Geras handles both her chosen perspective and her subject’s grand themes
with aplomb.”—The Horn Book (starred review)
“A sexy, sweeping tale, filled with drama, sassy humor, and vividly imagined
domestic details.”—Booklist
“Delivers the sack of Troy as an ambitious, cinematic affair.”
—The New York Times Book Review

Praise for Ithaka

★“Geras once again shows her skill at fashioning multidimensional characters from
mythological figures and making them accessible to a 21st-century audience . . . A
fresh, thought-provoking twist to the classic tale.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Filled with intrigue and subterfuge and replete with visits from the gods, this
visceral, lusty, tragic retelling will draw older teen readers.”—Booklist
“Mysterious, multilayered, and well developed, this interpretation of Ithaka . . . will
be an irresistible draw for Greek myth fans, romance readers, and those who enjoy
strong character development along with their battle scenes.”—The Bulletin
“Geras masterfully weaves her own story . . . while remaining true to the spirit of
Homer’s epic.”—VOYA
TO THE TEACHER PREREADING ACTIVITIES FOR BOTH BOOKS

Troy and Ithaka are companion novels appropriate for readers in


Troy • Readers will benefit from familiarity with Greek mythology
grades nine through twelve, or students ages fourteen to eighteen. to fully appreciate Troy and Ithaka. Have the students research the
The books are inspired by Homer’s epic poems, The The Ilia
Iliadd and The backgrounds of the Greek gods who are depicted or mentioned
Odyssey. This guide was created for use in the classroom, or with in the stories—Aphrodite, Ares, Artemis, Eros, Hades,
smaller reading groups. The guide includes a variety of questions. Hephaestus, Hera, Hermes, Poseidon, Pallas Athene, Phoebus
Some involve comprehension of each story, and others prompt Apollo, and Zeus. Have the students research other common
readers to draw conclusions, speculate, make connections, and references in Greek mythology, such as the Amazons, Elysian
“dig deeper” into the story. The questions could be adapted as Fields, the Fates, Hydra, Mount Olympus, and the River Styx.
writing prompts. The guide also includes creative projects and Encourage them to use books, magazines, and the Internet for
writing activities for each book. their research.
• Although the Trojan War is a myth, there is evidence that an
ancient city of Troy did exist. Have the students research what
ABOUT THE BOOKS archaeological and historical facts have been established about
the city, such as its present-day geographical location and the
In Troy, Homer’s epic poem T The Iliad is retold from the point of
he Iliad period of its existence.
view of two Trojan sisters who live at the palace of King Priam. • If students have not read The
The Ilia
Iliadd and The Odyssey, provide a
Marpessa serves as handmaiden to Helen. Xanthe nurses synopsis of both so they will have context for understanding the
wounded soldiers in the Blood Room, an infirmary. The city of inspiration for each story.
Troy has been under siege by Greek armies for ten years and the
war is nearing conclusion. Inside the walled city, food is scarce—
but death is abundant. From the heights of Mount Olympus, the
Gods watch the carnage and devastation. Aphrodite, Goddess of READING AND UNDERSTANDING TROY
Love, is bored with the endless, dreary war. With the aid of
Eros’s arrow, Aphrodite causes Xanthe to fall in love with the Please note: Page numbers are listed for both the hardcover and paperback
wounded warrior Alastor. She then brings Alastor and Marpessa editions of the book; page numbers for the paperback appear in italics. If only
together despite Marpessa’s objections and drives a wedge one page number is noted, the page number is the same for both the hardcover
between the sisters. Troy is an intricate and compelling drama and the paperback.
filled with passion, romance, and tragedy. The book is a vivid
interpretation of the classic story. What is the cause of the war?
In Ithaka, ten years have passed since the end of the Trojan What does Alastor realize about the war when he is standing
War, and Penelope is still waiting for her husband, Odysseus, to on the Plain? (p. 7)
return home. The city of Ithaka is overrun with unsavory
characters from nearby islands who are vying to win Penelope’s What words would you use to describe Boros?
hand in marriage, thereby gaining control of the land. Inspired Why does Alastor’s mother not want Xanthe to treat her son?
by Homer’s Odyssey, the story is told through the eyes of fourteen- (pp. 17–18)
year-old Klymene, who desires more than friendship with the
young prince Telemachus. Like Troy, Ith Ithaaka
ka is a lively, provocative Xanthe believes it is “better to be an ox” than a poor girl.
introduction to a classic Greek myth. What does this belief reveal about the status of women in
Trojan society? (p. 17)
How does Alastor feel about his mother? (p. 19)
What does Xanthe tell Alastor about her parents? (p. 19)
Xanthe describes her sister Marpessa as “strange.” What does
she mean? (p. 19)
What is the significance of the tapestries Marpessa weaves? (p. 23)
What is the role of the Gossips in the story? Use the discussion
as an opportunity to introduce the concept of the chorus in
classical Greek literature.
What is Polyxena’s misfortune? (p. 31) Why do the Greeks kill Astyanax? (p. 310; 326–27)
Why does Iason prefer the company of horses to people? What do you think the future holds for Marpessa, Xanthe,
(pp. 33–34) and Alastor?
What does Xanthe say happened to her in the Blood Room? In Troy, gods and goddesses meddle in the affairs of mortals.
What is Marpessa’s response? (p. 40) Would you characterize the meddling as benevolent,
mischievous, or malevolent? Cite specific examples from the
Why does Marpessa worry about Xanthe? (p. 41) story to support your characterization(s).
Why does Boros go to see Andromache? What is her reaction?
(pp. 42–43)
What are Andromache’s fears? (pp. 44–45) FOR TROY
OTHER ACTIVITIES FOR
What are Polyxena’s views of love? (p. 48)
• Marpessa tells stories through the tapestries she weaves.
Why are the Trojans so terrified of the Greek warrior Achilles? Making tapestries is one way humans have used art to tell stories
(p. 50) and detail events. What other ways have humans used art to tell
stories and their own histories? For a creative project, have each
What does Hecuba reveal about Paris to Marpessa?
student re-create a favorite scene from Troy using whatever media
(pp. 87–88; 89)
he or she chooses.
Who does Halie meet at the fish market? What does he reveal • The Singer recounts events through song. Ask each student
to her? (pp. 92–93; 93–94) to write a song or poem that relates to a scene from the story. Or,
to inspire a more personal connection between art and one’s life,
What does Aphrodite reveal to Marpessa in the Blood Room?
have each student write a song or poem that relates to a year in
(p. 103; 105)
his or her life.
What does Iason find Hephaestus making for Achilles? • During wars throughout history, women have tended the
(pp. 106–107; 108–109) wounded, sick, and dying. Xanthe is a fictional character, but her
role as a woman during wartime is historically accurate. Today,
What does Achilles do with Hector’s body? Why does he do
many women are soldiers. How would the story of the Trojan
it? (pp. 112–14; 114–16)
War be different if women had been soldiers in Homer’s time?
What impact does Hector’s death have on the people of Troy? Have each student write a fictional account of the Trojan War in
which the gender of key characters has been changed.
What does Iason want to reveal to Xanthe in the stables?
• As with Adèle Geras’s Troy, there are many films and plays
(pp. 172–73; 178–79)
based on Homer’s Iliad. They include the play The Trojan Women
What does Iason ask of Polyxena? (pp. 174–75; 180–81) by Euripides, and the films Troy (Warner Bros., 2004) and In
Search of the Trojan War (Discovery Channel, 2004), among others.
How is Paris killed? (p. 216; 226)
Read The Iliad, or excerpts from it, and then read Geras’s
Why does Marpessa end her relationship with Alastor? corresponding interpretation in Troy. Follow up by viewing film
(pp. 240–41; 251–53) versions of the story or by reading Euripides’ play. How are the
various interpretations similar in their depiction of the Trojan
What does the Black Warrior reveal to Alastor in a dream?
War, as well as of the gods and mortals? How are they different?
(pp. 253–55; 265–67)
Why does Marpessa go to Mother Poison? (p. 256; 268)
What do the Trojans believe when they see the great horse? READING AND UNDERSTANDING ITHAKA
(p. 265; 279–80)
What is Xanthe’s response to Iason’s marriage proposal? What are Penelope’s reasons for not wanting Odysseus to fight
(p. 268; 282) the war in Troy? (pp. 3–4)
What does Poseidon reveal to Marpessa? (pp. 273–74; 288) How does Klymene feel about Telemachus? Why will she not
admit her feelings to her brother? (pp. 11–12)
How does Xanthe respond to Marpessa’s confession about her
relationship with Alastor? (pp. 280–83; 295–98) What became of Ikarios and Klymene’s parents? (pp. 13–14)
Why does Pallas Athene appear as a white owl? (p. 18) What does Ikarios overhear the Bear and the Rat discussing?
(p. 252)
What does Penelope believe about Argos, Odysseus’s hunting
dog? (p. 24) Why does Odysseus pretend to be a beggar when he returns to
Ithaka? (pp. 267–68)
How does Klymene feel about Argos? (p. 25)
What does Penelope think when no story comes for her to
What fears does Penelope hide from Telemachus? (p. 39)
weave? (p. 283)
What is happening to Odysseus in the first story Penelope
Why does the Rat kill Ikarios? (pp. 287–88)
weaves? (p. 42)
Why does Artemis keep Argos alive for Odysseus? (p. 304)
Who is the stranger Ikarios meets on the shore? What does
Ikarios beg him not to do? (pp. 45–46) How does Nana recognize Odysseus? (pp. 308–309)
What does the second story Penelope weaves reveal about Why does Pallas Athene commend Klymene for lying? (p. 348)
Odysseus? (pp. 68–69)
Does it seem plausible that Penelope is unable to recognize
What secret does Melantho share with Klymene? How does Odysseus? Explain why or why not.
Klymene respond? (pp. 72–73)
Do you think Melantho’s disfigurement is a just punishment?
What does Klymene realize when she sees Melantho and Explain why or why not.
Telemachus together? (pp. 63–64)
Was Penelope’s falling in love with Leodes a betrayal of
How does Melantho taunt Klymene? (pp. 71–73) Odysseus? Explain why or why not.
What does Telemachus believe is the real reason behind Do you think Penelope is happy that Odysseus has returned?
Leodes’s visit to his mother? (pp. 97–98) Cite specific references from the story to support your answer.
What happens to Odysseus in the third story Penelope weaves? Do you agree with Mydon when he tells Klymene that she is
(pp. 106–107) right to be happy when so many are dead? Why or why not?
What does Poseidon reveal to Ikarios at the tavern?
(pp. 112–13)
What does Melantho tell Klymene about her feelings for FOR ITHAKA
OTHER ACTIVITIES FOR
Telemachus? (pp. 131–32)
Why does Penelope keep Antikleia’s unfinished shroud? • Readers learn of Odysseus’s adventures through the stories
(p. 139) Penelope weaves. Her weavings feature beings and creatures
including the Cyclops, Circe, Charybdis, Scylla, the Sirens, and
What happens to Odysseus in the fourth story Penelope Calypso. Ask the students to research these figures and choose
weaves? (pp. 150–51) one to write a minireport about.
What does Penelope announce she must do before she chooses • Using the geographic details in Troy and Ithaka—as well as
a suitor? (p. 167) details postulated by modern historians—ask the students to
create a map depicting Odysseus’s journey from Troy to Ithaka.
What becomes of Odysseus in the fifth story Penelope weaves? Label the map with the Greek and modern names for the
(pp. 185–86) countries and seas.
What is Telemachus’s opinion of his mother’s suitors? • Read Homer’s Odyssey, paying close attention to sections that
(pp. 190–92) reveal Penelope’s story. What liberties has Adèle Geras taken in
telling Penelope’s version of the story? Can you think of other
Why does Telemachus leave Ithaka? (p. 194) stories that are told from two points of view? Would you have
What does the sixth story Penelope weaves reveal about written Penelope’s story differently? If so, how?
Odysseus? (pp. 209–10) • Read aloud with the students the poem “Ulysses” by Alfred
Lord Tennyson. Tell the students that Ulysses is the Latin name
What does Penelope believe Telemachus would do if she agreed
for Odysseus. The poem is told from the point of view of
to marry Leodes? (p. 231)
Odysseus. Does Tennyson’s voice for Ulysses match that of
What does the seventh and final story Penelope weaves reveal Adèle Geras’ Odysseus in Ithaka? What story points and characters
about Odysseus? (p. 241) appear in both Tennyson’s poem and Ithaka?
INTERVIEW WITH ADÈLE GERAS
Did you always intend to write both novels or did you decide it’s fun to take figures like Helen of Troy and Penelope and
to write Ithaka after you’d finished writing Troy ? subvert the common view of them, so I enjoyed making Helen
much nicer than she’s been shown by other writers, much kinder
It was only after I saw how much I enjoyed writing Troy, and and more intelligent; and I also liked making Penelope human
then saw that the reaction to it was enthusiastic, that I began to and subject to the same sorts of temptations that any wife of a
turn my mind to The Odyssey. soldier who doesn’t return might experience—and react the
same way to them, too! So, no, when people say “retellings,” I
What were the greatest challenges in writing these novels? jump up and down and squeak loudly!
I didn’t really see Troy as a challenge at all when I started on that.
I just wanted to try to do a teenage love story set at that time. I I have read several reviews that refer to the novels as
wanted to see the war from a different perspective and one we providing a “feminist perspective” on The Iliad and The
don’t often get: that of the noncombatants! All the stories that Odyssey. Do you agree or disagree with that assessment?
Theano and the others tell one another; all the stuff about the
Gods and the Homeric background—I felt I had to put in for I sort of agree. It’s certainly the women’
women’ss viewpoint I wanted to
those children who didn’t grow up with these stories from an focus on. I wanted to bring women into the foreground because
early age. The challenge with Ithak Ithaka was much, much greater.
Ithaka in all those wars and events, they’d been sidelined and pushed
First of all, because of the success of Troy, I now had “a hard act out of the picture. So, yes, I was interested in their point of view.
to follow,” as it were. I was also conscious of the fact that if you But of course you have to be historically accurate as much as
take away the adventures of Odysseus, there’s not that much possible, so there are obviously things going on, attitudes to
drama in just hanging around and waiting for someone to come women and girls which would shock our young people. But I
home—or at least, not the same kind of drama. So that was a guess I’d have to say I was interested in “empowering”—don’t
challenge. . . . I also enjoyed the challenge of the poetry. I love like that word, but you know what I mean—the young women
writing poetry, and this was a chance to do it in the middle of a in my stories.
novel, which I relished but which had to convey what I wanted
to convey. At what age were you introduced to the stories of The Iliad
and The Odyssey ? What inspired you to write your own
Many reviewers characterize Troy and Ithaka as retellings stories based on them?
of Homer’s epics. Do you agree or disagree with that
assessment? Was it your intention to retell the stories in A very early age. When I was about six, I had a book (still on my
these novels? shelves) called Tales of Troy by Andrew Lang. Then there was
Tanglewood Tales by Nathaniel Hawthorne. When I went to school,
As they say, “Disagree most strongly !” They are not retellings. we still did Latin, for which I’m endlessly grateful. We did Aeneid:
What they are, are novels about completely fictional people Book IIII by Virgil, which is basically about the sack of Troy. In
(whom I’ve made up and who are the focus of my interest) mixed English we read Troilus
Troilus and Cressid
Cressidaa by Shakespeare, which is the
in with a version of Homer. As I said previously, when I started I best thing ever about what happens to men at war. Thersites is
wanted to ignore the Trojan War, but I was conscious of the fact my favorite character: “Lechery, lechery, still wars and lechery.
that everything makes more sense if you know the background. Nothing else holds fashion.” Shakespeare said it, and it’s true to
So I put in accounts of what’s gone before in the mouths of this day: sex and violence, in other words, which are, of course,
various people. I also decided that, like Homer, I’d have the the motors driving most fiction! So I’ve known the stories all my
Gods in there, too. What’s good enough for him is good enough life, practically. The Odyssey came later, but it’s a stunner. I think
for me, and I cannot understand the decision behind leaving I first read it at school after we’d finished the Virgil. Terrific
them out of the movie Troy. Besides, for those who do know stuff, and full of monsters and storms and all the ingredients
Homer, it’s fun to see a different interpretation. There have been kids love. That’s why it’s been retold for children so often. I
so many “versions” of this dramatic story, the horse and so forth, should also say that the Gods have always appealed to me—
that of course in one way mine is just another . . . but I still hope don’t really know why. It seems such a logical system of belief!
that it’s Xanthe and Marpessa, Iason and Polyxena, Klymene When there are earthquakes, floods, etc., I always think of
and Ikarios, and so on that readers really care about. Of course, Poseidon, who’s become quite real to me, along with the others.
In Troy, the battlefield event you describe in greatest detail is What reactions have readers had to Troy and Ithaka? Do the
the murder and mutilation of Hector. Why did you choose to stories seem to appeal to one gender more than another?
focus on this particular battlefield incident?
Troy is equally liked by both boys and girls. I’ve had nothing but
Well, because it’s so ghastly. It’s haunted me for years and years. good reactions, though I guess the ones who hated the books
I don’t go with the “fighting can be glorious” thing, but I do wouldn’t bother to write and tell me. I think the boys like the
recognize that (a) wars are necessary, and (b) in the course of violent bits! Am I being sexist? Probably, but I notice that lots of
them, gallantry, bravery, heroism, etc., are often shown—that it copies get bought in schools where I read aloud the short chapter
does sometimes, in other words, bring out good qualities in about Alastor getting wounded. I was most worried that boys
people. But this is horrendous and not to be countenanced—a would be bored by the domesticity and “weavingness” of Ithaka,
war crime, in the days before this concept existed in law, an but the ones I’ve heard from seem quite happy. So far so good.
atrocity. You always have to respect the enemy dead. Homer put
it in because it’s a shocker, and so did I. Dreadful horror on a par What advice, if any, would you offer to teachers who may be
with anything we’ve seen since, and we’ve seen plenty! It is also considering teaching Troy and Ithaka?
very dramatic—you couldn’t leave it out.
Goodness, I wouldn’t presume to give advice to teachers. If they
In Ithaka , the adventures of Odysseus are recounted can get their classes to enjoy the book and possibly go on to
through the tapestries Penelope weaves. Marpessa also reading “the real thing,” i.e., Homer, then that’s great. Otherwise,
weaves stories in Troy. What inspired you to use that I’m fine with whatever they want to do. I’d hate to think of
narrative device? anyone being forced to read the novels if they really hate them,
though. And I wouldn’t like to think that reading them in class
The fabrics, the weaving, the knitting, the embroideries, the might put them off. It’s never happened to me, I have to say. I
lace—that sort of thing is one of my obsessions, and a version of used to love what we read in class and understand it much better,
it appears in so much that I do. I can’t help it. I regard all those but for a lot of kids, the books they read in school irritate them
sorts of handicrafts as a good metaphor for life. (An irrelevant or get their backs up in some way. I’d hate for that to happen.
remark here: Harcourt will soon republish what was almost my Pleasure is what it’s all about. You can quote me on that!
first novel, called Apricots at Midnight, and guess what it’s about? A
patchwork quilt in which each patch has a different story that
goes with it! I’ve also written two books in which someone tells ABOUT THE AUTHOR
the future from their knitting. They’re now out of print, but
they’re called TThe
he Fabulous Fantora FilesFiles and The Fabulous Fantora Adèle Geras has written more than ninety books for children
Photographs.) While I was writing Troy, I realized that weaving was
Photographs and young adults. In addition to Troy and Ithaka, her books
probably one of the only “fun” things for a young woman to do include the acclaimed Egerton Hall Triology—The Tower Room,
when she wasn’t engaged in domestic work, so I gave the weaving Watching the Roses, and Pictures
Pictures of the Night
Night —as well as two adult
Ithaka
Ithak
to Marpessa. Itha ka wasn’t in my mind at that time. When it Facing
novels, Fa cing the Light
Light and Hester’s Story.
came to writing about Penelope . . . Well, Homer’s given us the Adèle Geras has lived all over the world, including in Jerusalem,
weaving, so I had to run with it—and it was a pleasure to do so. North Borneo, and Gambia. She currently lives with her husband
The poem at the front of the book by the appropriately named in Manchester, England. For more information about the author
Penelope Shuttle is one I heard on the radio one day when I was and her books, visit her website at www.adelegeras.com.
just starting to think about the book. I thought: That’s it! She’s the Troy
one who “makes” the adventures . . . kind of conjures them out of the weaving. 0-15-216492-8 Hardcover $17.00
And recounting those famous O Odyss
dyssey stories as small pictures on 0-15-204570-8 Paperback $6.95
a loom kind of reduced their importance. Cut them down to size. Ithaka
0-15-205603-3 Hardcover $17.00
In Troy, Boros is so vividly disgusting and vile. Did you have
any specific inspiration in creating that character? About the guide’s author: Edward T. Sullivan is a librarian and author
who lives in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He has written many articles,
I’m happy to say I didn’t. Never met or seen anyone nearly as awful, books, and reviews about children’s and young adult literature.
but just as you can make your heroes fulfill your best fantasies
(and that’s half the fun of writing books!), you can make your
villains do the reverse—bring your worst nightmares to life. www.HarcourtBooks.com

Prices and availability are subject to change without notice. Prices are higher in Canada. Copyright © 2006 by Harcourt, Inc. All rights reserved. Jacket illustrations copyright © Erich Lessing, Art Resource, NY