Getting students excited about a text--especially a very old and very long one--can often be challenging. However, like most teachers, I find that beginning with connections to students' real-world knowledge and understandings often helps break the ice and create momentum.
This two-sided response sheet is designed to move students from individual to partnered/small group work in an examination of the idea of heroes. While I use it as a stepping stone to beginning "The Odyssey," it could certainly work for any unit or text dealing with ideas of heroism. Students brainstorm heroes and heroic qualities, then compare & contrast their findings before evaluating the idea of heroes in our world. This has always helped to jump-start discussion.