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Ten years have passed since the fall of Troy, and the Greek hero Odysseus still has

not returned to his kingdom in Ithaca. A large and rowdy mob of suitors who have
overrun Odysseuss palace and pillaged his land continue to court his wife, Penelope. She has remained faithful to Odysseus. Prince Telemachus, Odysseuss son, wants
desperately to throw them out but does not have the confidence or experience to fight them. One of the suitors, Antinous, plans to assassinate the young prince,
eliminating the only opposition to their dominion over the palace.
Unknown to the suitors, Odysseus is still alive. The beautiful nymph Calypso, possessed by love for him, has imprisoned him on her island, Ogygia. He longs to return
to his wife and son, but he has no ship or crew to help him escape. While the gods and goddesses of Mount Olympus debate Odysseuss future, Athena, Odysseuss
strongest supporter among the gods, resolves to help Telemachus. Disguised as a friend of the princes grandfather, Laertes, she convinces the prince to call a meeting of
the assembly at which he reproaches the suitors. Athena also prepares him for a great journey to Pylos and Sparta, where the kings Nestor and Menelaus, Odysseuss
companions during the war, inform him that Odysseus is alive and trapped on Calypsos island. Telemachus makes plans to return home, while, back in Ithaca, Antinous
and the other suitors prepare an ambush to kill him when he reaches port.
On Mount Olympus, Zeus sends Hermes to rescue Odysseus from Calypso. Hermes persuades Calypso to let Odysseus build a ship and leave. The homesick hero sets
sail, but when Poseidon, god of the sea, finds him sailing home, he sends a storm to wreck Odysseuss ship. Poseidon has harbored a bitter grudge against Odysseus
since the hero blinded his son, the Cyclops Polyphemus, earlier in his travels. Athena intervenes to save Odysseus from Poseidons wrath, and the beleaguered king
lands at Scheria, home of the Phaeacians. Nausicaa, the Phaeacian princess, shows him to the royal palace, and Odysseus receives a warm welcome from the king and
queen. When he identifies himself as Odysseus, his hosts, who have heard of his exploits at Troy, are stunned. They promise to give him safe passage to Ithaca, but first
they beg to hear the story of his adventures.
Odysseus spends the night describing the fantastic chain of events leading up to his arrival on Calypsos island. He recounts his trip to the Land of the Lotus Eaters, his
battle with Polyphemus the Cyclops, his love affair with the witch-goddess Circe, his temptation by the deadly Sirens, his journey into Hades to consult the prophet
Tiresias, and his fight with the sea monster Scylla. When he finishes his story, the Phaeacians return Odysseus to Ithaca, where he seeks out the hut of his faithful
swineherd, Eumaeus. Though Athena has disguised Odysseus as a beggar, Eumaeus warmly receives and nourishes him in the hut. He soon encounters Telemachus,
who has returned from Pylos and Sparta despite the suitors ambush, and reveals to him his true identity. Odysseus and Telemachus devise a plan to massacre the suitors
and regain control of Ithaca.
When Odysseus arrives at the palace the next day, still disguised as a beggar, he endures abuse and insults from the suitors. The only person who recognizes him is his
old nurse, Eurycleia, but she swears not to disclose his secret. Penelope takes an interest in this strange beggar, suspecting that he might be her long-lost husband. Quite
crafty herself, Penelope organizes an archery contest the following day and promises to marry any man who can string Odysseuss great bow and fire an arrow through
a row of twelve axesa feat that only Odysseus has ever been able to accomplish. At the contest, each suitor tries to string the bow and fails. Odysseus steps up to the
bow and, with little effort, fires an arrow through all twelve axes. He then turns the bow on the suitors. He and Telemachus, assisted by a few faithful servants, kill
every last suitor.
Odysseus reveals himself to the entire palace and reunites with his loving Penelope. He travels to the outskirts of Ithaca to see his aging father, Laertes. They come
under attack from the vengeful family members of the dead suitors, but Laertes, reinvigorated by his sons return, successfully kills Antinouss father and puts a stop to
the attack. Zeus dispatches Athena to restore peace. With his power secure and his family reunited, Odysseuss long ordeal comes to an end.
Odysseus - The protagonist of the Odyssey. Odysseus fought among the other Greek heroes at Troy and now struggles to return to his kingdom in Ithaca. Odysseus is
the husband of Queen Penelope and the father of Prince Telemachus. Though a strong and courageous warrior, he is most renowned for his cunning. He is a favorite of
the goddess Athena, who often sends him divine aid, but a bitter enemy of Poseidon, who frustrates his journey at every turn.
Read an in-depth analysis of Odysseus.
Telemachus - Odysseuss son. An infant when Odysseus left for Troy, Telemachus is about twenty at the beginning of the story. He is a natural obstacle to the suitors
desperately courting his mother, but despite his courage and good heart, he initially lacks the poise and confidence to oppose them. His maturation, especially during his
trip to Pylos and Sparta in Books 3 and 4 , provides a subplot to the epic. Athena often assists him.
Read an in-depth analysis of Telemachus.
Penelope - Wife of Odysseus and mother of Telemachus. Penelope spends her days in the palace pining for the husband who left for Troy twenty years earlier and
never returned. Homer portrays her as sometimes flighty and excitable but also clever and steadfastly true to her husband.
Read an in-depth analysis of Penelope.
Athena - Daughter of Zeus and goddess of wisdom, purposeful battle, and the womanly arts. Athena assists Odysseus and Telemachus with divine powers throughout
the epic, and she speaks up for them in the councils of the gods on Mount Olympus. She often appears in disguise as Mentor, an old friend of Odysseus.
Read an in-depth analysis of Athena.
Poseidon - God of the sea. As the suitors are Odysseuss mortal antagonists, Poseidon is his divine antagonist. He despises Odysseus for blinding his son, the Cyclops
Polyphemus, and constantly hampers his journey home. Ironically, Poseidon is the patron of the seafaring Phaeacians, who ultimately help to return Odysseus to Ithaca.
Zeus - King of gods and men, who mediates the disputes of the gods on Mount Olympus. Zeus is occasionally depicted as weighing mens fates in his scales. He
sometimes helps Odysseus or permits Athena to do the same.

Antinous - The most arrogant of Penelopes suitors. Antinous leads the campaign to have Telemachus killed. Unlike the other suitors, he is never portrayed
sympathetically, and he is the first to die when Odysseus returns.

Eurymachus - A manipulative, deceitful suitor. Eurymachuss charisma and duplicity allow him to exert some influence over the other suitors.
Amphinomus - Among the dozens of suitors, the only decent man seeking Penelopes hand in marriage. Amphinomus sometimes speaks up for Odysseus and
Telemachus, but he is killed like the rest of the suitors in the final fight.
Eumaeus - The loyal shepherd who, along with the cowherd Philoetius, helps Odysseus reclaim his throne after his return to Ithaca. Even though he does not know that
the vagabond who appears at his hut is Odysseus, Eumaeus gives the man food and shelter.
Eurycleia - The aged and loyal servant who nursed Odysseus and Telemachus when they were babies. Eurycleia is well informed about palace intrigues and serves as
confidante to her masters. She keeps Telemachuss journey secret from Penelope, and she later keeps Odysseuss identity a secret after she recognizes a scar on his leg.
Melanthius - The brother of Melantho. Melanthius is a treacherous and opportunistic goatherd who supports the suitors, especially Eurymachus, and abuses the beggar
who appears in Odysseuss palace, not realizing that the man is Odysseus himself.
Melantho - Sister of Melanthius and maidservant in Odysseuss palace. Like her brother, Melantho abuses the beggar in the palace, not knowing that the man is
Odysseus. She is having an affair with Eurymachus.
Calypso - The beautiful nymph who falls in love with Odysseus when he lands on her island-home of Ogygia. Calypso holds him prisoner there for seven years until
Hermes, the messenger god, persuades her to let him go.
Polyphemus - One of the Cyclopes (uncivilized one-eyed giants) whose island Odysseus comes to soon after leaving Troy. Polyphemus imprisons Odysseus and his
crew and tries to eat them, but Odysseus blinds him through a clever ruse and manages to escape. In doing so, however, Odysseus angers Polyphemuss father,
Circe - The beautiful witch-goddess who transforms Odysseuss crew into swine when he lands on her island. With Hermes help, Odysseus resists Circes powers and
then becomes her lover, living in luxury at her side for a year.
Laertes - Odysseuss aging father, who resides on a farm in Ithaca. In despair and physical decline, Laertes regains his spirit when Odysseus returns and eventually
kills Antinouss father.
Tiresias - A Theban prophet who inhabits the underworld. Tiresias meets Odysseus when Odysseus journeys to the underworld in Book1 1 . He shows Odysseus how to
get back to Ithaca and allows Odysseus to communicate with the other souls in Hades.
Nestor - King of Pylos and a former warrior in the Trojan War. Like Odysseus, Nestor is known as a clever speaker. Telemachus visits him in Book 3 to ask about his
father, but Nestor knows little of Odysseuss whereabouts.
Menelaus - King of Sparta, brother of Agamemnon, and husband of Helen, he helped lead the Greeks in the Trojan War. He offers Telemachus assistance in his quest to
find Odysseus when Telemachus visits him in Book 4 .
Helen - Wife of Menelaus and queen of Sparta. Helens abduction from Sparta by the Trojans sparked the Trojan War. Her beauty is without parallel, but she is
criticized for giving in to her Trojan captors and thereby costing many Greek men their lives. She offers Telemachus assistance in his quest to find his father.
Agamemnon - Former king of Mycenae, brother of Menelaus, and commander of the Achaean forces at Troy. Odysseus encounters Agamemnons spirit in Hades.
Agamemnon was murdered by his wife, Clytemnestra, and her lover, Aegisthus, upon his return from the war. He was later avenged by his son Orestes. Their story is
constantly repeated in the Odyssey to offer an inverted image of the fortunes of Odysseus and Telemachus.
Nausicaa - The beautiful daughter of King Alcinous and Queen Arete of the Phaeacians. Nausicaa discovers Odysseus on the beach at Scheria and, out of budding
affection for him, ensures his warm reception at her parents palace.
Alcinous - King of the Phaeacians, who offers Odysseus hospitality in his island kingdom of Scheria. Alcinous hears the story of Odysseuss wanderings and provides
him with safe passage back to Ithaca.
Arete - Queen of the Phaeacians, wife of Alcinous, and mother of Nausicaa. Arete is intelligent and influential. Nausicaa tells Odysseus to make his appeal for
assistance to Arete.

After an invocation to the Muse of poetry, the epic begins in medias res ("in the middle of things"). Odysseus has been gone from Ithaca for about 20 years the first
10 spent fighting the Trojan War, the last 10 trying to get home.
Meanwhile, Odysseus' wife, Penelope, tries to fend off over 100 suitors who have invaded the royal palace, seeking her hand in marriage (and a chance of ruling
Ithaca), and indulging in great amounts of food and wine at the hosts' expense. Telemachus, son of Odysseus and Penelope, is just coming of age (he is approximately
21) and is at a loss as to what to do about the suitors. Mother and son yearn for Odysseus' return.
Books 1-4

The first four books deal with Telemachus' struggle (in fact, Odysseus does not appear in the epic until Book 5). A secondary plot in The Odyssey is Telemachus' coming
of age, his own quest, which scholars sometimes refer to as the "Telemacheia."
The goddess Athena appears to the young prince in disguise and advises him to gather an assembly of the island's leaders to protest the invasion of the suitors. Soon
after, he is to visit King Nestor of Pylos and King Menelaus of Sparta, old comrades of his father's, to gather from them any new of Odysseus.
At the assembly, the two leading suitors the aggressive Antinous and the smooth-talking Eurymachus confront the prince. They accuse Penelope of delaying too
long in her choice of a new husband. Telemachus speaks well but accomplishes little at the assembly because the suitors are from some of the strongest families in the
area and are impatient with Penelope's delays.
As Telemachus secretly sets off for Pylos and Sparta, the suitors plot to assassinate him. At Pylos, Telemachus learns little of his father but is encouraged to visit Sparta
where King Menelaus reports that Odysseus is alive but held captive by the goddess nymph Calypso.
Books 5-8
Homer leaves the story of Telemachus as the suitors are about to ambush his ship on its return to Ithaca. At Athena's urging, the gods have decided to free Odysseus
from Calypso. Hermes, the messenger god, delivers the order to Odysseus' captor. Odysseus has spent seven years with the goddess, sleeping with her at night and
pining for his home and family during the day. Calypso is a beautiful, lustful nymph who wants to marry Odysseus and grant him immortality, but he longs for Penelope
and Ithaca. Reluctantly, Calypso sends Odysseus on his way.
Poseidon, the sea god, spots the wayfarer and, seeking revenge because Odysseus blinded Poseidon's son Cyclops, shipwrecks Odysseus on Phaeacia, which is ruled by
King Alcinous. The Phaeacians, civilized and hospitable people, welcome the stranger and encourage him to tell of his adventures. Through Odysseus' narration, the
reader goes back 10 years and hears his tale.
Books 9-12
Known as "The Wanderings of Odysseus," this section is the most famous of the epic. At the end of the Trojan War, Odysseus and his men sail first to the land of the
Cicones. The Greeks succeed in raiding the central city but linger too long and are routed by a reserve force. Hoping to sail directly home, the flotilla instead encounters
a severe storm, brought on by Athena, that blows them far off course to the land of the Lotus-eaters. These are not hostile people, but eating the lotus plant removes
memory and ambition; Odysseus is barely able to pull his men away and resume the journey.
Curiosity compels Odysseus to explore the land of the Cyclops, a race of uncivilized, cannibalistic, one-eyed giants. One of them, Polyphemus (also known simply as
"Cyclops"), traps Odysseus' scouting party in his cave. To escape, Odysseus blinds the one-eyed monster, incurring the wrath of the giant's father, Poseidon.
Aeolus, the wind god, is initially a friendly host. He captures all adverse winds and bags them for Odysseus, who is thus able to sail within sight of Ithaca.
Unfortunately, his men suspect that the bag holds treasure and open it while Odysseus sleeps. The troublesome winds blow the party back to Aeolus, who wants no
more to do with them, speculating that they must be cursed by the gods.
The next hosts, the cannibalistic Laestrygonians, sink all the ships but Odysseus' in a surprise attack. The remaining Greeks reach Aeaea, home of the beautiful
enchantress Circe, who turns several of them into pigs. With advice from Hermes, Odysseus cleverly defeats Circe and becomes her lover. She lifts the spell from his
men and aids in the group's eventual departure a year later, advising Odysseus that he must sail to the Land of the Dead. There, he receives various Greek heroes, a visit
from his own mother, and an important prophecy from the seer Tiresias. Odysseus resumes his journey.
Barely surviving the temptations of the Sirens' songs and an attack by a six-headed monster named Scylla, Odysseus and his crew arrive at the island of the Sungod
Helios. Despite severe warnings not to, the men feast on the cattle of the Sungod during Odysseus' brief absence. Zeus is outraged and destroys the ship as the Greeks
depart, killing all but Odysseus, who is washed ashore at Calypso's island, where he stays until released seven years later.
Books 13-24
The story of his adventures finished, Odysseus receives the admiration and gifts of the Phaeacians who follow their tradition of returning wayfaring strangers to their
homelands by sailing him to Ithaca. Meanwhile, Athena helps Telemachus avoid the suitors' ambush and arranges for him to meet his father at their pig farm not far
from the palace.
Reunited with his son and with the assistance of Athena and his faithful swineherd Eumaeus, Odysseus returns to his home palace disguised as a beggar. For the time,
he resists striking back at the suitors who insult and assault him. Penelope seems at least suspicious that he is her husband, but it is Eurycleia, a loyal nurse who cared
for Odysseus when he was a child, who has no doubt of his identity as she discovers an old scar on his leg when she bathes him.
Penelope arranges a contest, vowing to wed any man who can string the great bow of Odysseus and shoot an arrow through a dozen axes as he used to do. The suitors
all fail; only Odysseus himself can perform the feat. With deft planning and more help from Athena, he and Telemachus and two faithful herdsmen slaughter the suitors.
Odysseus and Penelope are reunited, as are Odysseus and his aging father, Laertes. Athena makes peace with the suitors' vengeful friends and families, avoiding civil
war. Odysseus is home at last.

An epic is a long narrative poem in an elevated style that deals with the trials and achievements of a great hero or heroes. The epic celebrates virtues of national,
military, religious, political, or historical significance. The word "epic" itself comes from the Greek pos, originally meaning "word" but later "oration" or "song." Like
all art, an epic may grow out of a limited context but achieves greatness in relation to its universality. It typically emphasizes heroic action as well as the struggle
between the hero's ethos and his human failings or mortality.
Increasingly, scholars distinguish between two types of epic. The first, theprimary epic, evolves from the mores, legends, or folk tales of a people and is initially
developed in an oral tradition of storytelling. Secondary epics, on the other hand, are literary. They are written from their inception and designed to appear as whole
Note: References throughout are to Robert Fagles' poetic translation,Homer: The Odyssey (New York: Penguin Putnam Inc., 1996). Citations are by book and line; for
example, line 47 in Book 3 is represented as (3.47).
The Odyssey as Epic
Composed around 700 BC, The Odyssey is one of the earliest epics still in existence and, in many ways, sets the pattern for the genre, neatly fitting the definition of a
primary epic (that is, one that grows out of oral tradition). The hero is long-suffering Odysseus, king of Ithaca and surrounding islands and hero of the Trojan War. He
has been gone 20 years from his homeland, his wife, Penelope, and his son, Telemachus. Odysseus embodies many of the virtues of ancient Greek civilization and in
some ways defines them. He is not, however, without his flaws, which sometimes get him into trouble.
Epics usually open with a statement of the subject and an invocation to the Muse or Muses the nine sister goddesses in Greek mythology, the daughters of the king of
gods, Zeus, and Mnemosyne ("Memory"). Certain Muses preside over song and poetry, which are joined in epics. Sometimes Muses are assigned to all the liberal arts
and sciences. Clio is usually thought of as the Muse of history. Erato takes care of lyrical love poetry. Calliope is the Muse most often associated with epic poetry.
Having invoked the Muse, the epic poet then begins in the middle of the tale; teachers sometimes use a Latin term, in medias res ("in the middle of things"), to identify
this technique. Beginning in the middle of the action, the poet then fills in significant prior events through flashbacks or narration.
The Odyssey also employs most of the literary and poetic devices associated with epics: catalogs, digressions, long speeches, journeys or quests, various trials or tests of
the hero, similes, metaphors, and divine intervention.
Although few contemporary authors attempt to compose epics, the influence of the genre and of The Odyssey is extensive. Many critics consider James
Joyce's Ulysses (1922), which uses Odysseus' Latin name ("Ulysses") for the title and places a very flawed non-hero in Dublin, to be the most important novel of the
twentieth century. Other works that students might compare to The Odyssey include Mark Twain'sHuckleberry Finn (1884), J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the
Rye (1951), John Cheever's short story "The Swimmer" (in the collection The Brigadier and the Golf Widow, 1964), and Donald Barthelme's The Dead Father (1975).
The Setting of Ithaca
While it includes recollections of earlier times, most of the action in The Odyssey takes place in the ten years following the Trojan War. Historically, was there ever such
a war? W. A. Camps (An Introduction to Homer, 1980, "Preliminary") argues impressively that there probably was but that it was much different from Homer's
depiction in The Iliad or the recollections of the characters in The Odyssey. Archaeological evidence indicates that the war may have taken place around 1220 bc and
that the city Homer calls Troy was destroyed by fire. The Odyssey was likely composed about five hundred years after these events.
In the interim, countless bards had worked over the stories. What we see (or hear) in Homer, is not a depiction of history but a world created out of legend, folk tales, at
least one poet's imagination, and a little bit of history. The "Wanderings of Odysseus," as his travel adventures are often called, take place largely in a reality beyond our
own; the settings vary widely. Ithaca, on the other hand, is a constant for Odysseus and Homer's audience.
Politically, the system in Ithaca is less formal than a city-state, but it does provide structure based on power. Odysseus is not just a great warrior or excellent seaman,
although those are important talents. He also is the best carpenter that Ithaca has known, the best hunter of wild boar, the finest marksman, and the leading expert on
animal husbandry. Odysseus can plow the straightest furrow and mow the largest stretch of meadow in a day. In fact, it is his superior skill, his intelligence, and his
prowess that enable him to maintain his power even after many years of absence. As long as he or his reputation can maintain control, Odysseus remains king of Ithaca
and surrounding islands.
Along with power, of course, comes wealth. Because Ithaca has no coined money, wealth is measured by livestock, household furnishings, servants, slaves, and
treasure. Slavery is not only accepted and encouraged in Homer's world, but slaves are viewed as symbols of wealth and power. Piracy, war, and raids on foreign cities
are all accepted means of increasing wealth. The first thing that Odysseus does after leaving Troy, for example, is to sack Ismarus, stronghold of the Cicones. In addition
to plunder, he captures the women.
Social traditions are strong in this community; ironically, it is the social tradition of hospitality that proves dangerous for Odyssey's wife, Penelope, and his son,

Finally, the people of Ithaca believe strongly in fate and the right of the gods to alter human life at any time. They hope that virtue will be rewarded, but they accept the
vicissitudes of fortune. If an Ithacan stubs his toe in the garden, he may say, "Some god sent that rock to alter my path!" Odysseus himself is proof that, if the gods
choose, anything might happen, even to a king.
Story Background
King Odysseus of Ithaca has been gone from home for 20 years. The first 10 he spent fighting heroically and victoriously with the Greeks in the Trojan War; the last 10,
he spent trying to get home. From other sources, we know that the goddess Athena arranged for storms to blow the Greeks off course as they attempted to sail home
from the war. She was outraged because a Greek warrior had desecrated her temple by attempting to rape Cassandra (daughter of the last king of Troy) in that sacred
place. Worse, the Greeks had not punished the man. Although Athena intervenes on Odysseus' behalf repeatedly throughout the epic, her curse originally causes his
With Odysseus gone, all that he has his kingship, his wealth, his home, and his wife and son is in jeopardy. His wife Penelope finds herself surrounded by
unwanted suitors because she is the key to the throne and to Odysseus' wealth. Her new husband would, at the very least, have a distinct advantage in the competition
for a new king. Like her son, Telemachus, Penelope lacks the power to eject the suitors who have invaded her home and are bent on forcing her to marry.
In his absence, Odysseus' son, Telemachus, is referred to as the heir apparent and, as such, is constantly in danger, the more so as he becomes a man and is perceived as
a threat by his mother's suitors. Telemachus lacks the stature of his father, and although he can summon the Achaeans (Greeks) on the island to full assembly, he cannot
accomplish his goals namely to rid his home of the unwanted suitors who have abused a custom of hospitality. Not only does Telemachus lack power to maintain
control, but he also has no formal system of laws or courts to support him. Telemachus himself acknowledges that he may, at best, be ruler only of his own house.
If Telemachus were to assume the crown without sufficient resources to defend it, which he currently lacks, he risk being deposed and, most likely, killed. If Penelope
stalls much longer in selecting a suitor, Ithaca could find itself in civil war, and she and her son may well be among its first victims. If she chooses a husband, her son is
still in danger unless he is willing to abdicate his claim to the throne. As repugnant as marriage seems, it may be necessary for Ithaca's and (possibly) her son's survival.
Character List
Human Beings and One Faithful Dog
Odysseus The central figure in the epic, he employs guile as well as courage to return to Ithaca, defeat the suitors, and resume his proper place as king.
Penelope Wife of Odysseus and mother of their son, Telemachus, she is shrewd and faithful in fending off the suitors.
Telemachus Son of Odysseus and Penelope, the prince struggles to gain his own maturity while attempting to deal with the problems of the palace.
Laertes Odysseus' father, the old king lives humbly and in solitude on a small farm where he mourns the absence of his son; once reunited with Odysseus, he is restored
to dignity.
Anticleia Odysseus' mother, she dies grieving her son's long absence and sees him only during his visit to the Land of the Dead.
Eurycleia Faithful old nurse to Odysseus (as well as Telemachus), she identifies her master when she recognizes an old scar on his leg.
Eumaeus and Philoetius Odysseus' loyal swineherd and cowherd, they assist him in his return to Ithaca and stand with the king and prince against the suitors.
Argos Trained by Odysseus some twenty years before, the discarded old dog, dying on a dung heap, recognizes his master as Odysseus and Eumaeus approach the
Antinous and Eurymachus The two leading suitors, they differ in that Antinous is more physically aggressive while Eurymachus is a smooth talker.
Eupithes Father of Antinous, he leads the suitors' families and friends who seek revenge for the slaughter and is killed by Laertes.
Melanthius and Melantho Odysseus' disloyal goatherd and an insolent palace maidservant, these two are representative of those who serve their master poorly, and
each is rewarded with a grisly death.
Agamemnon King of Mycenae and commander of the Greek expedition to Troy, he was assassinated by his wife and her lover upon his return home. Homer frequently
refers to him, comparing Penelope favorably to Agamemnon's wife, Clytemnestra. Odysseus sees him in the Land of the Dead.
Tiresias The blind seer of Thebes, he meets Odysseus in the Land of the Dead, warns him of impending dangers, offers advice, and foretells a later quest and a long life.
Alcinous King of the Phaeacians, he encourages Odysseus to tell the story of his wanderings and helps the hero return to Ithaca.
Nausicaa Daughter of Alcinous and Queen Arete, she finds Odysseus when he washes ashore on Phaeacia and expresses an attraction toward him.
Gods, Monsters, and Supernatural Beings

Zeus King of the gods, he is somewhat unpredictable but usually supports wayfaring suppliants, hospitality, and his daughter Athena in her concern for Odysseus.
Athena Sometimes called "Pallas Athena" or "Pallas," she frequently intervenes on Odysseus' or Telemachus' behalf, often in disguise and sometimes as Mentor, the
prince's adviser.
Polyphemus Also known as "the Cyclops," the one-eyed cannibal giant who traps Odysseus and a scouting party in his cave and is blinded when they escape.
Poseidon God of the sea and father of Polyphemus, he seeks revenge on Odysseus for blinding his son.
Calypso A goddess-nymph, she holds Odysseus captive for seven years, sleeping with him, hoping to marry him, and releasing him only at Zeus' order.
Circe A goddess-enchantress who turns some of Odysseus' crew into swine, she reverses the spell and becomes Odysseus' lover for a year, advising him well when he
Aeolus Master of the winds, he helps Odysseus get within viewing distance of Ithaca but later abandons the voyager, concluding that anyone so unlucky must be cursed.

Years after the end of the Trojan War, the Greek hero Odysseus still hasn't come home to Ithaka. Most people figure he's dead. But we don't: Homer lets us know right
away that Odysseus is being held as a (willing) sex captive on the island of the goddess Kalypso. Oh, and sea god Poseidon is ticked off at Odysseus, and sees no reason
to let him get home.
Back in Ithaka, Odysseus's wife Penelope is getting swarmed by a horde of unwanted suitors. Odysseus and Penelope's son, Telemachos, now a typically moody
teenager, gets a visit from the goddess Athene (who was always chummy with Odysseus). She tells him to go looking for news of his missing father, so he heads to
Pylos to visit King Nestor. Nestor takes him in, gives him a dinnerand then tells him to go see King Menelaos in Sparta. Once again, he does as he's told.
In Sparta, Telemachos learns from Menelaos that Odysseus is alive andwell, being held captive on Kalypso's island. Menelaos also tells Telemachos about how his
bro, King Agamemnon, was murdered when he got home from Troy by his unfaithful wife, Klytaimestra, and her lover, Aigisthos. It's cool, though: Agamemnon's son
Orestes killed the murderers. This fun story raises the question of whether Odysseus will be killed when he gets home, and, if so, whether Telemachos will step up to
avenge his father's death. Meanwhile, back in Ithaka, Penelope's suitors plot to ambush and kill Telemachos when he returns home. Oh, the tension!
Up on Mount Olympos, where the gods all hang out, the goddess Athene asks her father, Zeus, the King of the gods, to have mercy on Odysseus and force Kalpyso to
release him. Zeus says whatevs, and in no time, Odysseus sails off on a makeshift raft.
(Click the character infographic to download.)
Unfortunately, Poseidon whips up some storms, and instead of getting home, Odysseus washes ashore in the land of the Phaiakians. Fortunately, Athene makes the
resident princess, Nausikaa, develop a crush on him. Nausikaa takes him home to meet her parents, the King and Queen of Phaiakia. In return for their hospitality,
Odysseus tells them (and us) everything that's happened to him since the end of the Trojan War, which is this:
Odysseus left Troy with a ship of his Ithakan men. At their first stop, they plundered the locals' stuff. Several storm-tossed days later, they landed on the island of the
Lotus-eaters. A few guys ate the lotus flower (i.e. every drug your parents have ever warned you about), forgot their homes and families, and had to be taken back to the
ship by force.
Next, Odysseus and his men came to the land of the giant one-eyed Cyclopes. They stumbled into a Cyclops cave, and the resident Cyclops (Polyphemos) sealed the
entrance to the cave with a huge boulder and ate a few of the Ithakans. Not cool. Odysseus did some of his patented trickery and managed to blind the monster; the next
morning, he and his men escaped by riding under the bellies of Polyphemos's flock of sheep. (Here's apicture of his escape.)
But as Odysseus was sailing away with his men, his ego got the better of him. He taunted the Cyclops, telling him his real name. Turns out, Polyphemos was the son of
Poseidon, the god of the sea. Oops. Guess this is why Poseidon hates our hero so much.
Next, Odysseus and his men came to the island of Aiolos, god of the wind. He helped Odysseus out by putting all the windsexcept for the westbound breeze they
neededinto a nice little bag. Unfortunately, Odysseus didn't tell his men what's in the bag. On the way home, they opened it up, thinking it was full of treasure. Big
mistake. All the winds jumped out and ran riot, thus driving them to the island of sorceress Circe, who turned many of the men into pigs.
With the help of the gods, Odysseus got his men turned back into humans and had sex with Circe. For a year. Finally, one of his men said, "Can we get going already?,"
and Odysseus said, "OK." Waitfirst they had to go the Underworld and get advice from the prophet Teiresias. (Just don't ask Apple Maps for directions.)
At the Underworld, Teiresias prophesied that Odysseus would make it home, but not without difficulty. Odysseus spoke to several other famous dead people (like his
war buddies Achilleus and Agamemnon). He also met the ghost of his mother, Antikleia, who had died of grief over her son's prolonged absence. Then, after a quick pit
stop back at Circe's island for more directions (who says men don't ask for directions?), Odysseus and his men sailed on for a series of adventures:
(1) When they passed by the Sirens, monstrous women with beautiful voices who try to lure sailors to their deaths, Odysseus made his men plug their ears and tie him to
the mast so he could listen to the song without chasing after it. He became the only man to hear the Sirens' song and survive.
(2) Next, they met two horrible monsters (curiously, also female) named Skylla and Charybdis. As predicted by Circe, Skylla (who has six heads) ate six Ithakans; the
rest barely escaped Charybdis (a giant vortex who sucks up the sea and vomits it back out again).
(3) Next, they landed on the island of Helios, the sun god, where his very special cattle were kept. Despite having been warned by Teiresias and Circe not to eat the
cattle, Odysseus's men couldn't control their hunger. Bad call. Not long afterward, everyone died in a stormexcept for Odysseus.
(4) But he was in for his own bad luck: winding up on Kalypso's island to be held prisoner for seven yearsbefore getting free to shipwreck with the Phaiakians, where
he's telling this story.
And that's it for Odysseus's story to the Phaiakians. They're so moved by his suffering that they load him up with treasure and ferry him back to Ithaka. (Unfortunately,
in return for their trouble, the god Poseidon turns them and their ship into stone.) But the fun isn't over yethe still has all those pesky suitors to deal with.
Once Odysseus gets home, Athene disguises him as a beggar so he can scope out the situation. Odysseus then recruits the assistance of the swineherd, Eumaios, who
puts him up for the night while Athene flies to Sparta to retrieve Telemachos. When Telemachos gets back, Odysseus reveals himself to his son and then heads to the
palace, still disguised as a beggar. Without revealing his true identity, he tries to convince Penelope that Odysseus is on his way home and susses out which of his
servants are still loyal to the household and which have joined the suitors.
By now, Penelope decides to take action: she'll marry the winner of a content of physical prowess. The challenge? String Odysseus's old bow and shoot it through the
heads of twelve axes. You can guess the rest: everyone tries and fails, until the beggar (Odysseus in disguise) steps up. He succeeds, drops the disguise, and, with the
help of Telemachos, several loyal servants, and Athene's protection, kills all the suitors in a massive and bloody slaughter. Odysseus reunites with his wife, and
everything is back to normalexcept that he's just killed all the young noblemen of Ithaka and their parents are furious.
The next morning, Odysseus leaves the palace, reunites with his father Laertes, and lays low while the angry moms and dads start looking for vengeance. Just when it
looks like more violence is on the way, Athene appears and asks why we can't all get along. This sounds like a great idea to everyone, and peace is restored in Ithaka.


Faithful swineherd of Odysseus.

King of Mycenae; Greek leader at Troy, murdered by his wife Klytaimnestra and
her lover Aigisthos on his return home; brother of Menelaos.

Father of Antinous; killed by Laertes.

One of the suitors of Penelope.
Old and faithful nurse to Odysseus.
Circe's island.
Second-in-command to Odysseus during his travels.
Greek hero at Troy, drowned on the return trip after defying the gods. Name also
spelled 'Ajax'.

Rational suitor to Penelope.



Klytaimnestra's lover; usurper of Agamemnon's throne at Mycenae.

Housekeeper to Penelope.



King of the winds; gives Odysseus a bag of winds.

God of the underworld.



Homer's name for the Greeks (as opposed to the Trojans).

Old friend of Odysseus in Ithaca.



The greatest Greek warrior at Troy.

Wife of Menelaos; carried off to Troy by Paris, causing the Trojan War.



King of the Phaeacians, host to Odysseus; father of Nausicaa, husband of Arete.

Sun god whose sacred cattle are eaten by Odysseus' crew.



A suitor of Penelope.

Queen of the gods, wife of Zeus.



Hotheaded ringleader of Penelope's suitors.

Messenger of the gods.



Queen of the Phaeacians.

Another name for Troy.



One of Odysseus' crew; falls off Circe's roof and dies.

Beggar to Penelope's suitors; stirs up a fight with Odysseus.



The dark land of the dead.

Island home of Odysseus.



Beautiful nymph who detains Odysseus eight years at island of Ogygia.



The nine goddesses who inspire the arts.

A dangerous whirlpool by which Odysseus must sail.



Principal city of the Achaeans, home of Agamemnon.

People at Ismaros, raided by Odysseus after the Trojan War.



Phaeacian princess, daughter of Alcinous; she rescues Odysseus and has a crush on

Enchantress who turns men into swine; Odysseus and his men stay on her island for
a year.



Father of Nestor.

Murderous wife of Agamemnon, lover of Aigisthos.



Elderly king of Pylos, chief adviser of the Greeks at Troy.

One of Penelope's suitors; killed by the cowherd.



Island home of Calypso.

One-eyed race of giants; Odysseus encounters the Cyclops named Polyphemus on

his journey.

King of Thebes who killed his father and married his mother.

Father of Odysseus.
Mountain home of the gods.
Hostile giants who attack Odysseus and eat his men.

Killed Klytaimnestra and Aigisthos to avenge the murder of his father,

Agamemnon; foil character to Telemachus.

The crier, spared during the slaughter.



Achilles' best friend at Troy; his death inspired Achilles to fight.

Disloyal goatherd to Odysseus.



Telemachus' trusted crewman.

Disloyal maidservant to Odysseus.



Nestor's youngest son; he accompanies Telemachus on part of his journey.

Brother of Agamemnon, husband of Helen, host to Telemachus.



Inhabitants of the island of Skheria.

Old friend of Odysseus; one of Athena's disguises.



Bard at the palace of Odysseus; spared in the slaughter.

Old friend of Odysseus; adviser to Telemachus; frequent disguise of Athena.


Faithful cowherd to Odysseus.



River boundary between the land of the living and the land of the dead.

Cyclops son of Poseidon; blinded by Odysseus.



Blind prophet met by Odysseus in the land of the dead; he foretells Odysseus'

"The Ancient of the Sea," he has the gift of prophecy and can change his shape.
Fugitive who accompanies Telemachus home and interprets omens.
Enchantresses who lure sailors to their deaths with their beautiful voices.
King of the gods, brother of Poseidon, father of Athena; ruler on Mount Olympos.
Island home of Alcinous, Arete, and Nausicaa.