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Summary of Homerʼs “The Odyssey”
The ancient Greeks were great storytellers. They
created many stories about gods, goddesses, and
other mythical creatures. Some of these stories
tell tales of what happened when magical beings
meet mortal man.
The Greeks loved heroes. One of their heroes was
King Odysseus. The stories of brave Odysseus and
his loyal band of men were told over and over by
traveling storytellers during the dark ages of
ancient Greece.
A man named Homer lived right at the end of dark
ages, in the 8th century BCE. (During 700 BCE.)
Over 2700 years ago, the poet Homer collected
and wrote down many of the ancient legends told
by the traveling storytellers. Homer took all the
stories about King Odysseus and put this collection
of stories together in one book, which he named
“The Odyssey.”
The stories were told of Odysseus and his men who lived on the island of Ithaca. Odysseus had been
away from home, fighting in the Trojan War (the one where the Greeks hid inside of a large wooden
horse and attacked their enemies when they least expected it). After the battle of Troy, which the
Greeks won, King Odysseus and his men finally sailed for home. Ithaca is a little island as far away
from Troy as you could get and still be in ancient Greece.
It was a long trip. It could have taken Odysseus a good month to get home. These were early times,
and the ships were not as strongly built as they are today. But because of the trouble Odysseus faced
on the way, it took Odysseus and his men ten long years to get home!
According to the ancient Greek storytellers, in ten long years, Odysseus and his men had quite a few
adventures, and all of them had to do with mythical creatures! Two of the stories from “The
Odyssey” went something like this …
The Cyclops Cave: After Odysseus and his men had been at sea for a while, their supplies began to
dwindle. Odysseus and some of his men landed on shore to look for food, and lucky for them they
found a cave full of sheep! They cooked some sheep and stuffed themselves full. Unfortunately, the
sheep belonged to a Cyclops (a one eyed giant) named Polyphemus, which is a one-eyed giant!
Polyphemus usually ate goat cheese and goat milk, but particularly enjoyed an occasional treat of live
humans. When the men asked for Polyphemus' hospitality, he trapped them in his cave and kept
them there until he was ready to eat them. But Odysseus had a plan. He offered Polyphemus some
fragrant red wine given to him by the sea god Poseidon. The wine made Polyphemus fall asleep.
Odysseus lit a stake on fire and poked it into Polyphemus' single eye. Polyphemus quickly woke up
and howled in agony.
He asked Poseidon to place a curse on Odysseus so that he would never see his home again, but if it
must be that he got home, he asked that the homecoming was long and terrible. Later, Odysseus he
speaks to Tiresias the blind prophet, who tells them the reason they are having such bad luck.
Poseidon is angered by the blinding of Polyphemus and prevents Odysseus’s return. He offers his
vision of the future to Odysseus, that he will eventually return home to his wife and son.
The Sirens: Not too long after that, Odysseus and his men ran into the Sirens. The Sirens were
magical sea creatures that looked rather like mermaids. They were known for their beautiful singing
voices. The music they made was so hypnotic that sailors stopped sailing their ships, to listen. With
no one in charge, the ships crashed into land, killing everyone on board.
When Odysseus heard the beautiful music, he was suspicious immediately. He had had quite a few
adventures already. He was beginning to be a bit suspicious of everything!
To be extra safe, he stuffed his crewmen’s ears so they could not hear the music. He tied himself to
the ship’s mast. That way, in case the gods decided to be helpful, he wanted to be able to hear them.
But, since he was tied tightly, he would not be able to jump off the ship or swim to shore, or to do
anything else that might endanger himself or his crew, when he heard the magical music. It worked!
Odysseus is still the only man in the world who ever heard the Sirens sing and lived to tell about it!
What happens in the end?
After a few more hardships, Odysseus finally found his way home. Once he was on the shore,
Athena told him what hardships had plagued his family for the 20 years he was gone. She explained
how suitors had attempted to marry Penelope, his wife. In exactly one day, she would be forced to
marry one of them. Odysseus went to his wife in disguise and told her he was home. She decided
to have an archery contest and the winner would be her husband. Of course Odysseus won,
because he was the best archer in all of Greece. Odysseus and Penelope lived happily ever after!
Your Assignment: Write a fictional modern-day story that is based on “The Odyssey.”
This should be a quality story with well-developed characters from 2012 that
experience situations similar to Odysseus and his men, as well as Penelope, Tiresias,
the Sirens, and more. BE CREATIVE! I can’t wait to see what you come up with! You
will have today and tomorrow to complete this assignment (which means you should
use your time wisely today and work really hard to get a good start so you can finish
on time tomorrow). Make me proud Historians!