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The Odyssey deals with events that allegedly took place after the end of the
Trojan War in 1225 BC. It belongs to the period of pre history and myth.
Efforts by Historians and Archeologists to discover hard facts have not been
The Iliad and the Odyssey developed from poems and songs told as
entertainment. Allegedly they were written by Homer a blind Greek poet
around 750 BC. There are no details known of his life and he may well have
not been a real person or he may have been two or more poets writing at the
same time.
The Iliad deals with some of the events of the Trojan War. Parts of the story
are also to be found in the Odyssey and the Aeneid written by the Roman
poet Virgil. The story is as follows:
Troy is a city in modern Turkey ruled over by Priam. Priam’s son Paris
seduced Helen the wife of Menelaus the King of Sparta and she went to Troy
with him. The Greeks launched an expedition to rescue her led by Menelaus’s
brother Agamemnon. After nine years the siege of Troy was inconclusive.
Achilles the leading Greek warrior is refusing to fight after a row with
Agamemnon. Achilles is invulnerable to weapons as his mother dipped him in
the river Styx as a baby. However, she held him by the heel giving him a
weak spot. His friend Patroclus dresses in his armor and is killed by Hector
the eldest son of Priam. This rouses Achilles to action and he kills Hector and
drags his corpse round Troy behind a chariot. Paris then shot Achilles in the
heel with a poisoned arrow. Paris is killed soon after.
Troy however remains safe despite the gloomy prophecies of Cassandra,
Priam’s daughter. Helenus, a prophet, says that Troy will never fall until the
Palladium, a little statue of the Goddess Athena, leaves Troy. Odysseus the
Greek King of Ithaca sneaks into Troy and steals it.
Odysseus then designs a great horse filled with soldiers. The Greeks pretend
to leave and the Trojans, ignoring Cassandra’s warnings, pull the horse inside
Troy. That night the soldiers get out of the horse and open the gates to the
waiting Greek army. Troy is sacked and most of the inhabitants slaughtered.
Aeneas (a Trojan noble) escapes and his descendents found Rome.
“Tell me Muse the story of that resourceful man who was driven to wander far
and wide after he had sacked the holy citadel of Troy. He saw the cities of
many people and he learnt their ways. He suffered great anguish on the high
seas in his struggles to preserve his life and bring his comrades home”.
Book 1 lines 1-5
The first four chapters concern Odysseus’s son Telemachus and a number of
loose ends from the Trojan War. The chapters that we will be covering ( 5 6 9
10 and 12) deal with his journeys round the Mediterranean and the people
that he meets there. We miss out 7 8 and 11. Chapters 13 to the end are
about his homecoming to Ithaca. Odysseus is the only survivor of the crew
and arrives shipwrecked and in rags. He finds a gang of suitors hoping to
marry Penelope his wife. In an abuse of the Greek rules of hospitality they
are partying at his expense every night and planning to kill Telemachus.
Odysseus kills them all, is reunited with Penelope and they all live happily
ever after.
The facts and characters of the story.
Do you admire Odysseus. What are his good and bad points?
Is Odysseus a good leader?
Is Odysseus, the men or the Gods to blame for the disasters?
The Greek rules of hospitality.
Female characters in the book and how they help and hinder
7. The mixing of epic heroic events and ordinary details of people’s lives.
8. The order in which events happen – the story is not chronological.
This is an excellent
introduction to the Odyssey with a short and a more detailed version of the
=19300/data/homer.htm This is a more detailed site on the Odyssey and the
Iliad. There is a full version of the story and useful background.
A Google search against Odysseus will turn up both of these.
1. Odysseus leaves Troy. The fleet is scattered by a storm sent by
2. Odysseus attacks Ismarus the city of the Cicones. (Book 9 39 – 61).
3. Zeus sends a storm. (Book 9 62 - 82 )
4. Odysseus escapes the Lotus eaters (Book 9 82 – 104)
5. Odysseus blinds the Cyclops, Polyphemus (Book 9 105 – 567E)
6. Odysseus goes to Aoelia the home of Aeolus the keeper of the
winds. He ties up the winds in a sack and sends him home. (Book 10
1 – 28)
7. His men undo the sack and they are blown back to Aeolus. (Book 10
28– 79)
8. Odysseus goes to Telepylus the island of the Laestrygonians. All
his ships, bar one, are sunk. (Book 10 80 – 133)
9. Odysseus is captured by the witch Circe on her island of Aeaea.
(Book 10 134 – 574E)
10. Odysseus visits The Underworld (Book 11).
11. Odysseus leaves Circe and gets good advice (Book 12 1 – 153)
12. Odysseus listens to the Sirens (Book 12 153 – 200)
13. Odysseus escapes Scylla and Charybdis. (Book 12 201 – 259)
14. Odysseus lands on Thrinacie the island of the Sun God where his
men eat the sacred cattle. (Book 12 260 – 402)
15. There is a great storm and all his men are drowned. Odysseus is
washed up on Ogygia the island of Calypso where he stays for 7
years (Book 12 403 – 454E).
16. The Gods send Hermes to persuade Calypso to release Odysseus
which she does. (Book 5 1 – 269)
17. Poseidon sends a storm which nearly finishes Odysseus (again).
(Book 5 269 – 493E)
18. Odysseus is washed up on Scherie, the island of the Phaeacians
where he meets Nausicaa, the king’s daughter. (Book 6 1 – 331E).
19. Odysseus is royally entertained by Alcinous the King of the
Phaeacians and attends an athletics contest. Books 7 and 8.
20. Odysseus tells the story of events 2 – 14 to King Alcinous (Books 9
10 11 and 12).
21. Odysseus returns to Ithaca, kills the suitors and is reunited with
Penelope. (Books 13 – 24).
-The underlined sections are not part of the course-
1. Books 1 – 4. Do not read these. (Apart from Book 1 Line 1-5) They
will not help you and may confuse you
2. Books 7 8 and 11. You need to be aware of the main themes of
these and where they fit into the story. Don’t read them at this stage. I
will provide a brief summary and important themes in due course. Very
brief references to them will give the impression of intelligence in the
3. Books 13 – 24. You need to know one or two main themes. Don’t
read them. I will provide details of what you need to know in due
course. Again very brief references to them will give the impression of
intelligence in the exam.
In the Odyssey Gods play a leading role and many characters are the
offspring of Gods and Goddesses. They meddle in the affairs of men and are
often jealous and spiteful. Noted ones are.
The King of the Gods and the God of hospitality. Frequently
seen ravishing hapless women. He is supposed to be neutral
so that the affairs of men can be governed by Destiny.
Queen of the Gods. Jealous. Often punishes the unfortunate
victims of Zeus’s bad behavior.
Zeus’s brother. The God of the sea and earthquakes.
Odysseus’s enemy.
Also called Pallas she is the goddess of wisdom and the friend
and protector of Odysseus.
The messenger of the Gods
Goddess of love. Allegedly born from the foam off Paphos in
God of War
HEPHAESTUS The crippled God of mining and blacksmiths. Married to
Zeus’s youngest brother. God of the underworld and the
Also called Helios. The God of the Sun.
Aeolus - A mortal whom Zeus has appointed keeper of the winds.
Alcinous - The king of the Phaeacians, husband of Arete and father of
Nausicaa, he is a generous, kind, and good-humoured ruler and father.
Antiphates – The chief of the Laestrygonians. An uncivilised cannibal.
Arete - The queen of the Phaeacians, wife of Alcinous and mother of
Athene - Daughter of Zeus, goddess of wisdom and patroness of the arts and
crafts, also known as Pallas. Odysseus is her favourite and protégé.
Calypso - The sea nymph who keeps Odysseus captive for nine years and
who, in hope of making him her husband, offers him immortality.
Charybdis – A terrible whirlpool opposite Scylla in the straits of Messina.
Circe - The enchantress who transforms the crew of Odysseus into swine and
who, when she finds that she cannot conquer Odysseus, takes him as a lover
and helps him with advice and supplies on his voyage home.
Elpenor - A young seaman in the crew of Odysseus who dies in an accident
on Circe island.
Eurylochus – Odysseus’s kinsman and one of his officers; An unpleasant
character, he deserts the men on Circe’s island but undermines Odysseus in
front of his men and encourages the men to slaughter the cattle of Helios.
Hermes - Son of Zeus, the ambassador of the gods, conductor of the dead
souls to Hades, and patron of travellers, merchants, and thieves.
Hyperion - The god of the sun. Also known as Helios. It is his cattle which is
eaten by Odysseus' crew.
Leucothoie - A sea nymph who helps Odysseus reach the island of the
Phaeacians during the storm in Book V.
Nausicaa - The daughter of Alcinous and Arete. She is a charming young
maiden, in her adolescence.
Odysseus - King of Ithaca and hero of the book. He is the first of the Greek
epic heroes to be renowned for his brain as well as his muscle.
Perimedes – One of the crew.
Penelope - The wife of Odysseus. She is serious and industrious, a perfect
wife and mother in many aspects.
Polites – another of the crew who Odysseus respects
Polyphemus - A one-eyed Cyclops who held Odysseus and his men captive
in his cave until he was made drunk and blinded by Odysseus.
Poseidon - Younger brother of Zeus, god of the sea and earthquakes, father
of Polyphemus. Because Odysseus is a sailor and must travel home by ship,
Poseidon is able to do him much harm. The god bears a grudge against him
because of his rough treatment of Polyphemus.
Scylla - A sea monster with six heads whom Odysseus and his crew must
pass during their voyage.
Sirens - Two beautiful maidens who dwell in a flowery meadow on an island
somewhere between that of Circe and of Scylla. They tempt passing mariners
to their deaths by their tantalizing songs.
Tiresias – A blind prophet who gives advice in the Underworld.
Zeus - The supreme god and king of Olympus. He is officially neutral in
human affairs; his duty is to carry out the will of Destiny, but he is often
sympathetic towards humans.
Places and tribes
Aeaea - The island home of the enchantress Circe.
Aeolia - A floating island home of Aeolus, king of the winds.
Capri - Island home of the Sirens.
Cicones - A Thracian tribe whose capital was raided by Odysseus and his
men after leaving Troy.
Cyclops – A tribe of uncivilised giants.
Hades - The land of the dead.
Ithaca - The island kingdom of Odysseus. Off the west coast of mainland
Ismaurus - The capital of the Cicones, located in Thrace, to the north- east of
Laestrygonians - A tribe of cannibal barbarians who seriously attack
Odysseus and his men when the Greek ships land in their country.
Lotus eaters – A tribe who consume the mind altering lotus fruit.
Ogygia - Island home of the nymph Calypso. Thought to be modern day
Olympus - A mountain in Greece, which is home to many of the gods and
Phaeacians - The inhabitants of the land of Scheria.
Scheria - The island home of the Phaeacians, and the kingdom of Alcinous.
Telepylus – The home of the Laestrygonians
Troy - A kingdom that was destroyed by the Greeks in the Trojan War. It is
located on the western coast of Turkey.
Thrinacia - Island home to the cattle of the sun god, Helios.
A very important theme in the Odyssey is hospitality (Xenia in Greek). When
a person turns up at a stranger’s house there are clear ways to behave. Both
sides have obligations. These basic rules have been observed throughout
History and are still important today.
1. The rules of Xenia are governed by Zeus and those who break the
rules are punished.
2. The Guest is expected to behave properly. He is polite to the Host and
introduces himself. He explains his position and asks for help. He
doesn’t help himself before he is asked. He behaves in a polite and
honorable way throughout his stay.
3. The Host is obliged to provide shelter, food, drink and protection. He
also gives advice.
4. The guest can leave whenever he likes. When he leaves the Host gives
him a gift.
The Odyssey is an epic. What this means is this:
It is based around a heroic character who is larger than life.
It has a strong element of the supernatural – fantastic beasts etc.
The Gods play an active role in the adventure.
It concerns a journey, where the hero meets different people and an
eventual homecoming.
5. The heroic simile is used. This is an extended version of the usual
simile. Examples are:
a. When Poseidon sends a storm it is compared to a wind buffeting
b. Odysseus being compared to a mountain lion what he meets
c. Nausicaa being compared to a fresh young palm tree.
d. The men being compared to cattle when they are rescued from
e. When Odysseus is hanging off the fig tree waiting for Charybdis
to release the logs the delay is compared to that of a judge.
Destiny is an important part of the book. The rules are laid down and
enforced by Zeus. Odysseus’s destiny is to get home. However how long it
takes, how hard it is, how many men make it back and what he will find when
he gets there are up for grabs. Look at Polyphemus’s curse for a summary.
Odysseus is quick to blame the Gods. In reality, are the problems the fault of
himself and his men?
“What a lamentable thing it is that men should blame the gods and regards us
as the source of their troubles, when it is their own transgressions which bring
them suffering that is not their destiny”.
(Zeus lines 33 – 35 Book 1 the Odyssey).
Odysseus is coming home from Troy with twelve ships. He arrives at Ismarus
the city of the Cicones. After the sacking of the city the men are feasting and
they ignore Odysseus’s orders to get on the ships. Other Cicones arrive and
seventy men are killed. They then land at the Lotus Eaters island. Some of
the men are intoxicated by the drug. Odysseus drags them on board. They
then land at the island of the Cyclops. Odysseus goes into Polyphemus cave.
They are trapped when Polyphemus returns. He eats two of the men and
expresses contempt for the laws of hospitality and the Gods. Odysseus gets
him drunk and gouges out his eye. They escape from the cave by hiding
under the sheep. As Odysseus is escaping he foolishly boasts to Polyphemus
and tells him his name. Polyphemus prays to his father Poseidon to punish
1. The relationship between Odysseus and his crew. He cares for them
and shares out the loot equally. They give him an extra share as they
respect him. He drags them on board after the Lotus-fruit has been
eaten. He is a good leader and is generally obeyed. However they
defy him at Ismarus. He volunteers for dangerous jobs.
2. Hospitality. Odysseus’s minor breach of the rules – why does he do
this - and Polyphemus’s terrible behavior. The abuse of the gift. The
use of hospitality traditions to get the better of Polyphemus. Contrast
this with King Alcinous.
3. Odysseus’s character. He does silly things – going into the cave,
boasting to Polyphemus and the consequences of this. He is boastful
and blames the Gods. He is curious. However, he is brave,
resourceful and polite.
4. The stupid behavior of the crew with the Cicones and the Lotus eaters.
Their sensible advice about Polyphemus which is ignored.
5. Polyphemus’s and the Cyclops. What conclusions does Odysseus
draw from their primitive lifestyle? What good points do they show?
6. Descriptive passages. The cheese making, the cave entrance and the
7. Odysseus’s trickery. How does he get out of the cave? The pun on
me tis.
8. The role of the Gods.
The ships arrive at the island of King Aeolus who keeps the winds. He
entertains Odysseus and gives him the winds safely in a bag leaving a gentle
west wind to take him back to Ithaca. After nine days Odysseus falls asleep
within sight of land. The men open the bag thinking that it contains treasure.
The winds blow them to the land of the Laestrygonians. The fleet is attacked
and the crews eaten. Odysseus escapes with one ship. They end up on
Circe’s island. Odysseus sends Eurylochus to her house with half the crew.
Eurylochus runs away but the men are turned into pigs. Odysseus goes to
rescue them and gets advice from Hermes the messenger of the Gods. He
forces Circe to behave properly and to turn the men back into people. They
are well entertained there but Circe tells them that they need to visit the land
of the dead before they go home.
1. The hospitality debate. King Aeolus is an excellent host and gives
presents and advice. He turns against Odysseus later. The
Laestrygonians are the worst possible hosts. Circe is initially bad but
eventually is excellent giving food and advice. Note that Odysseus
forces her to be better and refuses to accept food until his men are
treated properly.
2. Odysseus’s leadership. Encouraging the men and taking decisions.
Killing the stag. “I have absolutely no choice” when he returns to save
his men. He never blames the men and is honest with them. Practical
when he orders them to drag the ship onto the beach. Is he guilty of
secretiveness and lack of supervision with Aeolus? He is perhaps
selfish when he lingers too long on Circe’s island although he agrees to
leave when the men ask him.
3. Human emotions. Guilt when the Laestrygonians kill his men. Guilt
felt by the men for opening the bag. Traumatized when they arrive on
Circe’s island. Rage with Eurylochus.
4. The incompetent crew. Opening the bag on unfair suspicions.
Cracking up later. Is Odysseus loosing patience with their moaning
and weeping? Link with them to pigs and cows. They do quieten
Odysseus when he wants to kill Eurylochus although as things turned
out it might have been better to have let Odysseus kill him. The death
of Elpenor.
5. Eurylochus. Cannot lead as he is a coward and leaves the men in the
lurch. Cannot follow as he undermines Odysseus.
6. The Gods are clearly displeased. However, Odysseus gets good
advice from Hermes which he follows.
7. Odysseus the womanizer.
8. Cultural differences. Greeks were more tolerant of the incestuous
children of Aeolus. Nowadays we would be horrified.
Odysseus leaves Circe after he has been advised how to deal with the
Sirens Scylla and Charybdis. He has also been warned about Thrinacie the
home of the cattle belonging to the Sun God. He has already been warned by
Tiresias the blind prophet in the Underworld.
Odysseus escapes the Sirens, Charybdis and Scylla, although six of his
men are killed.
His men (encouraged by Eurylochus) force him to land in Thrinacie although
he makes them swear an oath not to touch the cattle. The food runs out and
while he is away the men kill and eat the cattle. Zeus sinks the ship killing the
men. Odysseus is swept back to Charybdis. He escapes and is washed up
on Ogygia the home of Calypso.
1. Odysseus arguing with Circe when she tells him not to fight Scylla.
Does this show arrogance, a concern for the men or resourcefulness.
Is Circe proved right?
2. Odysseus lies to the men telling them that Circe told him to hear the
Sirens. He endangers their lives just to satisfy his curiosity
3. Odysseus with the Sirens. This shows him as curious and as a
4. Odysseus feelings when he has to lie to his men about Scylla leading
to six of them being killed. Why does he have to do this?
5. Odysseus weakness when he gives in to them and stays on the island.
He cannot impose his will (unlike with the Lotus eaters). Is this
weakness and leadership by committee. Or is Odysseus showing
respect for the men or a fear that they might defy him and he could lose
the command position. He may be tempted by the prospect of a
comfortable night ashore
6. The behavior of the men. Encouraged by Eurylochus the men break
their promise and bring the disaster on them. Odysseus cannot control
them when he is not there.
7. The vengeance of the Gods. Is this justified? Zeus gives in to
Hyperion's threats.
8. Odysseus has had enough of the men. See his lack of sympathy and
grief when they are killed. “There would be no homecoming for them
the Gods had seen to that”.
Odysseus is trapped on the Island of Ogygia by the goddess Calypso. He is
homesick. The Gods meet at Olympus and Athene argues that Odysseus
has suffered enough and deserves to go home. Zeus agrees and sends
Hermes to tell Calypso to let him go.
Hermes travels to tell Calypso. She is initially hostile, saying that the Gods
always try and break up a relationship between a goddess and a mortal man.
She eventually agrees.
Calypso promises Odysseus immortality if he stays. He refuses and builds a
raft. The raft is wrecked by Poseidon. However he is given advice by the
sea goddess Ino. Athene calms the storm once Poseidon has gone.
Odysseus eventually manages to get ashore on Scherie the land of the
Phracians. He has to pray to the River God to land.
1. The role of the Gods. The authority of Zeus and the kindness of
Athene and Ino. The revenge of Poseidon. Note that Athene is only
prepared to help Odysseus once Poseidon has left him alone. She will
not stand up to Poseidon directly.
2. The character of Odysseus. Free from the leadership role he is reveled
as a very human character. He is homesick and lonely. Also he
refuses immortality showing his love for his wife and home. He is
mistrustful of Calypso and Ino - why does he feel like that? He shows
a tough nature when he says that “I have a heart that is inured to
suffering and I shall steel it to endure that too”.
3. Odysseus accepts the advice of Ino when he throws away the veil. Is
he finally learning obedience?
4. Hospitality. The hospitality shown by Calypso and by the River God.
Odysseus pleads to the River God for the help due to a guest.
5. Descriptive passages – the boat building and the storm.
The island of Scherie is ruled by King Alcinous. His daughter Nausicaa is
woken by Athene and goes down to the river with her friends to swim and
wash clothes. They meet Odysseus who is naked and in a terrible state. He
greets Nausicaa politely and asks for hospitality. She directs him to the
palace of her father and promises that he will be well received.
1. The character of Nausicaa. She is a obedient girl with traditional
values. She is kind and helpful. She doesn’t want to risk her
reputation by being seen with Odysseus. However she is resourceful
and is not scared of Odysseus.
2. Hospitality. Odysseus is very polite when he greets her and she
responds correctly. Contrast this with other meetings.