The Odyssey Summary

The Odyssey by Homer


     "The Odyssey" is an epic poem written by Homer in 700 B.C. This poem begins where "The Iliad" left off, which is after the Trojan War ends. It follows Odysseus, king of Ithaca, as he makes his journey back home. The war lasted ten years, and his trip home takes him another ten years because of all the obstacles that he encounters. As with many heroes, Odysseus has people who assist him and people who oppose him. During this time the Greek gods felt free to intervene in the lives of humans, so Athena would often help Odysseus on his journey while Poseidon constantly tried to steer his ship off course.

     When Odysseus sailed away from Ithaca, he left behind his wife, Penelope, and his young son, Telemachus. With Odysseus being gone for so many years, men in Ithaca thought that Penelope should choose a new husband because Odysseus may never return. Therefore, these suitors moved into the palace and ate Odysseus's food and drank his wine while continually asking Penelope to choose one of them to marry. Frustrated by this behavior, Telemachus wanted the suitors to leave, but he was too young to force them. Instead he decided he would journey off in search of information about his father to find out if he was dead or alive. Telemachus ends up meeting King Nestor who encourages him to speak to Menelaus, which he does.

     Eventually, the story jumps back to Odysseus who has been held captive by Calypso, a nymph for seven years. When she is finally ordered by Zeus to release him, Calypso helps Odysseus build a raft and sends him off. He winds up on the land of the Phaecians. King Alcinous's daughter Nausciaa finds Odysseus washed up on the shore and bathes, clothes, and feeds him. Odysseus does not reveal his true identity to her. When Odysseus meets King Alcinous and is asked to tell the story of how he got there, he reveals who he is and begins his story.

     First, a bad wind pushed him to where the Cicones lived whom Odysseus's men initially fought well against, but after they became drunk and stopped listening to Odysseus, many of them perished. The rest escaped and wound up at the home of the Lotus Eaters. These gentle people gave the men a flower that mellowed them and made them never want to leave. Odysseus had to physically drag them back to the ships so that they could continue on their journey. Next, they approached the land of the Cyclops, which intrigued Odysseus, so he had some of his men go with him to explore. They wound up trapped in the cave of the Cyclops, Polyphemus, so Odysseus has to injur and trick the Cyclops in order to escape. Part of the trickery involved giving the Cyclops a false name, which Odysseus chose to correct as he sailed away. He shouted back his real identity so the Cyclops would know who had poked out his eye, but the yelling gave away his location so that the Cyclops was able to hurl something at his ship and nearly capsize the vessel.

     Still recalling his tale to the Phaecians, Odysseus explains that next they met Aeolus, god of the winds who put all the unfavorable winds in a bag and gave it to Odysseus. This helped Odysseus's ship to sail directly to Ithaca; however, when Odysseus took a nap before landing at home, the men thought he was hiding treasure from them, so they opened the bag and the ship sailed immediately back to Aeolus, who wouldn't help them again. After that they ran into the Laestrygonians, cannibals, who left only the men on Odysseus's ship alive. They wind up meeting Circe, a goddess who turns the men into pigs before Odysseus convinces her to chance them back. Then she tells Odysseus he needs to journey to the land of the dead to speak to the prophet, Teiresias about his fate. Odysseus goes and learns that his mother has died from grief waiting for his return and that he will someday make it home. He returns to Circe who gives him advice on the next obstacles he will face. He must pass the Sirens, bird women who lure men to their deaths by singing beautiful songs, but Circe tells him to stop his men's ears with wax so that they cannot hear the music. Then he avoids Charybdis, a deadly whirpool, by going under Scylla, a many headed snake. Finally, the men reach a land where they find Helios's cattle, which Odysseus was told not to touch. When they become hungry, one of the men suggests slaughtering the cattle, so Zeus comes down and kills everyone except Odysseus. Odysseus then winds up with Calypso, which is a story he already told the Phaecians, so he ends there.

     The Phaecians deliver Odysseus home to Ithaca with many gifts, but once they leave him Poseidon kills the men for assisting Odysseus. At home Odysseus is met by Athena who explains what he has missed while he was away and disguises him so that he can come up with a plan before revealing to everyone that he has returned. Odysseus lodges with a swineherd named Eumaeus where he is reunited with his son Telemachus. Odysseus then visits the palace to observe the suitors, and the leader, Antinous, throws a stool at him.

     After speaking with Penelope while he was still disguised, Odysseus and his son prepare for battle. Penelope brings in Odysseus's bow and arrow for a contest to prove who she should marry. The disguised Odysseus wins the contest then continues to shoot arrows as he and his son kill all of the suitors with Athena's help. Odysseus finally reveals his true identity to his wife, who doubts him at first but confirms to herself that he is her husband by testing his knowledge of their bed. Then Odysseus visits his father Laertes, while Athena and Telemachus ensure that the suitors' families will not seek revenge, and Odysseus reigns peacefully on the throne once more.



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