Nearly three thousand years after they were composed, the Iliad and the Odyssey remain two of the most celebrated and widely read stories ever told, yet next to nothing is known about their author. He was certainly an accomplished Greek bard, and he probably lived in the late eighth and early seventh centuries B.C. Authorship is traditionally ascribed to a blind poet named Homer, and it is under this name that the works are still published. Greeks of the third and second centuries B.C., however, already questioned whether Homer existed and whether the two epics were even written by a single individual.
Most modern scholars believe that even if a single person wrote the epics, his work owed a tremendous debt to a long tradition of unwritten, oral poetry. Stories of a glorious expedition to the East and of its leaders' fateful journeys home had been circulating in Greece for hundreds of years before the Iliad and Odyssey were composed. Casual storytellers and semiprofessional minstrels passed these stories down through generations, with each artist developing and polishing the story as he told it. According to this theory, one poet, multiple poets working in collaboration, or perhaps even a series of poets handing down their work in succession finally turned these stories into written works, again with each adding his own touch and expanding or contracting certain episodes in the overall narrative to fit his taste.
Although historical, archaeological, and linguistic evidence suggests that the epics were composed between 750 and 650 B.C., they are set in Mycenaean Greece in about the twelfth century B.C., during the Bronze Age. This earlier period, the Greeks believed, was a more glorious and sublime age, when gods still frequented the earth and heroic, godlike mortals with superhuman attributes populated Greece. Because the two epics strive to evoke this pristine age, they are written in a high style and generally depict life as it was believed to have been led in the great kingdoms of the Bronze Age. The Greeks are often referred to as "Achaeans," the name of a large tribe occupying Greece during the Bronze Age.
But Homer's reconstruction often yields to the realities of eighth- and seventh-century B.C. Greece. The feudal social structure apparent in the background of the Odyssey seems more akin to Homer's Greece than to Odysseus's, and Homer substitutes the pantheon of deities of his own day for the related but different gods whom Mycenaean Greeks worshipped. Many other minor but obvious anachronisms—such as references to iron tools and to tribes that had not yet migrated to Greece by the Bronze Age—betray the poem's later, Iron Age origins.
Of the two epics, the Odyssey is the later both in setting and, probably, date of composition. The Iliad tells the story of the Greek struggle to rescue Helen, a Greek queen, from her Trojan captors. The Odyssey takes the fall of the city of Troy as its starting point and crafts a new epic around the struggle of one of those Greek warriors, the hero Odysseus. It tells the story of his nostos, or journey home, to northwest Greece during the ten-year period after the Greek victory over the Trojans. A tale of wandering, it takes place not on a field of battle but on fantastic islands and foreign lands. After the unrelenting tragedy and carnage of the Iliad, the Odyssey often strikes readers as comic or surreal at times. This quality has led some scholars to conclude that Homer wrote the Odyssey at a later time of his life, when he showed less interest in struggles at arms and was more receptive to a storyline that focused on the fortunes and misadventures of a single man. Others argue that someone else must have composed the Odyssey, one who wished to provide a companion work to the Iliad but had different interests from those of the earlier epic's author.
Like the Iliad, the Odyssey was composed primarily in the Ionic dialect of Ancient Greek, which was spoken on the Aegean islands and in the coastal settlements of Asia Minor, now modern Turkey. Some scholars thus conclude that the poet hailed from somewhere in the eastern Greek world. More likely, however, the poet chose the Ionic dialect because he felt it to be more appropriate for the high style and grand scope of his work. Slightly later Greek literature suggests that poets varied the dialects of their poems according to the themes that they were treating and might write in dialects that they didn't actually speak. Homer's epics, moreover, are Panhellenic (encompassing all of Greece) in spirit and, in fact, use forms from several other dialects, suggesting that Homer didn't simply fall back on his native tongue but rather suited his poems to the dialect that would best complement his ideas.

Plot Overview
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 Odysseus's palace and pillaged his land continue to court his wife, Penelope. She has remained faithful to Odysseus. Prince Telemachus, Odysseus's 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 Odysseus's future, Athena, Odysseus's strongest supporter among the gods, resolves to help Telemachus. Disguised as a friend of the prince's 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, Odysseus's companions during the war, inform him that Odysseus is alive and trapped on Calypso's 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 Odysseus's 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 Poseidon's 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 Calypso's 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 Odysseus's great bow and fire an arrow through a row of twelve axes—a 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 son's return, successfully kills Antinous's father and puts a stop to the attack. Zeus dispatches Athena to restore peace. With his power secure and his family reunited, Odysseus's long ordeal comes to an end.

Character List
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.
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Telemachus - Odysseus's 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.
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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.
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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.
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Poseidon - God of the sea. As the suitors are Odysseus's 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 men's fates in his scales. He sometimes helps Odysseus or permits Athena to do the same.
Antinous - The most arrogant of Penelope's 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. Eurymachus's charisma and duplicity allow him to exert some influence over the other suitors.
Amphinomus - Among the dozens of suitors, the only decent man seeking Penelope's 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 Telemachus's journey secret from Penelope, and she later keeps Odysseus's 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 Odysseus's palace, not realizing that the man is Odysseus himself.
Melantho - Sister of Melanthius and maidservant in Odysseus's 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 Polyphemus's father, Poseidon.
Circe - The beautiful witch-goddess who transforms Odysseus's crew into swine when he lands on her island. With Hermes' help, Odysseus resists Circe's powers and then becomes her lover, living in luxury at her side for a year.
Laertes - Odysseus's aging father, who resides on a farm in Ithaca. In despair and physical decline, Laertes regains his spirit when Odysseus returns and eventually kills Antinous's father.
Tiresias - A Theban prophet who inhabits the underworld. Tiresias meets Odysseus when Odysseus journeys to the underworld in Book 11. 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 for being a clever speaker. Telemachus visits him in Book 3 to ask about his father, but Nestor has little information on Odysseus's whereabouts.
Menelaus - King of Sparta and brother of Agamemnon, he helped lead the Greek forces in the Trojan War. Menelaus is the husband of Helen. 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. Helen's abduction from Sparta by the Trojans sparked the Trojan War. Her beauty is without parallel, but she is sometimes 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 Agamemnon's spirit in Hades. Agamemnon was murdered by his wife, Clytemnestra, and her lover, Aegisthus, upon returning from the war. He was later avenged by his son Orestes. The story of their fate is constantly repeated in the Odyssey and offers 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 Odysseus's 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.

Analysis of Major Characters
Odysseus - Odysseus has the defining character traits of a Homeric leader: strength, courage, nobility, a thirst for glory, and confidence in his authority. His most distinguishing trait, however, is his sharp intellect. Odysseus's quick thinking helps him out of some very tough situations, as when he escapes from the cave of the Cyclops in Book 9, or when he hides his slaughter of the suitors by having his minstrel strike up a wedding tune in Book 23. He is also a convincing, articulate speaker and can win over or manipulate his audience with ease. When he first addresses Nausicaa on the island of Scheria, for example, his suave, comforting approach quickly wins her trust.
Like other Homeric heroes, Odysseus longs to win kleos ("glory" won through great deeds), but he also wishes to complete his nostos ("homecoming"). He enjoys his luxurious life with Circe in an exotic land, but only to a point. Eventually, he wants to return home, even though he admits that his wife cannot compare with Circe. He thinks of home throughout the time he spends with the Phaeacians and also while on Calypso's island. Sometimes his glory-seeking gets in the way of his home-seeking, however. He sacks the land of the Cicones but loses men and time in the process. He waits too long in the cave of Polyphemus, enjoying the free milk and cheese he finds, and is trapped there when the Cyclops returns.
Homeric characters are generally static. Though they may be very complex and realistic, they do not change over the course of the work as characters in modern novels and stories do. Odysseus and especially Telemachus break this rule. Early in his adventures, Odysseus's love of glory prompts him to reveal his identity to the Cyclops and bring Poseidon's wrath down on him. By the end of the epic, he seems much more willing to temper pride with patience. Disguised as a beggar, he does not immediately react to the abuse he receives from the suitors. Instead, he endures it until the traps he has set and the loyalties he has secured put him in a position from which he can strike back effectively.
Telemachus - Just an infant when his father left for Troy, Telemachus is still maturing when the Odyssey begins. He is wholly devoted to his mother and to maintaining his father's estate, but he does not know how to protect them from the suitors. After all, it has only been a few years since he first realized what the suitors' intentions were. His meeting with Athena in Book 1 changes things. Aside from improving his stature and bearing, she teaches him the responsibilities of a young prince. He soon becomes more assertive. He confronts the suitors and denounces the abuse of his estate, and when Penelope and Eurycleia become anxious or upset, he does not shy away from taking control.
Telemachus never fully matches his father's talents, at least not by the Odyssey's conclusion. He has a stout heart and an active mind, and sometimes even a bit of a temper, but he never schemes with the same skill or speaks with quite the same fluency as Odysseus. In Book 22, he accidentally leaves a weapons storeroom unlocked, a careless mistake that allows the suitors to arm themselves. While Odysseus does make a few mistakes in judgment over the course of the epic, it is difficult to imagine him making such an absentminded blunder. Telemachus has not yet inherited his father's brassy pride either. The scene with the bow captures the endpoint of his development perfectly. He tries and tries to string it, and very nearly does, but not quite. He walks away feeling disappointment and exasperation, but shows no signs of the rage or wounded pride that Odysseus would likely have felt under similar circumstances.
Penelope - Though she has not seen Odysseus in twenty years, and despite pressure the suitors place on her to remarry, Penelope never loses faith in her husband. Her cares make her somewhat flighty and excitable, however. For this reason, Odysseus, Telemachus, and Athena often prefer to leave her in the dark about matters rather than upset her. Athena must distract her, for instance, so that she does not discover Odysseus's identity when Eurycleia is washing him. Athena often comes to her in dreams to reassure or comfort her, for Penelope would otherwise spend her nights weeping in her bed.
Though her love for Odysseus is unyielding, she responds to the suitors with some indecision. She never refuses to remarry outright. Instead, she puts off her decision and leads them on with promises that she will choose a new husband as soon as certain things happen. Her astute delaying tactics reveal her sly and artful side. The notion of not remarrying until she completes a burial shroud that she will never complete cleverly buys her time. Similarly, some commentators claim that her decision to marry whomever wins the archery contest of Book 21 results from her awareness that only her husband can win it. Some even claim that she recognizes her husband before she admits it to him in Book 23.
Athena - As goddess of wisdom and battle, Athena naturally has a soft spot for the brave and wily Odysseus. She helps him out of many tough situations, including his shipwreck in Book 5 and the mismatched battle of Book 22. She does not merely impart sense and safety to her passive charge, however. She takes an interest in Odysseus for the talents he already has and actively demonstrates. Although she reassures Odysseus during the battle with the suitors, she does not become fully involved, preferring instead to watch Odysseus fight and prevail on his own.
She also often helps Telemachus—as when she sends him off to Pylos and Sparta to earn a name for himself—but she has the most affection for Odysseus. Athena is confident, practical, clever, a master of disguises, and a great warrior, characteristics she finds reflected in Telemachus. Her role as goddess of the womanly arts gets very little attention in the Odyssey. Penelope works at the loom all the time but rarely sees Athena, and then usually only in dreams.

Themes, Motifs, and Symbols
Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.
The Power of Cunning over Strength - If the Iliad is about strength, the Odyssey is about cunning, a difference that becomes apparent in the very first lines of the epics. Whereas the Iliad tells the story of the rage of Achilles, the strongest hero in the Greek army, the Odyssey focuses on a "man of twists and turns" (1.1). Odysseus does have extraordinary strength, as he demonstrates in Book 21 by being the only man who can string the bow. But he relies much more on mind than muscle, a tendency that his encounters showcase. He knows that he cannot overpower Polyphemus, for example, and that, even if he were able to do so, he wouldn't be able to budge the boulder from the door. He thus schemes around his disadvantage in strength by exploiting Po1yphemus's stupidity. Though he does use violence to put out Polyphemus's single eye, this display of strength is part of a larger plan to deceive the brute.
Similarly, Odysseus knows that he is no match for the host of strapping young suitors in his palace, so he makes the most of his other strength—his wits. Step by step, through disguises and deceptions, he arranges a situation in which he alone is armed and the suitors are locked in a room with him. With this setup, Achilles' superb talents as a warrior would enable him to accomplish what Odysseus does, but only Odysseus's strategic planning can bring about such a sure victory. Some of the tests in Odysseus's long, wandering ordeal seem to mock reliance on strength alone. No one can resist the Sirens' song, for example, but Odysseus gets an earful of the lovely melody by having his crew tie him up. Scylla and Charybdis cannot be beaten, but Odysseus can minimize his losses with prudent decision—making and careful navigation. Odysseus's encounter with Achilles in the underworld is a reminder: Achilles won great kleos, or glory, during his life, but that life was brief and ended violently. Odysseus, on the other hand, by virtue of his wits, will live to a ripe old age and is destined to die in peace.
The Pitfalls of Temptation - The initial act that frustrated so many Achaeans' homecoming was the work of an Achaean himself: Ajax (the "Lesser" Ajax, a relatively unimportant figure not to be confused with the "Greater" Ajax, whom Odysseus meets in Hades) raped the Trojan priestess Cassandra in a temple while the Greeks were plundering the fallen city. That act of impulse, impiety, and stupidity brought the wrath of Athena upon the Achaean fleet and set in motion the chain of events that turned Odysseus's homecoming into a long nightmare. It is fit that the Odyssey is motivated by such an event, for many of the pitfalls that Odysseus and his men face are likewise obstacles that arise out of mortal weakness and the inability to control it. The submission to temptation or recklessness either angers the gods or distracts Odysseus and the members of his crew from their journey: they yield to hunger and slaughter the Sun's flocks, and they eat the fruit of the lotus and forget about their homes.
Even Odysseus's hunger for kleos is a kind of temptation. He submits to it when he reveals his name to Polyphemus, bringing Poseidon's wrath upon him and his men. In the case of the Sirens, the theme is revisited simply for its own interest. With their ears plugged, the crew members sail safely by the Sirens' island, while Odysseus, longing to hear the Sirens' sweet song, is saved from folly only by his foresighted command to his crew to keep him bound to the ship's mast. Homer is fascinated with depicting his protagonist tormented by temptation: in general, Odysseus and his men want very desperately to complete their nostos, or homecoming, but this desire is constantly at odds with the other pleasures that the world offers.
Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text's major themes.
Storytelling - Storytelling in the Odyssey, in addition to delivering the plot to the audience, situates the epic in its proper cultural context. The Odyssey seems very conscious of its predecessor, the Iliad: Odysseus's wanderings would never have taken place had he not left for Troy; and the Odyssey would make little sense without the Iliad and the knowledge that so many other Greek heroes had to make nostoi, or homeward journeys, of their own. Homer constantly evokes the history of the Odyssey through the stories that his characters tell. Menelaus and Nestor both narrate to Telemachus their wanderings from Troy. Even Helen adds some anecdotes about Odysseus's cunning during the Trojan War. Phemius, a court minstrel in Ithaca, and Demodocus, a Phaeacian bard, sing of the exploits of the Greek heroes at Troy. In the underworld, Agamemnon tells the story of his murder, while Ajax's evasion prompts the story of his quarrel with Odysseus. These stories, however, don't just provide colorful personal histories. Most call out to other stories in Greek mythology, elevating the Odyssey by reminding its audience of the epic's rich, mythic tradition.
Disguises - The gods of Greek literature often assume alternate forms to commune with humans. In the Odyssey, Athena appears on earth disguised as everything from a little girl to Odysseus's friend Mentor to Telemachus. Proteus, the Old Man of the Sea whom Menelaus describes in Book 4, can assume any form, even water and fire, to escape capture. Circe, on the other hand, uses her powers to change others, turning an entire contingent of Odysseus's crew into pigs with a tap of her wand.
From the first line of the epic, Homer explains that his story is about a "man of twists and turns" (1.1). Quick, clever, and calculating, Odysseus is a natural master of disguise, and the plot of the epic often turns on his deception. By withholding his true identity from the Cyclops and using the alias "Nobody," for example, Odysseus is able to save himself and his crew. But by revealing his name at the end of this episode, Odysseus ends up being dogged by the god Poseidon. His beggar disguise allows him to infiltrate his palace and set up the final confrontation with the suitors. It also allows Homer to distinguish those who truly love Odysseus—characters like Eurycleia, Penelope, and even his dog, Argos, begin to recognize their beloved king even before he sheds his disguise.
Seductresses - Women are very important figures in the Odyssey, and one of the most prominent roles they fulfill is that of seductress. Circe and Calypso are the most obvious examples of women whose love becomes an obstacle to Odysseus's return. Homer presents many other women whose irresistible allure threatens to lead men astray. The Sirens enchant Odysseus with their lovely song, and even Penelope, despite all of her contempt for the suitors, seems to be leading them on at times. She uses her feminine wiles to conceal her ruse of undoing, every night, her day's work on the burial shroud, and even gets the suitors to give her gifts, claiming that she will marry the one who gives her the nicest things. While these women do gain a certain amount of power through their sexual charms, they are ultimately all subject to divine whim, forced to wait and pine for love when it is absent.
Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
Food - Although throwing a feast for a guest is a common part of hospitality, hunger and the consumption of food often have negative associations in the Odyssey. They represent lack of discipline or submission to temptation, as when Odysseus tarries in the cave of the Cyclops, when his men slaughter the Sun's flocks, or when they eat the fruit of the lotus. The suitors, moreover, are constantly eating. Whenever Telemachus and Penelope complain about their uninvited guests, they mention how the suitors slaughter the palace's livestock. Odysseus kills the suitors just as they are starting their dinner, and Homer graphically describes them falling over tables and spilling their food. In almost all cases, the monsters of the Odyssey owe their monstrosity at least in part to their diets or the way that they eat. Scylla swallows six of Odysseus's men, one for each head. The Cyclops eats humans, but not sheep apparently, and is gluttonous nonetheless: when he gets drunk, he vomits up wine mixed with pieces of human flesh. The Laestrygonians seem like nice people—until their queen, who is described as "huge as a mountain crag," tries to eat Odysseus and his men (10.124). In these cases, excessive eating represents not just lack of self-control, but also the total absence of humanity and civility.
The Wedding Bed - The wedding bed in Book 23 symbolizes the constancy of Penelope and Odysseus's marriage. Only a single maidservant has ever seen the bed, and it is where the happy couple spends its first night in each other's arms since Odysseus's departure for Troy twenty years earlier. The symbolism is heightened by the trick that Penelope uses to test Odysseus, which revolves around the immovability of their bed—a metaphor for the unshakable foundation of their love.

Summary Book 17
Telemachus leaves Odysseus at Eumaeus's hut and heads to his palace, where he receives a tearful welcome from Penelope and the nurse Eurycleia. In the palace hall he meets Theoclymenus and Piraeus. He tells Piraeus not to bring his gifts from Menelaus to the palace; he fears that the suitors will steal them if they kill him. When he sits down to eat with Penelope, Telemachus tells her what little news he received of Odysseus in Pylos and Sparta, but he doesn't reveal that he has seen Odysseus with his own eyes in Eumaeus's hut. Theoclymenus then speaks up and swears that Odysseus is in Ithaca at this very moment.
Meanwhile, Eumaeus and Odysseus set out toward town in Telemachus's footsteps. On the way they meet Melanthius, a base subordinate of the suitors, who heaps scorn on Eumaeus and kicks his beggar companion. Odysseus receives a similar welcome at the palace. The suitors give him food with great reluctance, and Antinous goes out of his way to insult him. When Odysseus answers insult with insult, Antinous gives him a blow with a stool that disgusts even the other suitors. Report of this cruelty reaches Penelope, who asks to have the beggar brought to her so that she can question him about Odysseus. Odysseus, however, doesn't want the suitors to see him heading toward the queen's room. Eumaeus announces that he must return to his hut and hogs, leaving Odysseus alone with Telemachus and the suitors.

Book 18

Of all that breathes and crawls across the earth,
Our mother earth breeds nothing feebler than a man.


Another beggar, Arnaeus (nicknamed Irus), saunters into the palace. For a beggar, he is rather brash: he insults Odysseus and challenges him to a boxing match. He thinks that he will make quick work of the old man, but Athena gives Odysseus extra strength and stature. Irus soon regrets challenging the old man and tries to escape, but by now the suitors have taken notice and are egging on the fight for the sake of their own entertainment. It ends quickly as Odysseus floors Irus and stops just short of killing him.
The suitors congratulate Odysseus. One in particular, the moderate Amphinomus, toasts him and gives him food. Odysseus, fully aware of the bloodshed to come and overcome by pity for Amphinomus, pulls the man aside. He predicts to Amphinomus that Odysseus will soon be home and gives him a thinly veiled warning to abandon the palace and return to his own land. But Amphinomus doesn't depart, despite being "fraught with grave forebodings," for Athena has bound him to death at the hands of Telemachus (18.176).
Athena now puts it into Penelope's head to make an appearance before her suitors. The goddess gives her extra stature and beauty to inflame their hearts. When Penelope speaks to the suitors, she leads them on by telling them that Odysseus had instructed her to take a new husband if he should fail to return before Telemachus began growing facial hair. She then tricks them, to the silent delight of Odysseus, into bringing her gifts by claiming that any suitor worth his salt would try to win her hand by giving things to her instead of taking what's rightfully hers. The suitors shower her with presents, and, as they celebrate, Odysseus instructs the maidservants to go to Penelope. The maidservant Melantho, Melanthius's sister, insults him as an inferior being and a drunk; Odysseus then scares them off with threats. Hoping to make Odysseus even more angry at the suitors, Athena now inspires Eurymachus to insult him. When Odysseus responds with insults of his own, Eurymachus throws a stool at him but misses, hitting a servant instead. Just as a riot is about to break out, Telemachus steps in and diffuses the situation, to the consternation of the suitors.
Homer uses minor characters of low rank to great effect in Books 17 and 18. Like many Homeric characters, neither the swineherd Melanthius nor the maidservant Melantho is very developed. They are little more than male and female versions of the same malevolent person: each ostensibly works for Odysseus but has become a partisan of the suitors. Despite their simplicity, they function as foils—characters whose traits or attitudes contrast with and thereby accentuate those of other characters. Melanthius's disrespectful treatment of Odysseus stands in stark contrast to Eumaeus's unflinching loyalty to his master. Similarly, in contrast to the devoted Eurycleia, Melantho proves the embodiment of ingratitude toward Penelope: though Penelope raised her like her own child, Melantho shows no concern for Penelope's grief. Additionally, Irus's mingled bravado and cowardice provide a good foil for Odysseus's prudence and courage. Homer also uses Irus to foreshadow the ultimate downfall of the suitors: disguised as a beggar, Odysseus cuts down an impudent beggar, leaving little doubt as to what he will do to the impudent nobles when he reassumes his noble form. The foreshadowing is not lost on the suitor Amphinomus, who walks away stony with dread.
Amphinomus provides another case study in the absolute power of the gods. Even though Amphinomus shows some kindness toward the seeming beggar, Odysseus pities him, and Homer singles him out as the one moderate and thoughtful man among all of the suitors, nothing can save him from the punishment that Athena has planned for him. In fact, Athena doesn't even take his benevolence into consideration. Homer explains that "[e]ven then Athena had bound him fast to death / at the hands of Prince Telemachus and his spear" (18.178-179). Just as Poseidon vents his wrath on the well-intentioned Phaeacians, in Book 13, for treating his nemesis Odysseus kindly, Athena condemns Amphinomus to the same fate as the most worthless suitors of the bunch.
Homer continues to individualize the suitors, with the seeming purpose of exposing their specific character flaws. In Book 17, for example, he gives us the most critical depiction yet of Antinous, who disgusts even the other suitors with his abuse of the disguised Odysseus. Whereas other suitors at least give the beggar food, Antinous displays nothing but contempt for the man's apparent low breeding and physically assails him; Penelope thus labels Antinous "the worst of all … black death itself" (17.554). Homer portrays Antinous as an ignoble noble, and Antinous's detractors often point out the disparity between the nobility of his birth and the baseness of his actions ("'Antinous, / highborn as you are … / that was a mean low speech!'" [17.417-419]).
The explanation for the contempt in which the others hold Antinous for mistreating Odysseus lies in the feudal structure of Homeric society, which was bound together by reciprocal obligations and responsibilities among people of different social classes. While it would be a mistake to think that the Greeks considered mistreatment of the poor an automatic sign of evil or moral deficiency, we definitely get the sense that Antinous is abusing his rank when he beats the seemingly helpless beggar. Antinous is guilty not of pure evil but of a kind of arrogance. Accordingly, the insults hurled at him accuse him not of straying from some moral code but of straying from the expectations of his noble birth.

Summary Book 19
When the suitors retire for the night, Telemachus and Odysseus remove the arms as planned. Athena lights the room for them so that they can see as they work. Telemachus tells Eurycleia that they are storing the arms to keep them from being damaged.
After they have safely disposed of the arms, Telemachus retires and Odysseus is joined by Penelope. She has come from the women's quarters to question her curious visitor. She knows that he has claimed to have met Odysseus, and she tests his honesty by asking him to describe her husband. Odysseus describes the Greek hero—himself, capturing each detail so perfectly that it reduces Penelope to tears. He then tells the story of how he met Odysseus and eventually came to Ithaca. In many respects, this story parallels those that he told to Athena and Eumaeus in Books 13 and 14, respectively, though it is identical to neither. He tells Penelope that, essentially, Odysseus had a long ordeal but is alive and freely traveling the seas, and predicts that Odysseus will be back within the month.
Penelope offers the beggar a bed to sleep in, but he is used to the floor, he says, and declines. Only reluctantly does he allow Eurycleia to wash him. As she does, she notices a scar on one of his legs. She immediately recognizes it as the scar that Odysseus received when he went boar hunting with his grandfather Autolycus. She throws her arms around Odysseus, but he silences her while Athena keeps Penelope distracted so that Odysseus's secret will not be carried any further. The faithful Eurycleia recovers herself and promises to keep his secret.
Before she retires, Penelope describes to Odysseus a dream that she has had in which an eagle swoops down upon her twenty pet geese and kills them all; it then perches on her roof and, in a human voice, says that he is her husband who has just put her lovers to death. Penelope declares that she has no idea what this dream means. Rising to the challenge, Odysseus explains it to her. But Penelope decides that she is going to choose a new husband nevertheless: she will marry the first man who can shoot an arrow through the holes of twelve axes set in a line.
Book 20
Penelope and Odysseus both have trouble sleeping that night. Odysseus worries that he and Telemachus will never be able to conquer so many suitors, but Athena reassures him that through the gods all things are possible. Tormented by the loss of her husband and her commitment to remarry, Penelope wakes and prays for Artemis to kill her. Her distress wakes Odysseus, who asks Zeus for a good omen. Zeus responds with a clap of thunder, and, at once, a maid in an adjacent room is heard cursing the suitors.
As the palace springs to life the next day, Odysseus and Telemachus meet, in succession, the swineherd Eumaeus, the foul Melanthius, and Philoetius, a kindly and loyal herdsman who says that he has not yet given up hope of Odysseus's return. The suitors enter, once again plotting Telemachus's murder. Amphinomus convinces them to call it off, however, when a portent of doom appears in the form of an eagle carrying a dove in its talons. But Athena keeps the suitors antagonistic all through dinner to prevent Odysseus's anger from losing its edge. Ctesippus, a wealthy and arrogant suitor, throws a cow's hoof at Odysseus, in response to which Telemachus threatens to run him through with his sword. The suitors laugh and laugh, failing to notice that they and the walls of the room are covered in blood and that their faces have assumed a foreign, ghostly look—all of which Theoclymenus interprets as portents of inescapable doom.
More and more, the suitors' destruction feels inevitable. While portents earlier in the epic appear irregularly and serve primarily to keep hope alive among Odysseus's family and friends, they now occur at a feverish rate and with such obvious implications that they foreshadow the suitors' fate with increasingly grim effect. These omens are noticeably more violent than earlier ones: in Book 15, as Telemachus departs from Sparta, an eagle grasping a goose soars overhead, but the eagle flies away before killing its prey. In Penelope's dream, on the other hand, an eagle "snap[s] th[e geeses'] necks and kill[s] them one and all," leaving them in "heaps" (19.607-608). Not only are there more geese-victims of vengeance—but their slaughter, which Penelope sees in her dream, is much more graphic and, hence, immediate. Additionally, Zeus's propitious thunderclap in Book 20 immediately precedes a maidservant's cursing to Zeus about the suitors. This heightening of omens reaches a grotesque climax when the suitors suddenly appear deformed and bloody as they eat their final meal in the palace.
It seems unclear whether the human participants in these events are truly responsible for their own actions. The suitors react impudently to Telemachus at the end of Book 20 in part because Athena has robbed them of their wits. She manipulates them, egging on their abuse of Odysseus in order to enrage him further. Similarly, Athena's words of encouragement to Odysseus at the beginning of Book 20 make it sound as if victory is already assured and that she, not Odysseus, will be the decisive factor. Like the Iliad, the Odyssey often depicts the gods arranging the future based on the outcomes of great debates on Mount Olympus: the gods lift their favorite mortals to success and ensure that their enemies are crushed, just as Athena does with Odysseus and the suitors. While the fatalism of the Odyssey may puzzle modern readers, it is entirely consistent with the outlook of Homeric poetry. Again, Homeric audiences would have been familiar with the poem's plot; it is Odysseus's internal struggle and consequent development that would have kept the audience riveted.
The second half of the Odyssey is often criticized for its long and largely uneventful account of the time that Odysseus spends disguised on his estate. Much of this length results from repetition: the suitors plot against Telemachus over and over; Odysseus has things thrown at him again and again; his ignorant servants insult him time after time; Odysseus keeps telling his false story about being from Crete. Some scholars argue that the second half of the Odyssey shows signs of multiple authorship, arguing that it looks less like a single narrative thread than several accounts of the same story sewn together.
But Homer uses repetition quite frequently elsewhere in the Odyssey and the Iliad. Indeed, repetition is a standard feature of oral poems, which, like modern songs, rely on echoes and refrains for unity and emphasis of individual ideas. Additionally, repetition in the poem often occurs with some variation from occurrence to occurrence or with a change in context that gives repeated phrases or encounters new meaning. For instance, while the suitors hurl the same insults at Odysseus more than a few times, both his and Telemachus's reactions to them gradually change. At first, they generally respond with anger, as when, in Book 19, Odysseus launches into an extended tirade against Melantho. By the end of Book 20, however, they seem to respond with something closer to disgust or pity, as when Odysseus merely shakes his head at Melanthius's disparaging remarks. Father and son have become less reactionary, perhaps because they now accept their antagonists' arrogance as pathetic and their doom as inescapable.
The repeated observation that the beggar resembles Odysseus helps to build tension leading up to the final confrontation. Each remark about the resemblance raises the possibility that Odysseus's cover will be blown, as nearly happens in the scene with Eurycleia. Since revelation of his identity would, of course, force Odysseus to take the actions that eventually bring about the resolution of the Odyssey, this repetition has the effect of bringing the audience closer and closer to the epic's climax. Homer stalls the arrival of the climax, keeping the audience tantalized.

Summary Book 21
Penelope gets Odysseus's bow out of the storeroom and announces that she will marry the suitor who can string it and then shoot an arrow through a line of twelve axes. Telemachus sets up the axes and then tries his own hand at the bow, but fails in his attempt to string it. The suitors warm and grease the bow to make it supple, but one by one they all try and fail.
Meanwhile, Odysseus follows Eumaeus and Philoetius outside. He assures himself of their loyalty and then reveals his identity to them by means of the scar on his leg. He promises to treat them as Telemachus's brothers if they fight by his side against the suitors.
When Odysseus returns, Eurymachus has the bow. He feels disgraced that he cannot string it, because he knows that this failure proves his inferiority to Odysseus. Antinous suggests that they adjourn until the next day, when they can sacrifice to Apollo, the archer god, before trying again. Odysseus, still disguised, then asks for the bow. All of the suitors complain, fearing that he will succeed. Antinous ridicules Odysseus, saying that the wine has gone to his head and that he will bring disaster upon himself, just like the legendary drunken Centaur Eurytion. Telemachus takes control and orders Eumaeus to give Odysseus the bow. Needless to say, Odysseus easily strings it and sends the first arrow he grabs whistling through all twelve axes.
Book 22
Before the suitors realize what is happening, Odysseus shoots a second arrow, this one through the throat of Antinous. The suitors are confused and believe this shooting to be an accident. Odysseus finally reveals himself, and the suitors become terrified. They have no way out, since Philoetius has locked the front door and Eumaeus has locked the doors to the women's quarters. Eurymachus tries to calm Odysseus down, insisting that Antinous was the only bad apple among them, but Odysseus announces that he will spare none of them. Eurymachus then charges Odysseus, but he is cut down by another arrow. Amphinomus is the next to fall, at the spear of Telemachus.
Telemachus gets more shields and swords from the storeroom to arm Eumaeus and Philoetius, but he forgets to lock it on his way out. Melanthius soon reaches the storeroom and gets out fresh arms for the suitors. He isn't so lucky on his second trip to the storeroom, however, as Eumaeus and Philoetius find him there, tie him up, and lock him in.
A full battle now rages in the palace hall. Athena appears disguised as Mentor and encourages Odysseus but doesn't participate immediately, preferring instead to test Odysseus's strength. Volleys of spears are exchanged, and Odysseus and his men kill several suitors while receiving only superficial wounds themselves. Finally, Athena joins the battle, which then ends swiftly. Odysseus spares only the minstrel Phemius and the herald Medon, unwilling participants in the suitors' profligacy. The priest Leodes begs unsuccessfully for mercy.
Odysseus has Eurycleia come out. She openly rejoices to see the suitors dead, but Odysseus checks her impropriety. She rounds up the disloyal servant women, who are first made to clear the corpses from the hall and wash the blood from the furniture; they are then sent outside and executed. Odysseus tells Telemachus to cut them down with a sword, but Telemachus decides to hang them—a more disgraceful death. Last of all, the traitor Melanthius is tortured and killed. After the bloodbath, Odysseus has the house fumigated.
The dramatic scene in which Odysseus effortlessly strings the bow is justly famous. The bow gives double meaning to the revelation scene, for the beggar's success not only implies his true identity as Odysseus but reveals his inherent superiority to the suitors. Since the bow gives Odysseus a weapon in hand, it also allows for a seamless transition to the fighting of Book 22. Finally, the bow's associations recall Odysseus's preeminence in Ithaca before the Trojan War. Homer tells us that Odysseus received the bow during a diplomatic trip to Messene, long before any of his hardships began, and that it has been seldom used since then. The bow thus recalls the good old days when there were no suitors and Odysseus's rule was unchallenged. Through his mastery of the bow, Odysseus comes full circle, once again the king and most powerful man in Ithaca.
Athena plays a less prominent role in the battle than earlier books suggest she might. Disguised as Mentor, she offers encouragement at a crucial moment, but her departure to the sidelines puts the focus squarely on Odysseus and his allies. Though she protects them from direct hits by the suitors' spears, they still receive some wounds. Melanthius's moderate success in arming the suitors occasions a rare moment of panic for Odysseus. Of course, Athena would presumably intervene if the battle were to go awry, but her reserve until the very end allows the victory to be portrayed as the work of Odysseus and Telemachus. Indeed, as two against a host of suitors, they seem to overcome remarkable odds, whereas, if Athena were to fight openly, the odds would tilt against the suitors and thus Odysseus and Telemachus's victory would be less impressive.
When the suitors do fall, Homer makes their deaths seem fitting by reminding us of the foul deeds that merited this purge. Antinous, foremost among the suitors for his impudence, falls first. Eurymachus, who earlier insults Telemachus, falls by Telemachus's spear. When Ctesippus falls, Philoetius reminds him of his abuse of Odysseus with the cow's hoof. Even Melanthius's death contains an interesting, though seemingly unrelated, echo: he suffers the same sort of humiliating and painful dismemberments as the drunk Centaur that Antinous describes in Book 21.
The fighting of Book 22 is the only pitched battle in the Odyssey, and while it cannot help but recall the Iliad, which abounds in bloodshed, the description remains thoroughly Odyssean. For one thing, it maintains the comic and domestic flavor that many critics find characteristic of the Odyssey. The battle, for instance, occurs not on a field but in a palace with the doors locked. Additionally, some of the deaths have a kind of Gothic humor to them, as suitors like Antinous and Eurymachus trip over their dinners. The incapacitation of Melanthius in the storeroom adds comic relief, as does his castration. Although Odysseus faces some genuinely tense moments, especially when Melanthius is procuring arms for the suitors, and although the battle is, at times, quite riveting, the grandeur and significance of the Iliad's famous duels are absent from this melee. After all, these are not famous heroes fighting one another but rather one famous hero warding off a bunch of freeloaders.

Summary Book 23
Eurycleia goes upstairs to call Penelope, who has slept through the entire fight. Penelope doesn't believe anything that Eurycleia says, and she remains in disbelief even when she comes downstairs and sees her husband with her own eyes. Telemachus rebukes her for not greeting Odysseus more lovingly after his long absence, but Odysseus has other problems to worry about. He has just killed all of the noble young men of Ithaca—their parents will surely be greatly distressed. He decides that he and his family will need to lay low at their farm for a while. In the meantime, a minstrel strikes up a happy song so that no passersby will suspect what has taken place in the palace.
Penelope remains wary, afraid that a god is playing a trick on her. She orders Eurycleia to move her bridal bed, and Odysseus suddenly flares up at her that their bed is immovable, explaining how it is built from the trunk of an olive tree around which the house had been constructed. Hearing him recount these details, she knows that this man must be her husband. They get reacquainted and, afterward, Odysseus gives his wife a brief account of his wanderings. He also tells her about the trip that he must make to fulfill the prophecy of Tiresias in Book 11. The next day, he leaves with Telemachus for Laertes' orchard. He gives Penelope instructions not to leave her room or receive any visitors. Athena cloaks Odysseus and Telemachus in darkness so that no one will see them as they walk through the town.

Book 24

The scene changes abruptly. Hermes leads the souls of the suitors, crying like bats, into Hades. Agamemnon and Achilles argue over who had the better death. Agamemnon describes Achilles' funeral in detail. They see the suitors coming in and ask how so many noble young men met their end. The suitor Amphimedon, whom Agamemnon knew in life, gives a brief account of their ruin, pinning most of the blame on Penelope and her indecision. Agamemnon contrasts the constancy of Penelope with the treachery of Clytemnestra.
Back in Ithaca, Odysseus travels to Laertes' farm. He sends his servants into the house so that he can be alone with his father in the gardens. Odysseus finds that Laertes has aged prematurely out of grief for his son and wife. He doesn't recognize Odysseus, and Odysseus doesn't immediately reveal himself, pretending instead that he is someone who once knew and befriended Odysseus. But when Laertes begins to cry at the memory of Odysseus, Odysseus throws his arms around Laertes and kisses him. He proves his identity with the scar and with his memories of the fruit trees that Laertes gave him when he was a little boy. He tells Laertes how he has avenged himself upon the suitors.
Laertes and Odysseus have lunch together. Dolius, the father of Melanthius and Melantho, joins them. While they eat, the goddess Rumor flies through the city spreading the news of the massacre at the palace. The parents of the suitors hold an assembly at which they assess how to respond. Halitherses, the elder prophet, argues that the suitors merely got what they deserved for their wickedness, but Eupithes, Antinous's father, encourages the parents to seek revenge on Odysseus. Their small army tracks Odysseus to Laertes' house, but Athena, disguised again as Mentor, decides to put a stop to the violence. Antinous's father is the only one killed, felled by one of Laertes' spears. Athena makes the Ithacans forget the massacre of their children and recognize Odysseus as king. Peace is thus restored.
The scene in which Penelope tests her husband's knowledge of the bed neatly brings together several ideas that the epic has touched on before. This subtle test reveals Penelope's clever side—the side we have seen in her ploy to use a never-to-be-finished burial shroud to put off remarriage for four years. This test not only admits Odysseus to Penelope's arms but also sheds some light on why their love for each other is so natural in the first place. They are united by the commonality of their minds, by their love of scheming, testing, and outmaneuvering. They are kindred spirits because they are kindred wits. None of the suitors could ever replace Odysseus, just as Circe or Calypso could never replace Penelope. Literally and metaphorically, no one can move their wedding bed.
What follows this scene has troubled Homeric scholars for over two thousand years. Some believe that the epic originally ended with Odysseus and Penelope returning at last together to their marriage bed. The end of this scene gives the story nice closure, while the scenes that follow seem un-Homeric. The bat metaphor at the beginning of Book 24 is unusual, as most Homeric metaphors exploit bright, pastoral imagery. The description of the suitors being led into the underworld is even more troubling, since it deviates from the Homeric principle that only the soul of a properly buried body can enter Hades. Book 11 bears out this principle, as Elpenor petitions Odysseus for a proper burial, unable otherwise to gain entrance to the underworld.
The early ending theory also rests on a subjective evaluation of the quality of the present ending. To many, Book 24 seems inferior to the rest of the Odyssey. The conversation between Achilles and Agamemnon has little point or relevance to the story; the conversation between Odysseus and Laertes is clumsy; Odysseus's revelation to his father of his identity seems anticlimactic after the tension that he creates with his disguise. Furthermore, the lunch with Dolius ends without exploring or even acknowledging the obvious tension that should exist between Dolius and Odysseus since Odysseus has murdered Dolius's two children. Halitherses' speech in the assembly piles on blame gratuitously and without sophistication, and Athena's tacit support for the exclusive murder of Antinous's father—a character introduced only a few lines earlier—is bizarre.
At the same time, ending the epic with Odysseus and Penelope's first night together leaves too many threads hanging. The suitors' families will doubtless be enraged when they discover what has happened to their children, as Odysseus himself predicts. Something must be done to appease or stop them, but the earlier ending would leave this problem unaddressed. It would also leave Odysseus in the odd position of having revealed his identity to all of his loved ones (including Eurycleia) except his own father, even though Laertes' grief at Odysseus's absence is rivaled only by that of Odysseus's deceased mother. It is perhaps fitting, then, for Homer's audience—the gods-worshipping warrior culture of Greece—that an epic so marked by divine intervention should end with Athena restoring peace and urging Odysseus not to "court the rage of Zeus who rules the world!" (24.597).

Key Facts
Full title - The Odyssey
Author - Homer; some critics argue for multiple authorship
Type of work - Poem
Genre - Epic
Language - Ancient Greek (Ionic dialect mixed with archaic forms and other dialects)
Time and place written - Unknown, but probably mainland Greece, approximately 700 B.C.
Date of first publication - Unknown
Narrator - The poet, who invokes the assistance of the Muse; Odysseus narrates Books 9-12
Point of view - The narrator speaks in the third person and is omniscient. He frequently offers insight into the thoughts and feelings of even minor characters, gods and mortals alike; Odysseus narrates Books 9-12 in the first person. Odysseus freely gives inferences about the thoughts and feelings of other characters.
Tone - Celebratory and nostalgic; the poet views the times in which the action is set as glorious and larger than life
Tense - Past; large portions of the poem (especially Books 9-12) are narrated in flashbacks
Setting (time) - Bronze Age (approximately twelfth century B.C.); the Odyssey begins where the Iliad ends and covers the ten years after the fall of Troy
Setting (place) - Odysseus's wanderings cover the Aegean and surrounding seas and eventually end in Ithaca, in northwestern Greece; Telemachus travels from Ithaca to southern Greece
Protagonist - Odysseus
Major conflict - Odysseus must return home and vanquish the suitors who threaten his estate; Telemachus must mature and secure his own reputation in Greek society
Rising action - The return of Odysseus to Ithaca; the return of Telemachus to Ithaca; their entrance into the palace; the abuse Odysseus receives; the various omens; the hiding of the arms and locking of the palace doors; Penelope's challenge to the suitors; the stringing of the bow
Climax - The beginning of Book 22, when the beggar in the palace reveals his true identity as Odysseus
Falling action - Odysseus and Telemachus fight and kill the suitors; they put to death the suitors' allies among the palace servants
Themes - The power of cunning over strength; the pitfalls of temptation; the tension between goals and obstacles; the misery of separation; maturation as a journey
Motifs - Disguises; storytelling; seductresses
Symbols - Food; the wedding bed; the great bow; symbols of temptation (Circe, the lotus, the Sirens' song, the cattle of the Sun)
Foreshadowing - Agamemnon's fate at the hands of his wife and his vindication by his son foreshadow the domestic troubles and triumphs Odysseus faces when he returns to Ithaca; Odysseus is nearly recognized by his wife and servants several times in Books 18-19, foreshadowing the revelation of his identity in Book 22

Study Questions and Suggested Essay Topics
1. How does Homer portray the relationship between gods and men in the Odyssey? What roles do the gods play in human life? How does this portrayal differ from that found in the Iliad?
 - In theIliad, the gods relate to human beings either as external powers that influence the lives of mortals from without, as when Apollo unleashes plague upon the Achaeans, or from within, as when Aphrodite incites Helen to make love to Paris or when Athena gives Diomedes courage in battle. In the Odyssey, the gods are often much less grand. They function more as spiritual guides and supporters for their human subjects, sometimes assuming mortal disguises in order to do so. The actions of the gods sometimes remain otherworldly, as when Poseidon decides to wreck the ship of the Phaeacians, but generally they grant direct aid to particular individuals. In a sense, the change in the behavior of the gods is wholly appropriate to the shift in focus between the two epics. The Iliad depicts a violent and glorious war, and the gods act as frighteningly powerful, supernatural forces. The Odyssey, in contrast, chronicles a long journey, and the gods frequently act to guide and advise the wandering hero.
2. In what ways does Odysseus develop as a character during the course of the narrative? Does he develop at all?
 - Odysseus does not change remarkably during the course of the narrative, especially in comparison to Telemachus, who undergoes a rite of passage from naive adolescence to manhood. Odysseus, already a famed soldier at the beginning of theIliad, continues his role as the most intelligent and courageous of all the Achaean heroes. But this is not to say that Odysseus exhibits no signs of growth. Just as Achilles is confronted in the Iliad with the problem of balancing his honor with his pride, Odysseus repeatedly faces situations in which self-restraint and humility must check bravado and glory-seeking. In his early adventures, he often fails these tests, as when he boastfully taunts Polyphemus, enflaming Poseidon.
As the epic progresses, Odysseus becomes increasingly capable of judging when it is wise to reveal himself and when it is appropriate to exult in his accomplishments. At Scheria, he prudently waits until late in his visit before declaring his identity to the king and queen. By the time he reaches Ithaca, he can endure the insults of the suitors for the better part of two days. The ability to hold his passions and pride in check make his swift and total revenge upon the suitors possible. Odysseus's internal conflict is not nearly as consuming as that of Achilles in the Iliad, making up a relatively small part of his overall journey, but he too is a wiser and stronger man at the end of his epic.
- 3. One of the most important cultural values in the Odyssey is that of xenia, a Greek concept encompassing the generosity and courtesy shown to those who are far from home. Why might hospitality have held more significance in Homer's time than it does in today's world? How is hospitality established as a key value in the epic?
Odysseus's journey takes place in a world in which vast swaths of uninhabited land separate human civilizations. Traveling between those settlements involves facing both natural and supernatural perils, as well as logistical problems like shortages in provisions. The code of hospitality operates as a linchpin that allows individuals such as Odysseus to undertake these kinds of journeys at all. It is a set of reciprocal expectations and obligations that not only mitigate the privations of travel but forge and reinforce bonds of friendship and goodwill. Not surprisingly, the Odyssey doles out harsh punishments to those who do not respect this sacred social code. Polyphemus, the suitors, and the Achaean soldiers at Ismarus all suffer for violating it. By the same token, individuals such as Eumaeus and the Phaeacian royalty prove their worth to Odysseus by showering him with selfless generosity and kindness. Within the Odyssey, adherence to the code functions as a kind of imperfect currency. If one acts in accordance with the rules, one will generally, but not always, be rewarded.
- Suggested Essay Topics
1. What is the role of family in the Odyssey? What values characterize the relationship between fathers and sons? You may wish to compare and contrast some of the father and son pairs in the epic (Odysseus and Telemachus, Laertes and Odysseus, Poseidon and Polyphemus, Nestor and Pisistratus, Eupithes and Antinous). How does Homer portray the idea of continuity between generations?
2. What is the role of women in the Odyssey? Focusing especially on Penelope, Calypso, or Anticleia, discuss how women are portrayed in this epic.
3. Compare and contrast Telemachus's journey with that of Odysseus. How does the younger man's experience enable him to grow as a character? What role does Athena play in his success?
4. Looking at Odysseus's narrative in Books 9 through 12, think about the techniques Homer uses to portray the magical and fantastical aspects of Odysseus's adventures. How does he handle what we might call special effects? That is, how does he make his monsters fearsome, his goddesses stunning, the dangers frightening, etc.?

Important Quotations Explained

  • Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns
    driven time and again off course, once he had plundered
    the hallowed heights of Troy.
    Many cities of men he saw and learned their minds,
    many pains he suffered, heartsick on the open sea,
    fighting to save his life and bring his comrades home.
    But he could not save them from disaster, hard as he strove—
    the recklessness of their own ways destroyed them all,
    the blind fools, they devoured the cattle of the Sun
    and the Sungod blotted out the day of their return.
    Launch out on his story, Muse, daughter of Zeus,
    start from where you will-sing for our time too.
    Explanation for Quotation 1

With these words the Odyssey begins. The poet asks for inspiration from the Muse and imagines her singing through him. An ancient epic poem generally states at the outset, in capsule form, the subject of the work to follow, and this epic is no exception. The Odyssey announces its subject matter in a very different fashion from Homer's other epic, the Iliad, however. Whereas Homer's first epic sets out to treat Achilles's rage, this one focuses on a "man of twists and turns." It chronicles not battles, the stuff of Achilles' brief life, but a long journey through "[m]any cities" and "many pains," the kind of test more geared toward a resourceful hero like Odysseus. The opening lines also foreshadow how the epic will end, with all of Odysseus's men dead except for Odysseus himself, and provide a reason for these deaths: the recklessness and blindness of his crew members, who do not realize that by slaughtering the Sun's cattle they seal their own dooms. The opening leaves unmentioned the many other temptations the Achaeans will face, and it says nothing of the situation in Ithaca, which consumes nearly half the epic. It thus treats the subject matter of the epic in an abbreviated form, but it faithfully captures the themes those subjects will explore. As Knox notes in the introduction to the Fagles translation, the Odyssey, in contrast to the Iliad, asks the Muse to choose where to begin. Giving the Muse this freedom prepares us for the more complex narrative structure of the Odyssey, which relies on flashbacks as it moves through many settings during its ten-year scope.

2.So then,
royal son of Laertes, Odysseus, man of exploits,
still eager to leave at once and hurry back
to your own home, your beloved native land?
Good luck to you, even so. Farewell!
But if you only knew, down deep, what pains
are fated to fill your cup before you reach that shore,
you'd stay right here, preside in our house with me
and be immortal. Much as you long to see your wife,
the one you pine for all your days …
Explanation for Quotation 2
Calypso makes this final plea to Odysseus in Book 5, begging him to stay with her, and her temptation trumps all those Odysseus has seen before (5.223-232). She not only promises to save him from having to face future woes but to give him what no other human character in the Odyssey has: immortality. But Odysseus is not interested. All he wants is his home and wife, even though he admits in ensuing lines that Penelope cannot match Calypso in beauty. Calypso's plea embodies the tension in Odysseus's journey. He wants to see his wife and home again, but he also presumably wants all the tempting things Calypso has to offer. That she asks him one last time whether he wants to leave suggests (even if the question is just rhetorical) that she knows her offer is tempting, but the fact that Odysseus can refuse it and embrace all the "pains" she foretells shows how compelling his homecoming really is.

3."But you, Achilles,
there's not a man in the world more blest than you—
there never has been, never will be one.
Time was, when you were alive, we Argives
honored you as a god, and now down here, I see,
you lord it over the dead in all your power.
So grieve no more at dying, great Achilles."
Explanation for Quotation 3
I reassured the ghost, but he broke out, protesting,
"No winning words about death to me, shining Odysseus!
By god, I'd rather slave on earth for another man—
some dirt-poor tenant farmer who scrapes to keep alive—
than rule down here over all the breathless dead."
This exchange comes as part of the conversation between Achilles and Odysseus when the latter journeys to the underworld in Book 11 (11.547-558). (The entire event is told as a flashback to the Phaeacians by Odysseus.) The heroes muse on the differences between the two worlds they now inhabit, and each finds the grass greener on the other side. Odysseus envies Achilles' strength and the glory that it won him; Achilles envies Odysseus for being alive. The differences reflect the change in outlook between the Iliad and the Odyssey. The first epic celebrates the glory (kleos) that comes from winning battles, and the mighty Achilles is naturally the focus. In the Odyssey, whose focus is the wily Odysseus, that earlier outlook is implicitly criticized. Achilles did win great glory, but it came at the cost of an early death, and he would do anything now to return to earth and live a life without glory. His indignant reply, "No winning words about death to me," suggests that he does not believe Odysseus is speaking sincerely, but Odysseus means what he says and thus needs a warning like this so badly. Like other Greek heroes, Odysseus has a glory-loving streak. He too would like to be "honored … as a god," but he must not lose his wits in his pursuit of glory.

4.Of all that breathes and crawls across the earth,
our mother earth breeds nothing feebler than a man.
So long as the gods grant him power, spring in his knees,
he thinks he will never suffer affliction down the years.
But then, when the happy gods bring on the long hard times,
bear them he must, against his will, and steel his heart.
Our lives, our mood and mind as we pass across the earth,
turn as the days turn …
Explanation for Quotation 4
Odysseus utters these words to the suitor Amphinomus shortly after defeating the "Beggar-King" Irus in Book 18 (18.150-157). Odysseus is himself in disguise as beggar, and his words here help maintain that cover. According to the story he has told, he once was a great warrior, plundering faraway lands, until one day he was captured. On one level, his words here reinforce those lies. The fatalism and helplessness he expresses—that a man only prospers while "the gods grant him power"—were frequently expressed sentiments of the Ancient Greek outlook, but they seem especially natural coming from a onetime king who has descended to the status of a beggar. Who better to comment on life's reversals than someone who has experienced them firsthand?
The words have additional meaning, however, for both Amphinomus and Odysseus. For Amphinomus, they foreshadow death. He is plundering the land of others, living a careless life, much as the beggar once did, but he too is a feeble man, and he is destined for a fall. The words are a prophecy to Amphinomus, and a warning; he does not miss their meaning, as he walks away "fraught with grave forebodings" (18.176). For Odysseus, on the other hand, the words do not foretell the future but recount the past and, perhaps, explain the lesson it has taught him. At the hour of his greatest triumph, the beginning of his nostos ("homeward journey") from the city he had helped sack, his life "turn[ed]" and the gods began his suffering. He endured only by "steel[ing] his heart," and he knows now that at such moments that is all that can be done.

5.Just as I
have come from afar, creating pain for many—
men and women across the good green earth—
so let his name be Odysseus
the Son of Pain, a name he'll earn in full.
Explanation for Quotation 5
With these words in the middle of Book 19, Homer explains the origin of Odysseus's name (19.460-464). They are actually spoken by his grandfather Autolycus, who named the hero when he was an infant. The name implies that pain, like dark hair or some other physical attribute, is in some way in his blood, which may be true in two senses. First, as Autolycus happily brags, Odysseus is the grandson of someone who has created pain for many, and he might be expected to inherit this quality and grow up like his grandfather. Pain is part of his makeup because, like some kind of physical attribute, he is destined to live with it from birth. The name recognizes that pain will be a constant in his life. He may not always be on the receiving end of it (the Odyssey provides at least as many examples of Odysseus giving pain to others as feeling its sting himself), but it will always be there, like an extension of his body. From minor incidents like the goring that gives him his scar—which happens, not coincidentally, while he is on a hunting trip with his grandfather—to the massacre of the suitors, the Odyssey suggests that Odysseus has indeed earned his name "in full."



Source: http://faculty.ksu.edu.sa/Dr_Adli/



Web site to visit: http://faculty.ksu.edu.sa/

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Odyssey Plot Summary

Note: This is meant as a supplement to fill in the holes between the excerpts we read. It is definitely not a substitute for the actual readings which you will be tested over.

Book I: A Goddess Intervenes

The Trojan war is over and the Greeks have come back victorious – all except Odysseus. His hometown, Ithaka (aka Ithaca), stands without its leader. As the book opens, he is being held captive by the sea nymph Kalypso (aka Calypso). She is in love with Odysseus and wants to keep him as her husband. Homer reveals that the reason that Odysseus is taking so long to get home is that he has angered the sea god, Poseidon. Athena is looking out for Odysseus, however. While Poseidon is off attending a banquet, Athena appeals to her father Zeus to help out Odysseus. She wants Hermes, the messenger god, to tell Kalypso to let Odysseus go. After she has taken care of that matter, she goes to visit Telemakhos, Odysseus’ son (aka Telemachus). He is about 20, and he is having his own problems. While Odysseus has been away, a group of suitors has come to win the hand of his wife, Penelope. Odysseus is rich and powerful and these men all want to marry his wife so they can take over that wealth and power – and it doesn’t hurt that Penelope is gorgeous. Penelope is diplomatically keeping them at bay, but she is obliged to entertain them while she stalls, and they are rude pigs. They eat Odysseus’ food, drink his wine, sleep in his home, and generally act like unwanted party guests who don’t know when to leave. Telemakhos is understandably frustrated, but Athena tells him to take courage. She reveals that his father is not dead and will return one day. In the meantime, she urges Telemakhos to act like a man and try to get rid of the suitors as well as make an effort to discover what has happened to his father.

Book 2: A Hero’s Son Awakens

Telemakhos doesn’t lose any time. He gathers together all the men of Ithaka and takes a stand against the suitors, demanding that they leave. The main suitors are Antinoos (aka Antinous) and Eurymakhos (aka Eurymachus). Along with the others, they respond that they will only leave when Penelope has chosen one of them to marry. Telemakhos suggests a compromise. If the suitors hold off, he will go and determine once and for all if Odysseus is dead. If he finds out that his father is indeed dead, he will force Penelope to make a decision. Telemakhos gets together a crew and sets sail for Pylos under the guidance of Athena.
Book III - Telemakhos Meets Nestor

Pylos is where Nestor lives (the wise counselor we first saw in the Iliad). Telemakhos tells him that he is looking for Odysseus, and Nestor recounts to him how everybody went their separate ways after the Trojan War ended. He states that the last time he saw Odysseus, he was in a ship and on his way home. Nestor advises Odysseus to inquire of Menelaos (aka Menelaus) in Sparta to see if he knows more.

Book IV – The Red-Haired King and His Lady

Telemakhos takes his advice and heads off to Sparta. When he gets there, Menelaos is hosting a wedding banquet for his son and daughter. Telemakhos waits until the next day to talk to him. When he does, Menelaos is horrified by the state of affairs at Odysseus’ home. He tells Telemakhos that Odysseus is still alive, but being held prisoner by Kalypso. Meanwhile, over in Ithaka, the suitors discover that Telemakhos has already gone on the journey to find out about his father’s fate. They decide to set a trap for him and kill him.

Book V - Sweet Nymph and Open Sea

At Athena’s repeated urging, Zeus finally sends Hermes to tell Kalypso to release Odysseus after his eight years of captivity as Kalypso’s unwilling lover. As a minor goddess, she has been using her powers to force Odysseus to sleep with her every night. We first see him staring towards the sea, weeping over his fate as Kalypso’s love slave. Yes, she has prevented him from aging, but she is not the one he wants. He yearns for his wife Penelope and home. Resigned to the will of Zeus, Kalypso gives Odysseus a boat to carry him away. However, Poseidon is back from his trip and discovers that Odysseus has been set free. Angry, he calls up a storm and wrecks Odysseus’ boat. Desperately clutching to a piece of the wreckage, Odysseus floats to the island of Skheria where the Phaiakians (aka Phaeacians) live.

Book VI – The Princess at the River

Odysseus is discovered buck naked and asleep by the young princess of the Phaiakians, Nausikaa (aka Nausicaa), as she and her friends are playing ball. At first she is scared of the wild-looking man, but he sweet talks her into giving him some bathing oils to clean up and some cloth to cover himself (she had been told by Athena in a dream that she needed to bring those things). Once he does, he looks incredibly handsome, and she is completely won over. He does not reveal who he is, but she tells him where she is from and encourages him to head there as well and ask her mother and father for hospitality.

Book VII – Gardens and Firelight

King Alkinoos and Queen Arete of Phaiakia (aka Phaeacia) welcome the stranger. He tells them about his shipwreck and they offer to help him home.

Book VIII: Songs of the Harper

Alkinoos invites Odysseus to a banquet where stories will be told. He comes, and hears tales of the Trojan War which affect him visibly.

Book IX – New Coasts and Poseidon’s Son

Odysseus finally reveals his identity and tells his story. After he and his men had left Troy, his ships found themselves in the middle of a terrible storm. They wound up at an island where they discovered a people known as the “Lotos (aka Lotus)-Eaters.” Anyone who ate the lotos would forget who they were and what they were doing, and want nothing more than to stay on the island and consume more lotos. Two men and a runner had taken the lotos and wanted to stay, but they were dragged back to the ship kicking and screaming and bound to benches until they come to their senses (assuming they did).

His next stop was at the land of the Kyklopes (aka Cyclopes), one-eyed monsters with no laws. He took twelve men onshore with him to seek help on his journey, but instead the Kyklops he met, Polyphemos, grabbed two of his men and ate them. He stuffed the rest in his cave and the next morning had another two for breakfast. Odysseus got the monster drunk and then drove a stake through his eye. Blinded and in excruciating pain, he demanded Odysseus’ name. Odysseus told him that his name was “Nohbdy.” (Nobody.) Therefore, when the Kyklops yelled for help by saying that “Nohbdy’s tricked me,” his fellow Kyklopes tell themselves, “Well, if nobody is hurting him, what can we do?” They did not come to help. Odysseus and the remaining men escaped by binding themselves to Kyklopes’ sheep. Since Polythemos couldn’t see them, he only felt the wool of the sheep as they passed. As Odysseus and his men sailed away, Odysseus yelled back at Polyphemos that “Odysseus, raider of cities, took your eye!” Enraged, Polyphemos asked his father to seek revenge – and his father is Poseidon.

Book X – The Grace of the Witch

The next stop was the home of Aiolos (aka Aeolus), king of the winds. Aiolos was very helpful, and Odysseus stayed there a month. When Odysseus was ready to leave, Aiolos gave him a bag of the winds so that he could get the wind to blow just the right way to speed him along and prevent any adverse winds. Unfortunately, Odysseus’ crew was very greedy. When he would not tell them about what was in the bag, they thought the bag was full of treasure. Just as the boat neared Ithaka, some of the men ripped open the bag while Odysseus was sleeping. The winds, loosed and combined, blew them right back to Aiolos! This time Aiolos wanted nothing to do with them, thinking they were cursed.

Next stop: Laistrygonia (aka Laestrygonia). The men had to row there; thanks to Aiolos, they have no wind. The residents of Laistrygonia were giants and man-eaters. They ate the landing party Odysseus sent, then threw boulders as the rest of the ships tried to escape. Only Odysseus’s ship survived, because it had not pulled into the harbor.

Next stop: Aeaea where Kirke (aka Circe) lives. Kirke is a sorceress who is good with spells and potions. She also has a bad habit of turning men into pigs. Several of Odysseus’ men got captured and turned into pigs, but before it could happen to Odysseus, he was warned by Hermes and received a magic herb from him that counteracted Kirke’s spell. By offering to have sex with her if she complied, he convinced her to change his other men back. Kirke was so impressed with this sexy, powerful man that she fell in love with him. He stayed with her for a year. Finally, he left, but not before Kirke told him to visit the prophet Teiresias in the underworld and gave him directions on how to get there.

Book XI – A Gathering of Shades

Odysseus undertook the journey to Hades. Once he arrived, in order to attract the shades of the dead, Odysseus made animal sacrifices. The pool of blood the sacrifices created drew the “shades” or souls, all of whom craved fresh blood. Only when they drank the blood were they able to taste mortality enough to talk to the living. Many approached, but Odysseus held them at bay with a spear while he waited for Teiresias. When Teiresias finally arrived, he foretold that Odysseus would be able to go home, but he would not be free of Poseidon’s curse until he had undertaken his journey. Teiresis also told him that his death would come at a ripe old age. In addition, he warned Odysseus that if he and his men wished to return to Ithaka, they must not eat any of the sun-god Helios’ herd of cattle which resided on the island of Thrinakia.

Besides Teiresias, Odysseus also talked to a few other dead people. He saw Elpenor, a member of his crew who had died on Kirke’s island, unbeknownst to Odysseus. Odysseus promised to bury him. He saw his mother, who had been alive when he left Ithaka. He talked to heroes such as Herakles (aka Hercules), Akhilleus (aka Achilles) and Agamemnon. He also saw Aias (aka Ajax) from afar, but Aias refused to talk to him. Understandably, Aias was still angry at the man who had indirectly caused his suicide. After Akhilleus’ death during the Trojan War, his armor was to be given to the next greatest warrior. Odysseus had fast-talked the Greeks into giving him the armor instead of Aias. Aias was so shamed that he killed himself. Many famous women also came by – beauties, consorts of gods, and queens.

Finally, though, Odysseus could not take any more of the dead. He was overcome by dread when he saw more shades approaching, and he rushed away. Once he returned to Kirke’s island, he was warned about the dangers that remained on their path: the Seirenes (aka Sirens), Skylla (aka Scylla), and Kharydis (aka Charybdis). Before he left, Odysseus remembered to give Elpenor burial rites.

Book XII – Sea Perils and Defeat

Odysseus and his men first encountered the Seirenes. The Seirenes are half-bird, half-women and live on the island of Anthemoessa. They sing a beautiful song that draws every man who hears it irresistibly to his doom. Either their ships crash as they rush blindly towards the island, or they rot away on the island itself, unable to move because they are entranced by the song. As Kirke had advised, Odysseus ordered his men to fill their ears with wax so they could not hear the song. However, he wanted to hear the song. Knowing that even he could not resist their call, he again followed Kirke’s advice and ordered his men to bind him to the mast. They were told to ignore him when he pleaded to be released. Indeed, they were instructed to only bind him harder the more desperate he became, thereby ensuring he would not break his bonds no matter how wildly he struggled to go to the Seirenes. Sure enough, as he passed, he heard the Seirenes sing of past glory in their entrancing voices and felt a yearning so intense that he was mindless to the dangers or anything else. He ordered and then begged his men to let him go as the yearning continued to intensify the closer they got. The ropes held against his frenzied struggling, however, and they passed by in safety. Once they were out of earshot, Odysseus came back to himself and was released.

After passing by the Seirenes, Odysseus and his men had to successfully pass between Skylla and Kharybdis. Unfortunately, it was impossible to get by without being struck down by one of them. Skylla was a monster with six long tentacle-like necks, each with a dog’s head. (She used to be a beautiful woman, but when the sea-god Glaucus chose Skylla as a lover over Kirke, Kirke poured a potion into the water while Skylla bathed which turned her into an immortal man-eating monster). Whenever a ship went by Skylla, each of her six dog-head snapped out and grabbed a man. Kharybdis, on the other side, was a powerful whirlpool which sucked in everything around it in the water, then vomited it back up destroyed. Kirke had suggested that it was better to go by Skylla, and Odysseus agreed that losing six men was better than losing the entire ship. He sailed on Scylla’s side. Sure enough, he lost the men, but otherwise he and his ship escaped.

Once past, the men were tired and demoralized. Nearby, they saw the island of Helios with his sacred cattle. Odysseus did not even want to land, remembering Teiresius’ warning, but the men led by Eurylokhos protested. They insisted on landing. Odysseus made them swear not to touch the cattle and they agreed, but they got stuck on the island for over a month due to adverse winds (or lack of them entirely). The food Kirke had given them ran out. Odysseus went to make a sacrifice to the gods to get good winds so they could leave the island, but fell asleep afterwards. While he was away, the hungry men finally cooked a few of the cattle. Unsurprisingly, the gods were angered. When the men tried to leave the island soon afterwards, Zeus hurled a thunderbolt in the midst of a vicious storm which destroyed the ship after pushing it back towards Kharybdis. All of the men died except Odysseus. He hung on to some debris and drifted closer and closer to Charybdis. When the keel he was clinging to got sucked in to the whirlpool, he grabbed on to an overhanging branch and hung on for dear life. Eventually, the keel popped back up, and he was able to grab it and get away. Zeus helped him by keeping him hidden from Skylla as he went by. He drifted for nine more days and finally wound up on Ogygia Isle where Kalypso lived. This brings us back to when we first saw Odysseus, and concludes the flashback.

Book XIII – One More Strange Island

Finished with his story, Odysseus is told by King Alkinoos that he can and must return to Ithaka. He orders one of his ships to sail Odysseus home. Odysseus falls asleep in the ship and does not even awaken when they reach Ithaka, so the men lay him sleeping on his home shore. Unfortunately for the Phaiakians, Poseidon punishes them for helping out Odysseus by turning the ship into stone as it enters the Phaiakian port.

Odysseus awakens alone on the mist-covered shore, at first unable to recognize his home. Athena appears to him in the guise of a young man. Unsure who to trust, Odysseus makes up a story about being left on the beach by a mutinous crew. Amused by his easy lying, Athena reveals her true form. She assures Odysseus he is indeed at Ithaka, helps him hide the treasures the Phaiakians have left with him in a cave, and changes him into the form of an old beggar so that he can enter Ithaka unrecognized. She tells him to find his swineherd, Eumaios (aka Eumaeus), and ask about how things are in Ithaka. Athena then heads off to get Telemakhos from Lakedaimon.

Book XIV – Hospitality in the Forest

Odysseus arrives at Eumaios’ hut. Eumaios tells him a little about what is happening at his home. He is a kind man who gives great hospitality to this stranger, even giving him his cloak and sleeping outdoors so Odysseus can sleep in comfort inside. Odysseus is impressed by his generosity and loyalty. The old swineherd will not believe Odysseus when he tells him that his master is still living and will return, though.

XV – How They Came to Ithaka

After being warned by Athena about the suitors’ plans to ambush him on the way home, Telemakhos says goodbye to Menelaos and Helen and leaves for Ithaka. Meanwhile, at the swineherd’s hut, Odysseus has been pumping Eumaios for information by pretending he wants to go to his master’s house to seek employment. Eumaios tells him about how horrible the suitors are. The next morning, Telemakhos lands on Ithaka’s shore and goes to the hut of the swineherd per Athena’s instructions.

XVI – Father and Son

Telemakhos arrives at the hut to find Eumaios and the “stranger.” After talking together, Eumaios wants to go tell Laertes, Odysseus’ father and Telemakhos’ grandfather, that his grandson has arrived back safely. After he leaves, Odysseus reveals himself to Telemakhos with Athena’s help. After a tearful reunion, they devise a plan to take care of all those suitors. Odysseus will return home in disguise, telling no one his identity, and wait for the time where he and Telemakhos can exact revenge.

Meanwhile, back at the palace, the suitors hear that Telemakhos has gotten back safely before they could kill him. They plot to kill him once he returns, but Penelope overhears one of them, Antinoos, and berates him. Antinoos is generally considered their leader, but another suitor, Eurymakhos, convinces her that the suitors would never really hurt Telemakhos. However, we know differently.

Book XVII – The Beggar at the Manor

Telemakhos goes back home the next day and tells Penelope that Odysseus is alive and with Kalypso, but will return soon. Penelope is afraid to believe it is true, although she certainly wants it to be. Odysseus later arrives with Eumaios and on the way they meet up with Melanthios, Odysseus’ goatherd. Unlike Eumaios, Melanthios has not been loyal to Odysseus. He kisses up to the suitors instead. He is also a cruel man, insulting and violent towards the “beggar.” Odysseus bites back his rage and leaves his revenge for later.

Odysseus and Eumaios arrive at the palace. Near the gates, they see Argos, Odysseus’ old faithful dog, lying forgotten in a dung heap. He recognizes his master and barks joyfully, then dies happy. Odysseus can barely keep from crying at the touching display of loyalty and love.

Once at the palace, Odysseus sees the suitors in all their glory, feasting at his table. Telemakhos tells the “beggar” he can remain at the table to plead for food, and gives him some. Antinoos is not as generous. Not only does he insult Odysseus, he hits him with a footstool. Once again Odysseus privately vows revenge, but shows nothing on the outside.

Noticing the “beggar,” Penelope asks Eumaios about him. After she gets a little information, she approaches Odysseus and asks him if he has heard anything about her husband. He says he has and that he will tell her about it later.

Book XVIII – Blows and a Queen’s Beauty

A fellow beggar named Iros shows up at the banquet. He is a regular and the suitors like him. He argues with Odysseus, worried about another beggar encroaching on his territory. The suitors get a kick out of watching the two fight and offer a prize to whomever wins a physical confrontation. Odysseus takes off his tunic to fight. When Iros sees that Odysseus is a well-muscled, strong man, he gets scared. Despite the fact that Odysseus tries to take it easy on the inept Iros, he still breaks his jaw. One of the suitors, Amphinomous, is nice to Odysseus. Odysseus tries to convince him to leave but he does not, doomed to the same fate as all the others.

Penelope arrives, looking even more beautiful than usual thanks to enhancement by Athena. She is dismayed by the scene of the bloody beggar with the broken jaw and the ill-treatment of the new “beggar,” and considers it one more example of the way the suitors have turned her home into a circus. Once again she blames them for taking advantage of her husband’s estate, but to keep them from rioting, also hints that she plans to marry the one who woos her with the nicest gifts. Spurred on by her beauty, the suitors hurry to comply. Their efforts to get gifts from their homelands serves to delay her choice. Odysseus sees her ploy for what it is and is proud of her for being so cunning.

Later that night, the “beggar” Odysseus is insulted by Melantho, one of his maids. She has gotten cocky because one of the suitors, Eurymakhos, has taken her for his mistress. Odysseus calls her disloyal, and when Eurymakhos hears, he throws a footstool at Odysseus. Odysseus is about to get into a confrontation with him when Telemakhos interrupts and orders everyone to bed. Unused to Telemakhos ordering anyone to do anything, the suitors are taken aback, but obey.


Book XIX - Recognitions and a Dream
Once the suitors are safely in bed and Odysseus and Telemakhos are alone in the great hall, they begin to remove the weapons from it. If asked why the weapons are gone, Telemakhos is told to say that the fire has damaged them and that he fears they will be used if a quarrel breaks out among the suitors. After they have removed all the arms, Telemakhos says goodnight.
Penelope arrives in the hall and sits near the fire. Once again, Melantho insults Odysseus the beggar, but Penelope chastises her for her behavior. She gives attention to the “beggar,” asking where he is from and how he came to their palace. He does not answer her, instead complimenting her shrewdness. She admits that her greatest stalling technique, the weaving and unweaving of Laertes’ shroud, has been discovered. When Penelope presses the beggar about his past, Odysseus spins a tale that he had met Odysseus twenty years prior on the journey to Troy. Odysseus is easily able to “prove” his story by describing his own clothes in detail. He tries to encourage her and tell her that Odysseus is coming back, but Penelope can hardly be blamed for doubting what he says. Still, she likes the beggar, and instructs her handmaidens to take care of him. Odysseus’ old nurse Eurykleia is told to wash his feet. As she does so, she recognizes a scar - the result of a wound he had received in his youth while hunting boars with his grandfather. We now hear about how Odysseus was named. When Eurykleia wants to tell Penelope the good news, Odysseus makes her swear to keep his identity secret on pain of death.
After Eurykleia leaves, Penelope confides further in the mysterious stranger. She is torn between staying in Ithaka with Telemakhos to care for her husband’s possessions herself, or leave them to Telemakhos to care for entirely while she marries some other man. She says that she has had a dream where an eagle kills the geese in her yard. Odysseus quickly interprets the dream to mean the death of all of the suitors. Penelope tells Odysseus that she plans to have the suitors compete for her hand by stringing Odysseus’ bow. Whichever one can not only string the bow but can shoot an arrow through a row of 12 axes will be the one she marries. Odysseus likes this idea, and tells her she should hold the contest soon. He assures her that her husband will come back in time for the contest. Unbelieving and despairing, Penelope returns to bed.

Book XX – Signs and a Vision
Tossing and turning, Odysseus cannot sleep. All he can do is think about how much he hates the suitors. When he sees some maids heading off to sleep with some of the suitors, he once again has to choke back his rage. At this point, Athena appears to him. She urges him to forget about the suitors for a little while and sleep. After he finally sleeps, Penelope awakens. Still in despair, she says a prayer to Artemis wishing for death instead of a marriage to one of the suitors, then sobs as she remembers a dream that she recently had. She is still crying when Odysseus awakens the next morning. All of his worries return and he prays to Zeus for a positive sign. Zeus sends a thunderclap and Odysseus is encouraged. He also takes heart from a prophecy he hears an old woman mutter as she is grinding at the mill.
When Telemakhos awakens, his first concern is for his father. He checks with Eurykleia to make sure that he has been treated kindly. Over in the kitchen, a great feast is once again being prepared for the suitors (as usual). Once again Odysseus has to endure insults from Melanthios. However, the cowherd Philoitios is nice to Odysseus. The suitors continue to plot against Telemakhos but when they see an omen unfavorable to their enterprise – an eagle with a dove in its talons – they put off the plan for a more fortuitous time.
When dinner is served, Telemakhos shocks and offends the suitors by inviting Odysseus to sit at his table. Another suitor, Ktesippos, throws an ox’s foot at Odysseus (throwing things seems to be their way of dealing with anger). Quick Odysseus dodges it and stores it up as one more reason for revenge, but Telemakhos can’t let it pass and threatens the suitors again. Another suitor, Agelaos, responds with the request that Telemakhos end all of this by making his mother decide on one of them. His reply is that he refuses to force her mother to do something she does not want to do. The suitors scoff at this, laughing, but underneath the fake merriment they are seething. At this point, the seer Theoclymenos has a vision: the suitors wearing death shrouds as blood streams down the walls. More scoffing greets this prophesy, but Theoclymenos is smart enough to leave while he can. Nearby, Penelope hears everything.
Book XXI - The Test of the Bow

Penelope lays out the rules of the contest for the suitors. Odysseus has a special bow that only he has been able to string. If the one of the suitors can not only string the bow but also duplicate his feat of shooting an arrow through twelve axes, Penelope will consent to marriage. The suitors eagerly accept. Meanwhile, Odysseus takes Eumaios and Philoitios into his confidence, tells them his true identity, and lets them in on his deadly plan so that they can help.

Unsurprisingly, none of the suitors can string the bow. Not ready to give up, Antinoos wants to try again the next day. Odysseus steps up and says that he wants to try to string the bow. The suitors deny him, but the intrigued Penelope allows it. Telemakhos tells Penelope that she needs to leave before the “beggar” strings the bow. She obeys, and after she goes, Eumaios and Philoitios quietly lock all the doors.

Of course, Odysseus strings the bow and shoots an arrow through the axes with no problem. The suitors sit amazed and do not notice Telemakhos grabbing a sword in order to help Odysseus clean house.

Book XXII – Death in the Great Hall

And clean house he does. He whips out another arrow, turns around, and nails Antinoos with it. The panicked suitors believe that the beggar is a madman, but then Odysseus reveals his identity to them. They read murder in his eyes and Eurymakhos desperately tries to save them by blaming Antinoos for everything. Odysseus doesn’t even dignify that weak excuse with a reply, other than shooting Eurymakhos with the next arrow. The suitors jump up and try to fight back, but they have been taken by surprise and are no match for the well-prepared and deadly Odysseus. He starts picking them off with his arrows, and with the help of Telemakhos, Eumaios, and Philoitios, he kills them all in short order. Then, Odysseus turns on the traitorous maids that have slept with and aided the suitors. After Eurykleia identifies the twelve disloyal maids, Odysseus orders them to clean up the bloody hall and remove the dead bodies of their former lovers. He is not done with them, however. As soon as the place is clean, he has them all hanged. Finally, Odysseus kills and mutilates Melanthios. With all the traitors dead, Odysseus wipes out the stench of death by burning brimstone in the hall. The house has been purged in more ways than one.

Book XXIII - The Trunk of the Olive Tree

After the slaughter is over, Eurykleia goes to find Penelope and tell her that her husband is back and the suitors are dead. Penelope is in her bedroom, still mourning, and can’t believe that Odysseus is really home again. She descends to the hall to see what has indeed happened. Since the bodies have all been removed, all she sees is the “beggar” drenched in the blood of the suitors. She still is afraid to believe it is really Odysseus. She devises a test. The bed Odysseus built for them is a special one. It was made from an olive tree that goes up through the entire house, which was built around it. Obviously, it cannot be moved as a result. However, no one knows about their private bed but Penelope and Odysseus, so she tells him that the bed has been moved. His reaction is disbelief and anger – he knows the bed is immovable. When Penelope sees his reaction, she is overjoyed – he has passed the test. It IS Odysseus. Her husband has finally returned to her after twenty years. They hurry off to the bedroom to make up for lost time. Athena even delays the rising of the sun so that the two can have extra time to do so. After the sun finally does rise, Odysseus heads off to visit his father Laertes.

Book XXIV – Warriors, Farewell

Meanwhile, the whole gang of suitors is being led by Hermes to Hades. When all Odysseus’ dead friends from Troy see the victims of Odysseus’ rage coming to join them in the underworld, they commend his bravery and skill as a warrior. They also admire Penelope for being so true to Odysseus.

After Odysseus has a joyful reunion with his father, he has to deal with the relatives of the suitors. While he had been visiting Laertes, they had had an assembly and decided to seek revenge on Odysseus. Armed and angry, they head to Laertes’ farm to kill Odysseus. Athena sees them and asks Zeus if she can help out. When the relatives and Odysseus begin to fight, Zeus sends a thunderbolt to make them stop. Athena appears and demands that the fighting end and the relatives accept that the suitors deserved to die. After this has been settled, Odysseus returns victoriously to his former position as king of Ithaka.

Source: http://www.nkerns.com/worldlit/handouts/OdysseyPlotSummary.doc

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