You may know him as Ulysses or Odysseus. He was the legendary king of the island of Ithaca in Greece, husband of Penelope, and father of Telemachus. He is known as being resourceful, cunning, adventurous, brave, and determined. He was the person who came up with the idea of the Trojan horse in the Iliad after all. Sometimes, he appeared to be overconfident and faced the wrath of the gods. Today we will be exploring his nostos, his adventurous homecoming journey across the Mediterranean – known as “The Odyssey”, an epic poem attributed to the ancient Greek poet Homer.
Nine Facts about Homer’s Odyssey:
- It is estimated that the Odyssey was composed around the 8th century BC;
- It is an epic poem and was meant to be verbally narrated but was documented on 24 books;
- The epic is the sequel of the Iliad, which revolves around the Trojan war;
- The Odyssey begins “in medias res” – instead of following a linear chronology, the story begins in the middle of the story (how many Netflix series have been inspired by Homer?);
- The epic poem starts with the invocation of the muse prompt – a prayer or address that acts as a prologue;
- It follows Odysseus (his Latin name is Ulysses) on his ten-year journey from Troy to his kingdom, Ithaca;
- Odysseus is brave and strong, but his greatest qualities are his cleverness and his ability to come up with quick solutions to gigantic (no pun indented) problems;
- The Odyssey serves as a cautionary tale for those who tend to brag about their achievements – hybris, the dangerous overconfidence, will lead you away from your path;
- Homer’s Odyssey stands as an inspiration for countless books, movies, and other forms of artwork. The most popular book is James Joyce’s “Ulysses”, one of the most important works of modernist literature.
The Summary of the Odyssey | The Odyssey in a Nutshell
Maybe you are preparing for a test or you are simply interested in getting the gist of the epic poem. Whatever the reason might be, here is the summary of Homer’s Odyssey – one of the most breathtaking adventures of all time.
“The Odyssey” Books 1-4: What is Going on in Ithaca?
The first four books of the Odyssey describe the situation in the (real) island of Ithaca during king Odysseus’ absence. Odysseus took part in the ten-year siege of the city of Troy and his kingdom at the hands of his wife Penelope and his son Telemachus. Penelope is described as loyal, faithful, and patient. She awaits her husband’s return and hides away from the countless suitors that visit their kingdom in the hopes of marrying Penelope and ruling Ithaca. Although she dislikes the presence of the 108 suitors, she remains passive. She had told the suitors that she will remarry only once she completed a burial shroud for Odysseus’ father. However, every night she unravels the weaving to make sure that it will never be completed. Telemachus is in his teenage years and has started to get angry with the suitors who disrespect his father and create a sense of anarchy in the kingdom.
That is when goddess Athena decides to intervene. As the goddess of wisdom, she was in favor of the extremely intelligent Odysseus who had come up with the idea of the Trojan horse. After asking permission from Zeus, she travels to Ithaca in the form of Mentor, Odysseus’ friend. Athena reveals to Telemachus that his father is still alive and will return to the island soon. Telemachus asks for the gods to punish the suitors and soon two eagles appear on the sky, fighting. This was not the final punishment but rather a bad omen for the greedy suitors who chose to ignore it.
Telemachus follows goddess Athena’s advice and visits the Peloponnese region, specifically Pylos and Sparta, to investigate his father’s disappearance. He had been missing for over ten years after the end of the Trojan War – the trip should have lasted a few weeks or months. King Menelaus, husband of Helen of Troy, reveals to Telemachus that his father is stranded on the island of Calypso and really wants to come home. At the same time, while Telemachus is gone, the suitors start plotting his assassination. All they want is to take over the beautiful kingdom of Ithaca.
“The Odyssey” Books 5-8: Odysseus Escapes Calypso’s Island
Books five and eight focus on wily Odysseus. The king is stranded on Calypso’s island, Ogygia, which is believed to be the island Gozo in the Maltese Archipelago. Calypso is a beautiful nymph who became Odysseus’ lover when he got stranded on her island and refused to let him return to his wife. Odysseus was in Ogygia for seven years with Calypso trying to convince Odysseus that she was much more attractive than Penelope. Although Odysseus did not agree with that statement, the nymph made him feel powerless and he acted as if he was her husband.
Thanks to Athena’s intervention, the gods of Mount Olympus agree to help Odysseus return home. Hermes, the messenger god, visits Calypso and orders her to let Odysseus go. However, Calypso is not the only one who wants Odysseus to stay away from his kingdom. Poseidon, the god of the sea, is mad at him – the reason is revealed later.
Odysseus is now free to leave Ogygia and, with the help of Calypso, he builds a raft within four days. With a magical breeze sent by gods, he is able to sail away from what we now know as the Maltese Archipelago. The 17th day of his trip, Poseidon sees him and conjures a storm that tosses Odysseus in the water – the king is almost drowned. With the help of the goddess Ino, also known as queen of the Sea, and the goddess Athena, he manages to survive and get ashore.
The place he ends up staying is Phaeacia which is ruled by the king Alcinous, and many scholars believe is located near the island of Corfu. In Phaecia, a storm-tossed Odysseus meets Alcinous daughter, princess Nausicaa. Her female friends are all afraid of him; Odysseus looks similar to Tom Hanks in “Cast Away”. But Nausicaa is instantly attracted to him. The princess wants to lead him to the palace but is afraid that people will start gossiping if they see him with her.
Odysseus is finally led to the palace with the help of Athena who is in the form of a little girl. At the palace, he is welcomed by Alcinous who is angered when he learns that his daughter left him find his way alone. After being bathed, clothed, and fed, Odysseus is encouraged to tell his adventures. And that is when the most interesting part of the epic poem begins.
“The Odyssey” Books 9-12: The Wanderings of Odysseus
Odysseus starts narrating to the people of Phaeacia how he ended up stranded on their land. It all started ten years ago, right after the end of the Trojan War. He and his seamen started their nostos, their homecoming trip. Twelve ships sailed away and their first stop was the land of the Cicones, which was located in Thrace. Odysseus’ seamen start stealing and eventually the local army turns against them. Odysseus lost six men per ship and left as soon as possible.
Their next stop was the land of the Lotus Eaters, which is estimated to be located on the northern coast of Africa. The Lotus Eaters are very friendly and peaceful people. However, they lack motivation and ambition. All they want to do is eat their beloved lotus fruit all day and all night. The locals offer the lotus fruit to Odysseus and his crew. The fruit was apparently a narcotic and it was very addicting. Odysseus, a very ambitious man, could not bear see his men laying on ground all day, having forgotten their goal of reaching Ithaca. The men did not want to return to their duties on the ship and Odysseus had to organize a literal intervention and force his crew back to their ships. Their next stop was in Sicily, on the land of the Cyclopes, a group of gigantic, cannibalistic men with one huge eye on their forehead. What happens when Odysseus comes in contact with them? How wily Odysseus manages to free himself and his men from the barbaric Cyclops Polyphemus?
Stay tuned because we will be following the storyline in another video! Don’t forget to subscribe to stay updated!