Odyssey Summary


Summary of Homer's  Odyssey

Odysseus is a king from island Ithaca, west of Greece, and a hero of the mythic Trojan War in Asia Minor, where he fought on the Greek side for ten years. The events in The Odyssey occur during the ten years following the war. Ancient Romans called the man "Ulysses."

Odysseus is a proficient warrior and mariner, who is also wily, with a penchant for deceit and trickery. The Trojan Horse was his idea.

At war's end Odysseus and his men set sail for Ithaca. The poem opens years later, at which point Odysseus is a captive of goddess Calypso on her island Ogygia, having lost all his ships and men. Calypso and Odysseus are lovers but, loyal to his wife, Penelope, he has refused Calypso's offer to marry him and make him ageless and immortal.

At a meeting on Mount Olympus, Athena persuades the assembled deities that it is time for Odysseus to head home. Hermes so informs Calypso, and she releases Odysseus on a raft.

Poseidon, god of sea and earthquake, was absent from the meeting on Olympus. He hates Odysseus, and when he discovers Odysseus on his way home he destroys the raft and casts the man into the sea. Odysseus swims ashore on island Scheria, homeland of the Phaeacians ("fee-a'-shuns"), who are near-divine and legendary seamen.

Phaeacian king Alcinous hosts the traveler in his palace, and Odysseus regales the spellbound Phaeacians with an account of his adventures since leaving Troy. This account contains all the well-known adventures, including:

     - the one-eyed giant Cyclops who devours several of Osysseus' men before the hero uses trickery to blind the giant and escape;

     - the goddess Circe who transforms Odysseus' men into pigs before she falls in love with the hero and returns them to human form;

     - the Sirens whose irresistable song Odysseus escapes by having his men tie him to the ship's mast; and

     - the paired monsters, Scylla and Charybdis.

Odysseus tells the Phaeacians that after these encounters his men enraged the sun god by eating one of the god's cows, leading to the deaths of all Odysseus' remaining followers and destruction of his last remaining ship. He clung to ship's timbers, he tells, until washed ashore on Calypso's island, his last stop before reaching the Phaeacians.  See map.

By means of their storied seamanship, a crew of Phaeacians transports Odysseus to Ithaca, and sets him ashore. Homer leaves his reader to wonder whether Odysseus spoke truthfully in recounting his adventures to the fascinated Phaeacians, or whether he fabricated the tales in whole or in part.

At any rate, those adventures are what The Odyssey is memorable for, but the poem is only half completed by the time the Phaeacians put Odysseus ashore. The second half of the poem is devoted to events on Ithaca, as Odysseus maneuvers to displace a horde of over 100 suitors who have usurped his wealth and courted Penelope during his twenty year absence.

Odysseus is assisted by goddess Athena, his son Telemachus, who has matured during the twenty years, and two loyal servants. They ultimately slaughter the suitors and reclaim Odysseus' kingdom for him.

Penelope is slow to recognize her long-lost husband, but eventually they reunite, passionately.

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