The Odyssey (Greek: Ὀδύσσεια or Odússeia) is one of two major ancient Greek epic poems attributed to Homer. It is, in part, a sequel to the Iliad, the other work traditionally ascribed to Homer. The poem is fundamental to the modern Western canon. Indeed it is the second - the Iliad being the first - extant work of Western literature. It was probably composed near the end of the eighth century BC, somewhere in Ionia, the then Greek-controlled coastal region of what is now Turkey.
The poem mainly centers on the Greek hero Odysseus (or Ulysses, as he was known in Roman myths) and his long journey home following the fall of Troy. It takes Odysseus ten years to reach Ithaca after the ten-year Trojan War. In his absence, it is assumed he has died, and his wife Penelope and son Telemachus must deal with a group of unruly suitors, called Proci, competing for Penelope's hand in marriage.
It continues to be read in Homeric Greek and translated into modern languages around the world. The original poem was composed in an oral tradition by an aoidos, perhaps a rhapsode, and was intended more to be sung than read. The details of the ancient oral performance, and the story's conversion to a written work inspire continual debate among scholars. The Odyssey was written in a regionless poetic dialect of Greek and comprises 12,110 lines of dactylic hexameter. Among the most impressive elements of the text are its strikingly modern non-linear plot, and the fact that events are shown to depend as much on the choices made by women and serfs as on the actions of fighting men. In the English language as well as many others, the word odyssey has come to refer to an epic voyage.
Telemachus, Odysseus' son, is only a month old when Odysseus sets out for Troy to fight a war he wants no part of. At the point where the Odyssey begins, ten years after the end of the ten-year Trojan War, Telemachus is twenty and is sharing his absent father’s house on the island of Ithaca with his mother Penelope and a crowd of 108 boisterous young men, "the Suitors", whose aim is to persuade Penelope that her husband is dead and that she should marry one of them.
Odysseus’s protector, the goddess Athena, discusses his fate with Zeus, king of the gods, at a moment when Odysseus's enemy, the god of the sea Poseidon, is absent from Mount Olympus. Then, disguised as a Taphian chieftain named Mentes, she visits Telemachus to urge him to search for news of his father. He offers her hospitality; they observe the Suitors dining rowdily, and the bard Phemius performing a narrative poem for them. Penelope objects to Phemius's theme, the "Return from Troy" because it reminds her of her missing husband, but Telemachus rebuts her objections.
That night, Athena disguised as Telemachus finds a ship and crew for the true Telemachus. Next morning, Telemachus calls an assembly of citizens of Ithaca to discuss what should be done to the suitors. Accompanied by Athena (now disguised as his friend Mentor), he departs for the Greek mainland and the household of Nestor, most venerable of the Greek warriors at Troy, now at home in Pylos. From there, Telemachus rides overland, accompanied by Nestor's son, to Sparta, where he finds Menelaus and Helen, now reconciled. He is told that they returned to Greece after a long voyage by way of Egypt; there, on the magical island of Pharos, Menelaus encountered the old sea-god Proteus, who told him that Odysseus is a captive of the nymph Calypso. Incidentally, Telemachus learns the fate of Menelaus’ brother Agamemnon, king of Mycenae and leader of the Greeks at Troy, murdered on his return home by his wife Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus.
Meanwhile, Odysseus, has spent seven years in captivity on Calypso's island. She is persuaded to release him by the messenger god Hermes, who has been sent by Zeus. Odysseus builds a raft and is given clothing, food and drink by Calypso. It is wrecked by Poseidon, but Odysseus swims ashore on the island of Scherie, where, naked and exhausted, he hides in a pile of leaves and falls asleep. Next morning, awakened by the laughter of girls, he sees the young Nausicaa, who has gone to the seashore with her maids to wash clothes. He appeals to her for help. She encourages him to seek the hospitality of her parents, Arete and Alcinous. Odysseus is welcomed and is not at first asked for his name. He remains several days, takes part in a pentathlon, and hears the blind singer Demodocus perform two narrative poems. The first is an otherwise obscure incident of the Trojan War, the "Quarrel of Odysseus and Achilles"; the second is the amusing tale of a love affair between two Olympian gods, Ares and Aphrodite. Finally, Odysseus asks Demodocus to return to the Trojan War theme and tell of the Trojan Horse, a stratagem in which Odysseus had played a leading role. Unable to hide his emotion as he relives this episode, Odysseus at last reveals his identity. He then begins to tell the amazing story of his return from Troy.After a piratical raid on Ismaros in the land of the Cicones, he and his twelve ships were driven off course by storms. They visited the lethargic Lotus-Eaters and were captured by the Cyclops Polyphemus, only escaping by blinding him with a wooden stake. They stayed with Aeolus, the master of the winds; he gave Odysseus a leather bag containing all the winds, except the west wind, a gift that should have ensured a safe return home. However, the sailors foolishly opened the bag while Odysseus slept thinking that it contained gold. All of the winds flew out and the resulting storm drove the ships back the way they had come, just as Ithaca came into sight.
After pleading in vain with Aeolus to help them again, they re-embarked and encountered the cannibal Laestrygones. Odysseus’s ship was the only one to escape. He sailed on and visited the witch-goddess Circe. She turned half of his men into swine after feeding them cheese and wine. Hermes warned Odysseus about Circe and gave Odysseus a drug called moly, a resistance to Circe’s magic. Circe, being attracted to Odysseus' resistance, fell in love with him and released his men. Odysseus and his crew remained with her on the island for one year, while they feasted and drank. Finally, Odysseus' men convinced Odysseus that it was time to leave for Ithaca. Guided by Circe's instructions, Odysseus and his crew crossed the ocean and reached a harbor at the western edge of the world, where Odysseus sacrificed to the dead and summoned the spirit of the old prophet Tiresias to advise him. Next Odysseus met the spirit of his own mother, who had died of grief at his long absence; from her, he learned for the first time news of his own household, threatened by the greed of the suitors. Here, too, he met the spirits of famous women and famous men; notably he encountered the spirit of Agamemnon, of whose murder he now learned, who also warned him about the dangers of women (for Odysseus' encounter with the dead, see also Nekuia).
Returning to Circe’s island, they were advised by her on the remaining stages of the journey. They skirted the land of the Sirens, passed between the many-headed monster Scylla and the whirlpool Charybdis, and landed on the island of Thrinacia. There, Odysseus’ men ignored the warnings of Tiresias and Circe, and hunted down the sacred cattle of the sun god Helios. This sacrilege was punished by a shipwreck in which all but Odysseus drowned. He was washed ashore on the island of Calypso, where she compelled him to remain as her lover for seven years before escaping.
Having listened with rapt attention to his story, the Phaeacians, who are skilled mariners, agree to help Odysseus get home. They deliver him at night, while he is fast asleep, to a hidden harbor on Ithaca. He finds his way to the hut of one of his own former slaves, the swineherd Eumaeus. Odysseus disguises himself as a wandering beggar in order to learn how things stand in his household. After dinner, he tells the farm laborers a fictitious tale of himself: he was born in Crete, had led a party of Cretans to fight alongside other Greeks in the Trojan War, and had then spent seven years at the court of the king of Egypt; finally he had been shipwrecked in Thesprotia and crossed from there to Ithaca. Meanwhile, Telemachus, sails home from Sparta, evading an ambush set by the suitors. He disembarks on the coast of Ithaca and makes for Eumaeus’s hut. Father and son meet; Odysseus identifies himself to Telemachus (but still not to Eumaeus) and they determine that the suitors must be killed. Telemachus gets home first. Accompanied by Eumaeus, Odysseus now returns to his own house, still pretending to be a beggar. He experiences the suitors’ rowdy behavior and plans their death. He meets Penelope: he tests her intentions with an invented story of his birth in Crete, where, he says, he once met Odysseus. Closely questioned, he adds that he had recently been in Thesprotia and had learned something there of Odysseus’s recent wanderings.
Odysseus’s identity is discovered by the housekeeper, Eurycleia, as she is washing his feet and discovers an old scar Odysseus got during a boar hunt; he swears her to secrecy. Next day, at Athena’s prompting, Penelope maneuvers the suitors into competing for her hand with an archery competition using Odysseus' bow. Odysseus takes part in the competition himself; he alone is strong enough to string the bow and therefore wins. He turns his arrows on the suitors and with the help of Athena, Telemachus, Eumaeus and Philoteus the cowherd, all the suitors are killed. Odysseus and Telemachus hang twelve of their household maids, who had sex with the suitors; they mutilate and kill the goatherd Melanthius, who had mocked and abused Odysseus. Now at last, Odysseus identifies himself to Penelope. She is hesitant, but accepts him when he correctly describes to her the bed he built for her when they married.
The next day he and Telemachus visit the country farm of his old father Laertes, who likewise accepts his identity only when Odysseus correctly describes the orchard that Laertes once gave him.
The citizens of Ithaca have followed Odysseus on the road, planning to avenge the killing of the Suitors, their sons. Their leader points out that Odysseus has now caused the deaths of two generations of the men of Ithaca—his sailors, not one of whom survived, and the suitors, whom he has now executed. The goddess Athena intervenes and persuades both sides to give up the vendetta. After this, Ithaca is at peace once more, concluding the Odyssey.
See main article: Odysseus. Odysseus' heroic trait is his mētis, or "cunning intelligence"; he is often described as the "Peer of Zeus in Counsel." This intelligence is most often manifested by his use of disguise and deceptive speech. His disguises take forms both physical (altering his appearance) and verbal, such as telling the Cyclops Polyphemus that his name is Ουτις, "Nobody", then escaping after blinding Polyphemus. When asked by other Cyclopes why he is screaming, Polyphemus replies that "Nobody" is hurting him, so the others assume that, "If alone as you are [Polyphemus] none uses violence on you, why, there is no avoiding the sickness sent by great Zeus; so you had better pray to your father, the lord Poseidon". The most evident flaw that Odysseus sports is that of his arrogance and his pride, or hubris. As he sails away from the island of the Cyclopes, he shouts his name and boasts that no one can defeat the "Great Odysseus". The Cyclops then throws the top half of a mountain at him, and tells his father, Poseidon, that Odysseus blinded him, which enrages Poseidon and causes the god to thwart Odysseus' homecoming for a very long time.
The Odyssey begins in medias res, meaning that the plot begins in the middle of the overall story, and that prior events are described through flashbacks or storytelling. This device is imitated by later authors of literary epics, for example, Virgil in the Aeneid, as well as modern poets such as Alexander Pope in the mock-epic, or mock-heroic, "The Rape of the Lock".
In the first episodes, we trace Telemachus' efforts to assert control of the household, and then, at Athena’s advice, to search for news of his long-lost father. Then the scene shifts: Odysseus has been a captive of the beautiful nymph Calypso, with whom he has spent seven of his ten lost years. Released by the intercession of his patroness Athena, he departs, but his raft is destroyed by his divine enemy Poseidon, who is angry because Odysseus blinded his son, Polyphemus. When Odysseus washes up on Scherie, home to the Phaeacians, he is assisted by the young Nausicaa and is treated hospitably. In return, he satisfies the Phaeacians' curiosity, telling them, and the reader, of all his adventures since departing from Troy. The shipbuilding Phaeacians then loan him a ship to return to Ithaca, where he is aided by the swineherd Eumaeus, meets Telemachus, regains his household, kills the suitors, and is reunited with his faithful wife, Penelope.
Nearly all modern editions and translations of the Odyssey are divided into 24 books. This division is convenient but not original; it was developed by Alexandrian editors of the 3rd century BC. In the Classical period, moreover, several of the books (individually and in groups) were given their own titles: the first four books, focusing on Telemachus, are commonly known as the Telemachy; Odysseus' narrative, Book 9, featuring his encounter with the cyclops Polyphemus, is traditionally called the Cyclopeia; and Book 11, the section describing his meeting with the spirits of the dead is known as the Nekuia. Books 9 through 12, wherein Odysseus recalls his adventures for his Phaeacian hosts, are collectively referred to as the Apologoi: Odysseus' "stories". Book 22, wherein Odysseus kills all the suitors, has been given the title Mnesterophonia: "slaughter of the suitors".
The last 548 lines of the Odyssey, corresponding to Book 24, are believed by many scholars to have been added by a slightly later poet. Several passages in earlier books seem to be setting up the events of Book 24, so if it were indeed a later addition, the offending editor would seem to have changed earlier text as well. For more about varying views on the origin, authorship and unity of the poem see Homeric scholarship.
Events in the main sequence of the Odyssey (excluding the narrative of Odysseus) take place in the Peloponnese and in what are now called the Ionian Islands. There are difficulties in the identification of Ithaca, the homeland of Odysseus, which may or may not be the same island that is now called Ithake. The wanderings of Odysseus as told to the Phaeacians, and the location of the Phaeacians' own island of Scherie, pose more fundamental geographical problems: scholars both ancient and modern are divided as to whether or not any of the places visited by Odysseus (after Ismaros and before his return to Ithaca) are real.
In 2008, scientists Marcelo Magnasco and Constantino Baikouzis at Rockefeller University used clues in the text and astronomical data to attempt to pinpoint the time of Odysseus's return from his journey after the Trojan War.
The first clue is Odysseus's sighting of Venus just before dawn as he arrives on Ithaca. The second is a new moon on the night before the massacre of the suitors. The final clue is a total eclipse, falling over Ithaca around noon, when Penelope's suitors sit down for their noon meal. The seer Theoclymenus approaches the suitors and foretells their death, saying, "The Sun has been obliterated from the sky, and an unlucky darkness invades the world."
Doctors Baikouzis and Magnasco state that "[t]he odds that purely fictional references to these phenomena (so hard to satisfy simultaneously) would coincide by accident with the only eclipse of the century are minute." They conclude that these three astronomical "references 'cohere,' in the sense that the astronomical phenomena pinpoint the date of 16 April, 1178 B.C." as the most likely date of Odysseus' return.
Scholars have seen strong influences from Near Eastern mythology and literature in the Odyssey. Martin West has noted substantial parallels between the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Odyssey. Both Odysseus and Gilgamesh are known for traveling to the ends of the earth, and on their journeys go to the land of the dead. On his voyage to the underworld, Odysseus follows instructions given to him by Circe, a goddess who is the daughter of the sun-god Helios. Her island, Aeaea, is located at the edges of the world, and seems to have close associations with the sun. Like Odysseus, Gilgamesh gets directions on how to reach the land of the dead from a divine helper: in this case, she is the goddess Siduri, who, like Circe, dwells by the sea at the ends of the earth. Her home is also associated with the sun: Gilgamesh reaches Siduri's house by passing through a tunnel underneath Mt. Mashu, the high mountain from which the sun comes into the sky. West argues that the similarity of Odysseus' and Gilgamesh's journeys to the edges of the earth are the result of the influence of the Gilgamesh epic upon the Odyssey.
This is a partial list of translations into English of Homer's Odyssey. For a more complete list see English translations of Homer.