Odysseus was King of Ithica. He never really wanted to join the Trojan War. As one of Helen’s suitors, Odysseus was bound to the oath to defend her and Menelaus. Early in the courtship process, Odysseus had turned his attention to Helen’s cousin Penelope. He married Penelope, who had his first son Telemachus. When Menelaus came for him, Odysseus pretended to be insane. He was in the fields sowing crops pretending to be oblivious to life around him. Palamedes saw though Odysseus’s deceit and placed his son, Telemachus, in the path of the plow. When Odysseus steered away from the baby, his fake insanity was exposed. Odysseus never really forgave Palamedes for unmasking his deception. During the war, Odysseus framed Palamedes as a spy, and the Greeks had him stoned to death.
Odysseus was a brave warrior during the Trojan conflict. He came up with the idea of the wooden horse with the Greek warriors inside it. With the help of Athena, they were able to convince the Trojans to take the horse into the city. The Greeks defeated the Trojans and brought the ten-year war to a conclusion.
For Odysseus, the end of the war was just the beginning of another chapter in his saga. From this point on, he attempted to return to his home and to Penelope, who waited faithfully for his return. It would be another ten years before Odysseus would set foot in Ithica again.
Odysseus started out from Troy with twelve ships to return to Ithica in Greece. He sacked the Ciconian city of Ismarus. His crews stayed too long and lost twelve to eighteen men on each ship when a large force of Ciconians descended on them.
Winds drove him south to the coast of Libya. Three scouts were sent out from the ships, but they did not return so Odysseus set out after them. When he discovered their loaction, he found that they had eaten fruit that had made them forget about going back home. He dragged them back to the ship and continued on the journey.
The ships came to another island where they discovered a cave with cheese and lambs. After having some of the food, Odysseus and his crew waited for the owner of the cave. They found the owner to be a Cyclops named Polyphemus, a son of Poseidon. Polyphemus shut the cave with a large rock, trapping Odysseus and the crew inside. When asked his name, Odysseus told Polyphemus that his name was “No bo dy”. Polyphemus decided to eat some of Odysseys’s men. Odysseus appealed to Polyphemus on the basis of the laws of hospitality and humanity. Polyphemus did not recognize either and ate two of the men.
The next day, Odysseus fed the Cyclops some wine, which made him fall asleep. Odysseus and his crew then took a large burning timber and blinded the Cyclops. After hearing his cries, Polyphemus’s brothers came running to the cave. Polyphemus yelled to his brothers through the stone door, “Nobody is killing me! Nobody has blinded me!” The brothers dismissed his cries and returned to their own caves. When Polyphemus opened the cave door to let the sheep out, Odysseus and his crew attached themselves to the undersides of the sheep and were able to escape detection. As they escaped the island, Odysseus taunted the Cyclops telling him his real name. Polyphemus prayed to his father Poseidon to revenge him. Poseidon then plagued Odysseus and his crew for the rest of their journey home.
Odysseus’s ships came to an island where Aeolus, the god of the wind, dwelled. Aeolus was impressed with Odysseus, and he decided to help him. Aeolus captured all of the winds except the west wind, and put them into a bag. He instructed Odysseus that if he did not open the bag, he would be able to get back home. Odysseus fell asleep just before they reached sight of Ithica. Just as they spotted land, his crew, curious about the bag, decided to open it. When they did, the wind escaped the bag and the ship was blown far away from Ithica once again.
After rowing for days, the twelve ships came to a harbor with large cliffs. All the ships but Odysseus’s entered the harbor. Three scouts went out to search the land. They came upon a kind giantess, who led them to her father’s house, the king of the land. The king ate one of the men, and the other two escaped. The giants began to hurl rocks at the ships. All eleven ships in the harbor were sunk, and only Odysseus’s ship escaped. The men on the other eleven ships were speared by the giants and taken back to their village to be eaten.
The lone ship now reached the island of Aeaea, where the sorceress Circe lived. Half the crew searched the island and found Circe’s house. All the men but the ship’s first mate, Eurylochus, went inside for a feast. When they did not return in good time, Eurylochus returned to the ship for help. On the way to the house, Odysseus was paid a visit by Hermes, the messenger of the gods and helper of travelers in distress. Hermes gave Odysseus an herb that would make him immune to Circe’s spells. She had changed the rest of the crew into pigs. When they arrived at the house, Odysseus ate the food, but he did not change into a pig. He drew his sword and forced the sorceress to take an oath to do no harm to his crew. She changed them back to humans and they stayed with her and her nymphs for a year. When at last they decided to go, Circe told them to seek the soul of Teirisias to get advice on how to return home.
Odysseus’s ship came to the intersections of the rivers of Acheron, Periphlegthon, and Cocytas. He and his crew dug a pit in honor of Hades and Persephone. He poured a number of items into the pit, and several ghosts appeared. The ghosts included his mother, who had died while they were away, and a fellow shipmate who had died and was left unburied on Circe’s island. Odysseus finally spoke with the soul of Teirisias, who prophesied that all the crew would return to Ithica as long as they did not touch the immortal herds tended by the two daughters of Helius. If any animal were harmed, only Odysseus would return to Ithica but on a foreign ship. He also warned that Odysseus would return to a home filled with suitors for his wife Penelope. The ghost of Agamemnon appeared and told Odysseus of how he was murdered on his return home. He warned Odysseus and suggested to Odysseus to disguise himself and determine the situation at his home first so as to not fall into the same trap as he did.
The ship returned to Circe’s island to bury their shipmate. Circe warned them about Sirens and about the wandering rocks that could shipwreck them. She again reminded them not to harm the herds of Helius.
Odysseus’s boat had to pass the island of the Sirens. Sirens sang beautiful songs which lured ships into rocks. The men filled their ears with wax and only Odysseus, who was tied to the mast, was able to hear the tempting songs. As they passed the island, Odysseus screamed to be free, but the men would not free him. The Sirens, not being able to get the men to succumb to their songs, threw themselves into the sea and were never heard from again.
After the island of the Sirens, Odysseus steered his ship toward the Strait of Messina. In the strait was a whirlpool which sucked down ships. Odysseus ordered the crew to row hard toward a cliff. They were able to get by the whirlpool only to get attacked by a Scylla, a six-headed monster, who lived in the cliff. Scylla seized and ate six of the men from the ship.
After surviving the whirlpool and the attack by the six headed monster, the crew of Odysseus’ ship were exhausted. When Odysseus orderd them to row past the island of Thrinacia, they nearly mutinied. Odysseus gave into their demands and landed the ship at Thrinacia. He reminded the crew that no animals on the island were to be harmed because these were the herds of the daughter of Helius. The ship stayed on the island a month because the winds continued to blow to the south. Their food supply began to dwindle. One day while Odysseus slept, Eurylochus, the first mate, ordered the crew to kill some of the cattle for food. Odysseus was horrified when he awoke and saw what they had done. Helius, the sun god, demanded that the crew be punished. When the ship set sail again, Zeus sent a storm which killed all of the crew eccept Odysseus.
Odysseus drifted on a few timbers from his destroyed ship. After nine days, he floated to the island of Ogygia. Here Calypso, daughter of the Titan Atlas, fell in love with Odysseus. She offered him immortality, but Odysseus refused. He remained in her company for seven years, unable to get off the island. Even after seven years, he still wanted to return home to Penelope.
Athena took Odysseus’s case before Zeus. She pleaded for him to be released from the island while Poseidon was away from Mount Olympus. Zeus agreed and sent Hermes with a message for Calypso to release Odysseus. Calypso unhappily accepted Zeus’ mandate and gave wood to Odysseus so that he could build a raft and return home.
Poseidon was furious at Zeus for helping Odysseus, He sent a terrible storm to destroy Odysseus’s raft. Odysseus was saved by the sea goddess Leucotha (once the mortal Ino). She gave him her veil that kept him afloat until he reached the shores of Phoenicia.
The King of Phoenicia provided Odysseus with a ship and retuned him to Ithica. Odysseus fell into a deep sleep and the sailors left him on the shore where he awoke disoriented. Athena greeted him. She warned him of the nobles who had gathered at his home in his absence. They wanted to court Penelope and to assume Odysseus’s throne. Athena helped Odysseus sneak back into the city by disguising him as an old beggar.
Odysseus met up with his son Telemachus and an old servant named Eumaeus. They returned to the palace, and Odysseus begged for food as he surveyed his opposition. He was ill treated by a nobleman named Antinous who tossed a stool at him.
That night, Odysseus arranged a meeting with Penelope on the pretense that he had word of her husband. Penelope wanted to believe the beggar, but stated that she could wait no longer. She recounted the promise she had made to Odysseus. She promised Odysseus before he left for Troy that she would find a new husband if he did not return. She had held out for ten years but now planned a contest of strength and skill to settle the matter. The men in the contest would have to string Odysseus’ bow and shoot an arrow through rings in twelve axe handles. Penelope asked her servant to tend to the beggar’s needs and bid him a good night. The servant Eurycleia recognized a scar on Odysseus’s leg and realized the beggar was Odysseus. He told the servant not to tell anyone he was home.
The next day, Penelope held the contest for her hand in marriage. None of the nobles were able to string the bow. Odysseus, still disguised as the beggar, requested a turn and was granted it by Penelope despite the nobles’ protests. She then returned to her bedroom, not really caring who won the contest. Odysseus was able to string the bow and shoot an arrow through the handles in front of the unbelieving nobles. Odysseus then turned the bow on the suitors. Telemachus and two servants joined in the battled against the suitors. All the suitors were killed, and their female mistresses were all hung.
When Odysseus presented hiself to Penelope, she did not believe it was him. She used a trick to determine if it was really him. She ordered their bed to be taken out of the bedroom. Odysseus had constructed the bed before he had left for Troy. One of the bedposts was attached to a live olive tree still rooted in the ground. Odysseus was outraged, believing that someone had cut apart the post from the tree. At that moment, Penelope knew it was her husband who had finally returned from his long journey.
Penelope and Suitors by Waterhouse
Odysseus and Calypso by Jan Brueghel
Ulysses and Sirens by Waterhouse
Odysseus Kills Suitors Greek Vase
Major Gods and Goddesses
Introduction | Creation Story | Olympians VS. Titans | Creation of Man |
Revolt of Giants | Abduction of Persephone | The Underworld
Visitors to Underworld | Amzon Warriors | Ares vs. Athena | Daedalus and Icarus
Echo and Narcissus | Judgement of Paris | Perseus and Andromeda | Trojan War