Wednesday, July 21, 2021

The Odyssey Summary and Theme

The Odyssey Summary and Theme  “The Odyssey” is the second of the two epic poems attributed to the ancient Greek poet Homer , and usually considered the second extant work of Western literature. The Odyssey Summary and Theme It was probably composed near the end of the 8th Century BCE and is, in part, a sequel to “The Iliad”. It is widely recognized as one of the great stories of all time, and has been a strong influence on later European, especially Renaissance, literature.

The poem focuses on the Greek hero Odysseus (or Ulysses, as he was known in Roman myths) and his long journey home to Ithaca following the fall of Troy. His adventure-filled ten year journey took him through the Ionian Islands and the Peloponnese and as far away as Egypt and North Africa and the western Mediteranean, as the displeased sea-god Poseidon prevented him from reaching his home.

The Odyssey Summary and Theme

The Odyssey is an Ancient Greek heroic poem attributed to Homer, though “Homer” is now generally believed to refer more to an epic tradition than to a selected or single person. Scholars debate when and the way the poem was composed. It seems to possess inherit existence contemporaneously or shortly after the difference of the traditional Greek alphabet , which places it within the late 8th century BC. it had been presumably composed orally, and even after it had been written down, its earliest audiences would have heard the poem performed. The text because it is now experienced was likely arranged sometime within the 2nd century BC by scholars at the Library of Alexandria and preserved by the students of Constantinople within the Eastern Roman Empire .

Often mentioned because the beginning of Western literature, the Odyssey draws on conceits and ideas from Near Eastern epics, most notably the Homecoming Husband. The narrative revolves round the restoration of a family after a protracted separation, exploring themes of home and family as identity, the virtue of reciprocity, and therefore the intersection of fate, gods, and human choices in determining outcomes.

This study guide refers to the 2018 paperback edition translated by Emily Wilson. Her 2017 translation, released in hardcover, is that the first full-length translation by a lady to be published in English. Wilson has stated that her publisher permits her to update her translation with each new edition; the hardcover and paperback translations aren't identical. the traditional Greek text was composed in dactylic hexameter, the meter of archaic Greek narrative poetry. Wilson’s translation is in iambic pentameter. Though it features an equivalent number of lines because the original, it's not a line-for-line translation. Chapter divisions exist within the Greek text, but the chapter titles are Wilson’s own.

The Odyssey Summary

At the beginning of the poem, Odysseus has been faraway from Ithaca for 20 years—10 fighting at Troy and 10 attempting to return home—but his fate is to return. At the beginning of the poem, the goddess Athena prompts Zeus to line Odysseus’s return in motion, but the gods must do so against the needs of Poseidon. He holds a grudge against Odysseus for having blinded his son, the Cyclops Polyphemus.

The first four books happen in Ithaca, where Odysseus’s wife Penelope is besieged by aggressive young suitors from Ithaca and neighboring islands. Insisting that Odysseus must be dead, they demand that Penelope select one among them as her new husband. They feast on Odysseus’s herds, offering nothing reciprocally , while Penelope stalls for time. Her son with Odysseus, Telemachus, who was an infant when his father left, is just too young and inexperienced to assume control. Both Penelope and Telemachus exist during a state of suspended anticipation, looking for Odysseus’s return but unsure whether or not they can believe it.

The Odyssey Summary and Theme  - Books 5 through 13 concern Odysseus’s wanderings after leaving Troy. Book 5 finds Odysseus on Calypso’s island. The messenger god Hermes informs her that she must let Odysseus leave. She grudgingly agrees, but Poseidon stirs up the ocean to shipwreck Odysseus. water nymph Ino helps him reach the Phaeacians’ island, an intermediary space between the human and divine realms. In Books 6 through 8, the Phaeacians accept Odysseus’s request for help, feeding and bathing him and promising to assist him return to Ithaca. In return, he tells them his story in Books 9 through 12.

Odysseus narrates the trials he has undergone, including escaping the Lotus Eaters (whose fruit causes men to forget their desire to return home), the Cyclops Polyphemus (who ate six of his men), and therefore the Laestrygonians (human-eating giants). On Circe’s island, she initially turned his men into pigs but eventually helped him devise an idea to return home by consulting with Tiresias, a prophet Odysseus spoke with at the border between earth and therefore the underworld. Odysseus’s men died stumped after failing to follow Tiresias’s order to not eat the Sun God Helius’s sacred cattle. Only Odysseus escaped.


The Odyssey Summary and Theme  , The Phaeacians bring Odysseus to Ithaca, where Books 13 through 24 happen . Athena disguises him in order that he can enter the palace by stealth and test his slaves to work out who is loyal. Believing Odysseus is impoverished, Eumaeus provides food and shelter. Odysseus reveals himself only to Telemachus. Athena helps Odysseus plot the way to overthrow the suitors despite their numbers. Odysseus and Telemachus put the plan into motion, aided by Eumaeus and another loyal herdsman.

With Athena’s help, Odysseus slaughters the suitors at their feast, then hangs 12 enslaved women who are accused of entertaining the suitors. Penelope and Odysseus reunite after she secretly tests him and he proves his identity. The suitors’ surviving male relations threaten Odysseus, but Athena intervenes to make sure peace and prosperity in Ithaca.


The Odyssey Character List



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 Calypso 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 Calypso. He thinks of home throughout the time he spends with the Phaeacians and also while on Circe’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.


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. This episode reminds us that, at the close of The Odyssey, Telemachus still cannot match his father’s skills but is well on his way.



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.



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.


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.


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.

The Odyssey Theme

The Power of Cunning over Strength

If The Iliad is about strength, The Odyssey is about cunning, a difference that becomes apparent within the very first lines of the epics. Whereas The Iliad tells the story of the craze of Achilles, the strongest hero within 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 sole man who can string the bow. But he relies far more on mind than muscle, a bent that his encounters showcase. He knows that he cannot overpower Polyphemus, for instance , and that, albeit he were ready to do so, he wouldn’t be ready 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 place out Polyphemus’s single eye, this display of strength is a component of a bigger decide to deceive the brute.

Similarly, Odysseus knows that he's no match for the host of strapping young suitors in his palace, so he makes the foremost of his other strength—his wits. Step by step, through disguises and deceptions, he arranges a situation during which he alone is armed and therefore the suitors are locked during 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 cause such a sure victory. a number of the tests in Odysseus’s long, wandering ordeal seem to mock reliance on strength alone. nobody can resist the Sirens’ song, for instance , but Odysseus gets an earful of the stunning melody by having his crew tie him up. Scylla and Charybdis can't be beaten, but Odysseus can minimize his losses with prudent decision-making and careful navigation. Odysseus’s encounter with Achilles within the underworld may be a reminder: Achilles won great kleos, or glory, during his life, but that life was brief and ended violently. Odysseus, on the opposite hand, by virtue of his wits, will live to a ripe adulthood and is destined to die in peace.


The Pitfalls of Temptation

The initial act that frustrated numerous Achaeans’ homecoming was the work of an Achaean himself: Ajax (the “Lesser” Ajax, a comparatively unimportant figure to not be confused with the “Greater” Ajax, whom Odysseus meets in Hades) raped the Trojan priestess Cassandra during 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 an extended nightmare. it's fit that The Odyssey is motivated by such an occasion , for several of the pitfalls that Odysseus and his men face are likewise obstacles that arise out of mortal weakness and therefore the inability to regulate it. The submission to temptation or recklessness either angers the gods or distracts Odysseus and therefore the members of his crew from their journey: they yield to hunger and slaughter the Sun’s flocks, and that they eat the fruit of the lotus and ditch their homes.

The Odyssey Summary and Theme  Even Odysseus’s hunger for kleos may be a quite temptation. He submits thereto when he reveals his name to Polyphemus, bringing Poseidon’s wrath upon him and his men. within 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 listen to the Sirens’ sweet song, is saved from folly only by his foresighted command to his crew to stay him sure to the ship’s mast. Homer is fascinated with depicting his protagonist suffering from temptation: generally , Odysseus and his men want very desperately to finish their nostos, or homecoming, but this desire is consistently at odds with the opposite pleasures that the planet offers.


Divine Justice

Early within the Odyssey, Zeus explains his vision of justice. The gods distribute suffering fairly, he says, but some mortals suffer more as a results of their unwise or wicked actions: “From us alone, they say, come all their miseries, yes,/But they themselves, with their own reckless ways,/Compound their pains beyond their proper share.” In some cases, The Odyssey shows its characters suffering as a results of their own actions. Polyphemus is blinded after he kills several of Odysseus’s men. Odysseus’s men die once they ignore the commands of Odysseus and therefore the gods to not kill the Cattle of the Sun. The poem’s most dramatic comeuppance befalls the suitors, who are killed for insulting Odysseus and consuming his wealth. It’s debatable, however, whether the murder of the suitors is simply . Odysseus believes one among the suitors, Amphinomus, is blameless. Odysseus even risks blowing his cover to warn Amphinomus about the danger to his life: “I say he’s right at hand—and may some power prevent .” Nevertheless, “Athena had bound him fast to death,” so Amphinomous is murdered along side the remainder of the suitors.


In other cases, The Odyssey Summary and Theme  shows unambiguously that the gods place their personal pride before justice. The Odyssey is deeply concerned with the moral code binding hosts to treat strangers and travelers kindly. Throughout the poem, Zeus punishes anyone who violates this code. When Poseidon complains to Zeus that the Phaeacians have offended him by extending hospitality toward Odysseus, however, Zeus does nothing to guard these excellent hosts. The Phaeacians not only give their guest Odysseus shelter, they restore all his lost wealth and provides him direct passage home to Ithaca. The Phaecians help Odysseus because they're good hosts, not because they need any desire to thwart Poseidon. there's no way for them to understand that by doing their duty and helping a guest they're offending Poseidon. Nevertheless, Zeus endorses Poseidon’s decide to prevent the Phaecians from ever helping travelers again. Zeus says that Poseidon may “Do what you like” to punish the Phaeacians. In assuring justice to his fellow god, Zeus denies justice to the innocent Phaecians.


The Odyssey is that the ultimate endorsement of nostos, or homecoming, the thought that a heroic warrior’s greatest triumph comes when he returns from war to his house and family. Odysseus’s trials end with the offer of not one but two alternative wives, and two alternative places to measure . As Calypso’s husband, Odysseus could live forever in divine luxury. As Nausicaa’s husband, Odysseus would be a prince within the richest, most untroubled country he has visited. Without hesitation he rejects both these offers. He prefers Penelope and Ithaca, not necessarily because they're better, but because they're his: “Mine may be a rugged land but good for raising sons—/and i personally , i do know no sweeter sight on earth than a man’s own native country.” The Odyssey Summary and Theme   At an equivalent time, nostos isn't an uncomplicated idea within the Odyssey. When Agamemnon returns home, he's murdered by his wife. Menelaus and Helen have an unhappy marriage which is destined to last for all eternity. Even Odysseus’s house is troubled. Telemachus speaks harshly to Penelope and criticizes her to people , even after Odysseus has returned and revealed his identity.

Nostos is merely possible if a warrior’s house is still there when he returns, unchanged from when he left. Accordingly, what makes a home valuable within the Odyssey isn't its happiness the maximum amount as its stability and continuity. Odysseus and Penelope are reunited when Odysseus is in a position to explain their bed , which is literally unshakeable because it's (again literally) rooted within the soil of Ithaca. Nestor suggests that Agamemnon is fortunate, albeit he has been murdered by his wife, because his son has avenged him. What matters is that the continuance of Agamemnon’s family and reputation: “Ah how fine it's , The Odyssey Summary and Theme  , when a person is brought down,/to leave a son behind!” Odysseus’s own homecoming isn't complete until he has revealed himself to Laertes, in order that Laertes can relish the continuity of his circle of relatives and reputation: “What each day on behalf of me , dear gods! What joy—/my son and my grandson vying over courage!”



Although The Odyssey begins with the Trojan Wars that separate Odysseus from Ithaca and touches on themes of warfare throughout, mental agility is as crucial as physical prowess to Odysseus’s homecoming. Athena praises Odysseus for being cunning, a trait she considers herself to possess also , and should be especially inclined to assist him because she admires his capacity . Even Odysseus’s epithet, the person “of twists and turns,” suggests a mind that works cleverly and not always during a straightforward, honest manner. Odysseus’s cunning is most clearly displayed within the episode with Polyphemus the Cyclops. Odysseus tricks Polyphemus twice. First, Odysseus tells the Cyclops his name is “Nobody,” in order that the Cyclops is forced to mention that “nobody” is hurting him. Second, Odysseus instructs his men to cover under the Cyclops’ sheep as they leave the cave, in order that the now-blind Cyclops will only feel his sheep’s wool as they are going out the cave door. Odysseus also uses cunning at the top of the poem when he disguises himself as a beggar, to get who on Ithaca remains loyal to him after his long absence.

The Odyssey was composed around the year 700 B.C.E. The poem is set about 500 years earlier, around 1200 B.C.E., a period known as the Bronze Age. The poet imagines this time as a golden age in which kings enjoy extraordinary wealth, warriors possess almost superhuman strength, and women are supernaturally beautiful. The gods walk among humans. Monsters pose a threat to any traveler who strays off the map. In many respects, however, the world of The Odyssey reflects the era in which it was written rather than the era in which it is set. The Odyssey Summary and Theme  , The feudal society of Ithaca belongs to the eighth century B.C.E. rather than the twelfth. Sometimes, the poem’s armor and weapons are made of bronze, as they would have been in its Bronze Age setting, but at other times they are made of iron. In some respects, the two worlds are the same. When Odysseus tells stories of piracy and slave-trading, he is describing the reality that faced seafarers on the Aegean right up to the nineteenth century. Above all, the values which motivate the poem’s characters, like respect for the guest-host relationship, would also have motivated the poem’s earliest readers.

The Odyssey repeatedly contrasts two kinds of setting: domestic and wild. The poem’s characters often find themselves in luxurious domestic settings, the palaces of kings and goddesses. In these locations Odysseus and Telemachus negotiate the subtleties of the guest-host relationship, and often the sheer wealth and luxury of the settings makes this negotiation difficult. Telemachus proves his growing maturity when he tactfully explains that his own homeland is too rocky for the chariot he is offered by the spectacularly wealthy Menelaus. Odysseus is lulled by the incredible luxury of Circe’s home into wasting a year on her island. At other times, the poem’s characters find themselves in unknown, untamed spaces, where they face serious threats. At sea they are threatened by storms and the wrath of gods and monsters. In unknown lands they face hostile armies. Odysseus’ most dangerous encounter comes when he mistakes a wild setting for a domestic one. He seeks out the home of Polyphemus the Cyclops because he expects a guest-gift, only to find that the Cyclops pays no heed to human laws.