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Head of Odysseus from a Greek 2nd century BC marble group representing Odysseus blinding Polyphemus, found at the villa of Tiberius at Sperlonga

Odysseus or Ulysses (Greek Ὀδυσσεύς, Odusseus; Latin: Ulixes, Ulysses), in Greek mythology pronounced /oʊˈdɪsiəs/, was a legendary Greek king of Ithaca and the hero of Homer's epic poem, the Odyssey. Odysseus also plays a key role in Homer's Iliad and other works in the Epic Cycle.

King of Ithaca, husband of Penelope, father of Telemachus, and son of Laërtes and Anticlea, Odysseus is renowned for his guile and resourcefulness, and is hence known by the epithet Odysseus the Cunning. (See mētis, or "cunning intelligence"). He is most famous for the ten eventful years he took to return home after the ten-year Trojan War and his famous Trojan horse trick.



Relatively little is known of Odysseus's background other than that his paternal grandfather (or step-grandfather) is Arcesius, son of Cephalus and grandson of Aeolus, whilst his maternal grandfather is the thief Autolycus, son of Hermes and Chione. According to the Odyssey, his father is Laertes[1] and his mother Anticleia, although there was a non-Homeric tradition[2] that Sisyphus was his true father.[3] Ithaca, an island along the Ionian northwestern coastline of Greece, is one of several islands that would have comprised the realm of Odysseus's family, but the true extent of the Cephallenian realm and the actual identities of the islands named in Homer's works are unknown.

Topics in Greek mythology

Variants and meanings of name

The name has several variants: Olysseus (Ὀλυσσεύς), Oulixeus (Οὐλιξεύς), Oulixes (Οὐλίξης)[4] and he was known as Ulysses in Latin or Ulixes in Roman mythology.

The verb odussomai (oδύσσομαι), meaning "hate",[5] suggests that the name could be rendered as "the one who is wrathful/hated". This interpretation is reinforced by Odysseus's and Poseidon's mutual wrath. In Odyssey 19, in which Odysseus's early childhood is recounted, Euryclea asks Autolycus, to name him. Euryclea tries to guide him to naming the boy Polyaretos, "for he has much been prayed for". (19.403f)[6] In Greek, however, Polyaretos can also take the opposite meaning: much accursed. Autolycus seems to infer this connotation of the name and accordingly names his grandson Odysseus. Odysseus often receives the patronymic epithet Laertiades (Greek: Λαερτιάδης), son of Laërtes.

His name and stories were adopted into Etruscan religion under the name 𐌄𐌂𐌖𐌈𐌖Uthuze.[7]

"Cruel Odysseus"

Homer's Iliad and Odyssey portrayed Odysseus as a culture hero, but the Romans, who believed themselves the scions of Prince Aeneas of Troy, considered him a villainous falsifier. In Virgil's Aeneid, he is constantly referred to as "cruel Odysseus" (Latin "dirus Ulixes") or "deceitful Odysseus" ("pellacis", "fandi fictor"). Turnus, in Aeneid ix, reproaches the Trojan Ascanius with images of rugged, forthright Latin virtues, declaring (in John Dryden's translation), "You shall not find the sons of Atreus here, nor need the frauds of sly Ulysses fear." While the Greeks admired his cunning and deceit, these qualities did not recommend themselves to the Romans who possessed a rigid sense of honour. In Euripides's tragedy Iphigenia at Aulis, having convinced Agamemnon to consent to the sacrifice of his daughter, Iphigenia, to appease the goddess Artemis, Odysseus facilitates the immolation by telling her mother, Clytemnestra, that the girl is to be wed to Achilles. His attempts to avoid his sacred oath to defend Menelaus and Helen offended Roman notions of duty; the many stratagems and tricks that he employed to get his way offended Roman notions of honour.

Before the Trojan War

When Helen was abducted, Menelaus called upon the other suitors to honour their oaths and help him to retrieve her, thus forging the Trojan War. Odysseus tried to avoid it by feigning lunacy, as an oracle had prophesied a long-delayed return home for him if he went. He hooked a donkey and an ox to his plough (as they have different stride lengths, hindering the efficiency of the plough) and sowing his fields with salt. Palamedes, at the behest of Menelaus's brother Agamemnon, sought to disprove Odysseus's madness, and placed Telemachus, Odysseus's infant son, in front of the plough. Odysseus veered the plough away from his son, thus destroying his ruse. Odysseus held a grudge against Palamedes during the war for dragging him away from his home.

Odysseus and other envoys of Agamemnon traveled to Scyros to recruit Achilles because of a prophecy that Troy could not be taken without him. By most accounts, Thetis, Achilles's mother, disguised the youth as a woman to hide him from the recruiters because an oracle had predicted that Achilles would either live a long, uneventful life or achieve everlasting glory while dying young. Odysseus cleverly discovered which of the women before him was Achilles when the youth stepped forward to examine an array of weapons. Some accounts say that Odysseus arranged for the sounding of a battle horn, which prompted Achilles to clutch a weapon.

Just before the war began, Odysseus accompanied Menelaus and Palamedes in an attempt to negotiate Helen's peaceful return. Menelaus made unpersuasive emotional arguments, but Odysseus's arguments very nearly persuaded the Trojan court to hand Helen over.

During the Trojan War

Odysseus was one of the main Achaean leaders in the Trojan War. The others were "godlike" Achilles, Agamemnon "lord of men", Menelaus, Nestor, Telamonian Ajax and Ajax the Lesser, Diomedes and Teucer the master archer.

When the Achaean ships reached the beach of Troy, no one would jump ashore, since there was an oracle that the first Achaean to jump on Trojan soil would die. Odysseus tossed his shield on the shore and jumped on his shield. He was followed by Protesilaus, who jumped on Trojan soil and later became the first to die.

Odysseus never forgave Palamedes for unmasking his madness ruse, leading him to frame him as a traitor. At one point, Odysseus convinced a Trojan captive to write a letter pretending to be from Palamedes. A sum of gold was mentioned to have been sent as a reward for Palamedes's treachery. Odysseus then killed the prisoner and hid the gold in Palamedes's tent. He ensured that the letter was found and acquired by Agamemnon, and also gave hints directing the Argives to the gold. This was evidence enough for the Greeks and they had Palamedes stoned to death. Other sources say that Odysseus and Diomedes goaded Palamedes into descending a wall with the prospect of treasure being at the bottom. When Palamedes reached the bottom, the two proceeded to bury him with stones, killing him.

Odysseus was one of the most influential Greek champions during the Trojan War. Along with Nestor and Idomeneus he was one of the most trusted counsellors and advisers. He always championed the Achaean cause, especially when the king was in question, as in one instance when Thersites spoke against him. When Agamemnon, to test the morale of the Achaeans, announced his intentions to depart Troy, Odysseus restored order to the Greek camp. Later on in the Iliad, after many of the heroes had left the battlefield due to injuries (including Odysseus and Agamemnon), Odysseus once again persuaded Agamemnon not to withdraw. Along with two other envoys, he was chosen in the failed embassy to try to persuade Achilles to return to combat.

When Hector proposed a single combat duel, Odysseus was one of the Danaans who volunteered to battle him. Telamonian Ajax, however, was the volunteer who eventually did fight Hector. Odysseus aided Diomedes during the successful night operations in order to kill Rhesus, because it had been foretold that if his horses drank from the Scamander river Troy could not be taken.

After Patroclus had been slain, it was Odysseus who counselled Achilles to let the Achaean men eat and rest rather than follow his rage-driven desire to go back on the offensive—and kill Trojans—immediately. Eventually (and reluctantly), he consented.

During the funeral games for Patroclus, Odysseus became involved in a wrestling match with Telamonian Ajax, as well as a foot race. With the help of the goddess Athena, who favoured him, and despite Apollo helping another of the competitors, he won the race and managed to draw the wrestling match, to the surprise of all.

When Achilles was slain in battle, it was Odysseus and Telamonian Ajax who successfully retrieved the fallen warrior's body and armour in the thick of heavy fighting. During the funeral games for Achilles, Odysseus competed once again with Telamonian Ajax. Thetis said that the arms of Achilles would go to the bravest of the Greeks, but only these two warriors dared lay claim to that title. The two Argives became embroiled in a heavy dispute about one another's merits to receive the reward. The Greeks dithered out of fear in deciding a winner, because they did not want to insult one and have him abandon the war effort. Nestor suggested that they allow the captive Trojans decide the winner. Some accounts disagree, suggesting that the Greeks held a secret vote. In any case, Odysseus was the winner. Enraged and humiliated, Ajax was driven mad by Athena. When he returned to his senses, in shame at how he had slaughtered livestock in his madness, Ajax killed himself by the sword that Hector had given him

Together with Diomedes, Odysseus went to fetch Achilles's son, Pyrrhus, to come to the aid of the Achaeans, because an oracle had stated that Troy could not be taken without him. A great warrior, Pyrrhus was named Neoptolemus (Greek: "new hero"). Upon the success of the mission, Odysseus gave him the armaments of his father.

It was later learned that the war could not be won without the poison arrows of Heracles, which were owned by the abandoned Philoctetes. Odysseus and Diomedes (or, according to some accounts, Odysseus and Neoptolemus) went out to retrieve them. Upon their arrival, Philoctetes (still suffering from the wound) was seen still to be enraged at the Danaans, especially Odysseus, for abandoning him. Although his first instinct was to shoot Odysseus, his anger was eventually diffused by Odysseus's persuasive powers and the influence of the gods. Odysseus returned to the Argive camp with Philoctetes and his arrows.

Later in the war, Odysseus captured Priam's son, Helenus the prophet, who told the Greeks that Troy could not be taken without the capture of the Palladium, which was located in the city itself. Once again, Odysseus and Diomedes went on a mission together to fulfill a prophecy. Some say that Diomedes crawled up on Odysseus's shoulders into the city but would not help Odysseus up to do the same. When Diomedes returned from stealing the Palladium and met up again with the infuriated Odysseus, the latter thought to kill him and take credit for himself. He stepped behind him so as to stab him with his sword, but Diomedes caught the glint in the moonlight and spun around and disarmed the Ithacan king. He then proceeded to drive Odysseus back to the Argive camp with the flat of his sword. Another account of the stealing of the Palladium states that Odysseus and Diomedes entered the city together.

Some myths state that Odysseus, in the disguise of a beggar, covered in rags and blood, entered the Trojan city furtively and alone. He was recognized by no one except Helen and Hecuba. They questioned him but allowed him to return to the Greek camp unharmed.

The Trojan Horse, that famous stratagem, was devised by Odysseus. It was built by Epeius and filled with Greek warriors, led by Odysseus. Beforehand, he made Menelaus swear to give him whatever he wanted after they had taken Troy and was met with concord. When the Horse was taken into Troy, Odysseus and Menelaus descended from it and went directly to Prince Deiphobos's house, where they engaged in a ferocious battle, although some accounts say that Odysseus fought him and that Menelaus came to find the dead body. Ultimately, however, Deiphobos, who was then the leading son of Priam and Helen's third husband, was killed. Menelaus was about to kill Helen for leaving him when Odysseus took advantage of the earlier promise and made him swear not to.

In Euripedes's "The Trojan Women", it is Odysseus who convinces the other Argives to kill Hector's young son so that he has no chance to avenge his city.

Odysseus has traditionally been viewed in the Iliad as Achilles's antithesis: while Achilles's anger is all-consuming and of a self-destructive nature, Odysseus is frequently viewed as a man of the mean, world-renowned for his self-restraint and diplomatic skills. Professor Adele Haft, in her essay Odysseus' Wrath and Grief in the "Iliad", observes that there might be more to Odysseus's nature than initially appears on the surface. Haft makes several interesting observations that raise questions about the traditional approach to his character. Haft notes that Odysseus is the only other character besides Achilles to receive a verbal reprimand from Agamemnon.[8] There are repeated suggestions that Agamemnon and Odysseus's relationship is strained: it is not Agamemnon but Nestor who selects Odysseus for his every mission in the Iliad. Haft explains Odysseus's displays of wrath, as well as his strained relationship with Agamemnon, as indicators that Odysseus will ultimately be responsible for the sacking of Troy. Haft points to the death of Democoon in Book IV as a prime example of the consequences of Odysseus's anger, for it results in a massive reduction of Trojan morale as well as a retreat. Haft goes on to suggest that Democoon's death, in conjunction with the death of Simoeisius, previses the destruction of Troy.[9]

Journey home to Ithaca

The Cicones

After Odysseus left Troy he came first to the island of the Cicones. They sacked the town, and divided up the booty fairly. Odysseus then (according to his account given to Alcinous) gave orders to leave, but his men were anxious to stay and feast. The Cicones rallied back up with troops who had chariots from inland and launched a surprise attack. In a large battle by the ships Odysseus and his men fought valiantly, but as the battle dragged on the Cicones broke their defensive line. Odysseus lost six men from each of his boats before they fled the island.

The Lotus-Eaters

When Odysseus and his men landed on the island of the Lotus-Eaters, Odysseus sent out a scouting party of three or so men who ate the lotus with the natives. This caused them to fall asleep and stop caring about going home, and desire only to eat the lotus. Odysseus went after the scouting party, and dragged them back to the ship against their will. He set sail, with the drugged sailors tied to the rudder benches to prevent them from swimming back to the island.


Odysseus offering wine to the Cyclops

A scouting party, led by Odysseus and his friend Misenus, landed in the territory of the Cyclops and ventured upon a large cave. They entered and proceeded to feast on the livestock that they found there. Unbeknownst to them, the cave was the dwelling of Polyphemus, a one-eyed giant who soon returned. Refusing hospitality to his uninvited guests, Polyphemus trapped them in the cave by blocking the entrance with a boulder that could not be moved by mortal men. He then proceeded to eat a pair of them everyday, but Odysseus devised a cunning plan.

To render Polyphemus unwary, Odysseus gave him a bowl of the strong, unwatered wine given them by Maron, the priest of Apollo, and the Cyclops asked for more - which Odysseus gave him. When the thoroughly inebriated Polyphemus asked for his name, Odysseus told him that it was "Noman". (Οὔτις, "Noman", is also a short form of his own name - a word game which is lost in translated versions.) In appreciation for the wine, Polyphemus offered to return the favour by only eating him last. Once the giant fell asleep, Odysseus and his men turned the olive tree branch which Polyphemus used to shepherd his flocks with into a giant spear, something that they prepared while Polyphemus was out of the cave shepherding his flocks, and blinded him. Hearing Polyphemus's cries, other Cyclopes come to his cave to ask what was wrong. Polyphemus replied, "Οὖτίς με κτείνει δόλῳ οὐδὲ βίηφιν." ("Noman is killing me either by treachery or brute violence!") The other Cyclopes let him be, thinking that his outbursts must be either madness or the will of the gods.

In the morning, Polyphemus rolled back the boulder to let the sheep out to graze. Now blind, he could not see the men, but he felt the tops of his sheep to make sure that the men were not riding them, and spread his arm at the entrance of the cave. Odysseus and his men escaped, however, by tying themselves to the undersides of three sheep each. Once out, they loaded the sheep aboard their ship and set sail.

As Odysseus and his men were sailing away, he revealed his true identity to Polyphemus. Enraged, Polyphemus tried to hit the ship with boulders, but, because he was blind, he missed, although the rocks landed very close to the ship, swaying it with billows. When the ship appeared to be getting away at last, Polyphemus raised his arms to his father, Poseidon, and asked him to not allow Odysseus to get back home to Ithaca. If he did, however, he must arrive alone, his crew dead, in a stranger's ship.

This event is the setting for the only surviving complete satyr play, Cyclops by Euripides. This version contains a more humorous version of the story by including the cowardly satyrs.

According to Virgil's Aeneid, Achaemenides was one of Odysseus's crew who stayed on Sicily with Polyphemus until Aeneas arrived and took him with him. Virgil was probably trying to interweave his tale as much as possible with Homer's already ancient, great work, especially as Achaemenides had nothing to do with the story at all and was in fact never mentioned again.


Continuing his journey, Odysseus stopped at Aeolia, the home of Aeolus, the favoured mortal of the gods who received the power of controlling the winds. Aeolus gave Odysseus and his crew hospitality for a month, in return for Odysseus's interesting stories. Aeolus also provided a bag filled with all winds but the one to lead him home. Because Odysseus guarded the bag for the entire voyage home, without so much as a wink of sleep, his crew suspected that some treasure might be in it. A couple of them decided to open it as soon as he fell asleep—just before their home was reached. They were immediately blown back to Aeolia by a violent storm. Aeolus refused to offer any more help because he realized that Odysseus must be cursed by the gods. Odysseus had to begin his journey from Aeolia to Ithaca over again. Although heartbroken, he hid his feelings from his crew.

The Laestrygonians

They came next to Telepylos, the stronghold of Lamos, king of the Laestrygonians. Odysseus's ships entered a harbor surrounded by steep cliffs, with a single entrance between two headlands. The captains took their ships inside and made them fast close to one another, where it was dead calm. Odysseus kept his own ship outside the harbour, moored to a rock. He climbed a high rock to reconnoiter, but could see nothing but some smoke rising from the ground. He sent two of his company with an attendant to investigate the inhabitants.

The men followed a road and eventually met a young woman, who said she was a daughter of Antiphates, the king, and directed them to his house. When they arrived there, however, they found a gigantic woman, the wife of Antiphates who promptly called her husband. He immediately left the assembly of the people and, on arrival, snatched up one of the men and started to eat him. The other two ran away, but Antiphates raised a hue-and-cry. Soon they were pursued by thousands of Laestrygonians—giants, not men—who threw vast rocks from the cliffs, smashing the ships, and speared the men like fish.

Odysseus escaped with his single ship due only to the fact that it was not trapped in the harbour. The rest of his company was lost. The surviving crew traveled to the island of Circe.


The next stop was Aeaea, the island of the enchantress Circe, where Odysseus sent ahead a scouting party. Circe invited the scouting party to a feast, and turned all the men into swine after they ate food laced with one of her magical sleep-inducing potions. Only Eurylochus, suspecting treachery from the outset, escaped to warn Odysseus and the others, who had stayed behind with the ships.

Odysseus, against his fellows' bidding, set forth to rescue his transfigured men but was intercepted by Hermes and told to procure the herb moly, which would protect him from a similar fate. When it snubbed her magic, he threatened to kill her. She begged for mercy, and offered to sleep with him. He forced her to swear to not plot against him any longer, then obliged by Hermes's counsel. He then refused to eat and drink until his crew was turned back into humans. This she did, and then asked Odysseus to stay. This he did, for an entire year. He eventually left Aeaea at the insistence of his crew, with whom Circe agreed. She gave him advice about the remainder of his journey. During the preparation for departure, however, Odysseus's youngest crewman, Elpenor, fell from a roof and died.

Circe subsequently bore Odysseus a son, Telegonus, who would eventually cause his father's death.

Journey to the Underworld

After speaking to Circe, Odysseus decided to talk with Tiresias, so he and his men journeyed to the River Acheron in Hades, where they performed sacrifices which allowed them to speak to the dead. Odysseus sacrificed a ram, attracting the dead spirits to the blood. He held them at bay and demanded to speak with Tiresias, who told him how to pass by Helios's cattle and the whirlpool Charybdis. Tiresias also told him that, after his return to Ithaca, he must take a well-made oar and walk inland with it to parts where no-one mixes sea salt with food, until someone asks him why he carries a winnowing fan. At that place, he must fix the oar in the ground and make a sacrifice to appease Poseidon. Tiresias also told Odysseus that, after that was done, he would die an old man, "full of years and peace of mind"; his death would come from the sea and his life ebb away gently. (Some read this as saying that his death would come away from the sea.)

While in Hades, Odysseus also met Achilles (who told him that he would rather be a slave on earth than the king of the dead), Agamemnon, and his mother, Anticlea. The soul of Ajax, still sulking about Achilles's armor, refused to speak to Odysseus, despite the latter's pleas of regret.

Odysseus also met his comrade, Elpenor, who told him of the manner of his death and begged him to give him an honorable burial.

The Sirens

Odysseus and the Sirens by John William Waterhouse

Circe had warned Odysseus of the dangers of the singing creatures who lured men to their death on the rocks around their island. She advised him to avoid them but said that, if he really felt that he must, he should have his men plug their ears with beeswax and tie him to the mast to keep him from escaping.

Odysseus had his men do so. As they passed the island, the three Sirens began to sing beautifully, promising him wisdom and knowledge of past and future. Enchanted by their song, he struggled and tried to break free, but two of his men bound him even more tightly until they passed beyond the island.

Scylla and Charybdis

Odysseus had been told by Circe that he would have a choice between two paths home. One was the Wandering Rocks, where either all made it through or all died, and which had only been passed by Jason, with Zeus's help. Odysseus, however, chose the second path: on one side of the strait was a whirlpool called Charybdis, which would sink the ship; on the other was a monster called Scylla, daughter of Crataeis, who had six heads and could seize and eat six men.

The advice was to sail close to Scylla and lose six men but not to fight, lest they should lose more men. Odysseus did not dare tell his crew of the sacrifice, or they would have cowered below and not rowed, in which case all would have ended up in Charybdis. Six men duly died. Odysseus announced that the desperate cries of the wretched, betrayed men were the worst thing he had ever known. Undoubtedly this affected morale and left the survivors feeling mutinous.

The Cattle of Helios

Finally, Odysseus and his surviving crew approached an island, Thrinacia, which was sacred to Helios, who kept hallowed cattle there. Odysseus, having been warned by Tiresias and Circe not to touch these cattle, told his men that they would not land there. Eurylochus first argued that the men were mourning, then refused to travel by night and finally threatened mutiny. Outnumbered, Odysseus gave in.

The men were soon trapped on the island by adverse winds and, after their food stores had run out, began to get hungry. Odysseus went inland to pray for help and fell asleep. In his absence, Eurylochus reasoned that they might as well eat the cattle and be killed by the gods as die of starvation, and claimed that they would offer sacrifices and treasure to appease the gods if they returned alive to Ithaca. When they slaughtered the cattle, the guardians of the island, Helios's daughters Lampetia and Phaethusa, told their father, who told to Zeus that he would take the sun down to Hades if justice was not done. Zeus destroyed the ship with a thunderbolt, killing all but Odysseus. After sweeping past Scylla and Charybdis, whom he luckily escaped once more, he was washed up on an island.

Odysseus and Nausicaä by Charles Gleyre.

Calypso and the Phaeacians

The island, Ogygia, was home to the nymph Calypso (daughter of Atlas), who held Odysseus captive as her lover for seven years, promising him immortality if he agreed to stay. He was strongly attracted to her by night but wept by the shore for home and family by day. On behalf of Athena, Zeus intervened and sent Hermes to tell Calypso to let him go.

Odysseus duly departed on a small raft, furnished by Calypso with provisions of water, wine and food, only to be hit by a storm from his old enemy Poseidon. He was washed up on the island of Scheria and found by Nausicaa, the daughter of King Alcinous and Queen Arete of the Phaeacians, who entertained him well. The bard Demodocus sung a song about the Trojan war. As Odysseus, as yet unidentified by the Phaeacians, had been at Troy and longed to return home, he wept at it, at which point Alcinous pressed him for his true identity.

It is here that we are given the story of Odysseus's trip from Troy to Scheria, which occupies books nine to twelve of The Odyssey. After his recital, the Phaeacians offer him passage home, with all the hoardings he obtained along the way and the gifts the Phaecians themselves bestowed upon him (showing xenia, the idea of guest friendship). King Alcinous provided one fast Phæacian ship that soon[10] carried Odysseus home to Ithaca.

Poseidon, on seeing Odysseus's return, was furious and decided to cast a ring of mountains around Scheria so that they could never sail again. This would naturally have been damaging to the Phaeacians, for they were seafarers, but Zeus persuaded Poseidon not to go ahead with the idea. Instead, he turned the ship on which Odysseus journeyed home to stone.

Odysseus reaches Ithaca

Back in Ithaca, Penelope was having difficulties, her husband having been gone for twenty years. She did not know whether he was alive or dead, and was beset with numerous men who thought that a fairly young widow and queen of a small but tidy kingdom was a great prize: they pestered her to declare Odysseus dead and choose a new husband. They loitered about the palace, eating her food, drinking her wine and consorting with her maidservants. Penelope was despondent about her husband's absence, especially the mystery of his fate. He could come home at any time—or never. Temporising, she fended the suitors off for years, using stalling tactics that eventually began to wear thin. Meanwhile, Odysseus's mother, Anticlea, died of grief, and his father, Laërtes, was not far off the same end.

Odysseus arrived on Ithaca alone. Upon landing, he was disguised by Athena as an old man or beggar, and welcomed by his old swineherd, Eumaeus, who did not recognize him but nevertheless treated him well. His son, Telemachus, after returning from a year of searching for information about his father, was the first to know his father returned after Athena revealed Odysseus for who he was in front of him. Odysseus's faithful dog, Argos, was the second to recognize him. Aged and decrepit, the animal did its best to wag its tail, but Odysseus did not want to be found out and had to maintain his cover, so the weary dog died in peace. The second human to recognize him was his old wet nurse, Euryclea, who knew him well enough to see through his rags, recognising an old scar on his leg, received while hunting boar with Autolycus's sons.

Odysseus learned that Penelope had remained faithful to him, pretending to weave a burial shroud for his father, and claiming that she would only choose a suitor when she was finished. Every day she wove a length of shroud, and every night undid her work, until one day a maid betrayed her. The suitors demanded that she finally choose a new husband.

When Odysseus arrived at his house, disguised as a beggar, he sat in the hall, where he observed the suitors and was repeatedly humiliated by them. Presently, he went to Penelope and told her that he had met Odysseus, spinning a haughty tale about his bravery in battle. Penelope, still ignorant of the beggar's identity, began to cry. She went to the suitors and told them that whoever could string Odysseus's bow and shoot an arrow through 12 axe-handles would marry her. This was to Odysseus's advantage, as only he could string his bow. It is believed that his bow was a composite, requiring great skill and leverage to string, rather than brute strength. Penelope then announced what he, as the beggar, had told her.

The suitors each tried to string the bow, but their attempts were in vain. Odysseus then took it, strung it, lined up twelve axe-handles and shot an arrow through all twelve. Athena then took off his disguise, and, with the help of his son, Philoteus and Eumaeus, he slaughtered all the suitors. Antinous was the first to be slain, taking an arrow fired by Odysseus in the throat while drinking in the great hall. Odysseus used arrows first, but, when he eventually ran short, he killed the remaining suitors with spears. Caught by surprise and deprived of arms by Telemachus, the suitors at a distinct disadvantage, and were only able to arm themeselves after it was too late. When all the suitors were dead, justice was meted out to the goatherd Melanthius and the female servants, who had been helping the suitors.

Penelope, still not certain that the beggar was indeed her husband, tested him. She ordered her maid to make up Odysseus's bed and move it from their bedchamber into the hall outside his room. Odysseus was furious when he heard this because one of the bed posts was made from a living olive tree. He himself had designed it this way; it could not be moved unless by a god. He told her this, and, since only he and she knew of it, she accepted that he was indeed her husband. She came running to him, hoping that he would forgive her. He did, firstly because he could understand why she had tested him and secondly because he had passed the test.

To avenge the death of his son Antinous, Eupeithes tried to kill Odysseus. Laërtes killed him, and Athena thereafter required the suitors' families and Odysseus to make peace. Thus ends the story of the Odyssey.

Odysseus had been told (by the shade of Tiresias) that he had one more journey to make after he had re-established his rule in Ithaca.

Based on several astronomical events described in the Odyssey, some scientists have recently calculated that Odysseus returned home exactly on April 16, 1178 BCE.[11]

Other stories

Odysseus is one of the most recurrent characters in Western culture.


According to some late sources, most of them purely genealogical, Odysseus had many other children besides Telemachus, the most famous being:

Most such genealogies aimed to link Odysseus with the foundation of many Italic cities in remote antiquity.

He figures in the end of the story of King Telephus of Mysia.

The supposed last poem in the Epic Cycle is called the Telegony, and is thought to tell the story of Odysseus's last voyage, and of his death at the hands of Telegonus, his son with Circe. The poem, like the others of the cycle, is "lost" in that no authentic version has been discovered.

In 5th century BC Athens, tales of the Trojan War were popular subjects for tragedies, and Odysseus figures centrally or indirectly in a number of the extant plays by Aeschylus, Sophocles, (Ajax, Philoctetes) and Euripides, (Hecuba, Rhesus, Cyclops) and figured in still more that have not survived.

As Ulysses, he is mentioned regularly in Virgil's Aeneid, and the poem's hero, Aeneas, rescues one of Ulysses's crew members who was left behind on the island of the Cyclops. He in turn offers a first-person account of some of the same events Homer relates, in which Ulysses appears directly. Virgil's Ulysses typifies his view of the Greeks: he is cunning but impious, and ultimately malicious and hedonistic.

Ovid retells parts of Ulysses's journeys, focusing on his romantic involvements with Circe and Calypso, and recasts him as, in Harold Bloom's phrase, "one of the great wandering womanizers." Ovid also gives a detailed account of the contest between Ulysses and Ajax for the armor of Achilles.

Greek legend tells of Ulysses as the founder of Lisbon, Portugal, calling it Ulisipo or Ulisseya, during his twenty-year errand on the Mediterranean and Atlantic seas. Olisipo was Lisbon's name in the Roman Empire. Basing in this folk etymology, the belief that Ulysses is recounted by Strabo based on Asclepiades of Myrleia's words, by Pomponius Mela, by Gaius Julius Solinus (3rd Century A.D.), and finally by Camões in his epic poem Lusiads.[12]

Middle Ages and Renaissance

Dante, in Canto 26 of the Inferno of his Divine Comedy, encounters Odysseus ("Ulisse" in the original Italian) near the very bottom of Hell: with Diomedes, he walks wrapped in flame in the eighth ring (Counselors of Fraud) of the Eighth circle (Sins of Malice), as punishment for his schemes and conspiracies that won the Trojan War. In a famous passage, Dante has Odysseus relate a different version of his final voyage and death from the one foreshadowed by Homer. He tells how he set out with his men for one final journey of exploration to sail beyond the Pillars of Hercules and into the western sea to find what adventures awaited them. Men, says Ulisse, are not made to live like brutes, but to follow virtue and knowledge (fatti non foste a viver come bruti / ma per seguir virtute e conoscenza). After travelling west and south for five months, they saw in the distance a great mountain rising from the sea (this is Purgatory, in Dante's cosmology) before a storm sank them. Dante did not have access to the original Greek texts of the Homeric epics, so his knowledge of their subject-matter was based only on information from later sources, chiefly Virgil's Aeneid but also Ovid; hence the discrepancy between Dante and Homer.

He appears in Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida, set during the Trojan War.


The bay of Palaiokastritsa in Corfu as seen from Bella vista of Lakones. Corfu is considered to be the mythical island of the Phaeacians. The bay of Palaiokastritsa is considered to be the place where Odysseus disembarked and met Nausicaa for the first time. The rock in the sea visible near the horizon at the top centre-left of the picture is considered by the locals to be the mythical petrified ship of Odysseus. The side of the rock toward the mainland is curved in such a way as to resemble the extended sail of a trireme

Alfred, Lord Tennyson's Ulysses presents an aging king who has seen too much of the world to be happy sitting on a throne idling his days away. Leaving the task of civilizing his people to his son, he gathers together a band of old comrades "to sail beyond the sunset".

James Joyce's novel Ulysses uses modern literary devices to narrate a single day in the life of a Dublin businessman named Leopold Bloom. Bloom's day turns out to bear many elaborate parallels to Odysseus's twenty years of wandering.

Cream's song "Tales of Brave Ulysses" speaks somewhat of the travels of Odysseus including his encounter with the sirens. And an unnamed Odysseus figure is the narrator of the Steely Dan song, "Home at Last."

Frederick Rolfe's The Weird of the Wanderer has the hero Nicholas Crabbe (based on the author) travelling back in time, discovering that he is the reincarnation of Odysseus, marrying Helen, being deified and ending up as one of the three Magi.

In Dan Simmons' novels Ilium and Olympos, Odysseus is encountered both at Troy and on a futuristic Earth.

Nikos Kazantzakis' The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel, a 33,333 line epic poem, begins with Odysseus cleansing his body of the blood of Penelope's suitors. Odysseus soon leaves Ithaca in search of new adventures. Before his death he abducts Helen; incites revolutions in Crete and Egypt; communes with God; and meets representatives of various famous historical and literary figures, such as Vladimir Lenin, Don Quixote and Jesus.

Ulysses 31 is a Japanese-French anime series (1981) which updates the Greek and Roman mythologies of Ulysses (or Odysseus) to the thirty-first century. In the series, the gods are angered when Ulysses, commander of the giant spaceship Odyssey, kills the giant Cyclops to rescue a group of enslaved children including Telemachus. Zeus sentences Ulysses to travel the universe with his crew frozen until he finds the Kingdom of Hades, at which point his crew will be revived and he will be able to return to Earth. In one episode, he travels back in time and meets the Odysseus of the Greek myth.

Early 20th century British composer Cecil Armstrong Gibbs's second symphony (for chorus and orchestra) is named after and based on the story of Odysseus, with text by Essex poet Mordaunt Currie.

Suzanne Vega's song Calypso shows Odysseus from Calypso's point of view, and tells the tale of him coming to the island and his leaving.

Joel and Ethan Coen's film O Brother Where Art Thou? (2000) is loosely based on the Odyssey. However, they also admit to never having read the epic. George Clooney plays Ulysses Everett McGill, leading a group of escapees from a chain gang through an adventure in search of the proceeds of an armoured truck heist. On their voyage, the gang encounter—amongst other characters—a trio of sirens and a one eyed bible salesman.

In S.M. Stirling's Island in the Sea of Time Trilogy, Odikweos (Mycenean spelling) is a 'historical' figure who is every bit as cunning as his legendary self and is one of the few Bronze Age inhabitants who discerns the time-traveller's real background. Odikweos first aids William Walker's rise to power in Achaea, and later helps bring Walker down after seeing his homeland turn into a police state.

Between 1978 and 1979, German director Tony Munzlinger made a documentary series called Unterwegs mit Odysseus (roughly translated: "Journeying with Odysseus"), in which a film team sails across the Mediterranean Sea trying to find traces of Odysseus in the modern-day settings of the Odyssey. In between the film crew's exploits, hand-drawn scissor-cut cartoons are inserted which relate the hero's story, with actor Hans Clarin providing the narratives.

Odysseus appears as a playable character in the video game Age of Mythology (2002). In addition, one of the levels in the game involves the player's rescue of Odysseus and his men from Circe.

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood retells the story from the point of view of Penelope.

Lindsay Clarke's The War at Troy features Odysseus, and its sequel, The Return from Troy, retells the voyage of Odysseus in a manner which combines myth with modern psychological insight.

Odysseus may be part of the basis for the character of Desmond Hume on the television series Lost. He is attempting to finish a "race around the world" and return to his girlfriend Penelope when he is stranded on the island.

Progressive metal band Symphony X have a song based on Odysseus's journey, called 'The Odyssey' on the album going by the same name. It is 24 minutes 7 seconds long, and has a 6 part orchestra playing in it, each part comprising of 60 people or so.

Eilean Ni Chuilleanain, an Irish poet, wrote a poem called 'The Second Voyage' in which she makes use of the story of Odysseus.

The Simpsons re-enacted a version of the Odyssey in their 13th season, fourteenth episode named 'Tales from the Public Domain'. There were three mini stories in the episode, the first bearing the title 'D'oh, Brother Where Art Thou?' which starred Homer Simpson as Odysseus.

The Police song King of Pain refers to Homer's connotation of the name "Odysseus".

A cartoon show named Class of the Titans has a character named 'Odie' who is a direct descendant of Odysseus. One of the Episodes, named 'The Odie-sey' on the show re-enacted the story of The Odyssey, with characters like Calypso, Scylla, and Aeolus, and also modern twists and such.

Actor Sean Bean portrayed Odysseus in the epic movie Troy.

Actor Armand Assante played Odysseus in The Odyssey (TV miniseries).

Comic book characters Batman and Superman are said to be somewhat inspired by Odysseus and Hercules.

One plotline in the comic series 52 features a storyline (which follows the character Animal Man) is a parallel of the Odyssey. In this storyline, Animal Man is lost in space and must voyage home to his wife and children, and on his way back he encounters a planet of drug-like plants, a giant who captures him and various other similar adventures.

Odysseus is also a character in David Gemmell's Troy trilogy. He is a good friend and mentor of Helikaon. He is known as the ugly king of Ithaka. His marriage with Penelope was arranged, but they grew to love each other. He is also a famous story teller, known to exaggerate his stories and heralded as the greatest story teller of his age. This is used as a plot device to explain the origins of such myths as Circe and the gorgons. In the series, he is fairly old, and an unwilling ally of Agamemnon.

In the second book of the Percy Jackson series, The Sea of Monsters, Percy and his friends encounter many obstacles similar to those in the Odyssey, including Scylla and Charybidis, the Sirens, Polyphemus, and others.

Other cultures

  • Nala and Rama. A similar story exists in Hindu mythology with Nala and Damayanti where Nala separates from Damayanti and reunites with her. The story of stringing a bow is similar to the description in Ramayana of Rama stringing the bow to win Sita's hand in marriage..


  • Tole, Vasil S. (2005). Odyssey and Sirens: A Temptation towards the Mystery of the Iso-polyphonic Regions of Epirus, A Homeric theme with variations. Tirana, Albania. ISBN 9994331639. 
  • Bittlestone, Robert; with James Diggle and John Underhill (2005). Odysseus Unbound: The Search for Homer’s Ithaca. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521853575.  Odysseus Unbound website
  • Ernle Bradford, Ulysses Found, Hodder and Stoughton, 1963


  1. ^ Homer does not link Laertes as one of the Argonauts.
  2. ^ Scholium on Sophocles' Aiax 1988, noted in Karl Kerenyi, The Heroes of the Greeks 1959:77.
  3. ^ "A so-called 'Homeric' drinking-cup shows pretty undisguisedly Sisyphos in the bed-chamber of his host's daughter, the arch-rogue sitting on the bed and the girl with her spindle." (Kerenyi, eo. loc..
  4. ^ Entry: Ὀδυσσεὺς at Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, 1940, A Greek-English Lexicon.
  5. ^ Definition in Liddell & Scott
  6. ^ Polyaretos, "prayed for".
  7. ^ Mommsen
  8. ^ Iliad 4.356-63
  9. ^ Haft, Adele J. "Odysseus' Wrath and Grief in the "Iliad": Agamemnon, the Ithacan King, and the Sack of Troy in Books 2, 4, and 14." The Classical Journal, Vol. 85, No. 2. (Dec., 1989 - Jan., 1990), pp. 97-114.
  10. ^ King Alcinous in Odyssey, Book 7, 320–326, describes how the Pheacians carried Rhadamanthus from Scheria to Euboea, "which is the furthest of any place" and came back on the same day.
  11. ^ Odysseus' return from Trojan War dated.
  12. ^ http://olisipo.blog.com

See also

External links

  • Archaeological Discovery in Greece may be the tomb of Odysseus [1]
  • The Ulysses Voyage, by Tim Severin, 1987. An account of a voyage in a modern reconstruction of a Bronze Age ship, using the Odyssey as sailing directions, from Troy to Ithaca. Many Odyssey locations were, he claims, located.
  • In the animated television series Class of the Titans, the character Odie is descended from Odysseus.
  • Spanish poem to Odysseus

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