“Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story of that man skilled in all ways of contending, the wanderer, harried for years on end, after he plundered the stronghold on the proud height of Troy.” – Homer’s Odyssey, opening verses

Who was Odysseus?

Odysseus (or Ulysses in Latin) was the son of Laertes and was the king of the island kingdom of Ithaca. Odysseus was the hero of Homer’s Odyssey and he was also one of the most prominent Greek heroes in the Trojan War . He was known for his eloquence as a speaker, but also for his cleverness and cunning. According to the Iliad, Odysseus was one of the original suitors of Helen of Troy. When Menelaus succeeded in winning Helen’s hand in marriage Odysseus advised Menelaus to get the other suitors to swear to defend his marriage rights. However, when time came and Menelaus called on the suitors to help him bring Helen back from Troy, Odysseus was reluctant to make good on his oath. He pretended to have gone mad, plowing his fields and sowing salt instead of grain. To show that Odysseus was pretending Palamedes placed Telemachus, Odysseus’ infant son, in front of the plow. Odysseus revealed his sanity when he turned aside to avoid injuring his child.

Odysseus fought heroically in the Trojan War, refusing to leave the field when the Greek troops were being routed by the Trojans after Achilles’ temporary withdrawal from the war. After the death of Achilles, Odysseus and Ajax competed for Achilles’ armor. Odysseus’ eloquence caused the Greeks to award the prize to him, and Ajax went mad and killed himself. Odysseus was also the one who came up with the idea about the Trojan horse, which eventually led to the sacking of troy and the end of the Trojan War.

Heracles

Jason and the Argonauts

Agamemnon

Achilles

Odysseus

The Odyssey

Homer’s Odyssey describes Odysseus’ return from Troy. It took a long ten years beset by perils and misfortune for Odysseus to return home. His party had to endure a long list of adventures, including Odysseus freeing his men from the pleasure-giving drugs of the Lotus-Eaters, rescuing them from the cannibalism of the Cyclopes and the enchantments of Circe. Later on in Odyssey he braved the terrors of the underworld with them, and while in the land of the dead Pluto allowed Thiresias, Odysseus’ mother, Ajax and others to give him advice on his next journey.

With this newly acquired knowledge, Odysseus steered his men past the perils of the Sirens and of Scylla and Charybdis but he couldn’t save them from their final folly, when they violated divine commandments by slaughtering and eating the cattle of the sun-god. As a result of this rash act, Odysseus’ ship was destroyed by a thunderbolt, and only Odysseus himself survived. He came ashore on the island of the nymph Calypso, who made him her lover and refused to let him leave for seven years. When Zeus finally intervened, Odysseus sailed away on a small boat, only to be shipwrecked by another storm. He swam ashore on the island of the Phaeacians, where he was magnificently entertained and then, at long last, escorted home to Ithaca.

This was not the end of the line for Odysseus though, as there were more problems waiting for him in Ithaca. During Odysseus’ twenty-year absence, his wife, Penelope, had remained faithful to him, but she was under enormous pressure to re-marry. A whole host of suitors were occupying his palace, drinking, and eating and behaving insolently to Penelope and his son, Telemachus.

Odysseus arrived at the palace, disguised as a ragged beggar, and observed their behavior and his wife’s fidelity. With the help of Telemachus and Laertes, he slaughtered the suitors and cleansed the palace. He then had to fight one final battle, against the outraged relatives of the men he had slain; Athena intervened to settle this battle, however, and peace was restored.

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