The Odyssey by Homer

BACKGROUND

The guy who wrote this did not have a son named Bart. We don’t know much about Homer except that he wrote in about 750 BC. That was a long time ago. Some people think that Homer wasn’t one guy, but a bunch of guys, all writing together. Some people think Homer was blind. Whatever. The dude wrote two things, this book, and another one called The Iliad. They are both very long. Actually, they are poems, not novels. The Odyssey is an epic poem. Epics are stories that are usually long and action-based and focused on some hero or some heroic action, like "Braveheart" and stuff like that. The Odyssey is about this one guy, Odysseus, and his struggle to get home to his wife, Penelope, after the Trojan War. Oh, one more thing -- there are real guys in this book, and also gods and monsters.

MAIN CHARACTERS

Real Characters

Odysseus: The main guy in the poem. He’s cool – smart, brave, a good soldier, he is King of Ithaca (not the New York Ithaca, that one didn’t exist yet). He is the son of Laertes. Sometimes he gets in trouble because he knows he’s the man and acts out with his pride.

Penelope: The wife of Odysseus. This woman has it bad for Odysseus – she waits 20 years for him to come back to her! She’s a good mom and a good wife.

Laertes: Dad of Odysseus. He lives alone in Ithaca. Even though he’s kinda old, he’s still pretty with it.

Telemachus: He’s the son of Odysseus. He’s got a lot to live up to with his dad being such a hero and all. He has to grow into his role of being a man. In the end, he shows he’s finally grown up by being courageous and strong.

Anticleia: Odysseus’ mom.

Mentor: A friend of Odysseus’. He stayed in Ithaca to teach Telemachus. He’s bright and loyal.

Agamemnon: He’s the King of Mycenae. He leads the Greeks to troy. He is murdered by his wife and her lover when he gets back from fighting. Then he shows up in Hades, the land of the dead.

Alcinous: He’s King of the Phaeacians, Nausicaa’s dad, and Arete’s husband. He’s cool – nice, gives a lot, has a sense of humor, and is a good dad. He’s the one who makes it possible for Odysseus to return to Ithaca.

Arete: Alsinous’s wife and Nausicaa’s mom. She’s nice and sympathetic.

Nausicaa: She’s the pretty daughter of Arete and Alcinous. She’s an innocent teenager. All she thinks about are boys and having fun.

Antinous: The dicky leader of the suitors for Penelope who go after her while Odysseus is away. He’s a bad guy, and killed by Odysseus.

Eupeithes: Dad of Antinous. He’s like his son, disloyal and a prick. He’s killed by Laertes.

Eurymachus: A suitor. He’s a bad guy.

Amphinomus: A decent suitor.

Irus: A beggar who is a coward. The suitors like him. Odysseus wails on him later in the book.

Argus: Isn’t this a cool name for a dog? Odysseus thought so. Argus is his dog. He dies in the end.

Nestor: King of Pylos. He’s a wise old dude who lived through the Trojan War.

Peisistratus: Nestor’s son. He travels with Telemachus.

Tiresias: A blind guy who sees shit. Not sees with his eyes, but knows about stuff because of his special visionary abilities.

Demodocus: Also blind, this guy sings and performs at dinners and stuff. His songs give away Odysseus’ identity to the Phaeacians.

Menelaus: King of Sparta, Helen’s husband, Agamemnon’s brother.

Eurycleia: Odysseus’ nurse who was bought by Laertes long ago. Helpful and kind, she recognizes Odysseus when he returns.

Medon: Herald of Ithaca. Even though he’s forced to help the suitors, he remains loyal to Odysseus.

Philoetius: Buddy of Odysseus. He’s old, but brave and loyal and helps Odysseus fight.

Eurylochus: An officer. He’s a serious guy.

Elpenor: One of the crew. He gets killed on Circe’s island and comes back to blame Odysseus.

Eumaeus: A smart, loyal shepard who stands by Odysseus while he’s gone and helps him get his groove back when he returns.

Melanthius: A goatherd. With Odysseus away, he doesn’t do his work and helps the suitors. He’s killed.

Halisthernes: A guy who can see into the future.

Theoclymenus: Another seer.

Gods and Others

Zeus: King of the Gods and of Olympus.

Sirens: Hot chicks who live in the ocean and tempt sailors by singing and by being hotties. The sailors fall for it, jump overboard, and get killed on the rocks.

Scylla: Bad-ass sea monster with six heads. Odysseus and his men have to get past this thing on their trip.

Poseidon: Younger bro of Zeus. He’s God of the sea. He can also make earthquakes (cool!). Since Odysseus is at sea a lot, Poseidon can totally mess with him. Poseidon’s pissed because Odysseus wasn’t nice to Polyphemus.

Polyphemus: The son of Poseidon. He’s a Cyclops -- a big dude with one eye. He keeps Odysseus and his guys in a cave until Odysseus gets him wasted and blinds him.

Leucothoe: A little sea nymph (hottie) who helps Odysseus get to land during a bad storm. She’s also called Ino.

Hyperion: He also is called Helios. Either way, he’s the sun god. He cruises around in his chariot, checking out what’s happening on earth.

Hermes: Son of Zeus. He’s a messenger.

Circe: A magic woman who tries to turn Odysseus and his men into pigs. Odysseus can’t be conquered (sexy!) so she wants him. She makes Odysseus her lover and eventually helps him get home.

Athene: The daughter of Zeus. Sometimes she’s called Pallas. She’s basically the coolest female in the book – funny, spirited, creative. She and Odysseus are friends even though she’s a goddess. Odysseus seems to relate more to her than to anyone.

Calypso: The bitch nymph who holds Odysseus against his will for 9 years! She’s so desperate to have him as her husband. Give it up, girl/goddess/whatever you are, Odysseus' not falling for your sorry ass. She tempts Odysseus but she doesn’t keep Odysseus.

PLOT

The Odyssey is about a guy named Odysseus who fought in the Trojan (no, not that kind of Trojan) War and all his adventures. At the start of the story, Odysseus and his army have been away from their homes in Ithaca for almost twenty years. The first ten of those years were spent fighting against Troy. During the next ten years, all the other guys who fought in Troy went back to their homelands or are dead. But no one knows what the hell happened to Odysseus. His hottie wife, Penelope, still lives in their palace, waiting for him to come home. All the rich dudes of Ithaca want her to forget about Odysseus and marry them. They are the suitors. They are bad. They not only try to steal Penelope from Odysseus, but they badmouth him to the servants in the palace and use up some of his money. But Penelope still won’t go with them. The son of Odysseus, Telemachus, tries to find out what happened to his dad.

Meanwhile, Odysseus has been through a lot. He’s dealt with nasty gods who have it out for his ass. Poseidon, the sea god, messes with the ship Odysseus sails on, which doesn’t help his getting home any faster. Odysseus is liked by some of the other gods, though, so at least he’s got that going for him. He’s an awesome fighter, strong, smart, and brave. What more could a girl want? Well, it’d be nice if he were home once in a while. Which is what happens in the end. Odysseus gets help from Alcinous and returns home to Ithaca. Once home, he tells off the suitors, gets back into being King, reunites with Penelope and Telemachus, and avoids a war in Ithaca with a little help from the gods.

BOOK BY BOOK

BOOK 1

  • The book starts with Homer asking that the "muse of poetry" help him tell the story.
  • Everyone who fought in the Trojan War went home except Odysseus.
  • Odysseus is stuck with Calypso on an island. She wants him to marry her.
  • Most of the gods like Odysseus – except Poseidon, who’s pissed because Odysseus blinded his one-eyed giant son.
  • Athene tells Zeus and the other gods about Odysseus and how he misses his family back in Ithaca. She says that Hermes should go tell Calypso she has to back off and set Odysseus free. The gods agree.
  • Athene disguises herself as a warrior friend of Odysseus and goes to see Telemachus. When she’s in Ithaca she finds the palace filled with guys who are trying to marry Penelope. These guys are the suitors. They are also using a shitload of Odysseus’ money to fund their parties.
  • Telemachus and Athene (still disguised) have dinner. Athene tells Telemachus that his dad’s okay. Telemachus tells Athene how Penelope is faithful to Odysseus and won’t marry the suitors. Athene tells Telemachus to face up to his responsibilities and tells him to go to see Nestor and Menelaus.
  • The suitors have a party. Penelope gets sad because someone sings a song that makes her think of Odysseus. Telemachus tells her to leave. He then tells the suitors that he’s going on a trip. They are surprised, but keep on drinking.

BOOK 2

  • Telemachus gets ready to go. He looks cool as he walks into the Assembly where everyone has gathered.
  • After Aegyptius, an old guy, says how good it is that the meeting’s happening, Telemachus takes his cane to gesture with while he disses the suitors.
  • Antinous is mad. He says that everything is Penelope’s fault since she won’t choose one of the suitors.
  • Telemachus threatens the suitors.
  • Halisthernes reminds everyone of his predictions, which are coming true.
  • Eurymachus accuses Halisthernes of being bribed by Telemachus. He says that the suitors won’t go away until Penelope chooses one of them.
  • Telemachus says he wants to go look for his dad and that he needs a new ship and men. He says that if he can’t find his dad, then Penelope will have to choose. But if he does find his dad, that the suitors are bumming.
  • Mentor says Telemachus did a good thing by speaking. The suitors don’t agree.
  • Before he goes, Telemachus prays that Athene will help him. Dressed up like Mentor, she helps Telemachus get a new ship.
  • Telemachus and Antinous argue.
  • Eurycleia helps Telemachus get supplies for his trip. He tells her not to let Penelope know what he’s doing so she won’t worry.
  • Athene disguises herself as Telemachus and gets local guys to go on the journey.
  • That night, they all set off for Pylos.

BOOK 3

  • When they get to Pylos, Telemachus and Athene see Nestor and others making a sacrificial offering to Poseidon. Apparently, Poseidon likes bulls. Nestor invites the visitors to have dinner.
  • Nestor talks a lot about the Trojan War. He says that, after the war, Agamemnon and Menelaus fought so their army split into two groups and went home. Odysseus started out with one group, but joined up with Agamemnon. Nestor says he hasn’t seen Odysseus since then but that Telemachus should ask Menelaus. Telemachus sleeps at Nestor’s palace.
  • Nestor gives Telemachus a chariot so he can go hang out with Menelaus. Peisistratus (Nestor’s son) goes with him.

BOOK 4

  • It’s considered rude to ask who someone is before they eat, so Telemachus and Peisistratus chow down with Menelaus before he knows who they are.
  • During dinner, Menelaus talks a lot about what a buddy Odysseus is. Telemachus starts to cry. Helen, the Queen, arrives and notices how much Telemachus looks like Odysseus at which point Peisistratus says who he is and that Telemachus is the son of Odysseus. It’s all too much so everyone goes to bed.
  • Menelaus finds out from Telemachus what the deal is with Ithaca. Menelaus can’t believe what bastards the suitors are. He tells about how Proteus, the Old Man of the Sea, gave him info about Odysseus being held by Calypso on her island.
  • In Ithaca, the suitors find out that Telemachus is gone which pisses them off since they didn’t want him to go in the first place, so they get a ship ready and prepare to go kill Telemachus.
  • Since Penelope didn’t know shit about anything, when Medon tells her, she’s a wreck.
  • Athene sends Penelope a dream (cool!) that reassures her that Telemachus is okay.

BOOK 5

  • Zeus agrees with Athene that Odysseus should be freed from Calypso’s island.
  • Hermes goes to tell Odysseus. Calypso’s mad, but she can’t do anything because Zeus rules (literally).
  • Odysseus sets sail for Ithaca.
  • Poseidon sees Odysseus and creates a big storm.
  • Odysseus is saved by Athene and Leucothoe. They get him to Scheria, where the Phaeacians live.

BOOKS 6 - 8

  • Princess Nausicaa finds Odysseus. They help him and tell him to go to the palace.
  • King Alcinous and Queen Arete make Odysseus feel welcome even though they don’t know who he is. They say they’ll help him get back to Ithaca. At a big dinner, Odysseus explains who he is and tells about his adventures after the war.

BOOK 9

  • Odysseus tells all about the freaky shit that happened to him and men after the war.
  • First, they were in the land of the Lotus-Eaters. A Lotus is a flower. But when his men ate the flower, they lost their memories of Ithaca.
  • Then Odysseus and 12 of his guys went onto this island where a bunch of one-eyed giants (Cyclops) lived.
  • Polyphemus found Odysseus and his men in a cave on the island and ate two of the guys. Zeus told him not to eat anymore, but Polymephus didn’t listen and blocked them all in the cave with a big rock. They escaped by getting the giant drunk and then blinding him. When Polymephus moved the rock so the sheep inside the cave could go graze outside, the men left, too.
  • Polymephus told his dad, Poseidon, about what happened. Poseidon was pissed.

BOOK 10

  • More stories. Aeolus (king of the wind) gives Odysseus a big bag as a gift. Inside the bag are bad winds (no, not smelly) that make ships get off their course.
  • Odysseus can see Ithaca from the ship. His crew thinks Aeolus gave him a bag of money and that he’s not sharing, so they open it. Bad move.
  • They land on an island where cannibals attack them and their ships. Only Odysseus and a couple of his men survive. They go to Aeaea (a land of vowels) where Circe lives.
  • Eurylochus leads some men to explore the island. Only he comes back since the other guys were lead astray by a hot woman who turned them into pigs.
  • Odysseus goes to rescue the men, even though the other guys are being wimps about the possibility of becoming swine. Suck it up, guys. So Odysseus goes to get his men after Hermes tells him how to deal with the weird goddess.
  • Circe tries to cast a spell on Odysseus but he doesn’t fall for it. He is sooooo strong. Sooo manly. Circe digs this. They bed down and Odysseus ends up staying for almost a year.
  • Then the guys want to go home. Circe says she’ll help them get home, but that first Odysseus has to go to Hades, the land of the dead, to see Tiresias. Yikes!

BOOK 11

  • Odysseus went to Hades. Tiresias warned about the tough trip home and about how Odysseus would have a rough time in Ithaca. While in Hades, Odysseus talked with his buddies and family members who had died. First, it was cool. Then not so much. He got too weirded out so he left.

BOOK 12

  • Odysseus plugs the ears of his men with wax so they don’t get lured in by the sweet tunes of the Sirens.
  • The ship gets around Charybdis, a big whirlpool, but six of the guys are lost to Scylla, a monster with six heads.
  • They get to an island where Hyperion, the sun god, kept some cows. Odysseus can’t make his men behave and they kill some cows to eat. All the gods are pissed. When the guys are on the ship again, the weather’s shitty, with Zeus throwing thunderbolts and stuff.
  • It was at this point that Odysseus was washed ashore on Calypso’s island.

BOOKS 13 - 16

  • Back to the current scene.
  • The Phaeacians give Odysseus gifts. They get him to Ithaca in a magic ship. Poseidon is pissed at them for this.
  • Athene talks to Odysseus, dresses him as an old beggar, and learns his plans.
  • Odysseus goes to see Eumaeus, who is nice to him even though he doesn’t recognize him.
  • Telemachus comes back to Ithaca and goes to see Eumaeus. When Eumaeus is gone, Odysseus tells his son who he is. They decide to keep Penelope and Laertes in the dark about who Odysseus is and that Telemachus will act normal. Odysseus will stay dressed as the beggar. When the moment is right, they will get the suitors.

BOOK 17

  • Penelope and Telemachus are reunited. Theoclymenus is introduces to her. Since he’s a seer and knows shit, he tells her that Odysseus is somewhere on the island in disguise and that he’s gonna get the suitors. Penelope wants to believe him but thinks he’s full of it.
  • Eumaeus and Odysseus go to the palace. They meet Melanthius, who is mean to beggar-Odysseus, kicks him, and Odysseus is pissed but reels it in so he won’t give away his identity.
  • At the palace, they find Argus, the old favorite dog of Odysseus, that everyone ignores now. When Argus sees Odysseus, he recognizes Odysseus, looks at him, and then dies. Odysseus secretly cries.
  • At the suitors’ banquet, Telemachus gives Odysseus the okay to beg from the guests. Antinous doesn’t give Odysseus any food but hits him with a chair. Odysseus bitches him out. Odysseus and Telemachus swear they’ll get even.
  • Penelope asks Eumaeus to bring Odysseus to her to tell his story – she still thinks he’s the beggar, remember?! Odysseus agrees to see her that night.

BOOK 18

  • Irus, another beggar, taunts Odysseus while the suitors watch.
  • Antinous arranges a boxing match between then two beggars. Everyone’s amazed at how buff Odysseus is. Irus wants to chicken out, but Antinous won’t let him. Even though Odysseus tries to fake his punches, he breaks the other guy’s jaw. The suitors give Odysseus prizes for fighting so well.
  • Odysseus tries to warn Amphinomous, a nicer suitor, of the danger. The guy could care less.
  • Penelope gets all dressed up. Athene makes her even prettier with her magic powers. Everyone thinks she looks great. Penelope doesn’t like the fight deal and says she’s annoyed about the money the suitors waste. The suitors get their servants to go get presents for Penelope.
  • Odysseus thinks Melantho sucks. She’s the traitor maid who’s been hooking up with Eurymachus. Eurymachus thinks Odysseus is out of line so he throws a stool at him. Odysseus ducks and someone else gets hit. Everyone starts to get excited. Telemachus tells them all to go home and relax.

BOOK 19

  • Odysseus and Telemachus get rid of all the weapons in the banquet hall. They lock the stuff away.
  • Penelope talks to Odysseus. She tells him all about her husband being away (like he doesn’t know!) and how much crap she’s had to deal with and how she has been faithful.
  • Odysseus wants to say who he is but he doesn’t. He makes up a story about meeting her husband and says he’s okay.
  • Penelope gets Eurycleia to wash the beggar’s feet. As she does this rank job, she sees an old scar that makes her recognize Odysseus. Odysseus tells her not to say anything. She agrees.
  • Penelope comes back with an idea of how to shut the suitors up and to pick one. She says she’ll make them do something really hard that Odysseus had done, use Odysseus’ bow to shoot an arrow through 12 axes in a row.
  • Since he’s done it before and he’s Odysseus, the beggar says that it’s a great idea.
  • Odysseus goes to bed on the floor. Penelope sleeps alone but cries about Odysseus until Athene helps her.

BOOK 20

  • Athene tells Odysseus not to worry about the suitors.
  • Penelope prays that she won’t have to marry someone else and that she’d rather die.
  • Odysseus prays to Zeus. Then there’s thunder. This is thought to be bad.
  • Odysseus watches to see who has been loyal.
  • Eumaus and Philoetius come to the castle.
  • The suitors come to the castle. They are too drunk to care about all the warnings they’ve had about the bad shit that will happen to them. Even when Theoclymenus tells them they’ll be punished, all they do is make fun of him until he leaves.
  • Telemachus waits for Odysseus to give him the sign.

BOOK 21

  • Penelope brings the bow into the hall and explains the contest.
  • Antinous is an ass as usual and makes cracks about Odysseus being gone. Eumaeus and Philoetius are sad. Odysseus tells them quietly who he is. They are psyched.
  • The suitors all try to use the bow but they can’t even bend it. Antinous says they should wait until the next day.
  • Odysseus asks to try the bow. The suitors neg him. Penelope says okay but she tells everyone that she won’t marry him even if he can do it.
  • Telemachus tells his mom to leave the room and gives the bow to Odysseus.
  • Eumaeus and Philoetius lock the hall doors.
  • Odysseus shoots through the axes with no problem.
  • The suitors are totally shocked.
  • Telemachus takes his sword and goes to stand with his dad.

BOOK 22

  • Odysseus kills Antinous with an arrow.
  • The suitors think Odysseus is still the beggar and that he is whacked.
  • Odysseus reveals his true identity.
  • Odysseus kills Eurymachus. The suitors can’t defend themselves and he kills some with arrows.
  • Telemachus gets shields and stuff for his dad and Eumaeus and Philoetius.
  • All the suitors are killed except Phemius and Medon.
  • Odysseus has Eurycleia tell him who was disloyal to him while he was away. She brings the woman servants in who were traitors. Odysseus makes them clean up the dead bodies. Then they are hanged.
  • Melanthius is killed and tortured.
  • Odysseus cries when the faithful servants hug him.

BOOK 23

  • Penelope still doesn’t recognize Odysseus.
  • After Telemachus goes out of the room, Odysseus says things only he and Penelope know about and she finally gets who he is.
  • Odysseus and Penelope cry and hug and kiss.
  • Odysseus gets back into his king gear and spends the night getting it on with Penelope – and she only had to wait 20 years!
  • Odysseus goes to see his dad.

BOOK 24

  • When all the dead suitors arrive in Hades, Agamemnon finds out about what a dude Odysseus is. He’s impressed with Odysseus and Penelope, since she was faithful.
  • Odysseus arrives at his dad’s house. Laertes is so happy to see his son.
  • Meanwhile, the people of Ithaca, especially Eupeithes, want to have a civil war. Medon and Halisthernes think it’s not a good idea.
  • Athene talks to Zeus about the revenge Odysseus got on the suitors. Zeus thinks it was fair and that now things should be peaceful in Ithaca.
  • When Laertes’ farm is attacked, Eupeithes is killed by Laertes and Odysseus kills many others.
  • Zeus sends a thunderbolt down to make sure everyone gets that the battle is over.
  • Athene dresses up as Mentor and makes everyone get along.
  • Odysseus goes on being king.

THINGS TO MAKE YOU LOOK SMART

  • The Odyssey is a long poem that is part of the "oral tradition" (no, not that) of reciting poetry out loud.
  • Homer repeats a lot of stuff so you remember what’s happened before. This helps you, the reader, and Homer, the teller, remember stuff.
  • If you want to sound real smart, talk about how "Homer nods". Basically, sometime the story doesn't make sense or details contradict themselves so it appears Homer is sleeping and messing up the details.
  • One detail that you should not say Homer is wrong about is the fact this guy named Aias (or Ajax) appears to have different fathers. This is because there are TWO Ajax's. Ajax the Greater and Ajax the lesser.
  • Athene plays a really big role in this book. She and Odysseus have a close relationship even though she is a god and he is a mortal.
  • The Odyssey has lots of balance – good/evil, loyal/disloyal, gods/mortals, beauty/horror, truth/falseness,etc.
  • Homer wrote another book called The Iliad. Some people think he wrote it before The Odyssey, some people think he wrote it afterwards. Some people think he didn’t write it at all. Whatever.