Study Guide

The Odyssey

by Nikos Kazantzakis

The Odyssey Characters

Characters Discussed (Great Characters in Literature)

Odysseus

Odysseus (oh-DIH-see-uhs), a Greek mythological hero who fought for ten years in the Trojan War and then spent ten more years returning home to Ithaca. In The Odyssey, written by Homer in about 800 b.c.e., Odysseus is first and foremost a family man; in this modern version, which begins after Odysseus’ murder of the suitors in book 22 of Homer’s version, Odysseus resembles more the Ulysses of Dante Alighieri’s Inferno (The Divine Comedy, c. 1320) and of Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poem “Ulysses” (1842): a bold sailor with a wanderlust and an unquenchable desire for knowledge. Sickened by the ignorance of his people and feeling no bond to his aged wife, Penelope, and his too-prudent son, Telemachus (tuh-LEH-muh-kuhs), Odysseus leaves Ithaca with a crew of five and sails to Sparta. In Sparta, he visits his old friend and war companion, Menelaus (meh-nuh-LAY-uhs), whom he helps quell a rebellion. He is, however, so repelled by Menelaus’ decision to forsake his old life of adventure for a peaceful, hedonistic old age that he quickly leaves Sparta, taking with him Menelaus’ wife, Helen, who is still as passionate and lustful as when she ran off with Paris twenty years earlier. Odysseus’ next port of call is Knossos, Crete, the kingdom of the old and impotent King Idomeneus (i-DOM-ee-news). As Odysseus arrives, Idomeneus has just undergone a mysterious bull ritual that has both revived his youth and virility and increased his tyrannical nature. Idomeneus arrests Odysseus and takes Helen as his new bride. Odysseus escapes and assists in a revolution that combines the numbers of the oppressed proletarian classes and the strength of the barbaric, iron-wielding Dorian race that is invading Greece...

(The entire section is 777 words.)