What is the plot of Homer's epic, "The Odyssey?"

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The plot of Homer’s The Odyssey involves the story of a Greek war hero named Odysseus who, returning home to the island of Ithaca following the end of the Trojan War, diverts the path of his ship, along with his crew, to mysterious and often dangerous places, while his beautiful wife Penelope and their 20-year old son, Telemachus, attempt to manage a houseful of hopeful suitors for Penelope’s hand in marriage, Odysseus being assumed killed in battle.  Greek gods and goddesses, meanwhile, plot Odysseus’ demise or, conversely, conspire to help him return home safely (in the case of the former, Poseidon, ruler of the oceans, and in the case of the latter, the goddess Athena.)  Such is the debate among the gods and goddesses regarding the nature of man that Homer offers the observation, “Men are so quick to blame the gods: they say that we devise their misery.  But they themselves – in their depravity – design grief far greater than the griefs that fate assigns.”

During the course of Odysseus’s voyage, he encounters, among other creatures, the notorious one-eyed giant Cyclops, the witch Circe, and the perilous waters surrounding the island of the Sirens, whose surreally-beautiful singing has been known to draw smitten sailors to navigate too close to the shores, whereupon their ships are destroyed on the rocks.  Eventually, Odysseus makes it home and proves to Penelope and the houseful of suitors that he is, in fact, the heroic war hero for whom she has waited 20 years.  In the process of staking his claim to home and hearth, Odysseus demonstrates his martial prowess at the expense of the suitors, instructing them that “your last hour has come.  You die in blood.”

The Odyssey is considered to be a sequel to Homer’s earlier epic The Iliad.  The origins of both works remain something of a mystery, as little is known of “Homer” and the original production of the stories.  Both stories are considered classics of literature and remain widely read and taught.  The wisdom The Odyssey has imparted upon the ages includes such quotes as “Of all creatures that breathe and move upon the earth, nothing is bred that is weaker than man,” and “There is nothing more admirable than when two people who see eye to eye keep house as man and wife, confounding their enemies and delighting their friends.”