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The Odyssey

by Homer
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Summary of epics of the Iliad and the Odyssey.

The epic poem the Iliad relates a series of episodes nine years into the Trojan War that include the stubbornness of Achilles, the death of Patroclus, and Achilles's revenge on Hector. The Odyssey tells the story of Odysseus and his adventures after the Trojan War as well as the trials of his wife, Penelope, and his son, Telemachus.

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The Iliad and the Odyssey are epic poems composed by the Greek poet Homer. They are complex works with many interwoven plot lines, highly developed characters, and fascinating settings, so a summary of both of them will necessarily be shallow at best and focus only on the high points of the narratives.

The Iliad opens in media res, in the midst of things. The Trojan War has already been going on for over nine years, and the Greeks are not doing too well at this point. They have even been hit by a plague, and Agamemnon discovers that the Greeks' capture of two Trojan women, Chryseis and Briseis, lies behind the illness. Agamemnon holds Chryseis and decides he will give her back, but then he wants Achilles to give him Briseis instead. Achilles is so offended that he decides to sit out the rest of the war.

Things continue to go rather badly for the Greeks. Achilles still stubbornly refuses to participate, but he decides to send his friend Patroclus to fight in his place, even giving him Achilles's own armor. The Trojan Hector kills Patroclus and takes the armor. This enrages Achilles and draws him back into the fight. He kills every Trojan in sight and eventually slays Hector as well. Achilles, however, is not satisfied with Hector's death. He attaches the Trojan's body to his chariot and drags it around the city for nine days. The poem ends with a god-negotiated truce, and Achilles returns Hector's body to his father, King Priam.

The Odyssey picks up the story ten years after the Trojan War. Greek hero Odysseus has not yet made it home to Ithaca, and his wife, Penelope, is plagued by suitors who want to marry her and get control of Odysseus's estate. Penelope, supported by her son, Telemachus, has resisted for years. Odysseus is alive, just as Penelope thinks, but the nymph Calypso has been holding him captive. Telemachus, helped by the goddess Athena, makes a voyage to find out the truth of the matter.

Meanwhile, Odysseus escapes from Calypso and ends up with the Phaeacians. He tells of his fantastic exploits since leaving Tory: the Lotus Eaters, the Cyclops, Circe, the Sirens, his trip to Hades, and the monster Scylla. Odysseus then goes home to Ithaca, only to find his house filled with suitors. He identifies himself to his son but disguises himself as a beggar in his own house. Penelope holds a contest and promises to marry the suitor who can string Odysseus's bow and shoot an arrow through twelve axes. Of course, Odysseus himself is the only one who can do that. His identity is revealed, and Odysseus and Telemachus kill all the suitors.

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The beauty of epic poems such as The Iliad and The Odyssey is that the stories are so rich that many can return to them again and again and find completely new meanings. As a result, distilling both into a "summary" is a difficult task indeed! Here are the two stories, in a nutshell:

The Iliad is the story of the Trojan War. The Trojan War began when Paris, a Trojan prince, visited a Greek king, Menelaus. During his visit, Paris seduced Menelaus's wife, escaping with her and returning to Troy. As a result, Menelaus rallied his fellow Greek kings, raised an army, and set sail for Troy to reclaim his wife. The story follows the Greek army as they lay siege to Troy for ten long years and raises thematic questions as to the value of honor and glory and the role of warfare in human society.

The Odyssey, on the other hand, is a very different tale. The Odyssey follows the journey of Odysseus, one of the Greek soldiers, as he attempts to return home from the war. One of the heroes of the Trojan War, Odysseus offends the sea god Poseidon and is punished with another decade of trials and tribulations before he can return home to the wife, Penelope, and son, Telemachus, that he left behind. The Odyssey considers themes such as the role of the veteran in society and the role of ego in the face of fated events.

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These are some of the greatest works of epic literature in the Western canon. Moreover, they are complex pieces of work with many twists and turns. Hence, any summary will be a bear sketch. So, I encourage you to read both works when time permits. With that said, here are a few points of summary.

First, Homer, the Greek poet is said to have written both. The Iliad is about the Trojan War, which started because the Trojan prince, Paris took Helen of Sparta from Menelaus. So, as revenge Menelaus got the leaders of Greece to fight the Trojan. However, things got complicated due to the conflict between Agamemnon and the greatest hero among the Greek, Achilles. Achilles, therefore, withdrew from battle, which caused the Trojan to gain the upper-hand. Achilles only went back into battle, because his good friend Patroclus was killed. Achilles then defeats many of the Trojans, and more importantly the great hero of the Trojans, Hector. This turns the tide. From this perspective, the Iliad is about the wrath of Achilles.

The Odyssey is about what happened after the Trojan war. Odysseus, one of the Greek heroes is on his way home back to Ithaca. However, his journey is fraught with twists and turns. In a word, things get very complicated. For instance, he has to face many dangers - the sirens, Polyphemus, Circe, Calypso, and many more. When he finally gets back, he realizes that there are many suitors that have taken over his home. So, he needs to fight them and he does. In short, this work is about his journey and homecoming.

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