What are the basic situations of Odysseus, Penelope, and Telemachus at the beginning of Homer's Odyssey? What brought them to these situations?

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thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Homer's Odyssey is one of many ancient Greek literary works focused on the returns of the Greeks from the war in Troy. The Odyssey tells the story of the wanderings of Odysseus on his way back to Penelope. What makes the story so engaging is that each of the characters is in a difficult situation, and the narrative arc moves in parallel towards a resolution of these conflicts.

Odysseus has been away from home for twenty years fighting alongside the other Greeks in the Trojan war. After the war ended, he was help captive by the nymph Calypso and then angered Poseidon by killing Polyphemus, as well as enduring many other adventures and obstacles in his homeward journey. Eventually, with the aid of the goddess Athena, he manages to return home to Ithaca.

Penelope has been waiting at home faithfully for Odysseus to return from the war. Various suitors, claiming that Odysseus must be dead, demand that Penelope choose one of them to marry and to become lord of Ithaca. Penelope promises she will decide when she finishes weaving a shroud for Laertes, but although she weaves by day, she undoes her weaving by night. 

Telemachus is the son of Odysseus and has been growing up at home with his mother. Although he isn't old or powerful enough to challenge the suitors himself, Athena prompts him to begin a journey to find out the fate of his father and gain potential allies.