Illustration of Odysseus tied to a ship's mast

The Odyssey

by Homer

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What prevented Odysseus from coming home after the Trojan War?

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The war itself lasted for a decade, but after the war was over, Odysseus encountered several obstacles on his way home. First, he was kept prisoner by Calypso, a nymph, on the island of Ogygia. She enchants him and wants him to stay and become her husband, but eventually Athena persuades Zeus to command her to let him return to Penelope.

Odysseus also encounters the sorceress Circe who turned Odysseus's men into swine. He is given the magical herb moly by Hermes so that he is not transformed into a pig, but after rescuing his men, he spends a year on the island, having an affair with Circe and enjoying her hospitality.

Odysseus is also captured by the cyclops Polyphemus and spends some time escaping from him. Odysseus is also shipwrecked after his men offend the gods by killing the Cattle of Helios. The god Poseidon also intervenes to place obstacles in the way of Odysseus' return home.

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The Achaeans spent ten years fighting Troy. Thanks to the valor of Achilles and the cunning of Odysseus, they succeeded. However, many of the heroes were fated to never return to their homes. On his part, Odysseus endured a number of trials which lengthened his return journey by another decade. 

First, the Greeks angered the gods by violating the Trojan temples. Thus they shipwrecked many of the Greeks. Twice more Odysseus incurred the gods' wrath. First, he killed Poseidon's son, Polyphemus the cyclops. Second, his men ate the sacred cattle of the sun-god Helios; Zeus responded to this affront by shipwrecking Odysseus on Ogygia. Odysseus remained on this island for seven years, imprisoned by the goddess Calypso (by this point, all Odysseus' ships had been destroyed and all his men had died). Finally, Athena convinced Zeus to free him.

Odysseus, was also--at times--delayed by his own infidelity. For example, Odysseus spent a year with the goddess Circe.

Despite these trials, Odysseus finally made it home to Ithaca and his family (his wife, Penelope, and son, Telemachus).

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