Why does Odysseus leave his home, Ithaca, in The Odyssey?

Odysseus leaves Ithaca for war in order to fulfill an oath he made to protect Helen.

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Odysseus's participation in the Trojan War stems all the way back to his time pursuing Helen, the beautiful daughter of King Tyndareus. Odysseus knows he has little chance of winning her hand as there is so much competition for it, but he ends up falling in love with Penelope anyway and so retracts his suit to Helen. However, Odysseus does suggest that Helen's suitors should all swear an oath to protect both her and whatever man she ultimately decides to marry.

Helen ends up marrying Menelaus, the king of Sparta. Unfortunately, the day comes to pass where Helen's former suitors must fulfill their obligation: Helen is abducted by Paris, her lover and the Trojan prince, and spirited away to Troy, sparking the Trojan War. Unfortunately for both Odysseus and the other suitors, this war will persist a great many years before they can undertake the long journey back home.

So Odysseus leaves Ithaca to fulfill his sworn oath. Although Odysseus is very attached to his wife, Penelope, and their life in Ithaca, it is a matter of honor before anything else. In Odysseus's society, swearing an oath is no light matter, and he could have landed in major trouble had he attempted to break it.

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Several reasons compel Odysseus to participate in the war against Troy. Perhaps the most important is his history with Helen.

Although most of what we know about Odysseus comes from Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, post-Homeric stories about Odysseus shed some light on his participation in the war. For example, we are told that Odysseus was originally a suitor for Helen, the daughter of King Tyndareos, but Odysseus then fell in love with Penelope, Tyndareos's niece. Helen had so many powerful suitors that Tyndareos became concerned that, because only one could be successful, the other suitors would essentially go to war with each other. Odysseus, known for his wise counsel, suggested to Tyndareos that he require all suitors to swear an oath to support the winning suitor for Helen, which turned out to be Menelaus of Sparta. As a reward for Odysseus's counsel, Tyndareos arranged the marriage between Odysseus and Penelope.

When emissaries from Agamemnon and Menelaus came to Ithaca to ask Odysseus to join in the Greek effort to rescue Helen from the Trojans, Odysseus, now a family man with an infant son, Telemachus, is reluctant to go. According another post-Homeric story, Odysseus had been warned that if he were to join the Greeks, he would be gone for twenty years, and so Odysseus trys to avoid his obligation (as one of Helen's former suitors) by pretending to be mad—for example, he sows salt into his fields instead of seed. The Greek emissaries—Nestor, Palamedes, and Menelaus—call his bluff by placing Telemachus in the path of Odysseus' plow. He stops his plow before doing any harm to his infant son, and with this act of sanity, gives up any pretensions to madness and agrees to join the Greek forces.

As one of Helen's former suitors—and having sworn an oath to support Helen and Menelaus—Odysseus could not, in this warrior society, break an oath unless something extraordinary occurs. Odysseus, known as a wise counselor and as a trickster, feigns madness, which is probably one of the only conditions that would have allowed him to violate his oath. He is, however, out-foxed by the Greek emissaries from Agamemnon, leaving him with no credible excuse for staying safely in Ithaca.

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Odysseus' history of involvement in the Trojan War can best be found in Homer's Iliad, the predecessor to The Odyssey. The clever Odysseus had once been considered a suitor for Helen, the daughter of Zeus and the most beautiful woman in the world. Knowing that he had little chance to marry Helen, Odysseus married Penelope instead; it was he who suggested that all of Helen's suitors sign an oath of allegiance to support and protect her in case she met with danger. Helen eventually marries Menelaus, the King of Sparta. When Paris, the son of King Priam of Troy, abducts Helen, Odysseus--like the other Greeks who gave their oath to protect Helen--gathered his forces together and sailed from Ithaca to Troy. Little did Odysseus suspect that the war would last so long and that his journey home would be further extended.

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