Book 1 Summary and Analysis
Poseidon: god of the sea, enemy of Odysseus
Zeus: king of the gods
Athene: goddess of wisdom, Odysseus’ patron
Telemachus: Odysseus’ son
Phemius: bard forced to sing for the suitors
Penelope: Odysseus’ wife, mother of Telemachus
Antinoös: leader and most brazen of the suitors
Eurymachus: crafty co-leader of the suitors
Eurycleia: aged maid who nursed both Odysseus and Telemachus
The narrator calls upon the Muse to help him narrate the story of Odysseus’ wanderings and homecoming. We learn that he is imprisoned on Calypso’s island, and that he is the victim of Poseidon’s wrath.
While Poseidon is away receiving a hecatomb, a massive sacrifice, from the Ethiopians, the gods sit in council on Mount Olympus. Zeus mourns the death of Agamemnon, the general who led the Greek forces at Troy, and rues the fact that Aegisthus, Agamemnon’s assassin, did not heed the gods’ warning; now Aegisthus lies slain at the hand of Agamemnon’s avenging son, Orestes. Athene reminds her father that Odysseus still languishes on Calypso’s island due to Poseidon’s wrath. Zeus agrees to send Hermes to command Calypso to release Odysseus; Athene herself plans to descend to Ithaca to stir Telemachus to seek out his father and thereby gain a reputation for himself.
Athene flies down to the palace of Odysseus and disguises herself as Mentes, a trader friend of Odysseus. She is greeted by Telemachus, who draws her away from the suitors who are wildly feasting in his hall. Telemachus explains to Mentes (Athene) that Odysseus is lost and his palace is besieged by voracious young men who waste his father’s goods in his absence. They are suitors seeking the hand of Penelope, Odysseus’ wife, who neither refuses nor accepts their suits.
Athene advises Telemachus to call an assembly to oust the suitors, and then suggests that he take a journey to Pylus and Sparta to seek news of his father. Athene then takes on the likeness of a bird and flies away; Telemachus recognizes her divinity and is emboldened by her visit. When Penelope descends to stifle the mournful singing of Phemius, which reminds her painfully of her missing Odysseus, Telemachus sends her away with the authority of master of the household. He then verbally abuses the suitors themselves, despite reproaches by the brazen Antinoös and sly Eurymachus.
The suitors finally leave for the evening, and Telemachus somberly retreats to his chamber. He is led by the nurse Eurycleia, who has been a member of the household since her purchase by Laertes, Odysseus’ father, years ago. Telemachus then rests, brooding upon Athene’s words and advice.
Discussion and Analysis
At the beginning of Book I, we have the poem’s invocation, one which countless other epics will mimic. The ingredients include the call upon a divine Muse to inspire the poet with the ability to perform a particular tale. The invocation also includes a very quick summary of the events which have transpired before the poem begins: the wanderings of Odysseus and his companions; the death of his friends for the sin of eating Helius’ cattle; Odysseus’ imprisonment on Calypso’s isle; and the wrath of Poseidon which continually plagues the hero. This gives the poet’s audience a sense of temporal perspective. They know now that the tale has begun in medias res , in the midst of things, and they can...
(The entire section is 852 words.)