Books 1–3 Summary and Analysis
The Odyssey opens with the narrator invoking the Muse, asking her to sing of Odysseus’s long journey home to Ithaca after the end of the Trojan War.
Ten years after the fall of Troy, Odysseus is being held as a captive guest on the island of Ogygia by the nymph Calypso. The goddess Athena implores her father, Zeus, to pity Odysseus and send the god Hermes to Ogygia to command Calypso to release him. Athena then comes to Ithaca in order to rouse Telemachus, Odysseus’s son, into action.
Disguised as Odysseus’s friend Mentes, Athena arrives at a banquet at Odysseus’s house, where Telemachus receives her hospitably. Telemachus privately complains to Athena about the current state of affairs: his father never returned from Troy, and young suitors have flocked to his mother, Penelope, each hoping to replace Odysseus as her husband. Moreover, the suitors have been eating up the stock of their estate. Athena assures Telemachus that Odysseus is alive and will soon return. She encourages Telemachus to stand up to the suitors and demand that they go home, then to embark on a voyage to speak with Nestor of Pylos and Menelaus of Sparta for news of his father. Telemachus addresses the suitors and insists that though he might not succeed his father as king, he should remain the ruler of his own house.
The next morning, Telemachus calls for an assembly, during which he chastises the suitors for destroying his home and wealth. Antinous, one of the suitors, replies that Penelope is to blame for having deceived them: she had promised to marry one of the suitors after she had finished weaving a shroud for Laertes, Odysseus’s father, but at night she had secretly undone her weaving, and had carried on this subterfuge for three years. The suitors demand that Penelope either be expelled from the house or forced to marry one of them. Telemachus refuses, explaining that he could never do this to his mother, especially as Penelope’s father, Icarius, would make him pay, and Penelope herself would call upon the Furies. He threatens that if the suitors continue to slaughter his livestock for nothing in return, they, too, shall be slaughtered. Then Zeus sends an omen in the form of two eagles, which the elderly leader Halitherses prophesies as a sign of the close return of Odysseus and a massacre falling upon the suitors. Eurymachus, a suitor, dismisses the omen and goes on to say that they are unafraid of anyone and will continue their activities until Penelope relents and chooses a husband.
Telemachus prays to Athena for guidance; Athena, in the guise of Odysseus’s friend Mentor, asks Telemachus to ready a ship while she scouts for a crew. Telemachus asks the servant Eurycleia, his old nurse, to prepare provisions for his trip that night. Eurycleia weeps, asking why he has to leave on such a dangerous journey. He explains that a god is on his side and makes her swear to make no mention of it to his mother, at least until after twelve days have passed or Penelope has discovered the news herself. Meanwhile, after having rounded up a crew while disguised as Telemachus, Athena causes all the suitors to fall asleep in Odysseus’s hall. Appearing as Mentor once again, she calls to Telemachus that his ship is ready to sail.
The next day they arrive at Pylos, the home of Nestor, where Telemachus hesitates about disembarking. Athena, as Mentor, steels his courage, assuring him that he will find the words he needs. Nestor and his sons are feasting in the center of town, and when Nestor asks Telemachus’s reason for visiting, Telemachus replies that he is searching for news of his lost father and has come to hear whatever stories Nestor has about him. Nestor explains that it would take years to tell all the stories of what occurred at Troy but remarks that Odysseus’s stratagems during the war were unmatched. However, he has heard no news of Odysseus since the war. The last he saw of him was when Menelaus and Agamemnon had a fight....
(The entire section is 1,211 words.)