The Odyssey Characters
by Homer

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The Odyssey Characters

The main characters of The Odyssey are Odysseus, Penelope, Telemachus, and Athena.

  • Odysseus is a hero of the Trojan War and the king of Ithaca. After the war, he spends ten years trying to return home, encountering many trials along the way.
  • Penelope is Odysseus’s devoted wife. She delays her suitors by refusing to marry until she has finished weaving a shroud that she cleverly unravels every night.
  • Telemachus is Odysseus’s son. An infant when his father left for Troy, he is now a young man.
  • Athena, the goddess of wisdom and battle, watches over Odysseus and Telemachus and aids them in defeating Penelope’s suitors.

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Odysseus, son of Laertes and Anticleaia, is the king of Ithaca and hero of The Odyssey. After playing an instrumental role in the victory of the Achaeans at Troy, he struggles to return home. He roams the seas for almost two decades, encountering monsters and other perils along the way. When he finally arrives on Ithaca, he must reckon with the wicked suitors who have overrun his household.

In some ways, Odysseus is a prime example of a Homeric hero: he exhibits strength, skill, determination, courage, and moral responsibility throughout the epic. His most valuable skill, however, is his intellect, which allows him to manipulate and triumph over situations that would confound a hero like Hercules, whose power lies in physical strength only. While Odysseus is physically powerful, it is primarily his wit that enables him to accomplish feats such as escaping from the Cyclops Polyphemus in book 9 and fooling the suitors near the end of the epic.

Odysseus’s intelligence makes him the favorite mortal of the goddess Athena, who guides him on his journey and aids his revenge upon the suitors and reunion with his family. His pride, however, incurs the wrath of the god Poseidon, who attempts to keep Odysseus lost at sea. By the time he reaches Ithaca, Odysseus seems less inclined to act on his pride, instead choosing to remain patient until the time comes to reveal himself and reclaim his estate.


Telemachus is the son of Odysseus and Penelope. He grew up without a father, as Odysseus went off to fight in Troy when he was an infant. Over the course of The Odyssey, Telemachus grows to manhood with the assistance of the goddess Athena, who protects him and instructs him in the responsibilities of a prince.

With Athena’s assistance, the helplessness Telemachus demonstrates at the beginning of the epic gradually subsides. He displays a newfound confidence when he confronts the suitors, condemning the way they have taken over his home and abused his mother’s hospitality. Telemachus is still young, however, and lacks his parents’ slyness and experience. In book 22, he accidentally leaves a storeroom full of weapons unlocked, allowing the suitors to arm themselves. Telemachus remains somewhat careless, reflecting some of the rashness Odysseus displayed on the isle of the Cyclops.

When Odysseus returns to Ithaca, Telemachus helps his father slaughter the suitors. His fierce loyalty during the battle shows that Telemachus has the potential to equal his father as a warrior and eventually, perhaps, a king.


Penelope is Odysseus’s wife; she faithfully waits for him on Ithaca for almost two decades. Although constantly weeping from grief over her husband’s absence, she is also portrayed as possessing a cunning which matches that of Odysseus. For many years, she keeps the suitors at bay with a wily plot: she tells the suitors she will choose a husband when she has finished weaving a burial shroud for her father-in-law, Laertes, but each night she undoes her weaving so that the shroud will never be complete. Due to her position in society, Penelope cannot simply refuse to remarry, and by instead delaying her suitors until Odysseus’s return, she demonstrates a great deal of craftiness. Penelope’s cleverness is also apparent when she tests Odysseus’s knowledge of their marriage bed in...

(The entire section is 1,509 words.)