The Odyssey Additional Characters

Homer

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Odysseus

Odysseus (oh-DIH-see-uhs), a far-roving veteran of the Trojan War who, having incurred the anger of Poseidon by blinding the sea god’s son Polyphemus, a gigantic Cyclops, is fated to roam for ten years before he can return to his homeland of Ithaca. Leaving Troy, he and his followers sail first to Ismarus. In the sack of the Ciconian city, Odysseus spares the life of Maro, a priest of Apollo, who in turn gives the conqueror some jars of potent wine. Gales then drive the Greeks to the country of the Lotus-eaters, from which they sail to the land of the fierce Cyclopes. There Ulysses and twelve of his band are captured by Polyphemus. After Odysseus frees himself and his companions by a clever ruse, leaving the Cyclops maimed and blinded, the band journeys to the Isle of Aeolus. In the land of the Laestrygones, man-eating giants destroy all but one of his ships and devour their crews. At Aeaea, Odysseus outwits the enchantress Circe and frees his men after she has turned them into swine. In the dark region of the Cimmerians, he consults the shade of Tiresias, the Theban prophet, to learn what awaits him in Ithaca. Following the advice of Circe, Odysseus escapes the spell of the Sirens, passes safely between Scylla and Charybdis, and arrives at Thrinacia. There, his remaining comrades are drowned for their impiety in eating cattle sacred to Hyperion. Cast adrift, Odysseus floats to the island of Ogygia, where for seven years he lives with the lovely nymph Calypso. Finally, the gods take pity on him and order Calypso to release him. On a makeshift raft, he continues his voyage. After his raft is wrecked by Poseidon, he battles the waves until he arrives, exhausted, on the island of Drepane. Nausicaä, daughter of the king of the Phaeacians, finds him and leads him to the royal palace. Warmly received by King Alcinous, Odysseus takes part in celebration games and tells the story of his adventures. Alcinous gives Odysseus rich gifts and returns the wanderer by ship to Ithaca. There, in disguise, he meets his son Telemachus, now grown to manhood, routs and kills the suitors who throng his palace, and is reunited with his loyal wife Penelope. Odysseus is the ideal Greek hero, eloquent at the council board, courageous in battle, resourceful in danger, and crafty in wisdom. He is the darling of the goddess Athena, who aids him whenever it is in her power to do so.

Penelope

Penelope (peh-NEH-loh-pee), his devoted wife, a model of domestic fidelity, skilled in handicrafts. Still attractive in spite of twenty years of anxiety and grief during the absence of Odysseus, she is by custom forced to entertain importunate, insolent suitors whom she puts off from year to year through various stratagems. Until betrayed by her false servants, she weaved by day a burial robe for Laertes, her father-in-law, and at night unraveled her work. The return of Odysseus is for her an occasion of great joy, but first she tests his knowledge of the construction of their wedding bed to avoid being duped by a plausible stranger. Although she is noteworthy for her forbearance and fidelity, there are occasions when she complains bitterly and laments her sad fate.

Telemachus

Telemachus (teh-LEH-muh-kuhs), the son of Odysseus and Penelope, grown to handsome young manhood during his father’s absence. Also favored by Athena, he accuses the suitors of being parasites, journeys to other lands in search of news of his father, and returns to fight bravely by the side of Odysseus when the 112 suitors of Penelope are routed and put to death. His comeliness, manly bearing, and good manners show him to be his father’s son when he meets wise King Nestor and King Menelaus.

Athena

Athena (uh-THEE-nuh), also called Pallas Athena, the goddess of wisdom and the patron of arts and crafts. Moved by pity and admiration, she becomes the benefactor of Odysseus and pleads with Zeus, her father, to release the hero from the seven-year embrace of the nymph Calypso. Assuming various disguises and aiding him in many ways, she watches over the homeward journey and eventual triumph of Odysseus. Her divine intervention ensures peace between him and the angry families of the slain suitors.

Poseidon

Poseidon (poh-SI-duhn), the earth-shaking god of the sea. The blinding of his giant son, the Cyclops Polyphemus, arouses his anger against Odysseus, and he prevents as long as possible the return of the hero to Ithaca.

Laertes

Laertes (lay-UR-teez), the aged father of Odysseus. Withdrawn from the royal palace, he tends his vineyards and herds during his son’s absence. Still vigorous, he helps Odysseus and Telemachus repulse a band of angry citizens in their attempt to avenge the death of the suitors.

Eumaeus

Eumaeus (ew-MEE-uhs), the devoted swineherd in whose hut disguised Odysseus takes refuge upon his return to Ithaca. Despising the suitors, he fights bravely against them alongside Odysseus, Telemachus, and Philoetius, the neatherd. Though of lowly occupation, he is of noble birth, and he is both slave and devoted friend to Odysseus.

Philoetius

Philoetius (fih-LEE-tee-uhs), the neatherd and a trusted servant in the household of Odysseus. He is forced to provide cattle for the feasts of the suitors, but he resents their presence in his master’s hall, and he yearns for the return of the absent hero. In the great battle in which the suitors are killed, he...

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Characters

(Epics for Students)

Achilles
Son of the mortal man Peleus and the sea goddess Thetis, Achilles is the best warrior at the siege of Troy. Odysseus encounters his shade (spirit) in the underworld in Book 11 while waiting for the seer Tiresias to tell him how he is to return home after being delayed for ten years.

Achilleus
See Achilles

Aeacides
See Achilles

Aeolus
The son of Hippotas Homer describes him as "beloved of the immortal gods" (X.2) and relates that Zeus put him in charge of the winds, letting him "hold them still or start them up at his pleasure" (X.22). He and his family (six sons married to six daughters) live on Aeolia, a floating island. After listening to Odysseus's tales of Troy, he agrees to help and makes Odysseus a present of a bag containing all the adverse winds that could blow him off his proper course home. Unfortunately, Odysseus's men untie the knot, thinking they will find gold in the bag; the winds blow them back to Aeolia. Aeolus casts them out, saying he has no desire to help anyone who is so obviously cursed by the gods.

Agamemnon
Son of Atreus, brother of Menelaus, and King of Mycenae, Agamemnon commands the Achaean forces at Troy. Odysseus encounters his shade in the underworld. Agamemnon tells him about what he (Agamemnon) found waiting for him when he returned home after the war, and he cautions Odysseus to be careful until he is sure of his wife's loyalty.

Aias
See Ajax

Ajax (Oilean, the Lesser)
Son of Oileus and leader of the Locrians at Troy. Shipwrecked on his way home after the war, he boasts of having escaped the sea in spite of the gods—and is subsequently drowned by Poseidon. Odysseus encounters his shade in the underworld in Book 11.

Ajax (Telamonian, the Greater)
Son of Telamon and grandson of Aeacus (who was also grandfather of Achilles), Ajax was one of the bravest and strongest fighters at Troy. At the funeral games after Achilles's death, he and Odysseus competed for Achilles's armor and weapons. When they were awarded to Odysseus, Ajax sulked and, in a fit of madness, slaughtered a flock of sheep in the belief that they were his enemies. When he discovered what he had done, he killed himself, unable to live with the shame. Odysseus encounters the shade of Ajax in the underworld, and even apologizes for the outcome of their contest at Achilles's funeral games. Ajax, angry with Odysseus even after death, refuses to speak to the man he believes had unfairly beaten him in life.

Ajax the Greater
See Ajax (Telamonian)

Ajax the Lesser
See Ajax (Oilean)

Akhilleus
See Achilles

Alcinous
Son of Nausithous, husband of Arete and father of Nausicaa and Laodamas, Alcinous (the name means "sharp-witted" or "brave-witted") is king of Phaeacia and a grandson of Poseidon. Homer depicts him as a kind, generous, and noble man, eager to help the stranger and put him at ease (e.g., VIII.94-5, 532-34). He even suggests that Odysseus should stay in Phaeacia and marry his daughter.

Antinoos
See Antinous

Antinous
Son of Eupithes, Antinous's name literally means "anti-mind" and could be translated as "Mindless." He is one of the boldest and most ambitious (not to say obnoxious) of the suitors for Penelope's hand. He wants to supplant Telemachus as the next ruler of Ithaca (I.384ff.). It is his idea to attempt to ambush Telemachus on his way home from the mainland, and he proposes killing Telemachus outright at least three different times (XVI.383, XX.271-74, and XXII.49-53). He is the first man Odysseus kills in Book 22.

Aphrodite
Aphrodite is the Greek goddess of love (the equivalent of the Roman Venus). According to Homer, she is the daughter of Zeus and Dione; the poet Hesiod (who likely lived and wrote not long after Homer's time), however, claims that she sprang from the foam (aphros in Greek) of the sea, as seen in Botticelli's painting The Birth of Venus (circa 1485). She is married, though not faithful, to Hephaestus, god of fire and smithcraft. Among her many lovers was the god of war, Ares. Aphrodite appears in the Odyssey only by "reputation," so to speak, when Demodocus sings the story of how her husband conspired to trap her in bed with her lover Ares and expose the two of them to the ridicule of the gods (VIII.266-366).

Apollo
The son of Zeus and Leto, and twin brother of Artemis, Apollo is the god of archery, prophecy, music, medicine, light, and youth. (Sometimes, though not in Homer, Apollo is identified with the sun). As we frequently see in the Odyssey (e.g, III.279, IV.341, VI.162, etc.), plagues and other diseases, and sometimes a peaceful death in old age, were often explained as being the result of "gentle arrows" shot by Apollo (for men), or by his sister Artemis (for women).

Arete
Niece and wife of Alcinous and mother of Nausicaa, Arete is queen of the Phaeacians. Her name means "Virtue" or "Excellence" in Greek. Athena tells Odysseus that Alcinous honors Arete "as no other woman on earth'' is honored (VII.67).

Artemis
Daughter of Zeus and Leto, twin sister of Apollo, Artemis is the virgin goddess of the hunt, the moon, and, in some traditions, of childbirth and the young. As we frequently see in the Odyssey (e.g., IV.122, V.123, VI.102, etc.), plagues and other diseases, and sometimes a peaceful death in old age, were often explained as being the result of "gentle arrows" shot by Artemis (for women), or by her brother Apollo (for men).

Athena
The daughter of Zeus and Metis, Zeus (following in the tradition of his own father, Cronus) swallowed her at birth when it was revealed that she would someday bear a son who would be lord of heaven (and thus take Zeus's place). She was born, fully grown and in armor, from the head of Zeus after Hephaestus (or, in some traditions, Prometheus) split it open with an axe to relieve his headache.

Athena was revered as the patron goddess of Athens (where the temple known as the Parthenon was technically dedicated to her in her aspect as Athena Polios, protectress of the city), but also as a goddess of war, wisdom and cleverness, and crafts, especially weaving and spinning. She describes herself in the Odyssey as being "famous among all the gods for scheming and clever tricks" (XIII.299).

Athena does not behave in the same way as most of the other gods in the Odyssey; she is closely involved with both Odysseus and Telemachus all through the poem, whereas the other gods (with the exception of Poseidon) are more remote and rarely intervene in the affairs of mortals. Indeed, the account of Athena's interaction with Odysseus, where he finally reaches Ithaca in Book 13, reads more like an encounter between old friends or cherished family members than between a mortal and a god. Homer may have intended such closeness to underscore Odysseus's heroic status: the gods only assist those who are worthy, and even then they tend to be somewhat distant. For Athena to treat Odysseus so familiarly indicates his superior status even among heroes.

Athene
See Athena

Atreides
See Agamemnon

Atrides
See Agamemnon

Calypso
Daughter of Atlas, who holds the world upon his shoulders, Calypso (whose name is related to the Greek verb "to hide'' and which might therefore be translated as "Concealer") is a goddess who lives on the island of Ogygia. She falls in love with Odysseus during the seven years he lives on her island (I.15, IX.30), and proposes to make him immortal (V.136,209): not a gift usually given lightly.

She says as much to Hermes in Book 5 when he comes to tell her of Zeus's decision that she must let Odysseus go. She is not happy with Zeus's decision, but she abides by it. She again offers to make Odysseus immortal. When he turns her down, she provides him with the materials and tools he needs to make a raft. When it is completed, she sends a favorable wind at his back that almost gets him home—until Poseidon catches sight of him.

Circe
Daughter of Helios (the sun-god) and Perse, and sister of Aeetes, the king of Colchis who plagued Jason and the Argonauts. A minor goddess who "speaks with the speech of mortals," she is also a powerful enchantress.

Her "specialty" lies in turning men into pigs (in Homer; pseudo-Apollodorus also mentions wolves, donkeys, and lions; this may be reflected in the reference to wolves and lions at X.212) by means of potions and spells. Yet once she recognizes Odysseus, and swears an oath not to harm him, she becomes the most charming of hostesses, so much so that Odysseus and his men remain with her an entire year before the crew asks Odysseus if it is not time to head for home.

Apollodorus also records the tradition that Circe bore a son, Telegonus, to Odysseus during his stay on the island. Homer merely notes (IX.32) that she wanted Odysseus to remain as her husband.

Ctesippus
A suitor from the island of Same whom Homer describes (XX.287) as "a man well-versed in villainy," though he does not specify exactly what Ctesippus has done to earn that nickname. His name literally means "Horse-Getter," so we might conclude that he was, literally, a horse-thief.

Ctesippus insults Odysseus and throws an ox-hoof at him when he goes around the hall begging on the day the suitors are killed. Odysseus ducks the missile, and Telemachus orders Ctesippus to leave the stranger alone or suffer the consequences. Ctesippus is later killed by the oxherd Philoetius (XXII.285).

Demodocus
The blind bard, or poet, of the Phaeacian court. Traditionally, Demodocus has been taken as representing Homer, but not all scholars accept this idea.

Demodokos
See Demodocus

Eumaeus
Son of Ctesius, who was king of two cities on the island of Syria (not to be confused with the Middle Eastern country of the same name), Eumaeus was kidnaped at a young age by one of his father's serving women and taken by Phoenician traders, who sold him as a slave to Laertes, Odysseus's father. Odysseus's mother, Anticleia, raised him together with her own daughter, and then sent him to the country when the daughter was married (XV.366ff.). His name might mean something like "one who seeks the good." Eumaeus seems quite content with his lot in life. He remains loyal to his absent master and does his best to protect the property entrusted to his care from the depradations of the suitors. He grieves for the loss of Odysseus (XIV.40-44, etc.) no less than for his lost home and family, and when Telemachus returns from his overseas journey, Eumaeus greets him as if he were his own son (XVI. 14-22).

It should be noted in passing that the sort of slavery described in the Homeric poems, while it had some aspects in common with the variety later practiced in Europe and America, is also different from the later practice in several significant respects. Chief among them is the fact that in Homer, the slave is often as much a part of the household as the son of the house, with a place within it and defined rights and privileges: Eumaeus, for example, was raised together with his masters' daughter and is both permitted and sufficiently wealthy to have a slave of his own (XIV.449-52).

Eumaios
See Eumaeus

Eurycleia
The daughter of Ops, Eurycleia is a long-time servant of Odysseus' family. Odysseus' father Laertes bought her in her youth for 20 oxen (not an insignificant price, especially for an island king with relatively little land for cattle). She was Odysseus' nurse, and then Telemachus', and in her old age she now attends Penelope.

As with Eumaeus, although Eurycleia is a slave in the household of Odysseus and his family, there is every indication that she is loved and repected just as much as any of the "regular" members of the household. It is she whom Thelemachus tells of his plans to travel to Pylos and Sparta (II.348ff.), not Penelope, and also she who comforts Penelope when the latter learns her son has been away all this time. Laertes, in his day, is said to...

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