Illustration of Odysseus tied to a ship's mast

The Odyssey

by Homer

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Student Question

How do Odysseus' false stories in Ithaca in The Odyssey reflect his own life?

Quick answer:

Odysseus is an excellent storyteller and uses his storytelling abilities to creatively blend reality with fiction.

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In Homer's Odyssey, Odysseus returns to Ithaca disguised as a beggar, and he tells a number of stories that are false but reflect elements of his own experiences. Let's look at how he does this.

When he first arrives in Ithaca, Odysseus meets Athena, who is also in disguise. He tells her that he served at Troy (which is true) and that he took spoils (also true). He speaks of killing someone who robbed him and then escaping by ship but then being driven off course. Part of this is true and part false, for we know that Odysseus did not kill the man he claimed to but that he was certainly in a ship that was driven off course.

Odysseus then meets the swineherd Eumaeus, who is still loyal to his master. Odysseus tells Eumaeus that he is a Cretan, the son of a wealthy man. He was given little by his brothers, for he was also the son of a slave woman rather than his father's wife. These details are made up, of course. But Odysseus also speaks of being brave in battle and surprising the enemy in ambush and of delighting in war and ships, all of which very much reflect reality. He also speaks of becoming a great man (which he actually is) and of setting out for adventure (which, of course, he did, just not in the way he relates it here). Things do not go as planned in this adventure, and he is detained (again, true to a point). He relates long journeys and shipwrecks and trials, all of which reflect his life without giving the actual details.

Odysseus, then, proves to be a fine storyteller, and he is especially apt at blending reality with fiction. He changes names. He changes details. He spins some excellent yarns. But he also reflects some of the reality of his own journeys and hardships even in the midst of his fabrications.

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