The Odyssey Summary
by Homer

The Odyssey book cover
Start Your Free Trial

The Odyssey Summary

The Odyssey is an ancient Greek epic poem by Homer that tells the story of Odysseus’s ten-year struggle to return home to Ithaca after the end of the Trojan War.

  • In Odysseus’s absence, his wife, Penelope, is plagued by destructive suitors, and his son, Telemachus, has become a young man.
  • Odysseus and his crew undergo many trials and suffer the wrath of the god Poseidon. The goddess Athena protects Odysseus, but all of his men die during the journey.
  • After arriving in Ithaca, Odysseus slaughters the suitors with the aid of Athena and reunites with his wife and son.

Download The Odyssey Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Summary

Homer’s Odyssey takes place in the aftermath of the Trojan War, after the events of the Iliad. It follows the hero Odysseus and the ten ill-fated years it takes for him to return to Ithaca, his homeland. It is divided into twenty-four books.

Book 1 begins with the speaker invoking the Muse so that he may be granted guidance in telling Odysseus’s tale. Odysseus is the only one of the Danaans whose fate is unknown to his people, as all else who fought in the Trojan War have either returned home or perished. For seven years now, Odysseus has been a captive guest of the nymph Calypso on the island of Ogygia. On Ithaca, meanwhile, Odysseus’s wife, Penelope, and his son, Telemachus, are beset by scores of suitors who feast recklessly on their stores, believing Odysseus dead. The goddess Athena, who has always favored Odysseus, implores Zeus to send Hermes to Ogygia and compel Calypso to set him free. For her part, Athena travels to Ithaca and disguises herself as one of Odysseus’s old friends, Mentor, in order to console Telemachus and give him advice concerning the suitors and Odysseus’s imminent homecoming. In a ploy to protect Telemachus from the hot-blooded suitors, she bids him assemble a crew of trustworthy men and journey to the Greek mainland to collect information on Odysseus.

Books 2 to 4 center on Telemachus and his stay on the Greek mainland, first at Pylos, in the household of King Nestor, one of the Greek chieftains who fought in the war. Because King Nestor is able to provide little information as to what happened to Odysseus, he sends Telemachus with his son, Pisistratus, to Sparta—where King Menelaus, the brother of the late King Agamemnon, resides with his wife, Helen. In Sparta, Telemachus is given a grand welcome and regaled with tales of his father’s heroism and wit. King Menelaus also reveals that Odysseus is still very much alive, trapped on Ogygia by the nymph Calypso. Meanwhile, on Ithaca, the suitors discover that Telemachus has left the island and plot to ambush and murder him when he returns.

Book 5 centers on Odysseus’s travels following his release from Ogygia. When Poseidon finds Odysseus sailing on the open sea, he sends a great storm which Odysseus only survives with the help of Athena and the sea nymph Leucothea. Odysseus swims ashore to Scheria, land of the seafaring Phaeacians. Books 6 to 8 relate how Odysseus, posing as a wanderer, is welcomed by King Alcinous and Queen Arete of Scheria. When he finally reveals to the court of Scheria who he is, he is asked to tell the unfortunate tale of how he came to wander the seas for more than nine years.

Books 9 to 12 tell Odysseus’s tale—the three years of trials and tribulations he endures after the Trojan War. Book 9 relates his unpleasant encounter with the Cyclops Polyphemus, who trapped him and his men in a cave, devouring some of his men in the process. Odysseus devises a cunning plan of escape and, in the process, blinds Polyphemus—and so incurs the wrath of Poseidon, Polyphemus’s father.

Book 10 is an account of how Aeolus, the master of winds, gifts Odysseus with an ox-skin pouch of winds to help him and his men journey homeward. Odysseus uses this pouch to great success, Ithaca coming within view on the tenth day of their sailing. Odysseus’s men, however, suspect there to be hidden riches in the pouch and open it while Odysseus is asleep—and so...

(The entire section is 1,233 words.)