The Odyssey by Homer

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Overview

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

  • In Odysseus's absence, his wife, Penelope, has been plagued by destructive suitors, and his son, Telemachus, has grown up.
  • Odysseus and his crew undergo many trials: they encounter monsters, witches, and gods, and are delayed multiple times.
  • After arriving in Ithaca at the epic's end, Odysseus kills Penelope's suitors and reunites with his wife and son.

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Summary

Summary of the Work
Odysseus, lord of the isle of Ithaca, has been missing from his kingdom for twenty years. The first ten were spent fighting in the Trojan War, and the next ten were spent in continual wanderings en route home from the war. His wife Penelope, meanwhile, has been harassed by dozens of suitors who have come to win her hand in marriage. Penelope, desperately clinging to the hope that her husband is still alive, tries to stall the suitors by making them an idle promise: she will choose a husband from among them when she has finished weaving a burial shroud for her father-in-law, Laertes, who presently lives on a farm removed from the main city. However, when alone at night, Penelope secretly undoes the work of the shroud so that the fabrication of the garment will go on indefinitely. Unfortunately, the ruse has been discovered by the suitors, who now demand she choose one of them immediately.

The suitors, who have been awaiting her decision for several years, have in the meantime spent their days feasting in Odysseus’ hall. In so doing, they are devouring his livestock and abusing his servants. The direct victim of their voracious behavior is Tele-machus, the son of Odysseus who is now approaching manhood. Telemachus, who is the heir of Odysseus’ property and title, is constantly derided and taunted by the suitors who waste his father’s household.

Athene, goddess of wisdom and daughter of Zeus, begs her father to allow Odysseus to return home at last, for he has languished for seven years on the isle of the nymph Calypso, who holds him captive. Despite his brother Poseidon’s hatred of Odysseus because of the fate of Polyphemus, Zeus yields to his daughter. Obtaining permission and aid from her father, Athene comes down from Mount Olympus to visit Telemachus in disguise. She convinces him that he should sail abroad and seek information concerning his father.

Though feeling hopeless concerning his father’s fate, Tele-machus agrees to the journey. Athene manages to get together a crew and ship for Telemachus, and he departs without informing his mother or the suitors. When his mother finds out, she despairs with the thought that Telemachus will share his father’s fate. The suitors, angered at Telemachus’ departure, sail out themselves to set an ambush for his return.

Telemachus arrives at Pylus with Athene, who is disguised as the elder friend of Odysseus, Mentor. There Telemachus is warmly received and entertained by the aged Nestor, the famous counselor of the Trojan War. Nestor informs Telemachus of the various ill-fated homecomings of the Greeks, especially the fate of Agamemnon, commander of the Greeks at Troy, who was slain by his wife, Clytemnestra, and her lover, Aegisthus. He then advises Telemachus to visit Menelaus, Agamemnon’s brother, where he rules in Sparta. Borrowing a chariot from Nestor, Telemachus travels to Sparta with Peisistratus, Nestor’s son.

Menelaus and his queen, Helen, whose retreat with Paris instigated the Trojan War, entertain Telemachus with splendor. Menelaus tells his guests of his own wanderings which resulted in his encounter with the Old Man of the Sea, Proteus. Capturing Proteus to obtain information concerning his own homecoming, Menelaus inadvertently discovered Odysseus’ fate: namely, his imprisonment on Calypso’s isle. Although unsure if Odysseus survived the intervening years, Menelaus is able to offer this information to Telemachus, who is still...

(The entire section is 5,053 words.)