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Head of Odysseus from a Greek 2nd century BC marble group representing Odysseus blinding Polyphemus, found at the villa of Tiberius at Sperlonga
Head of Odysseus from a Greek 2nd century BC marble group representing Odysseus blinding Polyphemus, found at the villa of Tiberius at Sperlonga
Topics in Greek mythology
  • Primordial gods and Titans
  • Zeus and the Olympians
  • Pan and the nymphs
  • Apollo and Dionysus
  • Sea-gods and Earth-gods
  • Heracles and his Labors
  • Achilles and the Trojan War
  • Odysseus and the Odyssey
  • Jason and the Argonauts
  • Perseus and the Gorgon
  • Oedipus and Thebes
  • Theseus and the Minotaur
  • Triptolemus and the
    Eleusinian Mysteries
  • Satyrs, centaurs and dragons
  • Ancient Greek religion

Odysseus or Ulysses ( Greek Ὀδυσσεύς Odysseys; Latin: Ulixes or, less commonly, Ulysses), pronounced /oʊˈdɪs.i.əs/, is the main hero in Homer's epic poem, the Odyssey, and plays a key role in Homer's Iliad. King of Ithaca, husband of Penelope, father of Telemachus, and son of Laërtes and Anticlea (the tragedy Iphigenia at Aulis names Sysiphus as his father), Odysseus is renowned for his guile and resourcefulness, and is most famous for the ten years it took him to return home after the Trojan War.

Relatively little is known of Odysseus' background except that his grandfather (or step-grandfather) is Arcesius, son of Cephalus and grandson of Aeolus. Ithaca, an island along the Ionian coastline of Greece, is one of several islands that would have comprised the realm of Odysseus' family, but the true extent of the Cephallenian realm and the actual identities of the islands named in Homer's works are unknown.


The name has several variants: Olysseus (Ὀλυσσεύς), Oulixeus (Οὐλιξεύς), Oulixes (Οὐλίξης) and he was known as Ulysses in Latin or Ulixes in Roman mythology.

The verb odussōmai (οδύσσωμαι), meaning "to be wrathful against, hate", suggests that the name could be rendered as "the one who is wrathful, at the same time, is hated". This interpretation is reinforced by Odysseus' and Poseidon's mutual wrath for one another. One may also read the name as "pain", or "the one inflicting and suffering pain" — not surprisingly, Odysseus frequently suffers pain (mental and/or physical) if he inflicts pain on someone else. Yet another origin is the Greek οδηγός: odēgós, "a guide; the one showing the way". The name means "son of pain", according to Homer.

Odysseus sometimes receives the epithet "Laertiades (Greek: Λαερτιάδης') 'son of Laërtes'.

His name and stories were copied into Etruscan religion under the name Uthuze.

In the Odyssey, Book XIX (405-411) we learn that Odysseus' name means 'son of pain' and his father named him that because his grandfather suggested it.

Before the Trojan War

According to Homer, Odysseus was one of many powerful and influential suitors for Tyndareus' daughter Helen, considered the most beautiful woman in the world. Tyndareus feared the wrath of whomever he did not choose as Helen's husband, so Odysseus promised to solve the dilemma in return for Tyndareus' support for Odysseus suit for Penelope, daughter of Icarius and second cousin to Helen. Odysseus proposed that Tyndareus require all the suitors to swear an oath to defend whomever Helen chose as husband from among the oath-takers. The suitors, including Odysseus, swore, and Helen chose Menelaus.

When Helen was abducted by Paris of Troy, Menelaus called upon the other suitors to honour their oaths and help him retrieve her, thus bringing about the Trojan War. Odysseus, however, tried to avoid the war by feigning madness, as an oracle had prophesied a long-delayed return home for him were he to go. He did this by hooking a donkey and an ox to his plow (as they have different stride lengths, hindering the efficiency of the plow) and sowing his fields with salt. Palamedes, at the behest of Menelaus' brother Agamemnon, sought to disprove Odysseus' madness, and placed Telemachus, Odysseus' infant son, in front of the plough. Odysseus veered the plough away from his son, thus destroying his ruse. Odysseus held a grudge against Palamedes during the war for dragging him away from his home.

Odysseus and other envoys of Agamemnon travelled to Scyros to recruit Achilles because of a prophecy that Troy could not be taken without him. In most accounts, Thetis, Achilles' mother, disguised the youth as a woman to hide him from the recruiters because an oracle had predicted that Achilles would either live a long, uneventful life or achieve everlasting glory while dying young. Odysseus cleverly discovered which of the women before him was Achilles when the youth stepped forward to examine an array of weapons (some accounts say that Odysseus arranged for the sounding of a battle horn, which prompted Achilles to clutch a weapon).

In Euripides' tragedy Iphigenia at Aulis, Odysseus convinces Agamemnon to consent to the sacrifice of his daughter, Iphigenia, to appease the goddess Artemis. Odysseus then facilitates the sacrifice by telling her mother, Clytemnestra, that the girl is to be wed to Achilles.

Just before the war began, Odysseus accompanied Menelaus and Palamedes in an attempt to negotiate Helen's peaceful return. Menelaus made unpersuasive emotional arguments, but Odysseus' arguments very nearly persuaded the Trojan court to hand Helen over.

During the Trojan War

Odysseus was one of the main Achaean characters in the Trojan War. The others were "godlike" Achilles, Agamemnon "lord of men", Menelaus, Nestor, Telamonian Ajax and Ajax the Lesser, Diomedes and Teucer the master archer.

When the Achaean ships reached the shores of Troy, no one would jump ashore, since there was an oracle that the first Achaean to jump on Trojan soil would die. Odysseus tossed his shield on the shore and jumped on his shield. He was followed by Protesilaus, who jumped on Trojan soil and later became the first to die.

Odysseus never forgave Palamedes for unmasking his madness ruse, leading him to frame Palamedes as a traitor. At one point, Odysseus convinced a Trojan captive to write a letter that looked as if it was sent by Palamedes, in which a sum of gold was mentioned to have been sent as a reward for Palamedes' treachery. Odysseus then killed the prisoner and hid the gold in Palamedes tent. He caused the letter to be found and received by Agamemnon and also gave hints as to direct the Argives to the gold. This was evidence enough for the Greeks and they had Palamedes stoned to death. Other sources say Odysseus and Diomedes goaded Palamedes to descend a wall with the prospect of treasure being at the bottom. When Palamedes reached the bottom the two then proceeded to bury Palamedes with stones, killing him.

Odysseus was one of the most influential Greek champions during the Trojan War. Along with Nestor and Idomeneus he was one of the most trusted advisers and counsellors. He always championed the Achaean cause and was unwavering in his cause to continue on with the war and always supportive of Agamemnon when the king was in question, such as in one instance when Thersites spoke against him. When Agamemnon (to test the morale of the Achaeans) announced his intention to depart Troy, Odysseus restored order to the Greek camp. Later on in the Iliad, after many of the heroes had left the battlefield due to injuries (including Odysseus and Agamemnon), Odysseus once again persuaded Agamemnon not to withdraw. Odysseus, along with two other envoys, was chosen in the failed embassy to try to persuade Achilles to return to combat.

When Hector proposed a single combat duel, Odysseus was one of the Danaans who volunteered to battle him (Telamonian Ajax was the volunteer who did fight Hector, though). Odysseus aided Diomedes during the successful night operations in order to kill Rhesus, because it had been foretold that if his horses drank from the Scamander river Troy could not be taken.

After Patroclus had been slain, it was Odysseus who counselled Achilles to let the Achaean men eat and rest, for Achilles, driven by rage, wanted to go back on the offensive - and kill Trojans - immediately. Eventually, Achilles reluctantly consents. During the Funeral Games for Patroclus, Odysseus becomes involved in a wrestling match with Telamonian Ajax, as well as a foot race. With the help of Athena, who favors him, and despite Apollo helping another of the competitors, he wins the race and manages to draw the wrestling match, to the surprise of all.

When Achilles was slain in battle, it was Odysseus and Telamonian Ajax who successfully retrieved the fallen warriors' body and armour in the thick of heavy fighting. During the funeral games for Achilles, once again Odysseus competed with Telamonian Ajax in funeral games. Thetis said that the arms of Achilles would go to the bravest of the Greeks, only these two warriors dared to lay claim to that title. The two Argives then got in a heavy dispute about each other's merits to receive the reward. The Greeks feared to decide a winner, for they did not want one of the heroes insulted and abandoning the war effort, so Nestor suggested that they allow the captive Trojans decide the winner. Some accounts say a secret vote was held by the Greeks to decide the winner. In either case, Odysseus was the winner and Ajax was defeated. Enraged and humiliated, Ajax killed himself by the sword Hector had given him after being driven mad by Athena to protect Odysseus from his vengeance.

Together with Diomedes, Odysseus went to fetch Achilles' son, Pyrrhus, to come to the aid of the Achaeans, because an oracle stated that Troy could not be taken without him. Pyrrhus was a great warrior and was named Neoptolemus (Greek: "new hero"). Upon the success of the mission Odysseus gave Neoptolemus the armaments of his father.

Later on, it was learned that the war could not be won without the poison arrows of Heracles, which were owned by the abandoned Philoctetes. Odysseus and Diomedes (or, according to some accounts, Odysseus and Neoptolemus) went out to retrieve them. In any event, upon their arrival Philoctetes (still suffering from the wound) was still very angry with the Danaans, especially Odysseus, for abandoning him. While his first instinct was to shoot Odysseus when they arrived to retrieve him, Philoctetes anger was eventually diffused due to Odysseus' persuasive powers and the influence of the gods. Odysseus returned with Philoctetes and his arrows to the Argive camp.

Later on in the war, Odysseus captured Priam's son Helenus the prophet. Helenus told the Greeks that Troy could not be taken without the capture of the Palladium, located in the city of Troy. Once again Odysseus and Diomedes went on a mission together to fulfill a prophecy. Some say that Diomedes crawled on Odysseus' shoulders to enter the city and would not let Odysseus up and into the city. When Diomedes returned from stealing the Palladium and met back up with Odysseus, who was infuriated at Diomedes for not letting him up, he thought to kill Diomedes and take credit for himself and stepped behind Diomedes in order to stab him with his sword. Diomedes caught the glint of the sword in the moonlight and spun around and disarmed the Ithacan king, and proceeded to drive Odysseus back to the Argive camp with the flat of his sword. Another account of the stealing of the Palladium states that both Odysseus and Diomedes entered the city together.

Some myths state that Odysseus in the guise of a beggar covered in rags and blood entered the Trojan city secretly and alone. He was recognized by no one except for Helen and Hecuba, questioned by them, and allowed to return to the Greek camp unharmed.

The Trojan Horse, the famous stratagem, was devised by Odysseus. It was built by Epeius and filled with Greek warriors led by Odysseus. Before hand, Odysseus made Menelaus swear to give him whatever he asked after they had taken Troy. Menelaus agreed. When the Horse was brought inside Troy, Odysseus and Menelaus descended from it and went directly to Prince Deiphobos' house, where they engaged in a most ferocious battle (although some accounts say it was Odysseus who fought him and Menelaus came to find the dead body). Ultimately, Deiphobos, who was then the leading son of Priam and Helen's third husband, was killed. Menelaus was also about to kill Helen for leaving him but Odysseus took advantage of the promise earlier and made Menelaus swear not to kill her. Then Menelaus got Helen back. For his crimes, including slaying the Theban warriors in their sleep, Odysseus was compelled by the gods to endure 10 years of hardship before he achieved a nostos, a homecoming. However, other Greeks committed great evils in Troy, such as the execution of King Priam. The most significant crime was the rape of Cassandra, carried out by Ajax the Lesser. This angered Apollo, as Cassandra was a priestess of the god. It was Odysseus who advised the Greeks to stone Ajax to death for his crime. However, the Greeks declined the life-saving advice. Apollo was intensely infuriated, and as a result he sent a storm that destroyed much of the returning Greek fleet.

In Euripedes' "The Trojan Women", it is Odysseus who convinces the other Argives to kill Hector's young son, so he has no chance to avenge his city.

Journey home to Ithaca

The Ciconians

After Odysseus and his men depart from Troy, they are greeted by friendly and calm waters, the ship nears land and Eurylochus, convincing Odysseus that the gods were on their side, told him to go ashore and loot the nearby city. The crew had landed in Ismara. The city was not at all protected, and all of the inhabitants fled without a fight into the nearby mountains. Odysseus and his men looted the city and robbed it of all its goods. Odysseus wisely told the men to board the ships quickly, but they refused, ate dinner and fell asleep on the beach. The next morning, the Ciconians (also known as the Cicones), allies of Troy and great warriors, returned with their fierce kinsmen from the mountains. Odysseus and his men fled to the ships as fast as they could, but "six benches were left empty in every ship" (The Odyssey. Book IX. line 64). Odysseus, however, had spared Maron, a priest of Apollo, who gives him twelve jars of wine which would be later used against the cyclops.

The Lotus-Eaters

When Odysseus and his men landed on the island of the Lotus-Eaters, Odysseus sent out a scouting party of three or so men who ate the lotus with the natives. This caused them to fall asleep and stop caring about ever going home. Odysseus went after the scouting party, and dragged them back to the ship against their will. Odysseus set sail, with the drugged soldiers tied to the rudder benches to prevent them from swimming back to the island.


Odysseus offering wine to the Cyclops
Odysseus offering wine to the Cyclops

A scouting party led by Odysseus (his friend, Misenus), lands in the territory of the Cyclops and ventures upon a large cave. They enter the cave and proceed to feast on food they find there. Unknown to them, the cave is the dwelling of Polyphemus, a one-eyed giant who soon returns. Polyphemus refuses hospitality to his uninvited guests and traps them in the cave by blocking the entrance with a boulder that could not be moved by mortal men. He then proceeds to eat a pair of the men each day, but Odysseus devises a cunning plan for escape.

To make Polyphemus unwary, Odysseus gives him a bowl of strong, unwatered wine that was given to them by Maron, the priest of Apollo. When Polyphemus asks for his name, Odysseus tells him that it is Οὖτις (Outis, "Nobody" or "No man", which is also a short form of his own name. It is probable that Odysseus does this to exploit a loophole in the laws of hospitality, which Polyphemus openly violates). In appreciation for the wine, Polyphemus offers to return the favour by eating him last. Once the giant falls asleep, Odysseus and his men turn a pine into a giant spear, which they had previously prepared while Polyphemus was out of the cave shepherding his flocks, and blind Polyphemus. Hearing Polyphemus' cries, other Cyclopes come to his cave and ask what is wrong, what man has put out his eye? Polyphemus replies that "No one is killing me!" The other Cyclopes leave him alone, thinking that his outbursts must be madness or the gods' doing.

In the morning, Polyphemus rolls back the boulder to let the sheep out to graze. Now blind, Polyphemus cannot see the men, but feels the tops of his sheep to make sure the men are not riding them, and spreads his arm at the entrance of the cave. Odysseus and his men escape, having tied themselves to the undersides of three sheep. Once Odysseus and his men are out, they load the sheep on board their ship and set sail.

As Odysseus and his men are sailing away, he reveals his true identity to Polyphemus. Enraged, Polyphemus tries to hit the ship with boulders, but because he is blind, he misses (although the rocks get close to the ship). When the ship appears to be getting away at last, Polyphemus raises his arms to his father, Poseidon, and asks him to not allow Odysseus to go back home to Ithaca, and if he does, he must arrive back alone, his crew dead and in a stranger's ship.

This event is the setting for the only surviving complete satyr play, Cyclops by Euripides. This version contains a more humorous version of the story by including the cowardly satyrs.

According to Virgil's Aeneid, Achaemenides was one of Odysseus' crew who stayed on Sicily with Polyphemus until Aeneas arrived and took him with him. Here, Virgil is probably trying to interweave his tale as much as possible with Homer's already ancient, great work, especially as Achaemenides has nothing to do with the story at all and is in fact never mentioned again.


Odysseus stopped at Aiolia, home of Aeolus, the favoured mortal of the gods who received the power of controlling the winds. Aeolus gave Odysseus and his crew hospitality for a month in return for Odysseus telling interesting stories. Aeolus also provided a bag filled with the all the winds but the one to lead him home. Odysseus' crew members suspected that treasure was in the bag (due to Odysseus guarding the bag for the entire voyage home without a wink of sleep). A couple of the men decided to open it as soon as Odysseus fell asleep - just before their home was reached. They were blown by a violent storm back to Aiolia by Poseidon, where Aeolus refused to provide any more help because he thought Odysseus was cursed by the gods. Odysseus had to start his journey from Aiolia to Ithaca over again; he was heartbroken, but hid his feelings from his crew.

The Laestrygonians

They came to Telepylos, the stronghold of Lamos, king of the Laestrygonians. Odysseus's ships entered a harbour surrounded by steep cliffs, with a single entrance between two headlands. The captains took their ships inside and made them fast close to one another, where it was dead calm. Odysseus kept his own ship outside the harbour, moored to a rock. He climbed a high rock to reconnoiter, but could see nothing but some smoke rising from the ground. He sent two of his company with an attendant to investigate the inhabitants.

The men followed a road and eventually met a young woman, who said she was a daughter of Antiphates, the king, and directed them to his house. However when they got there they found a gigantic woman, the wife of Antiphates who promptly called her husband, who immediately left the assembly of the people and upon arrival snatched up one of the men and started to eat him. The other two men ran away, but Antiphates raised a hue-and-cry, so that they were pursued by thousands of Laestrygonians, giants, not men. They threw vast rocks from the cliffs, smashing the ships, and speared the men like fish.

Odysseus made his escape with his single ship due to the fact that it was not trapped in the harbour; the rest of his company was lost. The surviving crew went next to the island of Circe.


The next stop was the island of Circe the enchantress ( Aeaea), where Odysseus sent a scouting party ahead of the rest of the group. She invited the scouting party to a feast, the food laced with one of her magical potions, and she then changed all the men into pigs with a wand after they ate the food. Only Eurylochus, suspecting treachery from the outset, escaped by hiding, to warn Odysseus and the others who had stayed behind at the ships. Odysseus set out to rescue his men, but was intercepted and told by Hermes to procure some of the herb moly to protect him from the same fate. When her magic failed she fell in love with Odysseus and she bore him a son after he left called Telegonus, who eventually brought about his death. He was able to convince her to return his men to human form by making her swear the Oath of the Immortals. Odysseus and his men were treated well in her abode. Quite reluctantly, but with the urging of his crew, Odysseus parted with Circe but not before she could give him advice for the quest home. Also play maplestory and add gads3. I can tell more on this topic.

On Circe's island, Elpenor, the youngest of Odysseus' crew, got drunk and fell off Circe's roof. The impact killed him.

Journey to the Underworld

Odysseus wanted to talk with Tiresias, so he and his men journeyed to the River Acheron in Hades, where they performed sacrifices which allowed them to speak to the dead. Odysseus sacrificed a ram and the dead spirits were attracted to the blood. Odysseus held them at bay and demanded to speak with Tiresias, who told him how to pass by Helios's cattle and the whirlpool Charybdis. Tiresias also tells Odysseus that after he returns to Ithaca, he must take a well-made oar and walk inland with it to parts where no one mixes sea salt with their food, until someone asks him why he carries a winnowing fan. At that place, he was to fix the oar in the ground and make a sacrifice to appease Poseidon. He also told Odysseus that, after all that was done, that he would die an old man, "full of years and peace of mind", that his death would come from the sea and that his life would ebb away very gently. (Some read this as meaning that his death would come away from the sea.)

He also meets Achilles, who tells Odysseus that he would rather be a slave on earth than the king of the dead, Agammemnon, and his mother. The soul of Ajax, still resentful of Odysseus over the matter of Achilles's armor, refuses to speak, despite the latter's pleas of regret.

Odysseus also meets his comrade, Elpenor, who tells him of the manner of his death and begs him to give him an honorable burial.

The Sirens

Circe warned Odysseus of the dangers of these singing creatures who pulled men to their death. She advised him to avoid hearing the song but that if he really felt he had to hear then he should be tied to the mast. His men should have their ears stopped with beeswax and be ordered not to heed his screams. Odysseus, moved by curiosity, twisted the words and told the men that Circe had told him that he had to listen to the song. He obeyed her instructions and listened to the song while he was tied to the mast. This episode shows Odysseus's curious nature and also that he was prepared to risk the lives of others to satisfy it.

Scylla and Charybdis

Odysseus was told by Tiresias that he would have a choice of two paths home. One was the Symplegades, where either all make it through or all die and which has been passed only by Jason with the help of Zeus, but he chooses the second path. On one side was a whirlpool, called Charybdis, which would sink the ship. However, on the other side of the strait was a monster called Scylla, daughter of Crataeis with six heads who would seize and eat six men.

The advice was to sail close to Scylla and lose six men but not to fight, lest he lose more men. However, he did not dare tell his crew of the sacrifice, or they would have cowered below and not rowed and everyone would have ended up in Charybdis. Six men died, and Odysseus announced that the desperate cries of the wretched betrayed men were the worst thing he had ever known. Undoubtedly, this affected morale and left the survivors feeling mutinous.

The Cattle of Thrinacia

Finally, Odysseus and his surviving crew approached an island, Thrinacia, sacred to Helios, where he kept sacred cattle. Odysseus had been warned by Tiresias and Circe not to touch these cattle. Odysseus told his men that they would not be landing on the island. Eurylochus then threatened mutiny and Odysseus unwisely gave in. The men were trapped by adverse winds on the island and began to get hungry. Odysseus went inland to pray for help and fell asleep. In his absence Eurylochus incited the men to kill and eat the cattle. The guardians of the island, Helios' daughters, Lampetia and Phaethusa, told their father. Helios complained to Zeus and said that he would take the sun down to Hades if justice was not done. Zeus destroyed the ship with a thunderbolt and all the men died except for Odysseus. Odysseus was swept past Scylla and Charybdis whom he luckily escaped and was washed up on Calypso's island.

Odysseus and Nausicaä by Charles Gleyre.
Odysseus and Nausicaä by Charles Gleyre.

Calypso and the Phaecians

Odysseus was washed ashore on Ogygia, where the nymph Calypso, daughter of Atlas lived. She made him her lover for seven years and would not let him leave, promising him immortality if he stayed. As a result, Odysseus was strongly attracted to her by night yet wept by the shore for his home and family by day. On behalf of Athena, Zeus intervened and sent Hermes to tell Calypso to let Odysseus go. Odysseus left on a small raft furnished with provisions of water, wine and food by Calypso, only to be hit by a storm launched by his old enemy Poseidon and washed up on the island of Scheria and found by Nausicaa, daughter of King Alcinous and Queen Arete of the Phaeacians, who entertained him well and escorted him to Ithaca. While upon Scheria, the bard sings a song of the Trojan war. As Odysseus was at Troy and longed to return to his home, he wept at the song. Alcinous, realizing this decided to press Odysseus for his true identity.

It is here that we get the actual story of Odysseus' trip from Troy to Scheria taking up books nine to twelve of the epic. After the recital, the Phaecians offer Odysseus passage home, with all of the hoardings he obtained on the way and the gifts the Phaecians themselves had bestowed upon him (showing xenia, the idea of guest friendship). King Alcinous provided one fast Phæacian, ship that soon carried Odysseus home to Ithaca. However, Poseidon, upon seeing Odysseus return home, was furious and intended to cast a ring of mountains around Scheria so they could never sail again. This naturally would have been damaging to the Phaecians, as they were seafarers. Zeus, however, managed to persuade Poseidon not to do this. Instead, he turned the ship which carried Odysseus home to rock. From that day on the Phaecians resolved to be less trusting of guests.

Odysseus reaches Ithaca

In Ithaca, Penelope was having difficulties. Her husband had been gone for twenty years, and she did not know for sure whether he was alive or dead. She was beset with numerous men who thought that a (fairly) young widow and queen of a small but tidy kingdom was a great prize: they pestered her to declare Odysseus dead and choose a new husband from among them. Meanwhile, these suitors hung around the palace, ate her food, drank her wine, and froliced with her servants. Penelope was despondent by her husband's long absence and especially the mystery about his fate. He could come home at any time — or never. Temporizing, she fended them off for years, using stalling tactics that were wearing thin. Meanwhile, Odysseus' mother, Anticlea, had died of grief; and his father, Laërtes, was nearly so.

Odysseus arrived alone. Upon landing, he was disguised as an old man or a beggar by Athena; he took the name Eperitus. Odysseus was welcomed by his old swineherd, Eumaeus, who did not recognize him in disguise but still treated him well. Odysseus' faithful dog Argos was the first to recognize him in his rags. He had waited twenty years to see his master. Aged and decrepit, he did his best to wag his tail, but Odysseus did not want to be found out, and had to maintain his cover, so the disconsolate dog died. The first human to recognize him was his old wet nurse, Euryclea, who knew him well enough to see through the rags, recognizing him by an old scar; his son Telemachus didn't see through the disguise, but Odysseus revealed his identity to him.

Odysseus learned that Penelope had remained faithful to him. She pretended to weave a burial shroud for Odysseus' father, Laërtes, and claimed she would choose one suitor when she finished. Every day she wove a length of shroud, and every night she unwove the same length of shroud, until one day, a maid of hers betrayed this secret to the suitors; and they demanded that she finally choose one of them to be her new husband. This occurred just before Odysseus' return, who was then able to watch the suitors drink and take advantage of his family's hospitality.

Still in his disguise, Odysseus went to Penelope and told her that he had met Odysseus and that he had said that whoever could string Odysseus' bow and shoot an arrow through twelve axe-heads in a row would be able to marry Penelope. This was to Odysseus' advantage, as only he could string his own bow. (It is believed that Odysseus' bow was a composite bow, requiring great skill and leverage to string, rather than mere brute strength.) Penelope then announced what Odysseus had said. The suitors each tried to string the bow, but in vain. Odysseus then took the bow, strung it, lined up twelve axe-heads, and shot an arrow through all twelve. Athena then took off his disguise and, with the help of his son Telemachus, Athena, and Eumaeus, the swineherd, killed all of them except Medôn, who had been polite to Penelope, and Phemius, a local singer who had only been forced to help the suitors against Penelope. At first, he shot as many as he could with his bow, but when out of arrows he reached for spears. The suitors were caught at their surprise, unarmed and an easy prey, but later on during the conflict they started arming themselves. This however did not save their lives. Odysseus' son, Telemachus, later on killed all of the female servants who were availing themselves to the suitors.

Penelope, still not quite sure that the stranger was indeed her husband, tested him. She ordered her maid to make up Odysseus' bed and move it from their bedchamber into the main hall of the house. Odysseus was astonished because the bed was made from a living olive tree, and thus it could not be moved; he told her this, and since only Odysseus and Penelope knew this, Penelope accepted that he was her husband. She came running to him, hoping that he would forgive her. He forgave her, because he could understand why she had tested him and because he had passed the test.

One of the suitors' ( Antinous) fathers, Eupeithes, tried to overthrow Odysseus after the death of Antinous. Laërtes killed him, and Athena thereafter required the suitors' families and Odysseus to make peace; this ends the story of the Odyssey.

Odysseus had been told (by the shade of Tiresias) that he had one more journey to make after he had re-established his rule in Ithaca and also that his death would come from the sea and would be peaceful and pleasant.

Other stories

Odysseus is one of the most recurrent characters in Western literature. He has been used by innumerable writers, who often interpret his character and actions in very different ways.


According to some late sources, most of them purely genealogical, Odysseus had many other children besides Telemachus, the most famous being:

  • with Penelope: Poliporthes (born after Odysseus' return from Troy)
  • with Circe: Telegonus, Ardeas
  • with Calypso: Nausinous
  • with Callidice: Polypoetes

Most such genealogies aimed to link Odysseus with the foundation of many Italic cities in remote antiquity.

He figures in the end of the story of King Telephus of Mysia.

The supposed last poem in the Epic Cycle is called the Telegony, and is thought to tell the story of Odysseus's last voyage, and of his death at the hands of Telegonus, his son with Circe. The poem, like the others of the cycle, is "lost" in that no authentic version has been discovered.

In 5th century BC Athens, tales of the Trojan War were popular subjects for tragedies, and Odysseus figures centrally or indirectly in a number of the extant plays by Aeschylus, Sophocles, ( Ajax, Philoctetes) and Euripides, ( Hecuba, Rhesus) and figured in still more that have not survived.

As Ulysses, he is mentioned regularly in Virgil's Aeneid, and the poem's hero, Aeneas, rescues one of Ulysses' crew members who was left behind on the island of the Cyclops. He in turn offers a first-person account of some of the same events Homer relates, in which Ulysses appears directly. Virgil's Ulysses typifies his view of the Greeks: he is cunning but impious, and ultimately malicious and hedonistic.

Ovid retells parts of Ulysses' journeys, focusing on his romantic involvements with Circe and Calypso, and recasts him as, in Harold Bloom's phrase, "one of the great wandering womanizers." Ovid also gives a detailed account of the contest between Ulysses and Ajax for the armor of Achilles.

Greek legend tells of Ulysses as the founder of Lisbon, Portugal, calling it Ulisipo or Ulisseya, during his twenty-year errand on the Mediterranean and Atlantic seas. Olisipo was Lisbon's name in the Roman Empire. Basing in this folk etymology, the belief that Ulysses founded Lisbon is recounted by Strabo based on Asclepiades of Myrleia's words, by Pomponius Mela, by Gaius Julius Solinus (3rd Century A.D.), and finally by Camões in his epic poem Lusiads (source: ).

Middle Ages and Renaissance

Dante, in Canto Twenty-Six of the Inferno of his Divine Comedy, encounters Odysseus ("Ulisse" in the original Italian) near the very bottom of Hell: with Diomedes, he walks wrapped in flame in the eighth ring (Counselors of Fraud) of the Eighth circle (Sins of Malice), as punishment for his schemes and conspiracies that won the Trojan War. In a famous passage, Dante has Odysseus relate a different version of his final voyage and death from the one foreshadowed by Homer. He tells how he set out with his men for one final journey of exploration to sail beyond the Pillars of Hercules and into the western sea to find what adventures awaited them. After travelling west and south for five months, they saw in the distance a great mountain rising from the sea (this is Purgatory, in Dante's cosmology), before a storm sank them. Dante did not have access to the original Greek texts of the Homeric epics, so his knowledge of their subject-matter was based only on information from later sources, chiefly Virgil's Aeneid but also Ovid; hence the discrepancy between Dante and Homer.

He appears in Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida, set during the Trojan War.


The bay of Palaiokastritsa in Corfu as seen from Bella vista of Lakones. Corfu is considered to be the mythical island of the Phaeacians. The bay of Palaiokastritsa is considered to be the place where Odysseus disembarked and met Nausicaa for the first time. The rock in the sea visible near the horizon at the top centre-left of the picture is considered by the locals to be the mythical petrified ship of Odysseus. The side of the rock toward the mainland is curved in such a way as to resemble the extended sail of a trireme
The bay of Palaiokastritsa in Corfu as seen from Bella vista of Lakones. Corfu is considered to be the mythical island of the Phaeacians. The bay of Palaiokastritsa is considered to be the place where Odysseus disembarked and met Nausicaa for the first time. The rock in the sea visible near the horizon at the top centre-left of the picture is considered by the locals to be the mythical petrified ship of Odysseus. The side of the rock toward the mainland is curved in such a way as to resemble the extended sail of a trireme

Alfred, Lord Tennyson's Ulysses presents an aging king who has seen too much of the world to be happy sitting on a throne idling his days away. Leaving the task of civilizing his people to his son, he gathers together a band of old comrades "to sail beyond the sunset".

James Joyce's novel Ulysses uses modern literary devices to narrate a single day in the life of a Dublin businessman named Leopold Bloom; which turns out to bear many elaborate parallels to Odysseus' twenty years of wandering.

Cream's song " Tales of Brave Ulysses" speaks somewhat of the travels of Odysseus including his encounter with the sirens.

Frederick Rolfe's The Weird of the Wanderer has the hero Nicholas Crabbe (based on the author) travelling back in time, discovering that he is the reincarnation of Odysseus, marrying Helen, being deified and ending up as one of the three Magi.

In Dan Simmons' novels Ilium and Olympos, Odysseus is encountered both at Troy and on a futuristic Earth.

Nikos Kazantzakis' The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel, a 33,333 line epic poem, begins with Odysseus cleansing his body of the blood of Penelope's suitors. Odysseus soon leaves Ithaca in search of new adventures. Before his death he abducts Helen, incites revolutions in Crete and Egypt, communes with God, and meets representatives of various historical figures such as Vladimir Lenin and literary figures like Jesus, and Don Quixote.

Ulysses 31 is a Japanese-French anime series (1981) which updates the Greek and Roman mythologies of Ulysses (or Odysseus) to the thirty-first century. In the series, the gods are angered when Ulysses, commander of the giant spaceship Odyssey, kills the giant Cyclops to rescue a group of enslaved children including Telemachus. Zeus sentences Ulysses to travel the universe with his crew frozen until he finds the Kingdom of Hades, at which point his crew will be revived and he will be able to return to Earth. In one episode, he travels back in time and meets the Odysseus of the Greek myth.

The Coen Brothers' film O Brother Where Art Thou? (2000) is loosely based on the Odyssey. However, they also admit to never having read the epic. George Clooney plays Ulysses Everett McGill, leading a group of escapees from a chain gang through an adventure in search of the proceeds of an armoured truck heist. On their voyage, the gang encounter—amongst other characters—a trio of sirens and a one eyed bible salesman.

In S.M. Stirling's Island in the Sea of Time Trilogy, Odikweos (Mycenean spelling) is a 'historical' figure who is every bit as cunning as his legendary self and is one of the few Bronze Age inhabitants who discerns the time-traveller's real background. Odikweos first aids William Walker's rise to power in Achaea, and later helps bring Walker down after seeing his homeland turn into a police state.

Between 1978 and 1979, German director Tony Munzlinger made a documentary series called Unterwegs mit Odysseus (roughly translated: "Journeying with Odysseus"), in which a film team sails across the Aegian Sea trying to find traces of Odysseus in the modern-day settings of the Odyssey. In between the film crew's exploits hand-drawn scissor-cut cartoons are inserted which relate the hero's story, with actor Hans Clarin providing the vocals.

Odysseus appears as a playable character in the video game Age of Mythology (2002). In addition, one of the levels in the game involves the player's rescue of Odysseus and his men from Circe.

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood retells the story from the point of view of Penelope.

Lindsay Clarke's "The War at Troy" features Odysseus, and its sequel, "The Return from Troy" retells the voyage of Odysseus in a manner which combines myth with modern psychological insight.

Odysseus may be part of the basis for the character of Desmond Hume on the television series Lost. He is attempting to finish a "race around the world" and return to his girlfriend Penelope when he is stranded on the island.

Progressive Metal band Symphony X have a song referring to Odysseus' journey called 'The Odyssey' on the album going by the same name. It comes in at 24 minutes 7 seconds long, and has a 6 part orchestra playing in it, each part comprising of 60 people or so.

Eilean Ni Chuilleanain, an Irish poet, wrote a poem called 'The Second Voyage' in which she makes use of the story of Odysseus.

The Simpsons re-enacted a version of the Odyssey in their 13th season, fourteenth episode named ' Tales from the Public Domain ' There were three main stories in the episode, the first bearing the title 'D'oh, Brother Where Art Thou?' which starred Homer Simpson as Odysseus.

A cartoon show named Class of the Titans has a character named 'Odie' who is a direct desendant of Odysseus. One of the Episodes, named 'The Odie-sey' on the show re-enacted the story of The Odyssey, with characters like Calypso, Scylla, and Aeolus, and also modern twists and such.

Actor Sean Bean portrayed Odysseus in the epic movie Troy.

Comic book characters Batman and Superman are said to be somewhat inspired by Odysseus and Hercules.

One plotline in the comic series 52 featuring characters Adam Strange, Animal Man, and Starfire lost in space is reportedly paralleling the Odyssey.

Other cultures

  • Nala and Rama. A similar story exists in Indian mythology with Nala and Damayanti where Nala separates from Damayanti and reunites with her. The story of stringing a bow is similar to the description in Ramayana of Rama stringing the bow to win Sita's hand in marriage.
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