Homer, The Odyssey

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  • Created by: elenii
  • Created on: 12-09-15 15:56

Book 1

The story begins ten years after the end of the Trojan War. All of the Greek heroes except Odysseus have returned home. Odysseus languishes on the remote island Ogygia with the goddess Calypso, who has fallen in love with him and refuses to let him leave. Meanwhile, a mob of suitors is devouring his estate in Ithaca and courting his wife, Penelope, in hopes of taking over his kingdom. His son, Telemachus, an infant when Odysseus left but now a young man, is helpless to stop them. He has resigned himself to the likelihood that his father is dead. With the consent of Zeus, Athena travels to Ithaca to speak with Telemachus. Assuming the form of Odysseus’s old friend Mentes, Athena predicts that Odysseus is still alive and that he will soon return to Ithaca. She advises Telemachus to call together the suitors and announce their banishment from his father’s estate. She then tells him that he must make a journey to Pylos and Sparta to ask for any news of his father. After this conversation, Telemachus encounters Penelope in the suitors’ quarters, upset over a song that the court bard is singing. Like Homer with the Iliad, the bard sings of the sufferings experienced by the Greeks on their return from Troy, and his song makes the bereaved Penelope more miserable than she already is. To Penelope’s surprise, Telemachus rebukes her. He reminds her that Odysseus isn’t the only Greek to not return from Troy and that, if she doesn’t like the music in the men’s quarters, she should retire to her own chamber and let him look after her interests among the suitors. He then gives the suitors notice that he will hold an assembly the next day at which they will be ordered to leave his father’s estate. Antinous and Eurymachus, two particularly defiant suitors, rebuke Telemachus and ask the identity of the visitor with whom he has just been speaking. Although Telemachus suspects that his visitor was a goddess in disguise, he tells them only that the man was a friend of his father.

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Book 2

When the assembly meets the next day, Aegyptius, a wise Ithacan elder, speaks first. He praises Telemachus for stepping into his father’s shoes, noting that this occasion marks the first time that the assembly has been called since Odysseus left. Telemachus then gives an impassioned speech in which he laments the loss of both his father and his father’s home—his mother’s suitors, the sons of Ithaca’s elders, have taken it over. He rebukes them for consuming his father’s oxen and sheep as they pursue their courtship day in and day out when any decent man would simply go to Penelope’s father, Icarius, and ask him for her hand in marriage.

Antinous blames the impasse on Penelope, who, he says, seduces every suitor but will commit to none of them. He reminds the suitors of a ruse that she concocted to put off remarrying: Penelope maintained that she would choose a husband as soon as she finished weaving a burial shroud for her elderly father-in-law, Laertes. But each night, she carefully undid the knitting that she had completed during the day, so that the shroud would never be finished. If Penelope can make no decision, Antinous declares, then she should be sent back to Icarius so that he can choose a new husband for her. The dutiful Telemachus refuses to throw his mother out and calls upon the gods to punish the suitors. At that moment, a pair of eagles, locked in combat, appears overhead. The soothsayer Halitherses interprets their struggle as a portent of Odysseus’s imminent return and warns the suitors that they will face a massacre if they don’t leave. The suitors balk at such foolishness, and the meeting ends in deadlock.

 

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Book 3

At Pylos, Telemachus and Mentor (Athena in disguise) witness an impressive religious ceremony in which dozens of bulls are sacrificed to Poseidon, the god of the sea. Although Telemachus has little experience with public speaking, Mentor gives him the encouragement that he needs to approach Nestor, the city’s king, and ask him about Odysseus. Nestor, however, has no information about the Greek hero. He recounts that after the fall of Troy a falling-out occurred between Agamemnon and Menelaus, the two Greek brothers who had led the expedition. Menelaus set sail for Greece immediately, while Agamemnon decided to wait a day and continue sacrificing on the shores of Troy. Nestor went with Menelaus, while Odysseus stayed with Agamemnon, and he has heard no news of Odysseus. He says that he can only pray that Athena will show Telemachus the kindness that she showed Odysseus. He adds that he has heard that suitors have taken over the prince’s house in Ithaca and that he hopes that Telemachus will achieve the renown in defense of his father that Orestes, son of Agamemnon, won in defense of his father.

Telemachus then asks Nestor about Agamemnon’s fate. Nestor explains that Agamemnon returned from Troy to find that Aegisthus, a base coward who remained behind while the Greeks fought in Troy, had seduced and married his wife, Clytemnestra. With her approval, Aegisthus murdered Agamemnon. He would have then taken over Agamemnon’s kingdom had not Orestes, who was in exile in Athens, returned and killed Aegisthus and Clytemnestra. Nestor holds the courage of Orestes up as an example for Telemachus. He sends his own son Pisistratus along to accompany Telemachus to Sparta, and the two set out by land the next day. Athena, who reveals her divinity by shedding the form of Mentor and changing into an eagle before the entire court of Pylos, stays behind to protect Telemachus’s ship and its crew.

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Book 2 #2

As Telemachus is preparing for his trip to Pylos and Sparta, Athena visits him again, this time disguised as Mentor, another old friend of Odysseus. She encourages him and predicts that his journey will be fruitful. She then sets out to town and, assuming the disguise of Telemachus himself, collects a loyal crew to man his ship. Telemachus himself tells none of the household servants of his trip for fear that his departure will upset his mother. He tells only Eurycleia, his wise and aged nurse. She pleads with him not to take to the open sea as his father did, but he puts her fears to rest by saying that he knows that a god is at his side.

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Book 4

In Sparta, the king and queen, Menelaus and Helen, are celebrating the separate marriages of their son and daughter. They happily greet Pisistratus and Telemachus, the latter of whom they soon recognize as the son of Odysseus because of the clear family resemblance. As they all feast, the king and queen recount with melancholy the many examples of Odysseus’s cunning at Troy. Helen recalls how Odysseus dressed as a beggar to infiltrate the city’s walls. Menelaus tells the famous story of the Trojan horse, Odysseus’s masterful gambit that allowed the Greeks to sneak into Troy and slaughter the Trojans. The following day, Menelaus recounts his own return from Troy. He says that, stranded in Egypt, he was forced to capture Proteus, the divine Old Man of the Sea. Proteus told him the way back to Sparta and then informed him of the fates of Agamemnon and Ajax, another Greek hero, who survived Troy only to perish back in Greece. Proteus also told him news of Odysseus—that he was still alive but was imprisoned by Calypso on her island. Buoyed by this report, Telemachus and Pisistratus return to Pylos to set sail for Ithaca.

Meanwhile, the suitors at Odysseus’s house learn of Telemachus’s voyage and prepare to ambush him upon his return. The herald Medon overhears their plans and reports them to Penelope. She becomes distraught when she reflects that she may soon lose her son in addition to her husband, but Athena sends a phantom in the form of Penelope’s sister, Iphthime, to reassure her. Iphthime tells her not to worry, for the goddess will protect Telemachus.

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Book 5

All the gods except Poseidon gather again on Mount Olympus to discuss Odysseus’s fate. Athena’s speech in support of the hero prevails on Zeus to intervene. Hermes, messenger of the gods, is sent to Calypso’s island to tell her that Odysseus must at last be allowed to leave so he can return home. In reply, Calypso delivers an impassioned indictment of the male gods and their double standards. She complains that they are allowed to take mortal lovers while the affairs of the female gods must always be frustrated. In the end, she submits to the supreme will of Zeus. By now, Odysseus alone remains of the contingent that he led at Troy; his crew and the other boats in his force were all destroyed during his journeys. Calypso helps him build a new boat and stocks it with provisions from her island. With sadness, she watches as the object of her love sails away.

After eighteen days at sea, Odysseus spots Scheria, the island of the Phaeacians, his next destination appointed by the gods. Just then, Poseidon, returning from a trip to the land of the Ethiopians, spots him and realizes what the other gods have done in his absence. Poseidon stirs up a storm, which nearly drags Odysseus under the sea, but the goddess Ino comes to his rescue. She gives him a veil that keeps him safe after his ship is wrecked. Athena too comes to his rescue as he is tossed back and forth, now out to the deep sea, now against the jagged rocks of the coast. Finally, a river up the coast of the island answers Odysseus’s prayers and allows him to swim into its waters. He throws his protective veil back into the water as Ino had commanded him to do and walks inland to rest in the safe cover of a forest.

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Book 5 #2

After eighteen days at sea, Odysseus spots Scheria, the island of the Phaeacians, his next destination appointed by the gods. Just then, Poseidon, returning from a trip to the land of the Ethiopians, spots him and realizes what the other gods have done in his absence. Poseidon stirs up a storm, which nearly drags Odysseus under the sea, but the goddess Ino comes to his rescue. She gives him a veil that keeps him safe after his ship is wrecked. Athena too comes to his rescue as he is tossed back and forth, now out to the deep sea, now against the jagged rocks of the coast. Finally, a river up the coast of the island answers Odysseus’s prayers and allows him to swim into its waters. He throws his protective veil back into the water as Ino had commanded him to do and walks inland to rest in the safe cover of a forest.

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