The Odyssey Books 1-6

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Book 1 Summary

  • Homer asks the Muse to tell the story of 'that resourceful man who was driven to wander far and wide'. We find out that all the men who fought in the Trojan war have returned home, save for Odysseus, whose crew are all dead, and who is being kept on an island by Calypso.
  • Zeus, thinking about Aegisthus, says that he wishes mortals would stop blaming the Gods for their troubles. Athene gets him to agree to release Odysseus, since Poseidon is in Ethiopia. 
  • Athene has clearly been planning this for some time as she has instructions immediately after he consents, and she transforms herself into Mentes to visit Telemachus.
  • Penelope's suitors are eating Telemachus out of house and home. He notices Athene first and feels embarrassed that a guest was left waiting outside. He performs good xenia immediately.
  • Athene claims to be an old friend of Odysseus', and tells him she came as she had heard Odysseus was home. 
  • She tells Telemachus to call an assembly to tell the suitors to go home, to send his mother to her father to pick a husband, and to find a ship to sail to Pylos and Sparta to ask Nestor and Menelaus about his father. She then disappears through the roof.
  • The bard Phemius is singing about the Achaeans' return to Troy and the sufferings Athene heaped on them. Penelope appears and asks them to stop, but Telemachus sends her upstairs.
  • Telemachus tells the suitors that he is calling an assembly in the morning, and that if they continue to behave as they are he hopes Zeus will destroy them.
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Book 1 Quotes

Gods: "What a lamentable thing it is that men should blame the Gods, and regard us as the source of their troubles"

Women: "Go to your quarters now and attend to your own work (...) making decisions must be men's concern"

Nostos: "He will think of a way to return ~ he is endlessly resourceful"

Heroes: "He will think of a way to return ~ he is endlessly resourceful"

Kleos: "He will think of a way to return ~ he is endlessly resourceful"

Dolos: "To look a visitor she assumed the appearance of a family friend"

Justice and revenge: "It is their own transgressions which bring them suffering that was not their destiny"

Xenia: "Ashamed that a stranger should be kept standing at the gates"

Supernatural: "Vanishing like a bird through a hole in the roof"

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Book 2 Summary

  • An old man (Aegyptius), says an assembly has not been called since Odysseus left. Telemachus says he has called it, and makes an empassioned speech about how badly the suitors are treating him and his estate, before bursting into tears.
  • Antinous says it is Penelope's fault, because she is sly, and won't make a decision. He says that she led the suitors on for three years, saying that she was weaving a shroud for Laertes, when in fact she was unravelling it every night. She was betrayed by a maid. He says Penelope should be sent to her father so he can decide whom she will marry.
  • Telemachus says he can't do that and repeats his wish about hoping Zeus will curse the suitors. Zeus sends two eagles clawing at one another to fly overhead.
  • The 'old hero' Halitherses interprets this as showing that Odysseus will soon be home and will kill the suitors. He already predicted that Odysseus would be away for 20 years.
  • Eurymachus says Halitherses is crazy and threatens him. He says the suitors won't leave until Penelope is sent to her father and a husband is chosen.
  • Telemachus says that he is going to sail to Pylos and Sparta. It is clear the people of Ithaca disapprove of the suitors' behaviour but no-one wants to act. 
  • Following a prayer, Athene disguised as Mentor tells Telemachus to go and get provisions while she gets a ship and crew.
  • Telemachus does this, and confides in Eurycleia, who tries to stop him leaving. Athene puts the suitors to sleep and they set sail.
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Book 2 Quotes

Kleos: "Not once since the good Odysseus sailed have we been called to Assembly"

Xenia: "The destruction of my house is an injustice"

Narrative Technique (pathos): "You fill my heart with a pain for which I find no cure"

Women: "Send your mother away and make her marry the man whom her father chooses"

Justice and revenge: "I pray that Zeus will bring a day of reckoning, when in this house will destroy you ~ and not make restitution"

Dolos: "Assuming the form and voice of Mentor"

Slaves: "My mother knows nothing of this, nor do the servants, except one woman whom I took into my confidence"

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Book 3 Summary

  • The ship arrives at Pylos, where the people are sacrificing bulls to Poseidon on the beach.
  • Peisistratus is the first to greet them, and he and Nestor show them excellent xenia ~ Peisistratus gives Athene the goblet of wine first to pray to Poseidon, and Nestor doesn't ask them any questions until after they have eaten.
  • Telemachus asks Nestor about Odysseus, and how he died.
  • Nestor explains that the Greek fleet broke up after leaving Troy, and that Odysseus was one of the men who got held back.
  • Nestor mentions Aegisthus and Clytaemnestra.
  • Nestor invites Athene and Telemachus to stay with him in his palace overnight. Athene declines, saying that she will go back to the ship and watch over the younger men. Then she turns into a vulture and flies off, revealing her identity.
  • Nestor promises Athene a heifer if she will grant fame to him and his family. Him and his sons slaughter the heifer soon afterwards.
  • Telemachus is bathed and feasted, and then he joins Peisistratus in a chariot to Sparta.
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Book 3 Quotes

Gods: "There is no chance that you will ever be a coward or weakling when, young as you are, you already have your guardian Gods at your side"

Dolos: "This was none other than the Daughter of Zeus"

Women: "She was a sensible woman" / "His hateful mother"

Justice and revenge: "That brave youth, returning from Athens, killed Aegisthus"

Supernatural:"Athene took the form of a vulture and flew off"

Xenia: "The son of my friend Odysseus shall not lie down to sleep on his ship's deck so long as I am alive or sons survive me here"

Heroes: "All the time there was not a man that dared to match his wits against the admirable Odysseus"

Kleos: "All the time there was not a man that dared to match his wits against the admirable Odysseus"

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Book 4 Summary

  • Telemachus and Peisistratus arrive in Sparta when Menelaus is celebrating the weddings of his children. Eteoneus, his squire, doesn't know whether to let them in or not, but Menelaus insists he brings them in, and shows them good xenia.
  • Menelaus says that Telemachus and Peisistratus must be the sons of Kings, due to their appearance. He later recalls how Odysseus was his greatest friend and the bravest warrior in Troy, which leads Telemachus to cry and Menelaus to guess his identity. 
  • Helen comes downstairs, immediately saying that it must be Telemachus. Menelaus agrees and says he would have honoured Odysseus if they had arrived home together. They all cry.
  • Helen drops an Egyptian drug into the wine that makes them unable to feel sorrow. She remembers how Odysseus disguised himself as a beggar to enter Troy, and Menelaus remembers Odysseus' gallantry in the Trojan horse.
  • Telemachus says he has come to ask for news of his father, and Menelaus is shocked to hear about the Suitors. He tells them how Proteus, the Old Man of the Sea, told him of Ajax's and Agamemnon's deaths, and Odysseus' entrapment. 
  • Menelaus offers Telemachus horses, but he sensibly asks for something he can carry and is given a mixing bowl instead.
  • Back in Ithaca, Noemon questions the Suitors about Telemachus' return, as he wants his ship back. The Suitors are horrified to realise he's gone and Antinous decides to kill him.
  • Eurycleia confesses to Penelope that she knew he was gone and Athene sends a wraith of Iphtime to comfort her, after Penelope has prayed to her to keep her son safe.
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Book 4 Quotes

Xenia: "Unyoke their horses at once, and bring our visitors to join us at the feast"

Kleos: "It seemed to them that this lofty hall of illustrious Menelaus was lit by something of the sun's or the moon's splendour"

Heroes: "Of all the Achaeans who strove at Troy it was Odysseus that strove the hardest and achieved the most"

Women: "Of Odysseus, whether alive or dead, (...) I will not give you any news at all"

Narrative techniques (Homeric simile/Foreshadowing): "Back comes the lion to his lair, and the fawns meet a grisly fate ~ as will the Suitors at Odysseus' hand"

Justice and revenge: "Back comes the lion to his lair, and the fawns meet a grisly fate ~ as will the Suitors at Odysseus' hand"

Slaves: "Whether you kill me with the cruel knife or let me live on in the palace, I cannot hold my tongue"

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Book 5 Summary

  • At a divine assembly, Athene convinces Zeus to send Hermes to Calypso to free Odysseus. 
  • Hermes admires the natural beauty of Calypso's home and then goes in to see her. She performs good xenia, and when he has eaten he tells her that Zeus has commanded that Odysseus must be set free. Calypso is angry and dares to chide him before he leaves.
  • Calypso goes to find Odysseus, who is crying on the shore. She tells him to build a raft and that she will stock it for him, and then he can go home. He makes her promise that she isn't trying to trick him, which amuses her, and she promises. They eat and sleep together.
  • The next morning Calypso shows him where the best trees are, and hands him all the tools and materials he needs. Odysseus works hard for four days, and on the fifth day Calypso bathes him, puts some supplies on the raft and gives him a favourable breeze. 
  • Odysseus follows the constellations she has told him to follow, and sails for 17 days. On the 18th day he sees the Land of the Phaeacians and Poseidon returns from Ethiopia and spots him. He summons up the winds of all directions and sends huge waves to break his raft.
  • Ino gives him an anti-drowning veil, but he thinks she is trying to trick him and only jumps in the water with it when his raft breaks. He swims for two days to get to Phaeacia and is nearly killed against the rocky coast, but Athene helps him to swim through a river mouth.
  • When he has caught his breath, he wanders into the forest and makes a bed of leaves from the olive trees, and goes to sleep. 
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Book 5 Quotes

Gods: "You are hard-hearted, you Gods, and unmatched for jealousy"

Women: "My wise Penelope's looks and stature are insignificant compared to yours"

Kleos: "But now it seems I was predestined to an ignoble death"

Heroes: "Odysseus seated himself on the chair that Hermes had just left"

Justice and revenge: "You are outraged if a Goddess sleeps openly with a man even if she has chosen him as her husband"

Xenia: "You are an honoured and welcome guest, though in the past your visits have been few"

Supernatural: "With its divine protection you need not be afraid of injury or death"

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Book 6 Summary

  • Athene disguises herself as Dymas and tells a sleeping Nausicaa to go and wash her family's clothes in the hope of finding a husband.
  • Nausicaa takes some girls to the washing pools and they wash the clothes, have lunch, and start playing with a ball.
  • Their shrieking when Athene makes the ball go into the stream wakes Odysseus, and, covering his nakedness with a leaf, he rushes out.
  • He looks gruesome, and all the girls run away except Nausicaa, whom Athene makes courageous. Odysseus doesn't touch her knees, but he makes supplication to her and asks her for clothing.
  • Nausicaa tells her girls to wash and clothe him. Odysseus says he will wash himself, and Athene makes him beautiful. They give him food and drink. Nausicaa wants to marry him.
  • She tells him to walk behind her wagon through the farmland, and then to wait in a poplar wood sacred to Athene while she goes home. He is then to go into the city and ask to be shown where Alcinous' palace is, and when he gets there he is to beg supplication from her mother, not her father.
  • In the wood, Odysseus prays to Athene for compassion from the Phaeacians but, out of respect to Poseidon, she doesn't appear before him.
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Book 6 Quotes

Xenia: "Princess, I am at your knees"

Dolos: "Taking the form of the daughter of a ship's captain named Dymas"

Women:"You may soon be married and need beautiful clothes"

Gods:"Athene, daughter of Zeus, made him seem taller and sturdier"

Supernatural: "Athene, daughter of Zeus, made him seem taller and sturdier"

Nostos:"Now some God has flung me on this shore, no doubt to suffer more disasters here"

Heroes: "Breaking off with his great hand a leafy bough from the thicket to conceal his naked manhood"

Kleos:"I am afraid they might give me a bad name, for they are supercilious people"

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