BOOK I: ATHENA INSPIRES THE PRINCE
The story of The Odyssey begins with the speaker invoking Calliope, the muse of epic poems, to inspire him to recount the legendary tale of Odysseus. The speaker describes Odysseus as “the man of twists of turns” (Homer p. 77). Odysseus fought in the Trojan war for ten years and left when his son, Telemachus, was a mere infant. Odysseus has been trying to get back to his homeland of Ithaca for nearly a decade after the war ended, while his son is developing into a great young man. Meanwhile, 108 rash suitors dwelled in Odysseus’ palace, courting his wife Penelope. This is because they all desire power over Ithaca. Telemachus has already retreated himself to the possibility that is father might be dead.
Athena, described by the speaker as “sparkling-eyed” (Homer p. 79), has gotten consent from Zeus to advise Telemachus on his journey to search for his father. Athena descends from “Olympus’ craggy peaks” (Homer p. 80) to the glorious kingdom of Ithaca, disguised as Odysseus’ old friend, Mentes. She arrives at the palace and is promptly treated with hospitality from Telemachus. Athena suggests Telemachus should first assemble all of the suitors and announce their banishment from his father's estate. She then says he should make an expedition to Pylos and Sparta to ask for any news of his father. After Athena departs, Telemachus gives the suitors a day's notice that they will be dismissed from the palace, though he is only mocked.
BOOK VII: PHAEACIA'S HALLS AND GARDENS
On his way to the palace of King Alcinous, Odysseus is stopped by Athena disguised as a little girl. She offers to accompany him to the palace, and Odysseus accepts her offer. Athena enshrouds Odysseus in a mist to protect him from the harassment of the amiable Phaeacians, who are considerably xenophobic people. She also recommends he direct his request towards Arete, whom the speaker describes as “white-armed” (Homer p. 187). Subsequent to accompanying Odysseus to the palace, Athena departs to Athens.
Upon arriving at the palace, Odysseus finds its residents hosting a festival honoring Poseidon. As soon as he sees Queen Arete, Odysseus kneels before her, and the mist that once enshrouded him disappeared. Initially, Alcinous suspects that Odysseus was a god disguised as a human. Odysseus ensures him he is indubitably a mortal, thus putting the king’s skepticism to rest. He subsequently describes his dilemma and how he wishes to return home to Ithaca. Alcinous and Arete gladly conform and ensure him a Phaeacian ship the following day to Ithaca.
Later that same day, Arete becomes suspicious, as she recognizes the clothes Odysseus were wearing as ones she had made for her daughter, Nausicaa. She further interrogates Odysseus, as she has become more skeptical. While still keeping his identity secret, he relates the story of his escape from Calypso’s island, and how Nausicaa espied him washed up on the shore earlier that morning. He explained how the encounter involved the princess providing Odysseus clothes to wear, as he had none. Upon hearing this, Alcinous scolds Nausicaa for not escorting Odysseus to the palace. Although it was her idea to have them walk separately, Odysseus defends the princess of Phaeacia, saying it was his idea. Alcinous is in such awe with the stranger that he offers him his daughter’s hand in marriage, though Odysseus politely declines.
BOOK VIII: A DAY FOR SONGS AND CONTESTS
The succeeding day, as “young Dawn with her rose-red fingers” (Homer p. 191) shines over Phaeacia, King Alcinous assembles the Phaeacian counsel members for a meeting. Athena, having returned from Athens, assures attendance by spreading the word that the topic of a “godlike” newcomer would be discussed. During the assembly, the king proposes providing a ship for his guest, so that the man could return home. The council approves his proposal. Because of this, Alcinous hosts a festivity with a lavish feast and games.
During the feast, a blind bard named Demodocus sings for the entertainment of the guests. While playing his lyre, he sings of the dispute between Odysseus and Achilles at Troy. All of the guests listen to the bard with pleasure. Odysseus had alternatively been sobbing over the traumatic memories that Demodocus recounts in the song. The king takes note of Odysseus’ reaction to the story. Seeing Odysseus’ grief, Alcinous ends the feast and allows the games to commence.
The games played at the palace include racing, wrestling, boxing, and discus throwing. At a certain point, Odysseus is asked to take part in the game. Odysseus turns down this competition, saying he is extremely fatigued by his travels. A more adolescent athlete, Broadsea, insults Odysseus. Being the prideful man that he is, Odysseus steps up to compete. He easily wins the discus toss, having launched it much farther than any of the Phaeacian athletes. Odysseus challenges the other athletes to any other form of competition they please. This turns into a heated debate. Alcinous diffuses the situation by suggesting that Odysseus join them in another feast. Odysseus requests that Demodocus sings of the Trojan horse and once more, comes to tears. The king notices once again and asks for his identity.
BOOK IX: IN THE ONE-EYED GIANT'S CAVE
After revealing his identity, Odysseus hesitantly recounts his previous adventures. Upon departing Troy, the winds steer his ships to the island of Ismarus. Odysseus and his men plunder the city and overtaken by gluttony, stay too long. As a result, the forces of Ismarus began their counterattack on him and his men. Odysseus and his troops finally escape the island, after having lost several men. After departing Ismarus, they were at sea for nine days before arriving at the land of the Lotus-eaters. When the lotus plant is eaten, the consumer wishes for nothing but to stay on the island and continue consuming the fruit. A few of Odysseus’ men ate the lotus fruit, and as a result, they did not want to leave the island. He was only able to return those men to the ship by force.
After having fled the land of the Lotus-eaters, they arrive at the land of the Cyclopes. This is home to the uncivilized species of one-eyed giants. When Odysseus and his troops arrive on the mainland, they instantly find a cave full of sheep, milk, and cheese. Odysseus is told by his men to swiftly seize some food and depart before they go noticed by anyone, but he decided to remain. The occupant of the cave, Polyphemus, son of Poseidon, “god of the earthquake” (Homer p. 220), soon returns. Initially, Polyphemus treats his trespassers with hospitality. He becomes belligerent soon afterward. He devours six of Odysseus’ men, and so Odysseus formulates his plan for revenge, a frequent theme in The Odyssey.
The following day, he executes his plan. He gets the Cyclops drunk on wine that he had stolen from Ismarus. Polyphemus asks Odysseus his name, and the cunning king of Ithaca responds by saying, “Nobody — that’s my name.” (Homer p. 223). As soon as Poseidon’s son fell to the ground with drunkenness, Odysseus and his remaining comrades drive a hot wooden stake through Polyphemus’ eye. He wakes in pain shrieking, “Nobody’s killing me” (Homer, book 9, p.224). When dawn arises, Odysseus and his men escape the cave by latching themselves to the underbellies of the wooly sheep. Once they are secure on their ship, Odysseus calls his true identity to the land. Seething with fury, Polyphemus makes a prayer to his father, Poseidon, asking for him to make the man’s journey home as difficult as possible.
BOOK XI: THE KINGDOM OF THE DEAD
Odysseus travels to the land of the dead to speak to Tiresias, a Theban prophet who dwells in the land of the dead. He first performs several sacrifices and libations to appeal to the souls of the deceased. The first to speak Odysseus is Elpenor, one of his shipmates that drunkenly fell from Circe’s roof and died. Elpenor asks Odysseus to cremate him in his armor, as he never received a proper burial.
Odysseus subsequently speaks to “the famous Theban prophet” (Homer, book 11, p.). Tiresias reveals Poseidon is punishing Odysseus and his men for blinding his son, Polyphemus. Tiresias prophesies Odysseus destiny — that he will return to Ithaca, reclaim his wife and palace from the brash suitors. He is then to make another journey to a far-off land to make amends with Poseidon. He alerts Odysseus not to eat the cattle of the Sun god, Helios, otherwise, he will not return home without more hardship and suffering.
As the Theban prophet departs, Odysseus summons other spirits towards him. He talks to his mother, Anticleia, who updates him on the current state of Ithaca and recounts how she died of grief while awaiting her son’s return. He then meets the souls of tremendous Achaean leaders and heroes and listens to the tales of their lives and demises.
Odysseus also narrates the story of many Achaean men who had fallen at Troy, upon request of King Alcinous and Queen Arete. He first describes the story of Agamemnon who was murdered by his wife, Clytemnestra. He then recounts the story of his encounter with Achilles, who requests to hear about his son, Neoptolemus. He remembers attempting to speak to Ajax, who had committed suicide over a dispute with Odysseus, but he is ignored. Odysseus also sees Heracles, King Minos, Orion, and the deceased spirits of many others. He witnesses others suffering through their punishments, and is soon crowded by many other spirits wishing to inquire about their living relatives. Odysseus becomes startled and runs back to his ship, sailing off immediately.
BOOK XIV: THE LOYAL SWINEHERD
Odysseus, currently disguising himself as a beggar and in his homeland of Ithaca, sets out to find the home of his old swineherd, Eumaeus. When Odysseus finds the house, however, the dogs of “the loyal swineherd” (Homer p. 303) ambush him, though Eumaeus is quick to extricate him. Eumaeus invites Odysseus in, where he is served a nourishing meal of pork, wine, and barley. Odysseus listens as Eumaeus praises his former master, scorning the barbaric behavior of his current masters: the wanton suitors. He fears Odysseus may be lost forever, never able to return to Ithaca.
Odysseus asks for the identity of the swineherd's previous master. Eumaeus discloses Odysseus' name, engulfing him with more praise. Odysseus, still disguised as a beggar, informs his old swineherd that his former master will soon return, though Eumaeus denies him. The swineherd asks for the identity of his visitor. The beggar comes up with an elaborate story about being a commoner from the island of Crete. He says he is the son of a wealthy man and a concubine, having suffered through many of the same trials Odysseus had. During his journey, the beggar had gotten word of Odysseus being alive. Though still skeptical of the man's story, Eumaeus develops a liking to his visitor. He lends a cloak to the beggar and allows him to stay in the hut until Telemachus returns and provides him with a place of his own.
BOOK XV: THE PRINCE SETS SAIL FOR HOME
Athena travels to Sparta, where she finds Telemachus and Nestor's son, Pisistratus. Pisistratus sleeps soundly while Telemachus lies awake, overwhelmed with anxious thoughts of his father. Athena urges Telemachus to quickly return home, notifying him that his mother, Penelope, is to marry Eurymachus. She also forewarns Telemachus that the suitors plan to execute him and how to avert this. Athena instructs the Ithacan prince to first visit Eumaeus the swineherd, who would deliver the news of Telemachus' return to Penelope. After conveying her advise to "clear-headed Telemachus" (Homer p. 335), she retreats to the heights of Olympus.
The succeeding day, Telemachus informs Helen and Menelaus of his departure. He accepts their gifts; a silver bowl and a lavish handmade robe. Just as he and Pisistratus are about to depart the palace on their chariot, an eagle carrying a goose in its talons swooped overhead. Helen construes this incident as an omen that Odysseus will return home and take revenge on the suitors.
When Telemachus and Pisistratus arrive at Pylos, he promptly returned Nestor's son to his ship. Though not having any time to spare to speak to Nestor once more, he appreciates the king's hospitality. Just as Telemachus is leaving, a man named Theoclymenus approaches him. He is absconding his prosecution of murder in Argos and wishes to join Telemachus. Telemachus promises his hospitality to Theoclymenus when they land in Ithaca.
In Eumaeus' hut, Odysseus wishes to test his host's hospitality. He offers to leave at dawn and attempt begging at the palace but the swineherd insists on him staying until the prince's return. Subsequently, Odysseus inquires Eumaeus about his parents. Eumaeus explains that Laertes, Odysseus' father, is still alive though he has come to be a frail, elderly man awaiting death. He subsequently explains that Odysseus' mother, Anticleia, died of grief anticipating her son's return. After hearing this, Odysseus asks Eumaeus to talk about his life and how he came to Ithaca. Eumaeus explains how his father was the king of an island named Syrie. Phoenicians pirates invaded the island and kidnapped Eumaeus with the help of a Phoenician maid that his father hired. After sailing the seas with the Phoenicians for a while, Laertes purchased him to work as a swineherd for him in Ithaca.
The following morning, Telemachus arrives in Ithaca. He gets off while his men arrive in Ithaca one ship at a time. He entrusts a crewman named Piraeus with Theoclymenus. Soon afterward, a hawk is seen carrying a dove in its talons overhead, which Theoclymenus interprets as a favorable omen for Odysseus.
BOOK XIX: PENELOPE AND HER GUEST
After the suitors fall asleep, Odysseus instructs Telemachus to take the suitors’ weapons and armor from the great hall and stow it somewhere out of the suitors’ reach. Odysseus is still disguised as a beggar. Telemachus then orders Eurycliea the nurse to lock all of the women in their quarters. Athena lights the way for the father and son as they carry the armory to a store in the palace. After the arms have been safely stored away, Telemachus retires to his quarters and Odysseus is accompanied by Penelope. She came from her quarters to interrogate her visitor. She is aware that the beggar claims to have met Odysseus, so she assesses him by asking him to describe Odysseus. Odysseus describes himself as he is in disguise, capturing every detail so precisely that it brings Penelope to tears. The beggar tells her how he “met” Odysseus and the story of how he eventually arrived in Ithaca. He tells Penelope that Odysseus has had a very lengthy and difficult journey but he will return home very soon.
Penelope offers a bed to sleep in to the beggar, but he politely declines, saying that he is accustomed to sleeping on the floor. Only unwillingly did he let Eurycleia bathe his feet. Upon doing so, she notices the scar on his foot and comes to the realization that this was, in fact, Odysseus. She immediately pulls him into her embrace, but Odysseus is quick to silence her, as he didn’t want his identity to be revealed. In the meantime, Penelope comes to ask the beggar one last question. She describes a dream to him, one in which an eagle killed the domestic geese and the eagle explained to her that he represents her husband and the geese represent the suitors. She asks the beggar for further explanation of this dream. He explains that it means definite death for all of the suitors.
BOOK XXII: SLAUGHTER IN THE HALL
Before the suitors realize what is coming upon them, Odysseus, still disguised as a beggar, sends an arrow through the throat of the brashest of the suitors, Antinous. To the suitors’ utter horror, the beggar reveals himself to be Odysseus. Eurymachus attempts to wager with Odysseus. He and the other suitors offer to repay him in gold, bronze, and oxen. Odysseus declines, saying that all of the suitors have hell to pay for what they have done and that not a single one of them will be spared. Eurymachus then charges at Odysseus but is killed by another one of Odysseus’ arrows. The next to fall is Amphinomus, killed by Telemachus’ spear. Telemachus goes to the storeroom to retrieve weapons and armor for Eumaeus and Philoetius, though he forgets to lock it whilst leaving. This results in Melanthius reaching the storeroom to get armory for himself and the other suitors. Though his first trip is successful, the second results in his imprisonment by Eumaeus and Philoetius.
A battle has now broken out in the palace hall. Athena appears, disguised as Odysseus’ old friend, Mentor. She decides not to immediately participate, wishing to test Odysseus’ strength. The battle progresses, the majority of the suitors dead while Odysseus and his men receive only minor wounds. Athena then joins the battle, which ends shortly afterward. Only Phemius and Medon, unwilling participants in the suitors’ recklessness, are spared.
Eurycleia is called out of her quarters. She is ordered to summon all the maids in the palace that have proved disloyal. These maids are instructed to dispose of the corpses and wash the blood that had spilled. They are then sent outside to be executed. Odysseus instructs Telemachus to slaughter them with his sword, but Telemachus decides to instead hang them, a more shameful death. Lastly, Melanthius is tortured and killed. Ensuing the bloody carnage, Odysseus has the palace purified.
BOOK XXIII: THE GREAT ROOTED BED
Eurycleia goes upstairs to wake Penelope, as she slept through the entirety of the battle. She informs the queen that Odysseus has returned, though Penelope doesn't believe a single word. She remains in disbelief even when she sees her husband with her own eyes, in fear that a god is playing a trick on her. Telemachus chides her for not acting more affectionately towards Odysseus succeeding his lengthy absence. Odysseus has more pressing issues to worry about, though. He has just executed Ithaca’s most noble young men, their parents will undoubtedly be immensely afflicted upon hearing this. He concludes that they should lie low for some time. For the time being, a bard sings a cheerful song so that no passers-by suspect anything has happened in the palace.
Penelope remains skeptical, so she formulates a test to prove that the man before her is, in fact, Odysseus. Penelope calls upon Eurycleia and asks her to move her bridal bed. Odysseus immediately explains that their bed is stationary, as it was built from the trunk of an olive tree of which the castle was built around. Upon hearing him depict these details, she comes to the realization that this is, in fact, her husband. After getting reacquainted, Odysseus briefly describes his journey to his wife. He also explains to her that he must fulfill Tiresias’ prophecy and visit his father, Laertes. The next day he departs with Telemachus to Laertes’ orchard. He instructs Penelope not to leave her quarters or allow any visitors into the palace. As they travel through the town, Athena conceals Odysseus, Telemachus, Eumaeus, and Philoetius in darkness so that they go unseen.
BOOK XXIV: PEACE
Hermes is now leading the spirits of the suitors to the Underworld. There, Achilles and Agamemnon quarrel about who had the superior death. Agamemnon recounts Achilles’ funeral very meticulously. The two men see the souls of the suitors arrive in the land of the dead and ask how so many aristocratic young men met their demise. The suitor Amphimedon places the blame on Penelope and her indecisiveness. Agamemnon compares Penelope’s loyalty to Odysseus to Clymenestra’s infidelity to him.
In Ithaca, Odysseus travels to his fathers’ orchard. Upon arriving, he finds that Laertes has prematurely aged out of bereavement for his wife and son. Odysseus is unrecognizable to his father, though Odysseus doesn't instantaneously reveal his identity, alternately pretending to be somebody that Odysseus once knew. When Laertes begins to lament at the memory of his son though, Odysseus promptly reveals himself and throws his arms around his father. He confirms his identity by showing his father the scar on his foot and recounting his boyhood memories of the fruit trees Laertes gave him. He then depicts the story to his father of how he got vengeance on the suitors.
Odysseus and Laertes eat lunch together, joined by Melanthius and Melantho’s father, Dolius. While having their meal, the goddess Rumor spreads the word of the massacre that took place at the palace. The suitors' parents hold an assembly on how best to handle the situation. Halitherses says that the suitors got what they deserved for their behavior, while Antinous’ father, Eupithes, tells the other parents to seek vengeance on Odysseus. Their small battalion tracks Odysseus to Laertes’ home, but Athena, once again disguised as Mentor, abolishes the endless cycle of violence. Eupithes dies at the spear of Odysseus’ father, though he is the only one to be killed. Athena makes the people of Ithaca forget of the carnage of the suitors and identify Odysseus as their king. Peace is now restored to Ithaca.
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