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The Odyssey

author · Homer; some critics argue for multiple authorship                    type of work · Poem                           genre · Epic
language · Ancient Greek (Ionic dialect mixed with archaic forms and other dialects)
time and place written · Unknown, but probably mainland Greece, approximately 700 b.c.e.
date of first publication · Unknown
narrator · The poet, who invokes the assistance of the Muse; Odysseus narrates Books 9–12.
point of view · The narrator speaks in the third person and is omniscient. He frequently offers insight into the thoughts and feelings of even minor characters, gods and mortals alike; Odysseus narrates Books 9–12 in the first person. Odysseus freely gives inferences about the thoughts and feelings of other characters.
tone · Celebratory and nostalgic; the poet views the times in which the action is set as glorious and larger than life.
tense · Past; large portions of the poem (especially Books 9–12) are narrated in flashbacks.
setting (time) · Bronze Age (approximately twelfth century b.c.e.); the Odyssey begins where the Iliad ends and covers the ten years after the fall of Troy.
setting (place) · Odysseus’s wanderings cover the Aegean and surrounding seas and eventually end in Ithaca, in northwestern Greece; Telemachus travels from Ithaca to southern Greece.
protagonist · Odysseus
major conflict · Odysseus must return home and vanquish the suitors who threaten his estate; Telemachus must mature and secure his own reputation in Greek society.
rising action · The return of Odysseus to Ithaca; the return of Telemachus to Ithaca; their entrance into the palace; the abuse Odysseus receives; the various omens; the hiding of the arms and locking of the palace doors; Penelope’s challenge to the suitors; the stringing of the bow
climax · The beginning of Book 22, when the beggar in the palace reveals his true identity as Odysseus
falling action · Odysseus and Telemachus fight and kill the suitors; they put to death the suitors’ allies among the palace servants.
themes · The power of cunning over strength; the pitfalls of temptation; the tension between goals and obstacles; the misery of separation; maturation as a journey
symbols  · Food; the wedding bed; the great bow; symbols of temptation (Circe, the lotus, the Sirens’ song, the cattle of the Sun)
 
Character List
Odysseus -  The protagonist of the Odyssey. Odysseus fought among the other Greek heroes at Troy and now struggles to return to his kingdom in Ithaca. Odysseus is the husband of Queen Penelope and the father of Prince Telemachus. Though a strong and courageous warrior, he is most renowned for his cunning. He is a favorite of the goddess Athena, who often sends him divine aid, but a bitter enemy of Poseidon, who frustrates his journey at every turn.
 
Telemachus -  Odysseus’s son. An infant when Odysseus left for Troy, Telemachus is about twenty at the beginning of the story. He is a natural obstacle to the suitors desperately courting his mother, but despite his courage and good heart, he initially lacks the poise and confidence to oppose them.
 
Penelope -  Wife of Odysseus and mother of Telemachus. Penelope spends her days in the palace pining for the husband who left for Troy twenty years earlier and never returned. Homer portrays her as sometimes flighty and excitable but also clever and steadfastly true to her husband.
 
Athena -  Daughter of Zeus and goddess of wisdom, purposeful battle, and the womanly arts. Athena assists Odysseus and Telemachus with divine powers throughout the epic, and she speaks up for them in the councils of the gods on Mount Olympus. She often appears in disguise as Mentor, an old friend of Odysseus.
 
Poseidon - God of the sea. As the suitors are Odysseus’s mortal antagonists, Poseidon is his divine antagonist. He despises Odysseus for blinding his son, the Cyclops Polyphemus, and constantly hampers his journey home. Ironically, Poseidon is the patron of the seafaring Phaeacians, who ultimately help to return Odysseus to Ithaca.
 
Zeus -  King of gods and men, who mediates the disputes of the gods on Mount Olympus. Zeus is occasionally depicted as weighing men’s fates in his scales. He sometimes helps Odysseus or permits Athena to do the same.
 
Antinous -  The most arrogant of Penelope’s suitors. Antinous leads the campaign to have Telemachus killed. Unlike the other suitors, he is never portrayed sympathetically, and he is the first to die when Odysseus returns.
 
Eurymachus -  A manipulative, deceitful suitor. Eurymachus’s charisma and duplicity allow him to exert some influence over the other suitors.
 
Amphinomus -  Among the dozens of suitors, the only decent man seeking Penelope’s hand in marriage. Amphinomus sometimes speaks up for Odysseus and Telemachus, but he is killed like the rest of the suitors in the final fight.
 
Eumaeus -  The loyal shepherd who, along with the cowherd Philoetius, helps Odysseus reclaim his throne after his return to Ithaca. Even though he does not know that the vagabond who appears at his hut is Odysseus, Eumaeus gives the man food and shelter.
 
Calypso -  The beautiful nymph who falls in love with Odysseus when he lands on her island-home of Ogygia. Calypso holds him prisoner there for seven years until Hermes, the messenger god, persuades her to let him go.
 
Polyphemus -  One of the Cyclopes (uncivilized one-eyed giants) whose island Odysseus comes to soon after leaving Troy. Polyphemus imprisons Odysseus and his crew and tries to eat them, but Odysseus blinds him through a clever ruse and manages to escape. In doing so, however, Odysseus angers Polyphemus’s father, Poseidon.
 
Circe -  The beautiful witch-goddess who transforms Odysseus’s crew into swine when he lands on her island. With Hermes’ help, Odysseus resists Circe’s powers and then becomes her lover, living in luxury at her side for a year.
 
Laertes -  Odysseus’s aging father, who resides on a farm in Ithaca. In despair and physical decline, Laertes regains his spirit when Odysseus returns and eventually kills Antinous’s father.
 
Tiresias -  A Theban prophet who inhabits the underworld. Tiresias meets Odysseus when Odysseus journeys to the underworld in Book 11. He shows Odysseus how to get back to Ithaca and allows Odysseus to communicate with the other souls in Hades.
 
Agamemnon -  Former king of Mycenae, brother of Menelaus, and commander of the Achaean forces at Troy. Odysseus encounters Agamemnon’s spirit in Hades. Agamemnon was murdered by his wife, Clytemnestra, and her lover, Aegisthus, upon his return from the war. He was later avenged by his son Orestes. Their story is constantly repeated in the Odyssey to offer an inverted image of the fortunes of Odysseus and Telemachus.
 
Nausicaa -  The beautiful daughter of King Alcinous and Queen Arete of the Phaeacians. Nausicaa discovers Odysseus on the beach at Scheria and, out of budding affection for him, ensures his warm reception at her parents’ palace.
 
Alcinous -  King of the Phaeacians, who offers Odysseus hospitality in his island kingdom of Scheria. Alcinous hears the story of Odysseus’s wanderings and provides him with safe passage back to Ithaca.