HomerHomer was traditionally a blind minstrel or bard, whosang or performed to music epic poems set in the HeroicAge. The story of the Trojan War is related in Homersepic, The Iliad. This 10 year conflict pitted Greek heroesagainst the city of Troy, on the western coast of what isnow Turkey. Homers other great epic, The Odyssey,narrates the homeward journey of the hero Odysseusafter the war.
Trojan WarThe Trojan War began when a prince of Troyeloped with the wife of a Greek king. Thewomans name was Helen and she becameinfamous as Helen of Troy. Hers was "the facethat launched a thousand ships," according to theplaywright Marlowe, because all the kings ofGreece rallied to get her back. Sailing to Troy,they besieged the city for 10 years. Homersother epic, The Iliad, concerns this siege and themany individual battles that were fought betweenheroes on both sides. It also chronicles theinvolvement of the supreme gods, whodescended from Mount Olympus to take sides inthe contest.
Odysseus’ PlanThe Trojan War was over. The clever Greek Odysseus had trickedthe enemy into bringing a colossal wooden horse within the walls ofTroy. The Trojans had no idea that Greek soldiers were hiddeninside, under the command of Odysseus. The Greeks had beenlaying siege to Troy for ten long years, but suddenly it looked liketheir whole army had departed, leaving the horse behind.That night, while the Trojans slept, Odysseus and his men emergedfrom the horses belly. Opening the city gates, they admitted theircomrades, who had snuck back in the dark.Troy was sacked and the Trojans utterly vanquished. Now it wastime for Odysseus and his fellow warriors to return to theirkingdoms across the sea. Here begins the tale of The Odyssey, assung by the blind minstrel Homer.
Characters DescriptionAthena goddess of wisdom, skills, and warfare, who occasionally comes to help OdysseusOdysseus The hero of the Odyssey, son of Laertes and king of Ithaca, an island in the Mediterranean Sea, Without last names, people were known by their parents and the land from which they came.Penelope Wife of Odysseus, separated from Odysseus for 20 years after he leaves to fight in the Trojan War, faithfulTelemachus Son of Odysseus whom he has not seen for 20 years: 10 years of Trojan War and 10 years at sea by angry gods
Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the storyof that man skilled in all ways of contending,the wanderer, harried for years on end,after he plundered the strongholdon the proud height of Troy.He saw the townlandsand learned the minds of many distant men,and weathered many bitter nights and daysin his deep heart at sea, while he fought onlyto save his life, to bring his shipmates home.But not by will nor valor could he save them,for their own recklessness destroyed them all –children and fools, they killed and feasted onthe cattle of the Lord Helios, the Sun,and he who moves all day through heaventook from their eyes the dawn of their return.Of these adventures, Muse, daughter of Zeus,tell us in our time, lift the great song again.
PhaeaciansThe Odyssey begins at the end of the journey. Odysseus, after 10years of travel, washes ashore among the Phaeacians. He is foundand is treated to a banquet, where he retells the story of how he cameto this situation. In exchange for this story, Odysseus is offered a shipto sail safely home to Ithaca. IsmarusOdysseus tells about his raid on Ismarus. The inhabitants came andattacked the men who then retreated to the ships. Many of Odysseus’men were killed. The Lotus-EatersHis next stop was the country of the Lotus-Eaters, who live upon that flower.The men disembarked on the island to look for supplies. The Lotus-Eatersshowed no harm, only offered the sweet flower. When Odysseus’ men ate theLotus, it caused them to forget their purpose and not want to return to theship.
King AeolusOdysseus tells about sailing to Aeolia. While there, they meet Aeolus,king of the winds. Odysseus tells about Aeolus’ gift of a bag filled withwinds and about how his curious sailors opened it too early, releasinga wind that blew them off course, back to Aeolia. The only wind thatwas not in the bag was the wind that would take them home. Whenthe other winds were released, it caused the storm that blew them inthe wrong direction.
The CyclopsHis next trip was to the island of the Cyclops. He lies about his namebecause he knows that the Cyclops are children of Poseidon whom hehas angered. Then he used quick-thinking to get him drunk, blind theCyclops (Polyphemus) with a large pole, and escape his lair. Polyphemusdid, however, eat some of the men. They escape by hiding under thebellies of the sheep and riding out unnoticed. Odysseus uses a lie andtrickery to escape. As Odysseus and his men sail away, he turns andshouts his name back to the blind Cyclops in a prideful and arrogantgesture that causes him further trouble. Polyphemus asks his fatherPoseidon to avenge him.
Character/Place DescriptionAchaeans Greeks who were shipmates of OdysseusCicones Islanders on Ismarus who attacked the men of OdysseusKing Aeolus King of the windsLotus-Eaters Men who live on the island and eat the lotus flowerNohbdy The false name that Odysseus gives PolyphemusPhaeacians Offer Odysseus a ship to sail home in exchange of hearing about his adventures over the last 10 yearsPolyphemus A one-eyed monster, Cyclops, “a wild man ignorant of civility”Poseidon God of the Sea who is upset with Odysseus because Odysseus refuses to acknowledge that he had help to win the Trojan War. “Without the gods, man is nothing.”Zeus King of the gods and god of the sky, works in conjunction with his brother Poseidon by raising winds to blow Odysseus off course
LaestrygoniansHis crew next barely escapes from the Island of the Lotus-Eaters, viciouscannibals. The Laestrygonians destroy all his men and boats except theone boat Odysseus and a handful of his men are on. CirceThe survivors next land at Aeaea, where the witch Circe lives. She lures thescouting party with her bewitching beauty, then uses a wand to transformthem into pigs. Only Odysseus escapes. The other crewmen are tooterrified to help, but Odysseus uses a magic herb to protect himself frommagical transformation. When her spells dont affect Odysseus, hedemands that Circe change his men back into human shape. BeforeOdysseus departs from the island a year later, Circe informs him that inorder to reach home he must journey to the land of the dead, Hades, andconsult the blind prophet Tiresias.
The Land of the DeadCirce gives Odysseus directions on how to make a magical journey intoHades, the land of the dead, where he can learn from ancient spiritshow to safely make it home. He sacrifices a ram and a black ewe, andhe feeds the blood to the ghosts so they can take form and talk. Hesees the spirit of his mother there and did not know she had died whilehe was away at war. He also sees the spirit of Elpenor, one of his fallenmen, who requests a proper burial. At last, Odysseus speaks withTiresias, the blind prophet, who tells him not to be shaken from hispath. He explains that Odysseus will make landfall on Thrinacia andthere find the grazing herds of Helios, the sun god. He must not eat thecattle. If he does, there will be destruction for ship and crew. Tiresiasalso says that Odysseus will eventually return home alone after beinglost for years, under strange sail to find his home filled with trouble:men eating his livestock and courting his wife. He will deal out death inopen combat or by stealth to all the suitors. After he defeats thesuitors, Odysseus must carry out sacrifices for Lord Poseidon and all thegods. Only then can he return to his family, reclaim his role as king ofIthaca, and have peace around him.
Character/Place DescriptionAnticlea the mother of OdysseusCirce sorceress-goddess who turns men into pigs, Circe both helps and hinders Odysseus on his journey and is considered both ally and enemyElpenor Odysseus’ shipmate, got drunk and fell off the roof in Circe’s hall, Odysseus does not know he is dead until he meets him in HadesLaestrygonians cannibalsTiresias Blind prophet
The SirensOdysseus returns to Circe’s island to retrieve Elpenor. FollowingCírcës advice, Odysseus succeeds in getting past the sirens whichare monsters who lure men with their beautiful songs. Odysseusputs ear wax in all of the men’s ears so they won’t hear the song.One person must listen in order to pass, so Odysseus orders themen to tie him to the mast. This is an example of self-sacrifice onhis part because the song makes him want to go to the monsterwho is waiting to eat them. Scylla and CharybdisOdysseus must make a choice between the two. He chooses thesea monster by which some of his men may escape rather than thewhirl pool which none of them would escape. He also makes thedifficult choice not to tell his men so that none of them will panic.He is demonstrating his leadership skills in this situation.
Cattle of the Sun GodOdysseus’ ship is taken to the island of the Cattle of the Sun God.The winds will not allow his ship to leave for a month. Odysseusfalls asleep on the ship while his men go ashore. His starving crewabandon his command to leave the cattle alone. Eurylochusencourages the men to eat what is available because it would bebetter to be killed by the gods than to starve. They kill and eatsacred cows which belong to Heliós (Hyperion or Apollo, the GreekSun-God). Helios makes a plea to Zeus to punish Odysseus. Thegods raise storms that drive the boat all the way back to Charybdis.Zeus strikes the ship with a lightning bolt. Odysseuss ship sinksand his men drown. Only Odysseus thinks quickly enough to savehimself, and he washes ashore on Ogygia.
CalypsoOdysseus washes ashore on Ogygia after loosing all ofhis men. Calypso enslaves him on Ogygia because shehas fallen in love with the hero; however, Odysseusnever loved her back with his heart. When he escapesfrom the begrudging Calypso, he is washed ashore onthe island of the Phaeacians.
Character DescriptionCalypso sea goddess, cares for OdysseusCharybdis whirlpool that sucks in any ship that comes nearEurylochus crew member, convinces Odysseus’ men to eat the cattle of the sun godHelios sun god, also known as ApolloScylla sea monsterSirens monsters who sing a beautiful song to lure sailors to their death
Part 2 The Return of Odysseus The ReturnThe flashback is over. Odysseus finishes telling King Menelaus thestory. The generous Phaeacians help Odysseus get home eventhough this angers Poseidon. Here, part of the prophecy from theblind prophet Tiresias comes true: Odysseus returns home understrange sail.
The DisguiseOdysseus arrives on Ithaca and disguises himself, with the help ofAthena, as a beggar to scout out the land. His kingdom is inshambles. One of his old servants, Eumaeus the swineherd, takespity on the "bum" and takes him home for a meal. While Eumaeusis not around, Odysseus drops his disguise and reveals himself toTelemachus.Odysseus enters the main city. His disguise is so good Penelopeand others do not recognize him. Only an aged, toothless,abandoned dog covered with sores, lying in a pile of dung, reacts toOdysseus by wagging its tail. Eumaeus explains that this wretchedcreature was Argus, once Odysseuss favorite hunting dog. The doglifts its head, whimpers, and then dies--forcing Odysseus to hide histears.
The SuitorsAt the palace, Antinous curses the "ragged beggar" and hits himwith a footstool. Penelope rebukes Antinous and gives the beggar(Odysseus) permission to stay at the palace.Odysseus manages to find out that Melantho, one of the palacemaidservants, has become the mistress of Eurymachus, and thatthe other maidservants are being abused by the suitors.Eurycleia, an aged nurse who cared for Odysseus as a child, seesthrough Odysseuss disguise. Odysseus barely prevents the truthfrom coming out.
Penelope’s ChallengePenelope had been weaving a tapestry of her husband’s ship. She toldthem that when it was complete, she would choose a new husband onlyif Odysseus had not returned. Each night she would undo part of herwork so that it would never be finished. After the suitors discover herlies and demand that she choose a husband from among them,Penelope declares her decision: she will marry tomorrow whicheversuitor can duplicate her husbands feat of shooting an arrow throughtwelve straight rows of axes after stringing his bow. She knows that noone will be able to do it.That night, Odysseus and Penelope both toss and turn, worrying aboutthe outcome of events. Penelope prays that she die before she is everforced to marry one of the repugnant suitors. The suitors put in motiontheir plot to kill Telemachus.
The ContestThe contest begins, and the suitors have trouble stringing thebow. In the meantime, Telemachus orders all the women in thehousehold to stay in their quarters and out of sight. The servantsarrange to remove all weapons from the hall and lock all thedoors. Odysseus takes the bow (while being mocked by thesuitors) and successfully strings it and shoots through the rows ofaxes, dumbfounding those watching.While everyone is gaping, Odysseus enacts his plan and beginskilling the suitors, shooting them like cardboard targets while theyare unarmed and helpless. His son and the loyal servants helpkeep them trapped.
Character DescriptionAntinous the head suitorEumaeus sheppard and servant of OdysseusEurycleia nurse who raised OdysseusMelantho maidservant having an affair with Eurymachus