Odyssey | Summary, Characters, Meaning, & Facts (2024)

Top Questions

What is the Odyssey?

The Odyssey is an epic poem in 24 books traditionally attributed to the ancient Greek poet Homer. The poem is the story of Odysseus, king of Ithaca, who wanders for 10 years (although the action of the poem covers only the final six weeks) trying to get home after the Trojan War.

How was the Odyssey originally performed?

The Odyssey was intended for oral performance. The poem was likely transmitted through generations of oral poets well before it was written down. It’s been suggested that oral poets performed epics such as the Odyssey in song form.

What are the most popular English-language translations of the Odyssey from the 20th century?

Among the most notable English-language translations of the Odyssey produced in the 20th century were those by Robert Fitzgerald (1961), Richmond Lattimore (1965), Albert Cook (1967), Allen Mandelbaum (1990), and Robert fa*gles (1996).

Did the Odyssey actually happen?

While there is no conclusive evidence supporting the historicity of the Odyssey’s story and its characters, it has been proposed that geographic elements of Homer’s poem were real and have persisted into the present. In particular, scholars and ancient-history enthusiasts have suggested a possible location for the Ithaca of the poem, and it’s not the Greek island now named Ithaca.

Odyssey, epic poem in 24 books traditionally attributed to the ancient Greek poet Homer. The poem is the story of Odysseus, king of Ithaca, who wanders for 10 years (although the action of the poem covers only the final six weeks) trying to get home after the Trojan War. On his return, he is recognized only by his faithful dog and a nurse. With the help of his son, Telemachus, Odysseus destroys the insistent suitors of his faithful wife, Penelope, and several of her maids who had fraternized with the suitors and reestablishes himself in his kingdom.

The story

The Odyssey does not follow a linear chronology. The reader begins in the middle of the tale, learning about previous events only through Odysseus’s retelling. The first four books set the scene in Ithaca. Penelope,Odysseus’swife, and their young son,Telemachus, are powerless before herarrogantsuitors as they despair of Odysseus’s return from the siege of Troy. Telemachus is searching for news of his father, who has not been heard from since he left for war nearly 20 years earlier. He journeys secretly to the Peloponnese and seeks out two men who fought with Odysseus in the war at Troy, Nestor and Menelaus, and discovers that his father is indeed still alive.

The second four books (V–VIII) introduce the main character, Odysseus, as he is being released from captivity by the nymph Calypso on the island of Ogygia. He suffers a shipwreck and lands on the shore of Scheria, the land of the Phaeacians. In Books IX–XII Odysseus tells the Phaeacians of the harrowing journey he and his crew endured as they tried to find their way home—including their encounters with the lotus-eaters, Laestrygonians, and the sorceress Circe, their narrow escape from the cave of theCyclopsPolyphemus, their ordeal navigating between Scylla and Charybdis, and the final shipwreck in which Odysseus is washed ashore on Ogygia alone.

Finally, Books XIII–XXIV, the second half of the poem, find Odysseus back in Ithaca, facing unexpected obstacles and danger. He meets with his protector-goddess Athena and reveals himself first to his faithful swineherd Eumaeus and then to Telemachus before developing a complicated plan to dispose of the suitors. During Odysseus’s absence, Penelope resisted the importuning of more than a hundred suitors—who have stayed in Odysseus’s house, eating, drinking, and carousing while waiting for her to decide among them. In order to reunite with his wife, Odysseus kills them all, with the aid of Telemachus, Eumaeus, and Philoetius (a servant and cowherd).

Britannica QuizAn Odyssey of Grecian Literature

Composition and early translations

Scholars date the writing of the Odyssey to about 725–675 bce. The poem was intended for oral performance. It was composed of 12,109 lines written in dactylic hexameter (sometimes referred to as “Homeric hexameter”)—that is, each line consisted of six feet, or metrical units, and each foot consisted of a dactyl (a stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables). The original work may not have been constructed into the 24 books known to the contemporary reader, and the parts were certainly not in codex form. In the ancient world, the poem was likely written in columns on rolls made from papyrus, or possibly some kind of animal skin (such as vellum and parchment). Given its extraordinary length, the poem may have actually occupied 24 individual rolls. Homer’s role in the writing of the poem and whether he was literate have been a source for rich scholarly debate, commonly referred to as the “Homeric Question.”

Until the 15th century all volumes of the Odyssey in circulation were in handwritten Greek. In 1488 the first printed version (still in Greek) was produced in Florence. The earliest vernacular translations of the Odyssey from its original Ionic Greek dialect began to appear in Europe during the 16th century. Applying the ancient Greek metre to contemporary vernaculars, especially to words meant to be spoken aloud rather than read privately, posed a particular challenge, forcing translators to add and invent words in order to make the metre work. Some have translated it into prose and some into verse.

Special 67% offer for students! Finish the semester strong with Britannica.

Learn More

Odyssey | Summary, Characters, Meaning, & Facts (2024)


What are character traits in Odyssey? ›

Odysseus has the defining character traits of a Homeric leader: strength, courage, nobility, a thirst for glory, and confidence in his authority. His most distinguishing trait, however, is his sharp intellect.

Who is the most important character in the Odyssey? ›

Odysseus. The protagonist of The Odyssey, Odysseus, is the king of Ithaca and a Trojan War hero. He has been absent from his home for the past 20 years: the first ten spent at war, and the second ten spent at sea during his attempt to return home.

What kind of characters appear in the Odyssey? ›

  • The Odyssey Character list. Ithaca: Odysseus.
  • Penelope, his wife.
  • Telemachus, his son.
  • Laertes, his father.
  • Eurycleia, Telemachus's nurse, house slave.
  • Suitors, including Antinuous, Eurymachus, Leocritus.
  • Icarius, Penelope's father.
  • Halitherses, old warrior.

Which type of character best describes Odysseus? ›

In these stories we find the archetype of an epic hero. Odysseus is considered an epic hero for his role as King of Ithaca, his participation in the war, and his journey home.

How would you describe Penelope's character? ›

How would you describe Penelope? Penelope is a loyal and patient character. She is also cunning and intelligent, able to use her skills to postpone remarriage to one of her suitors.

What are some interesting facts about Penelope from The Odyssey? ›

She was the queen of Ithaca and was the daughter of Spartan king Icarius and Asterodia. Penelope is known for her fidelity to her husband Odysseus, despite the attention of more than a hundred suitors during his absence. In one source, Penelope's original name was Arnacia or Arnaea.

What is Athena known for? ›

Athena: The Greek goddess of oil, peace & war, also the daughter of Zeus. Athens, the capitol of Greece is named after the Goddess Athena; she is the goddess of Wisdom and War. She is known for her strategic skill in warfare, is often portrayed as a companion of heroes, and is the patron goddess of heroic endeavor.

What is the biggest message of The Odyssey? ›

The three most important themes in the Odyssey are hospitality, loyalty, and vengeance.

Who is the real main character in Odyssey? ›

Odysseus. The protagonist of The Odyssey.

Who is the main villain in the Odyssey? ›

This archetype is evident in the Odyssey when Poseidon, god of the sea, becomes a villain by disrupting Odysseus' journey home. He delays Odysseus' voyage to his homeland by years, and kills his entire crew. He makes Odysseus suffer many hardships and makes him miss his family more and more everyday.

Who is the main hero in the Odyssey? ›

Odysseus: The protagonist of the Odyssey. Husband of Queen Penelope. Father of Telemachus. Strong and courageous warrior, a Greek hero at Troy, who is struggling to return home to Ithaca.

Who was Odysseus' best friend? ›

In Greek mythology, Eumaeus (/juːˈmiːəs/; Ancient Greek: Εὔμαιος Eumaios meaning 'searching well') was Odysseus' slave, swineherd, and friend.

Who is the bully in the Odyssey? ›

In one famously poignant moment, Odysseus and his dying old dog, Argos, quietly recognize each other. In the banquet hall, Antinous bullies the ragged beggar/Odysseus and even throws a footstool at him. Exercising considerable restraint, both the king and his son manage to postpone revenge.

Who is the son of the hero of the story known as the Odyssey? ›

Telemachus (/təˈlɛməkəs/ tə-LEM-ə-kəs; Ancient Greek: Τηλέμαχος, romanized: Tēlemakhos, lit. 'far-fighter'), in Greek mythology, is the son of Odysseus and Penelope, who is a central character in Homer's Odyssey.

What personality trait does Odysseus reveal? ›

What personality trait does Odysseus reveal when he devises a plan to listen to the Sirens' song and yet escape destruction? Curiosity. What is the best synonym for assuage? Pacify.

What are the bad character traits of Odysseus? ›

The “hero” that is portrayed in the Odyssey is a man named Odysseus. This “hero” may be tall and handsome, but he is often arrogant, disrespectful, conceited, and rude.

What are Odysseus symbols and traits? ›

Symbols That Represent Odysseus: Bow. A cunning, smart, and incredibly strong warrior – that is how Homer describes Odysseus. The symbol that reflects all these character traits is his bow. It is a central element of Book 21 where the King of Ithaca returns home.

What are the character traits of Telemachus? ›

What kind of person is Telemachus? Telemachus is loyal and brave. He proves this by standing up to the suitors, who are powerful men in their own right.

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Roderick King

Last Updated:

Views: 6164

Rating: 4 / 5 (51 voted)

Reviews: 90% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Roderick King

Birthday: 1997-10-09

Address: 3782 Madge Knoll, East Dudley, MA 63913

Phone: +2521695290067

Job: Customer Sales Coordinator

Hobby: Gunsmithing, Embroidery, Parkour, Kitesurfing, Rock climbing, Sand art, Beekeeping

Introduction: My name is Roderick King, I am a cute, splendid, excited, perfect, gentle, funny, vivacious person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.