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The Odyssey

Odyssey: Summary

A book-wise summary of Home’s Odyssey.

Book 1

Homer asks the Muse to tell the story of Odysseus and his wanderings. Among the gods on Mount Olympos, Zeus remarks on the folly of Aigisthos who ignored divine warnings, seduced Agamemnon’s wife, Klytaimestra, and plotted his murder, only to be killed in revenge by Orestes, Agamemnon’s son. The goddess, Athene, persuades her father, Zeus, that Odysseus should be allowed to return home, despite the anger of the god of the sea, Poseidon, over Odysseus’ blinding of his son, Polyphemos, the Cyclops. Athena goes to Ithaka in disguise to give advice to Odysseus’ son, Telemachos. She urges him to visit the Greek kings, Nestor and Menelaos, in search of news of Odysseus. Telemachos calls an assembly for the next day and threatens to expel the suitors of his mother, Penelope, from the house.

Book 2

Telemachos complains to the assembly about the conduct of the suitors, and he asks them to return to their own homes.  Two of the leading suitors, Antinoos and Eurymachos, blame Penelope for not choosing one of the suitors to be her husband; Antinoos describes how Penelope tricked them and delayed her promised decision by weaving by day – and undoing by night – a shroud for Odysseus’ father, Laertes.  With Athene’s help, Telemachos gets a ship and sails for Pylos, the city of Nestor, one of the aged veterans of the Trojan War.

Book 3

At Pylos, Telemachos is received by king Nestor who tells him stories of the departure from Troy, the murder of Agamemnon and the homecoming of Menelaos.  Prompted by Telemachos’ questions, Nestor describes in more detail the story of Aigisthos and Klytaimestra, their plot against Agamemnon, and Orestes’ avenging of his father’s murder.  Nestor sends his son, Peisistratos, to accompany Telemachos to Sparta, the city of Menelaos.

Book 4

Telemachos and Peisistratos arrive at Menelaos’ palace at Sparta where the king is celebrating the two weddings of his children, Hermione and Megapenthes.  Menelaos welcomes them and is joined by his wife, Helen.  They recall Odysseus’ exploits at Troy with a pair of stories that provide contrasting views of Helen’s own role at Troy.  The next day, Menelaos describes his encounter with Proteus, the Old Man of the Sea, who had told him of the death of Aias Oileus at sea, of the murder of his own brother Agamemnon, and of the captivity of Odysseus on Ogygia, the island of the nymph, Kalypso.  Meanwhile, at Ithaka, the suitors hear of Telemachos’ departure and prepare an ambush for him.  Penelope learns of Telemachos’ journey, grieves, and is comforted by a vision of Athene in a dream.

Book 5

At Athene’s urging, Zeus sends the messenger god, Hermes, to the nymph, Kalypso, to tell her to allow Odysseus to go home. Odysseus makes a raft and sails towards Scheria, the land of the Phaiakians. The sea-god, Poseidon, still angry at Odysseus, wrecks his raft, but Odysseus reaches shore safely with the help of Athene and the sea nymph, Ino.

Book 6

The next morning, Nausikaa, the daughter of the Phaiakian king and queen, is inspired by Athene to go to the river to wash clothes. Odysseus appears, startles Nausikaa and her attendants, and begs for her help. She gives him clothes, and advises him how to reach the palace of her father, Alkinoos.

Book 7

Odysseus arrives at the palace of Alkinoos and appeals to queen Arete for help. He is given a place at the feast. Alkinoos orders a feast for the next day and promises to arrange Odysseus’ return to his own country. Without identifying himself, Odysseus describes his stay on Kalypso’s island and his journey to Scheria. Inviting him to stay, Alkinoos offers a marriage with his daughter, Nausikaa, but he pledges that the Phaiakians will escort Odysseus to his home, if that is what he wishes.

Book 8

At the Phaiakian feast, the singer, Demodokos, sings of Troy, and athletic contests are held. Alkinoos’ son, Laodamas, invites Odysseus to participate and, after he is rudely challenged by Euryalos, another of the Phaiakians, he proves his ability with a throw of the discus. Demodokos sings of the adulterous love of Ares, god of war, and Aphrodite, goddess of love, and how Hephaistos, Aphrodite’s husband, caught them and exposed them to the ridicule of the other gods. Odysseus is given splendid gifts by the Phaiakians. At his request, Demodokos sings of the Trojan horse. When Odysseus is moved to tears, he is asked to reveal his name and tell why he wept over the stories of Troy.

Book 9

Odysseus identifies himself, and begins the story of his wanderings. He describes his departure from Troy, beginning with the raid on the Kikonians, during which, he alleges, his men’s folly led to the loss of many of his companions. Then, he tells of the visit to the land of the Lotus-Eaters whose food made his men forget their home. Finally, he describes his adventures in the land of the Cyclops. He tells how he and some of his men were held captive by Polyphemos, the Cyclops, and how Polyphemos ate some of his men before Odysseus and his remaining companions got him drunk, blinded him and escaped his cave by a trick. After Odysseus boasted of his success, Polyphemos prayed to his father, Poseidon, god of the sea, for revenge, and this provoked Poseidon’s deep anger with Odysseus.

Book 10

Odysseus tells how he and his men reached the island home of Aiolos, a king to whom the gods had given control over the winds. Aiolos gave Odysseus a bag containing the winds to guarantee him a safe journey home. His men, however, believed that the bag held treasure. As they approached Ithaka, Odysseus slept, and the men opened the bag. As a result, they were blown back to Aiolos’ island, but he refused to help them. They sailed on and reached the land of the Laistrygonians. These giants savagely attacked them and destroyed all of the ships except Odysseus’ own. Then, Odysseus landed on the island of Circe, an enchantress, who turned a group of his men into pigs. With a charm from the god, Hermes, Odysseus escaped from Circe’s spell, and she returned his men to him again. Odysseus and his men were entertained for a year on Circe’s island. Before they left, Circe told him he had to visit the land of the dead and gave him instructions on how to consult the prophet, Teiresias.

Book 11

At the land of the dead, Teiresias, told him of his homecoming, warned him not to touch the herds of the sun god, Helios, and described one last journey that he would have to make. Then, he spoke with his mother, Antikleia, and a series of ancient noblewomen. Here, Odysseus pauses in his story, and is praised by queen Arete. For his part, Alkinoos urges him to continue and tell of his meeting with the shades of the Greek heroes. He recounts his conversations with Agamemnon and Achilleus, and describes the other mythological heroes he saw.

Book 12

Odysseus tells how he and his men returned to Circe’s island; she warned him of the dangers ahead. They sailed past the Sirens and Odysseus, tied to the mast, heard their song. Then, they passed Charybdis, the whirlpool, and Skylla, the monster, who ate six of Odysseus’ men. At the insistence of one of Odysseus’ companions, Eurylochos, they landed on Thrinakia, the island of Helios, the sun-god. Storms held them there for over a month and, despite Odysseus’ warnings, his men slaughtered the cattle of the sun god while Odysseus slept. Zeus punished them with a storm at sea, and only Odysseus was spared. He reached the island of Kalypso and, with that, he ends his story.

Book 13

The Phaiakians bring Odysseus to Ithaka and leave him sleeping on the island. On their return, Poseidon turns their ship to stone. Athene comes to Odysseus in disguise, and tells him that he has landed on Ithaka. He conceals his identity and tells her a false story of how, after the Trojan War, he killed Idomeneus’ son on Crete and fled the island. She reveals herself to him, advises him on how to overcome the suitors, and disguises him as an old tramp.

Book 14

Odysseus goes to house of Eumaios, his loyal swineherd, who receives him well. Odysseus tells him a false story of his life, claiming that he was a Cretan warrior who led troops to Troy and, afterwards, journeyed to Egypt, Phoenicia and other places, experiencing many adventures. Later, he tells him another false story of an adventure at Troy to win a cloak from him.

Book 15

Urged by Athene, Telemachos leaves Menelaos’ palace at Sparta. When he sails home from Pylos, he takes Theoklymenos, a fugitive prophet, with him. At Ithaka, Eumaios urges the disguised Odysseus to wait for Telemachos before going to beg from the suitors at their banquet. He answers Odysseus’ questions about his house and his father, and tells Odysseus the story of how he was kidnapped by a Phoenician servant, enslaved and purchased by Laertes. Meanwhile, Telemachos escapes the ambush of the suitors and reaches Ithaka safely.

Book 16

Telemachos visits Eumaios, and sends him to inform Penelope of his arrival. Odysseus reveals himself to Telemachos, and they plan their revenge against the suitors. Penelope and the suitors learn that Telemachos has returned, and the suitors consider whether they should kill him. Penelope rebukes the suitors for their plots.

Book 17

Telemachos returns to his house, and tells Penelope about his journey. The seer, Theoklymenos, prophesies Odysseus’ imminent return. Odysseus, disguised as a beggar, goes to the house with Eumaios. They meet Melanthios, the goatherd, who abuses him. When they reach the house, Odysseus’ old dog, Argos, recognizes him before he dies. Odysseus begs from the suitors, and tells them a false story of his adventures. Antinoos, the leading suitor, abuses Odysseus and hurls a stool at him. Eumaios tells Penelope of the “stranger” and his stories.

Book 18

The beggar, Iros, arrives, challenges Odysseus, and is beaten by him in a boxing match. Odysseus warns one of the suitors, Amphinomos, of their reckless behavior. Penelope comes down and complains about the suitors’ behavior. The feast breaks up in disorder, after Odysseus angers Eurymachos, one of the suitors.

Book 19

Odysseus and Telemachos remove the arms and armor from the hall. Penelope questions Odysseus. He tells her a false story, and they converse. The nurse, Eurykleia, washes Odysseus’ feet and recognizes his scar. She almost gives away his identity. Penelope proposes to set up a contest for the suitors with Odysseus’ bow. She will marry the winner.

Book 20

The next day, the suitors gather in the house of Odysseus. Odysseus meets Philoitios, his faithful cowherd, and he prophesies his own return. The suitors put off their plot to murder Telemachos. The prophet, Theoklymenos, foresees the doom of the suitors.

Book 21

Penelope announces the contest to the suitors, but they fail to string the bow. Meanwhile, Odysseus quietly reveals himself to his two loyal servants, Eumaios and Philoitios. Despite the suitors’ protests, Odysseus is given the bow. He strings it and shoots through the row of axes.

Book 22

Odysseus shoots Antinoos and reveals himself. The battle begins, and, with Athene’s help, the suitors are killed. The unfaithful maids and Melanthios are brutally punished.

Book 23

Eurykleia reveals to Penelope that Odysseus has returned and defeated the suitors. Penelope is sceptical, and she tests Odysseus with a story of their bed. She recognizes him by his response, they are joyfully reunited, and they tell one another about their trials.

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