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The Odyssey

Odysseus and his men put out the
eye of the Cyclops, Polyphemos (ca. 660 BC)

The Greek poet Homer wrote down the Odyssey around 700 BC, although the story itself is probably much older. It is the story of King Odysseus' return from the Trojan War to his kingdom of Ithaca, a small island on the far side of Greece from Troy. Ithaca is a real place, but Odysseus is probably a fictional character.

Odysseus (oh-DISS-ee-yus) had a lot of trouble getting home, because the gods were angry at him and he did not respect their power. First he sailed from Troy with many ships and a lot of gold and slaves and stuff he had taken from Troy, and many men from Ithaca who had followed him to war.

Then Odysseus escapes by hiding under a ram
(540-530 BC, Delphi Archaeological Museum)

But Odysseus ran into trouble with the first island he stopped at on the way home, and kept right on having trouble, especially with the god Poseidon, the rest of the way. Finally the goddess Athena helped him to get home.

Here's a video version of part of this story,
done by some kids in England
two women watch a man shoot a bow
Penelope and her slave watch Odysseus kill the suitors

Even after Odysseus got home, he had more trouble. He found that his house had been taken over by suitors who wanted to marry his wife, Penelope, thinking that Odysseus must be dead because he had been away so long. But with the help of his son Telemachus (tell-EM-ah-cuss), Odysseus killed all the suitors and the slaves who had helped them, and finally went back to ruling his kingdom with Penelope.

Learn by doing: draw a map showing all of Odysseus' adventures on the way home
More about Agamemnon's trip home from the Trojan War

Bibliography and further reading about the Odyssey:

The Life and Times of Homer, by Kathleen Tracy (2004). Easy reading.

The Odyssey of Homer (Oxford Myths and Legends), by Barbara Leonie Picard. A retelling of the story.

Approaches to Teaching Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, by Kostas Myrsiades (1987).

The Odyssey, by Homer. Translated by Robert Fagles. A great translation, fun to read.

The World of Odysseus, by Moses Finley and Bernard Knox (1954). A standard for anyone interested in Homer.

More about Homer
Ancient Greece home

Professor Carr

Karen Eva Carr, PhD.
Assoc. Professor Emerita, History
Portland State University

Professor Carr holds a B.A. with high honors from Cornell University in classics and archaeology, and her M.A. and PhD. from the University of Michigan in Classical Art and Archaeology. She has excavated in Scotland, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, and Tunisia, and she has been teaching history to university students for a very long time.

Professor Carr's PSU page

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Now that the weather's nice, try some of these outdoor activities! How about bicycle polo, or archery for a Medieval Islam day? Or kite flying or making a compass for a day in Medieval China? How about making a shaduf for a day in Ancient Egypt? Holding an Ancient Greek Olympic Games or a medieval European tournament? Building a Native American wickiup?