The Odyssey of Homer
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The Odyssey

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

January 2017 - 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 the rest of the way. The god Poseidon hated Odysseus and kept messing with him. Finally the goddess Athena helped Odysseus 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. The suitors thought 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 the poet Homer
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
More about the Iliad
Ancient Greece
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter.
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