The Odyssey: Summary & Analysis

The Odyssey is the epic poem written by the Greek writer Homer. It tells the story of the courageous and witty warrior Odysseus. Being separated from his family because of the Trojan War, he desperately tries to get to Ithaca, his homeland. However, the task of reaching home becomes more difficult than he expected. It turns out that Poseidon, the god of the sea, is irate at Odysseus. That is why he continually hardens the hero’s journey.

The Odyssey synopsis and timeline.

Odysseus’s story also impresses the readers with the faithfulness of his wife, Penelope. Despite the impressive number of suitors, she patiently waits for his husband for already 20 years. Odysseus and Penelope have a son – Telemachus. He was an infant when his father went to war. At the beginning of the poem, he is about twenty. Telemachus plays a crucial role in Odysseus’ release from Poseidon’s damnation. Although he is not brave and confident enough, he receives Athena’s support. Odysseus is a favorite of the goddess of wisdom, Athena. Thus, she always assists the warrior and his son with her divine powers. The Odyssey story has a happy end. The main character finally gets home where his wife and son are looking forward to meeting him. The Odyssey books prove that success is always on the side of stubborn, brave, and determinant people.

The Odyssey Summary

The epic poem The Odyssey begins with the narrator asking Muse for inspiration to tell the long and fascinating story of Odysseus. The Muse invokes, and the narration begins. The action takes place 10 years after the Trojan War. Homer described this historical event in his other work – The Iliad. Therefore, The Odyssey is generally accepted to be The Iliad’s logical extension.

Although Odysseus is the main character, he appears in the epic only in the fifth book. The first four books are dedicated to his son, Telemachus. For twenty years, he has not seen his father. That is for how long Odysseus was gone from home. Telemachus tries his best to help Odysseus. He becomes a natural obstacle for his mother’s suitors, who assure Penelope that her husband Odysseus is dead. They desire to marry her to possess all the belongings and become a King of Ithaca.

Telemachus is too young and not confident enough to resist all Penelope’s suitors. Besides, he follows the rules of hospitality, letting them stay. Luckily, the goddess Athena comes in disguise to help the young prince. She advises Telemachus to gather Ithaca’s leaders to protect Penelope from the suitors’ invasion. Here, two of the most active admirers, Antinous and Eurymachus, oppose Odysseus’ son. They claim that Penelope seduces everyone, yet, delaying her choice of the future husband. The Queen remains loyal, waiting for her husband.

After the assembly, Telemachus goes on a journey to King Nestor of Pylos and King Menelaus of Sparta. He hopes to gather some information regarding his father. Menelaus claims that Odysseus’s journey home takes so long because of Calypso. She is a goddess-nymph who keeps the King of Ithaca on the island.

Meanwhile, Penelope’s suitors plot to murder Telemachus.

The next part of The Odyssey turns into another direction. In book 5, Homer switches his focus from Telemachus to Odysseus. The King of Ithaca is locked on the island with Calypso, who lustfully desires to marry him. Meantime, Athena gathers all the gods on Mount Olympus to determine Odysseus’ fate. Only Poseidon is not present here. He is mad at Odysseus because he blinded his son, Polyphemus. Therefore, Poseidon causes a lot of obstacles to harden Odysseus’ journey.

On Mount Olympus, the gods decide to release Odysseus from 7-years long Calypso’s governance. So, they send Hermes to the island to negotiate the problem. Frenzied Calypso delivers a speech about male gods’ double standards, unwilling to let Odysseus go. Nevertheless, she lets her object of love sail away from her.

The next event of The Odyssey timeline happens on his way to Scheria, the Phaeacians’ island. Poseidon spots the King of Ithaca in the sea and causes a strong storm. Fortunately, the goddess Athena appears to save him from danger.

Finally, Odysseus reaches the land where he meets Nausicaa, the local princess. She introduces him to the king and queen, who welcome Odysseus warmly. When he reveals his personality, the hosts become extremely excited and overwhelmed. They have heard about his outstanding achievements at Troy. They promise to support him, but before the return of Odysseus, the Phaeacians desire to listen to his stories.

The books 9 to 12 take the readers back 10 years through the timeline of The Odyssey. This section of the epic is the most fascinating. It is full of impressive stories of Odysseus’ adventures.

As the Trojan War was coming to an end, Odysseus was with his crew went to the land of the Cicones. Amazed by the successful conquest, they stay here too long. As a result, the people of the Cicones starts to attack the Greeks back. Odysseus and his men escape from the land. However, they lose six crew members per ship.

Odysseus and his team hope to get home. However, they get into a massive storm caused by Zeus (the sky and thunder god in Greek mythology). Thus, they appear in the land of the lotus-eaters. Those creatures are not evil, but their lotuses remove the memory and ambitions of those who eat the plants. Luckily, Odysseus manages to take his men in the ship and leave the land.

The next adventure of Odysseus takes place in the land of the Cyclops. They are the cannibalistic one-eyed giants. While the crew was exploring the cave full of food, Polyphemus, one of the Cyclops, catches them. Odysseus tricks and blinds him so that his team can escape from the land.

After that, the King of Ithaca comes to Aeolus, the wind god. He is a friendly host, so he gathers all the winds in the bag and secretly gives to Odysseus. Being confident that winds will not obstruct their journey, the main character continues the expedition. They almost reach the Ithaca. Suddenly, the crew members begin to suspect that Aeolus gave a bag full of treasures to Odysseus. They decide to open it, the winds come out of the bag and bring the ship back to the Aeolus’s land. However, this time the god refuses to help them.

The adventure follows the trip to Aeolus in the land of the cannibalistic Laestrygonians. These strong giants destroy the Greek ships. The only ship that manages to escape is Odysseus’s one.

Then, the main character and the remaining team members travel to Aeaea. Here lives Circe, a pretty witch-goddess who turns Odysseus’s men into pigs. Frustrated, the King has no clue what to do. Luckily, Hermes comes to assist. He offers Odysseus to become Circe’s lover. A year later, the witch-goddess finally releases the men from the spell. She advises them to travel to the Land of the Dead. Here, Odysseus can find a blind prophet Tiresias who knows the way to Ithaca.

In the Land of Dead, Odysseus meets a lot of spirits of outstanding heroes, learning the stories of life and death. Also, he meets his mother, Anticlea, there. She explains that she died in the grief of waiting for his son. However, the most valuable information Odysseus receives from the prophet Tiresias. He reveals the truth that Poseidon curses him and warns about the upcoming obstacles.

After that, the crew returns to Circe. Here, Odysseus buries his friend who broke his neck while falling drunk from Circe’s house. The main character spends a night with the goddess and continues his journey in the morning.

The next destination – Sirens’ island. Here, travelers need to resist the temptation of seductive songs, and they barely do that. After that, the crew escapes the monsters, Scylla and Charybdis, and arrives on the island Sungod Helios. This is where the men make a critical mistake. They enter the cattle of the Sungod, where Zeus kills everybody, except Odysseus. From that island, the main character is washed ashore to the Calypso’s place, where he spends the following seven years.

The books 13 to 24 describe the way Odysseus returns home to Ithaca. The Phaeacians give presents to the King and help him to reach home. Meanwhile, Athena prevents the planned assassination of Telemachus by the suitors. Then, the goddess turns the King of Ithaca into a beggar. She organizes his meeting with the son on the pig farm. They finally come to their homeland. However, Penelope questions her husband’s identity, as he is still in the appearance of the beggar. Here is when Eurycleia, Odysseus’s nurse from childhood, plays a crucial role. She notices a small scar on his leg and assures Penelope that this is indeed her husband. Besides, the Queen tests Odysseus herself, talking about their marriage bed – he passes the test.

The last essential event in The Odyssey plot is the competition of suitors. It was a wisely-organized trick to befool the annoying Penelope’s admirers. The Queen claims that she will marry a man who can accurately shoot from Odysseus’ bow through ten axes. She is sure that only her husband is capable of doing this. That is why Odysseus secretly takes part in this contest as well. As it was expected, everyone loses, but the King.

With the assistance of Athena, Odysseus and Telemachus kill all the enemies and rivals. Finally, the King and the Queen are reunited. Odysseus also meets his old father, Laertes, who was looking forward to his son’s returning home. After 20 years of constant challenges and struggles, the family finally returned to their normal life.

The Odyssey Analysis

The epic poem The Odyssey is one of the most famous examples of literature from ancient Greece. Created by Homer approximately in the 8th century BC, it remains a widely discussed poem.

The Odyssey is the extension of another Homer’s work – The Iliad. Both pieces of literature have historical implications. The Iliad focuses straightforwardly on the events of the Trojan War. The Odyssey, however, describes the postwar period. Therefore, Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey are often examined together. The synthesis of these two poems provides a holistic picture of ancient Greece history. The reader sees its social system, values, and beliefs.

The two key concepts of The Iliad and The Odyssey are kleos and nostos. Kleos refers to the glory of war, while nostos means homecoming. According to The Odyssey’s plot, the central theme of the epic is nostos. The whole story is about Odysseus’s strong desire to return home. The Odyssey book summary includes the elements of fights and battles, of course. Nevertheless, they are not the essential figures of the poem. What the readers focus their attention on – is the King’s reunion with his family.  

In contrast, the major theme of The Iliad is kleos. The book describes the events of the Trojan War. Here, the warriors’ aim was to win the battle, no matter how violent they would. The prime example of a person driven by kleos forces is Achilles. In The Iliad, he always relies on his physical strength to win a battle or overcome any obstacle. Turns out that he heard a prophecy about his future life that offered him two options. He can either die in the Trojan War, but remain a great legend for people forever. Or, he can go back come and live happily, but be forgotten by time. During the war, Achilles changes his mind, choosing nostos. However, after Patroclus’, his friend and lover, death, his opinion shifts. He leaves the nostos behind and goes in a battle to fight for justice. We see him achieving kleos, a prize every true hero should strive for. Thus, contrary to Homer’s Odyssey, The Iliad focuses on the glory of the war.

It was already mentioned about the leading theme of nostos in The Odyssey. So, we can assume that nostos was the driving force that helped the main character to reach home. Odysseus is a “man of twists and turns” (1.1), whose only desire is to reunite with his family. He lacks physical advantages over the monsters, gods, which he encounters on his way back home. However, he is incredibly smart and cunning and can use it in his favor. Therefore, an extreme desire, strength of will, self-assertion, and cleverness were the critical factors of Odysseus’s success.

Thanks for reading the summary and analysis till the end! Check The Odyssey topics and samples to write a perfect essay or research paper on the poem.

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