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Odysseus

Odysseus is a character in Greek mythology, known as Ulysses in Roman mythology. He is the hero of the Odyssey, and a major player in the Iliad, son of Laertes (or, much later, Sisyphus) and Anticlea).

As a child, Odysseus was nursed by Euryclea. Odysseus was the king of Ithaca, husband of Penelope and father of Telemachus, favorite of Athena, and wiliest of the Greeks involved in the Trojan War. Odysseus earns this title by, among other things, masterminding the Trojan Horse. According to some sources, Odysseus had four children besides Telemachus, the most famous: with Circe, Telegonus, Argius, and Latinus; with Calypso or Circe, Nausinous; with ??? he was father of Ardeas and Auson.

Table of contents

Before The Trojan War

Odysseus was one of the original suitors of Helen. He agreed to help Tyndareus, her father, settle the dispute for her hand in marriage, in return for which Tyndareus supported Odysseus in his quest to marry Penelope. Odysseus and all the other suitors pledged to defend Helen's marriage to the winning suitor, Menelaus.

Odysseus did not want to make good on his pledge to defend Menelaus' marriage. He pretended to be insane, plowing his fields and sowing salt instead of seeds. Agamemnon (Menelaus' brother), however, sent Palamedes to retrieve Odysseus. Palamedes was very intelligent and placed Telemachus, Odysseus' son, in front of the plow. Odysseus could not kill his son and revealed his sanity, then left for the Trojan War.

On the way to Troy, Philoctetes was bitten by a snake on Chryse. Odysseus advised that he be left behind because the wound was festering and smelled bad. Ten years later, Helenus, under torture, revealed that Philoctetes' arrows (which he received from Heracles) would be necessary to win the war. Odysseus and Neoptolemus went to Lemnos to retrieve Philoctetes.

Odysseus In The Trojan War

In the Trojan War, Odysseus and Diomedes stole the Palladium (and King Rhesus' horses) in a nocturnal raid.

Later, Odysseus, Phoenix and Ajax went to Scyros[?] to persuade Achilles to join the battle.

With the aid of Athena, Ajax rescued the body of Achilles from the hands of the Trojans. In the competition between him and Odysseus for the armor of Achilles, Agamemnon, at the instigation of Athena, awarded the prize to Odysseus. This so enraged Ajax that it caused his death (Odyssey, xi. 541). According to a later and more detailed story, his disappointment drove him mad; he rushed out of his tent and fell upon the flocks of sheep in the camp under the impression that they were the Trojan enemy; on coming to his senses, in shame he killed himself with the sword which he had received as a present from Hector.

Odysseus never forgave Palamedes for sending him to the Trojan War(1194-1184 BCE). When Palamedes advised the Trojans to return him, Odysseus accused him of being a traitor and forged false evidence and found a fake witness to testify against him. Palamedes was stoned to death.

The Greek siege of Troy had lasted for ten years. The Greeks devised a new ruse - a giant hollow wooden horse. (The Trojans were famous horse-breeders, and archaeology confirms this.) It was built by Epeius and filled with Greek warriors led by Odysseus. The rest of the Greek army appeared to leave and the Tojans accepted the horse as a peace offering. A Greek spy, Sinon, convinced the Trojans the horse was a gift despite the warnings of Laocoon and Cassandra. The Trojans celebrated hugely and when the Greeks emerged from the horse the city was in a drunken stupor. The Greek warriors opened the city gates to allow the rest of the army access and the city was ruthlessly pillaged - all the men were killed and all the women taken into slavery. This was called the Trojan Horse.

Odysseus' Return To Ithaca

Odysseus had one of the best helmsmen in ancient Greece, Baius. Poseidon delayed Odysseus' voyage for two reasons: his role in the defeat of Troy; and his actions against Poseidon's son, Polyphemus, described below.

Members of Odysseus' Crew

  1. Achaemenides
  2. Elpenor
  3. Eurylochus
  4. Macar
  5. Misenus
  6. Mnestheus
  7. Polites

Aeolus

Odysseus stopped at Aiolia[?], home of Aeolus, the god of the winds. He gave them hospitality for a month and provided for a west wind to carry them home. Unfortunately he also provided a gift of a bag containing each of the four winds, which Odysseus' crew members opened just before their home was reached. They were blown back to Aiolia, where Aeolus refused to provide any further help.

The Lotophagi

When Odysseus and his men landed on the island of the Lotus-Eaters, they began doing as the natives did, eating the lotus flowers. This caused them to sleep and stop caring about ever going home. Finally, Odysseus managed to rescue himself from the apathy and set sail. The lotus-eaters have been localized on the shore of Libya, near the modern Tripoli.

Polyphemus

A scouting party led by Odysseus (and his friend, Misenus), lands on the Island of the Cyclopes (Sicily) and ventures upon a large cave. They enter into the cave and proceed to feast on some food they find there. Unknown to them, this cave is the home of Polyphemus who soon comes upon the trespassers and traps them in his cave. He proceeds to eat several crew members, but Odysseus devised a cunning plan for escape.

To make Polyphemus unwary, Odysseus gave him a barrel of very strong, unwatered wine. When Polyphemus asked for Odysseus' name, he told him that it was "Noman". Once the giant fell asleep, Odysseus and his men took a hardened spear and destroyed Polyphemus' only eye. In the morning, Odysseus tied his men and himself to the undersides of Polyphemus' sheep. When the Cyclops let the sheep out to graze, the men were carried out. Since Polyphemus was blind, he didn't see the men, but felt the tops of his sheep to make sure the men weren't riding them.

Once the sheep (and men) were safely out, Polyphemus realized that the men weren't in his cave. He yelled out to his fellow Cyclopes that "Noman" hurt him, so they ignored him. As Odysseus and his men were sailing away, he told Polyphemus that "Noman didn't hurt you, Odysseus did!" Odysseus didn't realize that Polyphemus was the son of Poseidon, and that telling him his name would have severe repercussions.

Achaemenides was one of Odysseus' crew who stayed on Sicily with Polyphemus until Aeneas arrived and took him with him.

Circe

The next stop was the island of Circe (Aeaea[?]), where Odysseus sent a scouting party ahead of the rest of the group. She invited the scouting party to a feast, the food laced with one of her magical potions, and she then changed all the men into pigs with a wand after they gorged themselves on it. Only Eurylochus, suspecting treachery from the outset, escaped to warn Odysseus and the others who had stayed behind at the ships. Odysseus set out to rescue his men, but was intercepted and told by Hermes to procure some of the herb moly[?] to protect him from the same fate. When her magic failed he was able to force her to return his men to human form. She later fell in love with Odysseus and assisted him in his quest to reach his home after he and his crew spent a year with her on her island. Circe and Odysseus had three children: Telegonus, Argius, and Latinus.

On Circe's island, one member of Odysseus' crew, his good friend Elpenor, got drunk and fell of Circe's roof, dying.

Journey to the Underworld

Odysseus wanted to speak with Achilles, so he and his men journeyed to the underworld, where Hades allowed him to speak with his mother, Elpenor, Tiresias and Achilles. They all gave him valuable advice on how to pass the rest of his journey. Alternatively, Odysseus sacrificed a ram and the dead spirits were attracted to the blood. He hold them at bay and demanded to speak with Tiresias who told him how to pass by Helios' cattle.

Helios' Cattle

Finally, Odysseus and his surviving crew landed on an island, Thrinacia[?], sacred to Helios, where he kept sacred cattle. Though Odysseus warned his men not to (as Tiresias had told him), they killed and ate some of the cattle. The guardians of the island, Helios' daughters, Lampetia and Phaethusa, told their father. Helios destroyed the ship and all the men save Odysseus. Sometimes, Apollo replaced Helios. (The island is probably the same as Thrinakria or triangular island, an archaic name for Sicily.)

Scylla and Charybdis

When Odysseus had to sail between Scylla and Charybdis at the Strait of Messina, he chose to lose some of his crew to the monster Scylla rather than his whole ship to Charybdis, a whirlpool.

The Sirens

Odysseus escaped the Sirens by having all his sailors plug their ears with wax and tie him to the mast. He was curious as to what the Sirens sounded like. When he heard their beautiful music, he ordered the sailors to untie him but they ignored him. When they had passed out of earshot, Odysseus stopped thrashing about and calmed down, and was released.

Antiphates

Antiphates was King of the Laestrogynes. At Telepylos, the threw boulders at every ship of Odysseus' crew; only one ship survived. The Laestrogynes ate the crewmen who survived the shipwreck. Polyphemus and his tribe were apparently cannibals. They must have lived in western Sicily where the cannibal Laestrygones lived, as confirmed by antique geographers and historians.

Calypso

Odysseus washed ashore on Ogygia[?], where the nymph Calypso lived. She made him her lover for seven years and wouldn't let him leave, promising him immortality if he stayed. On behalf of Athena, Zeus intervened and sent Hermes to tell Calypso to let Odysseus go. Odysseus left on a small raft, only to be hit by a storm and washed up on the island of Scheria[?] and was found by Nausicaa, daughter of King Alcinous and Queen Arete of the Phaeacians[?], who entertained him well and escorted him to Ithaca. Ogygia was Malta, where Odysseus arrived by paddling, after having been shipwrecked at the Strait of Messina. Calypso's grotto still exists on the coast of Malta, near Ras en Nisefa, and the four springs outside Calypso's cave are still running. One year after his arrival, as Hyginus tells, the wise Calypso instructed him to keep the heavenly Great Bear - the true north - at his left hand. On the twentieth day of sailing he arrived to southern Crete (Phaeacia), and from there he got a "ride" to his home in Ithaca.

Odysseus Reaches Ithaca

In Ithaca, Penelope was fending off countless suitors while Odysseus' mother, Anticlea, had died of grief. Odysseus disguised himself as an old man or a beggar. The first one to recognize him was his old wet-nurse, Euryclea. Odysseus saw that Penelope was faithful to him, pretending to knit a burial shroud (for they claimed he must be dead) and claiming she would choose one suitor when she finished. Every night she undid part of the shroud. Odysseus watched the suitors drink and take advantage of his family's hospitality, then took off his disguise and, with Telemachus, Laertes and a local prophet named Halitherses, killed them all save Medon, who had been polite to Penelope, and Phemius, a local singer who had been forced to help the suitors against Penelope. Alternatively, he (or Penelope at the prompting of Athena) challenged the suitors to an archery contest and killed them after winning. (This event can be dated to April 16, 1178 BCE, by a total solar eclipse during midday meal. Total eclipses are visible from the same place once in 410 years in average, claim the astronomers. See more details under Penelope.) As another alternate version, Odysseus tested his wife's loyalty by claiming she had moved their bed (which had a tree as a bedpost). She denied doing so and Odysseus knew she was loyal. According to a rarely heard version of this story, Odysseus was sent into exile by Neoptolemus for killing the suitors. In another version, Odysseus was welcomed by his old swineherd, Eumaeus, who didn't recognize him in disguise, but still treated him well. Eumaeus then helped him kill the suitors.

One of the suitors' (Antinous) father, Eupeithes, tried to overthrow Odysseus after the death of his son. Laertes killed him.

Odysseus' Death

Circe then sent Telegonus, her son by Odysseus, to find Odysseus, but on arrival Telegonus began plundering the city, thinking it was Corcyra. Odysseus and his oldest son, Telemachus, defended their city and Telegonus accidentally killed his father with the spine of a stingray. He brought the body back to Aeaea and took Penelope, Odysseus' widow, and Telemachus, Odysseus' son, with him. Circe made them immortal and married Telemachus, while Telegonus made Penelope his wife.

Other Stories

Odysseus figures into the end of the story of King Telephus of Mysia. It is he who deciphers the oracle's riddle regarded Telephus' wound and then heals him.

Homer. Iliad; Homer. Odyssey; Apollodorus. Bibliotheke III, 8; Apollodorus. Epitome III, 7; V, 6-22; VII, 1-40; Ovid. Metamorphoses XIII, 1-398.


Odysseus is the largest crater on Saturn's moon Tethys. It is 400 km in diameter, 2/5 of the moon's total size.



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