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The Odyssey Background:

Summary of events: [adapted from introduction to R. Lattimore's translation] Odysseus spent 10 years fighting at Troy, and another 10 years getting home. During this time, none of his family knew what had happened to him, and he lost all his ships, all his men, and the spoils from Troy. After ten years, or in the tenth year, he was set down in his own country, alone and secretly, though with a new set of possessions, by the Phaeacians of Scheria, who were the last peoples he visited on his wanderings. When he took ship for Troy, Od. left behind his wife, Penelope, and his infant son, Telemachus. A few years before his return, the young bachelors of Od's kingdom, Ithaca and surrounding islands, began paying court to Penelope. She was accomplished and clever, still beautiful, an heiress and presumably a widow; but she clung to the hope that Od. might come back, and held them off, without ever saying positively that she would never marry again. The suitors made themselves at home as uninvited guests in the palace of Od. Shortly before the return of Od., Telemachus visited the mainland in search of news about his father. He heard from Menelaus that Od. was alive but detained without means of return on the island of Calypso. T. returned to Ithaca. The suitors set an ambush, meaning to murder him, but he eluded them and reached Ithaca just after his father arrived. The voyage of T., the arrival of Od., and the recognition and reunion of father and son, were all supervised by Athena. Father and son plotted the destruction of the suitors. Od. entered his own house unrecognized, mingled with the suitors and talked with Penelope. He and T. contrived to catch them unarmed and with the help of two loyal serving men (and of course Athena) they slaughtered all 108 suitors. Penelope knew nothing of the plot; Od. revealed himself to her after the fighting was over. The relatives of the dead suitors attacked the heroes on the farm of Laertes, father of Od., and a battle began, but it was ended by Zeus and Athena, who patched up a hasty reconciliation.

Death of Agamemnon:
It all begins at Aulis. The Greeks gather at Aulis before setting sail for Troy. Artemis is angry at the Greeks and stills the wind, so that they cannot set sail. Consulting the seer Calchas, Agamemnon learns that he must sacrifice his own daughter, Iphigenia, to appease the goddess. He sends for Iphigenia

The Odyssey
(duping his wife Clytemnestra by telling her that Iphigenia must come to marry Achilles), and sacrifices his daughter. The Greeks now sail for Troy, and after a ten-year siege they take Troy under Agamemnon's leadership. Meanwhile, back in Mycene, Aegisthus, Agamemnon's first cousin, has managed to seduce Clytemnestra, Agamemnon's wife, and the two conspire to murder Agamemnon on his return home. Aegisthus has the urge to revenge Agamemnon because in a dispute over th kingship Agamemnon's father, Atreus, killed the children (except Aegisthus himself) of Aegisthus' father, Thyestes; and then served these children as dinner to Thyestes. (Note the feasting motif.) When Agamemnon returns home, according to Homer's version, Aegisthus invites the victorious king of kings and his men to a feast. At the feast itself, Aegisthus and his men ambush Agamemnon, and kill him amongst the food and drink. Aegisthus and Clytemnestra now become king and queen of Mycene. Eight years later, Agamemnon's son Orestes, now come of age, returns to Mycene, and avenges his father's death by killing both Aegisthus and Clytemnestra. See esp. Odyssey, book 4, as told by Menelaus: but the story occurs many times, first on the second page of the epic. For a fuller, and somewhat different, version of the tale, read Aeschylus' play, the Agamemnon, and the follow-up plays, the Libation Bearers and Eumenides: the trio go under the name of the Oresteia.

The Odyssey Book 1 Council of the gods. Athena visits and gives advice to Telemachus
Principal episodes:

Council of the gods. Zeus speaks of Orestes' murder of Aegisthus: note the theological stance here. Athena visits Ithaca disguised as Mentes (a stranger who does not again appear). Note here the dynamics of receiving a stranger. What exactly does Athena advise Telemachus? The bard Phemius sings of the fall of Troy, and Penelope enters to quiet him. Telemachus puts Penelope "in her place": what does this scene tell us? With what scene in the Iliad does it seem to correspond? Principal new characters:

Athena - familiar to you, but here she will assume a more active role as guide and helper to Telemachus and Odysseus Telemachus - son of Odysseus Penelope - wife of Odysseus Mentes - stranger in whose guise Athena appears to Telemachus Antinous - One of the two leading (bad guy) suitors Eurymachus - The other of the two leading (bad guy) suitors Agamemnon, Aegisthus, Orestes - for a summary of this tale, see above

Book 2 Ithacan Assembly. Departure of Telemachus


Principal episodes: Telemachus calls the first assembly of elders since Odysseus left 9 years before, and gives his first speech. (What does he do at the end of the speech? What scene from the Iliad does that recall?)

The Odyssey
Telemachus sets sail

Principal new characters:

Mentor (from whom we get our word) - to whom Telemachus was entrusted as a guardian: in the guise of Mentor, Athena will travel with Telemachus Eurycleia, Telemachus' nurse and Odysseus' faithful servant (she will be important later)

Book 3 Telemachus visits the court of Nestor in Pylos


Principal episodes: Nestor receives Telemachus and Athena, disguised as Mentor. (Note the prayer by Athena to Poseidon (!), and Nestor's version of the death of Agamemnon.) Nestor sends Telemachus on to Sparta, accompanied by his son Pisistratus Principal new characters: Nestor (an old friend)

Book 4 Telemachus visits the court of Menelaus in Sparta


Principal episodes:

Menelaus receives Telemachus. Helen's entrance. The drinking and drugs. Menelaus' tale of the wooden horse. (Note how the strangers are received. Also, note how Menelaus precludes the truth of his wife's tale by telling his tale of the horse. What does this tell us about Helen? about the relationship between Helen and Menelaus? about the nature of kingly discourse?) Menelaus tells the tale of his long homecoming, and esp. of his encounter with Proteus.

The Odyssey
The suitors plot to ambush and kill Telemachus on his way home. (Note that this part of the plot will be left hanging until Book 15!) Principal new characters: Menelaus (an old friend) Helen (ditto-- or at least an old acquaintance!) Proteus, the "old man of the sea", able to change his form (we get our adjective "protean" from this god)

The Odyssey Book 5 Calypso's island. Odysseus leaves at last on a raft.


Principal episodes: Hermes travels to Calypso's island to get her to release Odysseus. Odysseus builds a raft. (Who is Calypso? What does she seem to represent? What does the relationship here suggest about Odysseus?) Poseidon sends a storm, and the shipwrecked Odysseus finally swims to land. (Why is Poseidon so angry?) Principal new characters: Calypso = "the hidden one" in Greek - a nymph not known aside from the Odyssey Poseidon, god of the sea

Book 6 Nausicaa plays ball. Odysseus' arrival among the Phaeacians.


Principal episodes:

The Phaeacian princess Nausicaa goes to do her wash, plays ball, and finds a naked man on the beach, whom she brings home Principal new characters: Scheria (place), Phaeacians (people): a "never-never" land with a princess and magic ships, otherwise unknown in the Greek tradition Nausicaa, nubile princess of the Phaeacians

Book 7 Odysseus arrives at the palace of Acinous.


Principal episodes:

Odysseus enters the palace and supplicates Arete: he is received in friendly wise by the king and queen, and welcomed (note the feast)

The Odyssey
Principal new characters:

Alcinous, stately king of the Phaeacians Arete, queen of the Phaeacians

Book 8 Demodocus sings of Odysseus and Achilles. The games. The song of the wooden horse.
Principal episodes:

The singer Demodocus sings of the strife of Odysseus and Achilles, and Od. weeps. (Note how the singer is introduced: what is his social status? what is the social function of the singing?) The games: Odysseus, challenged, beats them all Demodocus sings the story of Aphrodite's "affair" with Ares, and Hephaestus' punishment Demodocus sings of the wooden horse Finally, Alcinous asked Odysseus, "Who are you" and Od. agrees to tell his tale (Note that books 9-12 are the tale of Odysseus, not in the voice of the narrator!) Principal new characters:

Demodocus, the "bard" (professional singer) of the court of Alcinous Ares, Aphrodite, Hephaestus (old friends-- well, sort of)

Book 9 Odysseus' story: Lotus Eaters; Cyclops.


Principal episodes:

Cicones: Od. sacks their city, and loses men in a counterattack Lotus Eaters (Lotophagi): a land of drugged forgetfulness, the first stop in the "never-never land" to the West Cyclops: know this story (and its implications) thoroughly!

The Odyssey
Principal new characters:

Cicones, the last historical people Odysseus meets on his journey Polyphemus, a cyclops, and child of Poseidon

Book 10 Island of Aeolus. Laestrygonians. Circe.


Principal episodes:

Aeolus entertains Odysseus and gives him the bag of winds. Od's men untie the bag while he is asleep, but Aeolus will not help further. Laestrygonians: cannibals. Note that Od. loses all but one ship of his fleet here. Aeaea, the island of Circe, the enchantress-witch. Circe turns Od's men into swine. Odysseus outwits her with the help of the moly given him by Hermes. A year of happy, drugged forgetfulness. Principal new characters:

Aeolus Laestrygonians Aeaea, island of Circe (in Greek, means "oh woe!") Circe Hermes, as the trickster god

Book 11 Nekyia (journey to the underworld)


Principal episodes:

Journey to the underworld: rites, blood, sword (how does he manage the ghosts?) Principal ghosts and their stories: Elpenor; Teiresias; Anticleia (Odysseus' mother); Agamemnon; Ajax

The Odyssey
Principal new characters:

Nekyia (=Nekuia): know this term For principal ghosts, see list above

Book 12 Sirens. Scylla and Charybdis. Cattle of Helius. Calypso's island.


Principal episodes:

Sirens: how do they escape this danger? what is the nature of the danger? Scylla (6 headed female monster) and Charybdis (whirlpool female monster): Cattle of Helios: why is it that Od's men defy him and eat the divine cattle? How does Od. lose the rest of his men? Shipwrecked on Calypso's island (ring composition) Principal new characters:

Sirens Scylla (6 headed female monster) Charybdis (whirlpool female monster) Helios, sun god

The Odyssey Book 13 Departure from the Phaeacians. Arrival at Ithaca. Athena's advice.
Principal episodes:

Phaeacians transport Odysseus to Ithaca with many treasures. Odysseus, greeted by Athena, tells the first of his Cretan tales. (What does this tell us about the nature of his storytelling? How does that reflect on books 9-12?!) Principal new characters:

(none)

Book 14 Arrival at Eumaeus' hut.


Principal episodes:

Odysseus goes in disguise to the hut of the swineherd Eumaeus. He tells the second of his Cretan tales. (Note Eumaeus' reaction to this tale!) Principal new characters:

Eumaeus, the loyal swineherd

Book 15 Telemachus returns home. His arrival at Eumaeus' hut.


Principal episodes: Finally we rejoin the action left hanging at the end of book 4, as Telemachus returns and avoids the ambush of the suitors: note the narrative convergence! Telemachus returns to Ithaca, going through Pylos, where he picks up the seer Theoclymenus as a companion.

The Odyssey
Principal new characters:

Theoclymenus, the seer

Book 16 Recognition by Telemachus.


Principal episodes:

Telemachus and Odysseus meet at Eumaeus' hut. Odysseus, magically transformed by Athena from beggar to king, is recognized as father by his son. Principal new characters:

We remeet the principal suitors, Antinous & Eurymachus

Book 17 Telemachus arrives at the palace. Eumaeus bring Odysseus to the palace.
Principal episodes:

Telemachus arrives at the palace, and Theoclymenus the seer declares that Od. is now almost at hand (Note: the first of the many prophecies and omens that increasingly infuse these next books with a feeling of doom for the suitors) Odysseus arrives: the Argos episode (why this? in what ways does it set up themes or moods, or prefigure later events?) Odysseus begs the assembled gents, and is ill treated by Antinous; Penelope curses Antinous for his treatment of the stranger (note the emphasis on Antinous; and the theme of hospitality inverted, to be punished by the gods) Principal new characters:

Argos, Odysseus' old dog (20 years!) Melanthius, the bad goatherd who abuses Odysseus in his guise as beggar

The Odyssey Book 18 Odysseus' fight with Irus. Abuse of Odysseus by handmaidens and suitors.
Principal episodes:

Irus and Odysseus fight (what's the effect of this scene on our view of (a) Odysseus? (b) Antinous? (c) the idea of the hero?) Grand entrance of the lovely Penelope: now that T. is of age, she will at last wed, but first she must get some gifts! (why this now of all times? what about the gifts: is she being mercenary?) Odysseus and Eurymachus argue, and E. throws a stool at him (just like Antinous: it marks as a dead man!) Principal new characters:

Irus (born Antaeus), the rival beggar Amphinomus: a "good" suitor, warned by Odysseus, but marked to die by Athena

Book 19 Meeting of Penelope and Odysseus. Recognition by Eurycleia.


Principal episodes:

Odysseus and Penelope have a conversation (Wow! finally! pay attention to the dynamics of their very delicate interaction: see class notes) The nurse Eurycleia recognizes Od. by his scar (note that she seems to already know him, more or less, and to be confirming the recognition by feeling for the scar: why is the long episode of the hunt introduced here-what effect does it have? what does it tell us about Odysseus and what kind of man he is?) Penelope: (a) relates her sorrow to that of Procne (see class notes); (b) has a strange dream of geese (ditto)

The Odyssey
Principal new characters:

Eurycleia, the nurse, in a prominent passage Melantho, the bad handmaiden who sleeps with Eurymachus: note that her name means "the dark one", and is the feminine equivalent of the bad goatherd Melanthius

Book 20 Preparation for the slaughter.


Principal episodes: More omens, more bad behavior by the suitors, and more spine shown by Telemachus: all is ready now Principal new characters: (none)

Book 21 Drawing of the bow.


Principal episodes: The contest of the bow (why a bow? what does the introduction of this contest do to how we see Odysseus?) Principal new characters:

(none, but be able to recognize the name of Philoetius, the cowherd loyal to Odysseus who with Eumaeus lends critical assistance to hero and son)

Book 22 Slaughter of the suitors.


Principal episodes:

Slaughter of the suitors: who goes first? who second? and --importantly!-who third? what about the help of Athena? is this a fair fight?! who is spared?

The Odyssey

Punishment and hanging of the handmaidens; mutilation of Melanthius the goatherd Purging and cleansing of the house Principal new characters:

(none)

Book 23 Penelope recognizes Odysseus.


Principal episodes:

Penelope is told of the slaughter and Odysseus' return, but is slow to believe the truth after so many lies: P. and Od. finally reunite (why all the hesitation? is P. really cold, as Od. suggests? what is the "test" that P. now sets for Od.?) Note: some ancient and modern scholars believe that the "original" Odyssey ended at line 23.296! (Why?) Od. tells P. of his future (as prophesized by Teiresias), and of his exploits during the 10 years of his wanderings (what does he include, what does he leave out, in this account?) Principal new characters:

(none)

Book 24 Recognition by Laertes. Combat and truce.


Principal episodes:

(See note above as to whether this entire book was really part of the "original" Odyssey) The suitors in Hades meet ... Agamemnon! (who else?) Odysseus visits his father Laertes, to whom he tells his last tale ... but then finally also the truth Kin and friends of the suitors march against Odysseus, but Athena intervenes and makes peace (is this a satisfying ending?)

The Odyssey
Principal new characters: Laertes, Odysseus' father, whom we finally meet

Johnson, William A. Bucknell University. Spring 1998. Tales of Heroes: Classical Epic. Study Guide: The Odyssey. 15-Sep-2011. <http://classics.uc.edu/~johnson/epic/study_guide3.html>.