The Odyssey at a Glance
The Odyssey is Homer's epic of Odysseus' 10-year struggle to return home after the Trojan War. While Odysseus battles mystical creatures and faces the wrath of the gods, his wife Penelope and his son Telemachus stave off suitors vying for Penelope's hand and Ithaca's throne long enough for Odysseus to return. The Odyssey ends as Odysseus wins a contest to prove his identity, slaughters the suitors, and retakes the throne of Ithaca.
Written by: Homer
Type of Work: epic poem
Genres: epic; mythology
First Published: probably around 700 B.C.
Setting: The sea and Ithaca
Main Characters: Odysseus; Penelope; Telemachus; Athena (Pallas); Polyphemus (the Cyclops) and King Alcinous; Circe and Calypso
Major Thematic Topics: hospitality; loyalty; perseverance; vengeance; appearance versus reality; spiritual growth
Motifs: mythology; love; disguises
Major Symbols: Laertes' shroud; Odysseus' bow; the sea; Ithaca
Movie Versions: Ulysses (1955); The Odyssey (1997)
The three most important aspects of The Odyssey:
The Odyssey is an epic, a very long poem on a single subject. Some epics were composed in order to be performed from memory, and so they include poetic devices to make them more memorable. And many epics, probably including The Odyssey, were written to be performed to musical accompaniment.
- The journey of Odysseus from Troy to Ithaca takes ten years — the same amount of time that the Trojan War itself lasted. The extraordinary length of Odysseus' return trip, which should take a matter of weeks, is due to his many antagonists, including the god Poseidon, the many mythical creatures he encounters, and Odysseus' often greedy and lazy crewmen.
- Odysseus's most memorable quality is not his bravery or strength — though he is brave and strong — but rather his cleverness. In fact, Homer refers to his protagonist throughout the epic as "wily Odysseus."