gigatos | December 11, 2021


Odysseus (Ulysses) – a character of Greek mythology, king of Ithaca, son of Laertes and grandson of Autolycus, distinguished by intelligence and cunning. He was forced to take part in the Trojan War, in the course of which he killed his enemy Palamedes. It was Odysseus, according to one version of the myth, who figured out how to take Troy using a wooden horse. His journey home at the end of the war dragged on for ten years because of the wrath of Poseidon and various misadventures; during his voyage, Odysseus encountered the ogre Cyclops Polyphemus, the sorceress Kirk, who turned travelers into pigs, walked between the monsters Skyla and Charybdis, managed to hear the sirens” songs without dying, descended into Hades and returned to the world of the living. He spent seven years pining for home on the paradisiacal island of Calypso until, through the intervention of the gods, he was able to continue on his journey. Making a short stop in the land of the Theacians, Odysseus returned to his homeland, where his faithful wife Penelope and son Telemachus were waiting for him. He outwitted Penelope”s rambunctious suitors and then went into exile in Epirus. According to one version of the myth, Odysseus died in Ithaca at the hand of his own son Telegon. According to other versions, he died his own death in Epirus or Aetolia, or died in Etruria.

Odysseus became one of the heroes of the Iliad and the central character of another poem by Homer, The Odyssey, which tells of his long return to his homeland. In this epic, he overcomes all dangers through his intelligence and mental fortitude. Odysseus also acts in a number of cyclic poems, Greek and Roman tragedies (including the surviving Philoctetus and Ajax by Sophocles, Hecuba by Euripides, and the Trojans by Seneca). He became a popular character in ancient fine art. After relative neglect, interest in the Odyssey was revived in the early modern period, when Homer”s poems began to be read again. The word “odyssey” came to refer to any long voyage, usually accompanied by all kinds of difficulties and vicissitudes of fate. The King of Ithaca appears in many literary works from Dante”s Divine Comedy to fantasy novels of the early 21st century, and in a number of feature films. James Joyce”s novel Ulysses is based on analogies with the Odyssey.

Scholars see the Odysseus as a hero of folklore, possibly related to the pre-Hellenic population of the Southern Balkans. Initially it could have been the image of a fairy-tale hero-traveler, at a later stage enriched with the features of a sufferer and a man longing for his distant home. Odysseus gradually entered the Trojan mythological cycle and became a warrior-hero who, unlike others, conquers with the help not only of force but also of reason.

There are many variants of the name Odysseus in the sources: in Homer”s poems it is Ὀδυσσεύς or Ὀδυσεύς, on amphorae of the Archaic period – Ὀλυτές, Ὀλυτεύς, Ὀλυτεύς, Ὀλυσεὺς and others. There are differing opinions in science about these names – whether the Homeric variants, with the letter δ, are older or whether the two groups of names were originally associated with different regions of Greece and different dialects of the ancient Greek language. The Latinized form of the name, UlixesUlisses, according to one version, is connected with the variant that was used in the west and south of Balkan Greece; the Etruscan, UtuseUthuseUthusteUthuzte, is connected with the Ionian variation.

The ancient Greeks associated the name Odysseus with the verb odyssao – “to anger”, “to hate”. According to Homer, this is the meaning Autolycus had in mind when giving the name to his newborn grandson. Vasily Zhukovsky in the Russian version of The Odyssey gave the translation “angry”, but in fact the ancient Greek participle, which became the name of the hero of the poem, could have two different meanings: active (“enraged”, “hated”) and passive (“angered”, “hated”). In the first case it is Odysseus” hatred of Penelope”s suitors, in the second it is the hatred of some of the gods against Odysseus. In a number of places in the poem the second version is meant, which is why some scholars speak of Odysseus as “hated by the gods. There is an alternative view that the name contains both meanings at once. The anticologist Victor Iarxo states cautiously that “the name Odysseus does not get a satisfactory explanation from the Greek language”: the Greeks could have taken the legends about this hero from their predecessors in the South of the Balkans and given their own interpretation to it.


The ancient authors unanimously call Laertes and Anticlea the parents of Odysseus. In both lines the hero is descended from Zeus. Odysseus” father, the king of Ithaca, a participant in the Calydonian hunt and the voyage of the Argonauts, was the son of Arcesius and Chalcomedusa. The sources tell differently about the genealogy of Archesius: he was the son of either Zeus and Eurydice. In turn, Procrida belonged to the Athenian royal house (she was the daughter of Erechtheus), and Cephalus was either the grandson of Aeolus, king of Phocis, or the son of the god Hermes.

The mother of Odysseus, Antikleia, was the daughter of Autolycus, a notorious robber and thief “famous for his cunning pretenses and for breaking oaths,” the son of Hermes. According to one version of the myth, another prominent trickster, the Corinthian Sisyphus, raped Antikleia shortly before her marriage to punish Autolycus for stealing his cows and became the real father of Odysseus (one of Sophocles” Scholiasts even claims that Sisyphus and Antikleia were married). Odysseus” cunning, practicality, and ability to find a way out of any situation are associated with this genealogy.

The kings of Ithaca traditionally had only one man for every generation; and Odysseus was also the only son. Homer mentions his younger sister Ctimene, and later antique authors mention another sister named either Callisto (by Lysimachus) or Phake (“Lentil” by Mnasseus).

Early Years

According to most ancient authors, Odysseus was born in Ithaca (in particular, Silenus of Chios believes that it happened near Mount Neriton, in the rain). Only Istrus writes that Antikleia gave birth to a son on her way from her native Parnassus to her husband”s kingdom, near Alalcomen in Boeotia, because of which Odysseus subsequently named another city, Alalcomen, in his homeland. Istra”s version may have been an attempt to reconcile the different myths about Odysseus that existed in western Greece and in Boeotia. According to Homer, Autolycus came to visit his daughter and son-in-law just as his grandson was being born. It was the grandfather who gave the baby the name.

Xenophonte and Libanius refer to Odysseus as one of the disciples of the wise centaur Chiron, who lived on Mount Pelion. Homer knows nothing of this and gives a number of sketchy accounts of Laertidus” childhood and adolescence. As a child, he received from his father a gift of many trees in the garden: thirteen pears, ten apple trees, and forty fig trees. When he grew up, Odysseus visited his grandfather on Parnassus and received from him the rich gifts promised. Hunting a boar together with his uncles (the hunting place was shown to travelers as early as the 2nd century A.D.). (at that time the Delphic gymnasium stood there). On behalf of his father and heroes, Odysseus undertook a trip to Messena to demand compensation for the three hundred bulls that the Messenians had stolen along with the shepherds. In that city he met Iphitheus, king of Echalea, who had come for a similar cause. The two heroes became friends and exchanged gifts: Odysseus received a bow, which he later used to shoot the suitors. Laertidus also traveled to the city of Aethera (presumably in Thesprotia) to ask King Ilus, son of Mermer, for poison for his arrows. When he heard the refusal, he got what he wanted from the king of the Tathians, Anchialus.

At some point Laertes ceded royal power to Odysseus. The reasons for this step are not known; the transfer of power took place before the Trojan War, that is, more than twenty years before the time of the Odyssey, when Laertes was probably still a relatively young and strong man. It is known that Odysseus commanded, in addition to Ithaca, Cephallenia and was “unspeakably rich.

The Beginning of the Trojan War

In connection with his marriage, Odysseus became involved in general Greek affairs. Hesiod and Pseudo-Hygin write that the king of Ithaca was one of the many suitors for Helen, daughter of Leda and either the Spartan king Tyndareus or Zeus himself. This girl surpassed all women in beauty, and so heroes from all over Greece claimed her hand. Tyndareus hesitated to choose a son-in-law because he feared that the rejected suitors would become his enemies. Then Odysseus, in exchange for the promise of the hand of the king”s niece Penelope, gave him some saving advice: oblige all the suitors to swear that they would “unitedly come to his aid if the chosen groom should be endangered by the forthcoming wedding”. Such an oath was taken by all, including the king of Ithaca, over the carcass of the sacrificed horse. Menelaus became Helen”s husband, and Odysseus received Penelope.

Therakid presents an alternative version of the myth, according to which Odysseus originally claimed Penelope”s hand: Laertes learned that this girl was superior to other Greek women in beauty and intelligence, and therefore wanted to marry her son to her. There were many suitors, and Penelope”s father Icarius (brother of Tyndareus) gave them a race. The winner was Odysseus. The father-in-law, not wishing to part with his daughter, at length entreated Odysseus to stay in Sparta; when he refused, he begged Penelope to stay with him. Even when the newlyweds set out on their journey, Icarius followed their chariot for a long time, still begging his daughter. Finally Odysseus had to ask his wife to choose between him and her father. She did not answer and only covered her face with a veil, and then the couple continued their journey.

Soon after his marriage, Odysseus was initiated into the Samothrace mystery. Penelope bore him a son named Telemachus. Meanwhile, Helen had been kidnapped by the Trojan prince Paris, and Menelaus traveled all over Greece to summon heroes bound by oath to participate in the campaign against Troy. He appeared on Ithaca with his brother Agamemnon (king of Mycenae) and the Euboean prince Palamedes. Odysseus did not want to take part in the war, because he had been told that he would return home alone and destitute after twenty years, so he pretended to be insane. Before the guests, the king of Ithaca appeared in a felt peasant”s hat, plowing the field (an ox and a donkey were harnessed to the plough) and sowing its salt. But Palamedes outsmarted Odysseus: he put the newborn son of an imaginary madman on the ground in front of the plow, and the latter had to lift the infant from the ground (according to another version, Palamedes swung a sword at Telemachus). Thus it was proved that the king of Ithaca was of sound mind. As he bade his wife farewell, Odysseus told her, if he did not return, to marry again when Telemachus became an adult.

Now Odysseus himself had to participate in the gathering of forces. Together with Menelaus he went to Cyprus and got the local king Cinyras to swear to send fifty ships to Troy. Then his way was to Skyros, where the Myrmidonian prince Achilles was hidden: according to the oracle, without this hero the capture of Troy was impossible, and Achilles himself was predicted an early death in case of participation in the war. That is why the prince”s mother, Thetis, hid him in Skyros, where he lived in the king”s palace, dressed as a woman. Odysseus tricked Achilles into giving himself away: he laid out gifts in the palace (jewels, clothes, and between them a sword and a shield) and invited the women to choose something to their liking. Suddenly the battle trumpet sounded, and Achilles grabbed his weapon. After that he too had to join the anti-Troyan alliance. According to an alternative version, the Myrmidonian prince was not in hiding, and Odysseus, who visited him in Phthiotida, did not have to go to any lengths.

On behalf of Agamemnon, Odysseus kidnapped the three daughters of Ani, king of Delos, who could turn everything they touched into wine, grain and oil. However, the sisters managed to escape. After that, Odysseus joined the Greeks, who concentrated a united fleet near Avlida. They could not continue their voyage to the coast of Asia Minor for many days because of the headwind; it turned out that they had to propitiate the gods by bringing Agamemnon”s daughter Iphigenia as a sacrifice, and it was Odysseus who had to follow the queen to Mycenae. He deceived Clytemnestra, the girl”s mother, telling her that Iphigenia was to be married to Achilles. The princess was sacrificed (or Artemis replaced her with a doe at the last moment), and after that the wind blew.

On the way to Helespont, on Lesbos, Odysseus defeated the local king Philomelidas. It was on the advice of the king of Ithaca, as some ancient authors write, that the Achaeans abandoned Philoctetes on Lemnos with an unhealed and stinking wound. Finally, Odysseus was one of the three ambassadors (along with Menelaus and Palamedes) who went to Troy before the hostilities began and demanded the return of Helen and the treasure stolen with her. The Trojans responded with a firm refusal and even wanted to kill the ambassadors, but Antenor prevented them from doing so.

Under Troy

The siege of Troy lasted ten years. One thing is known about Odysseus” actions in the first nine years of the war: he ruined Palamedes. According to Servius, the king of Ithaca considered himself insulted when Palamedes was more fortunate in finding wheat for the army; according to Euripides” Scholiastes and Dictys of Crete, Palamedes was too popular with the Greeks, which made Agamemnon, Diomedes and Odysseus hate him; “all the poets,” according to Socrates as recounted by Xenophon, claimed that Odysseus was envious of Palamedes” intelligence; Virgil writes that Palamedes was too peaceful and therefore dangerous to the chief leaders of the Achaeans. Finally, Hyginus reports that Odysseus hated Palamedes ever since he forced him to take part in the Trojan War.

According to the best-known version of the myth, Odysseus convinced Agamemnon that the entire Greek army had to leave the camp for a day. He buried the gold in Palameda”s tent, and then, when the soldiers returned, he instructed a captive Phrygian to deliver a letter supposedly written by Priam, king of Troy, to Palameda. The Phrygian was by his order killed before he found the addressee; the message found with him was brought to Agamemnon, and he read: “To Palamedu sends Priam…” The letter went on to list the buried treasures. The king of Mycenae ordered a search and Odysseus” gold was found. The Greeks, convinced that Palamedes had betrayed the common cause, stoned him.

According to another version, Odysseus and Diomedes simply killed Palamedes: either they drowned him while fishing, or they told him they had found a treasure at the bottom of a well, lowered him down and stoned him. Either way, Palamedes” death caused misfortune for many Greek kings: his father Nauplius and brother Oiacus, not receiving legal compensation from Agamemnon, began to travel around Greece and tell the wives of heroes who were at Troy that they had found concubines who wanted to make queens when they returned home. Under the influence of such tales, some women committed suicide, while others had lovers and plotted to kill their husbands. According to Flavius Philostratus, Achilles” anger at the Greeks was not due to the loss of Briseis, but to the murder of Palamedes.

Odysseus participated with Ajax Telamonides in the fight over the body of Achilles and, according to Dictis of Crete, killed two of Priam”s sons, Aretas and Echemmon. Quintus of Smyrna lists several other noble Trojans killed by Odysseus in this fight; the king of Ithaca himself was wounded in the knee, but did not retreat. According to Antisthenes, Ajax defended Achilles” body in the fight, and Odysseus defended his weapons. In the same author, Ajax himself claims that Odysseus deliberately chose a less valuable prey to defend. However, Sophocles and Ovid are certain that the king of Ithaca saved both the weapons and the body of Achilles from the enemy.

After the battle, Odysseus and Ajax asserted their claims to Achilles” armor (in antique literature this episode is known as the “Arms Dispute”). Each of them tried to prove that he was more courageous and powerful and contributed more to the protection of the body and armor of the deceased. Odysseus was the winner in this contest, and ancient authors give different details: the decision was made either by the supreme leader Agamemnon, who did not like Eacids (both Ajax and Achilles belonged to this family), or by an assembly of all Greek leaders, or even by Trojan captives, who said which of these two had done more damage to them. There is a version that, at Nestorius” suggestion, Greek spies overheard at the walls of Troy and learned the unbiased opinion of their enemies: one girl said that it was Odysseus who took all the power of the Trojan blow in the battle over Achilles” body. This Trojan girl said so, doing the will of Athena, who was on the side of the king of Ithaca.

For Ajax, this decision was a heavy blow. That same night he decided to take revenge, but, deprived of his reason by Athena, he mistook a herd of cows and sheep for Greek leaders. Ajax slaughtered many of the animals, and one white-footed ram, whom he mistook for Odysseus, he tied to a pole and began to whip with a half bridle and scold at the top of his voice. When he came to his senses he killed himself. Agamemnon ordered not to bury his body, but Odysseus intervened and persuaded the king of Mycenae to lift the ban.

The Taking of Troy

By the time of the “Argument of Arms,” the siege of Troy had been going on for more than nine years, and the Greeks were beginning to lose hope of victory. One of the new predictions stated that it was necessary to capture Helen, who knew the secret oracles that protected Troy. Odysseus did so (according to another version, Helen himself defected to the Greeks). It turned out that the city could be taken in the coming summer if at least one bone of Pelops was brought to the Greek camp, if Achilles” son Neoptolemus participated in the siege, and if the Greeks had the Hercules bow that Philoctetes had once cast on Lemnos. According to an alternative version, Helen was captured already when Philoctetes was under Troy, and accordingly the third item was the theft from the city of the palladium, a sacred statue of Athena.

In any case, Odysseus had to travel to Lemnos (together with Diomede) and persuade Philoctetes to join the army. To Skyros he went after Neoptolemus, too. Achilles” son willingly followed him – Odysseus met resistance only from Neoptolemus” mother Deidamia and her father, King Lycomedes. When he returned to the walls of Troy, the king of Ithaca gave Neoptolemus the armor of Achilles (however, later ancient authors write that Odysseus lost this armor later, in a shipwreck off the coast of Sicily).

Twice Odysseus was able to penetrate into the besieged Troy. The first time, he previously whipped his back and dressed up in a beggar”s trenchcoat. In the city Odysseus was recognized by Helena, but she did not betray him and even provided him with shelter for a while; having gathered important data and killed several Trojans, he returned to his own. The second time, Odysseus sneaked into Troy with Diomedes to steal the palladium. According to one version, the heroes went through a narrow and dirty secret passage and overpowered the guards, then brought the statue of Athena out safely; according to another, they had to climb over the wall. The author of The Little Iliad reports that the ladder was short, and so Diomedes climbed on Odysseus” shoulders and climbed over the wall alone and carried the palladium out. Odysseus decided to kill him in order to appropriate all the glory for himself, but Diomedes saw a shadow approaching him and managed to disarm his comrade.

The Greeks were able to take Troy thanks to a wooden horse, a trick most sources attribute to Odysseus. It was the king of Ithaca who came up with the idea of withdrawing his army (supposedly finally tired from the war) and leaving the Trojans a huge wooden horse as a gift, inside which the bravest of the Greeks were to hide. Odysseus himself chose the bravest and climbed onto the horse with them; he was chosen as the eldest. The Trojans believed that the enemy had gone, and dragged the “gift” into the city. When Helen walked around the horse, calling the Greeks by their names and imitating the voices of their wives, it was Odysseus who did not allow Menelaus, Diomedes and Anticles to call back (the latter he clamped his mouth shut until Helen left, and according to a later version of the myth he even strangled him).

At night, the Greeks got out of the horse, slaughtered the guards and opened the gates for the main force, which had been waiting on ships nearby the whole time. Odysseus, who had already been to Troy, led Menelaus to the house of Deiphobus (while they fought each other, the king of Ithaca slaughtered the rest of the Trojans who were in the house. Then Odysseus saved from death the two sons of Antenor, a secret friend of the Greeks. According to Cyprian, that same night Odysseus and Diomedes mortally wounded Priam”s daughter Polyxena. The latter”s sister Cassandra was raped by Aeacus Ailidus in the temple of Athena, and Odysseus offered the Achaeans to stone the sacrilegious man, but he escaped thanks to a false oath.

At the council, where the fate of many prisoners was decided, Odysseus suggested killing Hector”s son Astianax, who was still a child at the time. According to some authors, he threw the prince off the wall (other versions mention Neoptolemus and Menelaus). Of the captive Trojan women, according to Euripides, Odysseus got Priam”s widow Hecuba. She was soon killed because she accused the Achaeans of sacrilege and cruelty.

The Way Home: From Troy to Hades

After the capture of Troy, the Atrid brothers quarreled, and the entire Achaean army split into two parts. Odysseus joined Menelaus and sailed home with him, but new quarrels broke out on the island of Tenedos, which caused the king of Ithaca to sail to Agamemnon. Later he began his own voyage to his native shores. The Ithacians landed temporarily in the land of the Cycons in Thrace, where they stormed the city of Ismar; but then, contrary to the king”s orders, they did not set sail at once and were attacked by Thracians from the interior. As a result, 72 of Odysseus” companions perished. Due to the strong northeasterly winds the flotilla crossed the Aegean all in four days. The attempt to sail around Malea and turn north to Ithaca failed: the storm threw the ships to the shores of the lotus country. Trying lotus in this country was enough to forget his homeland forever, but Odysseus noticed this danger in time and hastily continued his journey.

Soon the king of Ithaca docked on a large wooded island that was home to many goats. With some of his companions he set out to explore the land and wandered into a cave, which turned out to be the home of Polyphemus, a one-eyed giant ogre, son of Poseidon. Polyphemus, seeing the uninvited guests, sealed off the exit to the cave with a huge stone. He killed and ate two Achaeans, and the next day four more, and only then did Odysseus figure out how to escape. Laertides gave the Cyclops undiluted wine to drink, and when it fell asleep, he pierced its only eye with a huge pointed stake. Polyphemus told his tribesmen, who ran away crying, that Nobody had blinded him (this is how Odysseus had introduced himself to him at the meeting), so that it had never occurred to them to look for the culprits of what had happened. The next morning the Cyclops rolled aside the stone to let the sheep out to pasture, and the Achaeans were able to get out with the animals. Already on board the ship, Odysseus mockingly said goodbye to Polyphemus and gave him his name:

Polyphemus, hearing this, prayed to his father that Odysseus would only arrive home after many misfortunes, having lost all his ships and all his companions. Further events showed that Poseidon heard this prayer.

Moving north, Odysseus reached the island of Aeolus, lord of the winds. The latter received him with honor for a whole month, and before parting handed him a fur in which were enclosed all the winds, except the western one – Zephyr. It was Zephyr that was to ensure the Italians” peaceful return to their homeland. After nine days of navigation the fleet approached the coast of Ithaca, but then something unexpected happened: the companions of Odysseus decided that he was hiding gold and silver received from Aeolus in the fur; having waited until the king fell asleep, they opened the fur and let the winds blow out. Soon the ships, driven by the storm, were again off the island of Aeolus. Aeolus realized that Odysseus had turned the powerful deity against himself and refused to help him.

The Ithacians sailed east again. After seven days, they arrived in the country of the Lestrigonians, but the local giant inhabitants, who turned out to be cannibals, threw huge stones at the ships from the shore. Only one ship, the one on which Odysseus was on, managed to get out to sea. The next stop was made by the travelers on the island of Eaea, where the sorceress Kirk lived. (Only Odysseus” friend Euryloch, who was able to return to the ship, preserved his human face. Odysseus set out to rescue his companions. Hermes came to his aid, giving him a talisman – a flower of moth, which made evil magic powerless. Kirka touched Odysseus with his rod with the words “Go and roll as a pig in a room with others”, but he did not turn into a pig thanks to the flower and put his sword over the sorceress. Stunned by what had happened, she began to persuade her guest to spare her and share her bed. Odysseus yielded only after Kirka swore not to harm him and returned his human form to his companions.

Odysseus lived on Aegean for a year. Only after that did the Ithacians convince their king to continue his journey to his homeland. However, before that, at Kirki”s insistence, Odysseus headed across the Ocean to the kingdom of the dead to learn from the shadow of the soothsayer Tiresias his fate. The travelers reached the confluence of the rivers Cocytus and Phlegethon into the Acheront; there they dug a hole and sacrificed a black ram and a cow. The souls of the dead began to fly to the place to drink the sacrificial blood, but Odysseus drove them away with his naked sword until the soul of Tiresias appeared. Having drunk, it warned the king of Ithaca that he should not raise his hand against the flocks of Helios (according to another version – Hyperion). If this happens, then all Odysseus” companions will die, and he will return home alone, there he will meet “violent people”, will kill them and will be forced to leave his homeland again. In this case, he will have to wander until he finds a people who do not know the sea, have never seen a ship or salted food.

Then Odysseus spoke to the soul of his mother, who had died of longing for him after the outbreak of the Trojan War. Antikleia told him that Penelope was waiting for her husband, spending her days in sorrow, and that the royal office was “not given to anyone from the people. The shadows of many famous women quenched their thirst: Tyro, Antiope, Iphimedeia, and others. After them, the souls of Odysseus” comrades in the Trojan War flocked to the sacrificial blood. Agamemnon told him of the circumstances of his death and advised him to dock at Ithaca secretly to avoid danger; Achilles listened to the story of the great glory of his son, Neoptolemus. Ajax Telamonides, who remembered the dispute about weapons, would not approach Odysseus, and Hercules sympathized with Laertides in his troubles. The king of Ithaca wanted to wait for the other great heroes, Theseus and Pirithoi, but he heard shouts and was afraid that Persephone would send the head of Medusa the Gorgon against him out of the darkness, and so he hurried back to the ship and sailed away.

The Way Home: From Kirki Island to Ithaca

Without adventures Odysseus reached Eaea, where he was happily welcomed by Kirka. After listening to the sorceress” story of the future dangers he faced, he sailed towards Ithaca. Soon the travelers approached the island of the Sirens, creatures with the bodies of birds and the faces of women, who charmed all who passed by with their singing, lured them closer, and then killed them. Warned by Kirk, Odysseus ordered his companions in advance to cover their ears with wax and tie him to the mast so that he could enjoy the singing without risk. The sirens sang so sweetly that Laertides signalled to the rowers to untie him; but they rowed with double force, and the king was tied even tighter.

Next, Odysseus had to choose whether to sail through the floating rocks of Plankta or through the strait between the two cliffs where the monsters Charybdis and Scylla lived. He chose the second. Charybdis sucked in huge amounts of water three times a day, along with the ships and the people on them; Skilla grabbed sailors (six at a time) from the ships and devoured them. In an attempt to escape Charybdis, Odysseus got too close to the other shore, so Scylla grabbed six of his companions. Before the beast could return, the ship had passed through the strait.

Soon the Ithacians were off the coast of Sicily, where the herds of Helios or Hyperion were grazing. Remembering Tiresias” warning, Odysseus made his companions swear that they would not kill these animals. After that, however, unfavorable winds blew for thirty days, preventing them from continuing their journey; provisions from Aeaea ran out, and hunting and fishing were of no avail. So the Greeks, waiting for Odysseus to fall asleep, killed some bulls and began to roast their meat. Laertides, waking up, was horrified, but nothing could be undone. When the travelers set sail for Ithaca, Zeus, at the request of Helios (all the Ithacians died, and only Odysseus was saved by grasping the wreck of the ship. He was carried across the sea for nine days until the waves threw him ashore on the island of Aegis, where the “fair-haired, sweet-tongued nymph” Calypso lived.

According to Homer, Odysseus spent seven years on this island (Hyginus writes of one year, Apollodorus of five years, Ovid of six). Calypso shared a bed with him, persuaded him to become her husband and forget Ithaca, and in return promised immortality; but Laertides longed for home and for his family. He sat for long hours on the seashore and gazed into the distance. Finally, Zeus, at Athena”s request, sent Hermes as a messenger to Aegis, and he gave Calypso the order to free his guest. Having built a raft, Odysseus set out again. After seventeen days of calm sailing, a huge wave sent by Poseidon washed the traveler into the water, but he was able to swim out and return to the raft. The sea goddess Loukothea came to his aid: she persuaded Odysseus to wrap himself in the miraculous veil that she had given him and jump into the water again. After two days the swimmer, naked and exhausted, reached the shore of the island of Drepana which belongs to the people of the Theaca. He hid in a grove by a stream and fell asleep.

In the morning Nausicaia, daughter of the local king Alcinoe, came to the brook. She was playing ball with her maids when Odysseus came out to her, covering her nakedness with dry branches. “He pacified the frightened princess with a “kindly word. She took him under her protection and brought him to the palace, where she presented him to her father. Odysseus told Alcinoe, his wife Areta and his cronies the story of the capture of Troy and his wanderings. After that, the pheacians took Laertidus to Ithaca in their ship. Asleep, they laid him on the sand and sailed away.

The Problem of the Odyssey Route

There was no consensus about where exactly Odysseus sailed already in the Archaic era. Hesiod assumed that Laertidus sailed mainly in the Tyrrhenian Sea, off the coast of Sicily and Italy, and his point of view has proved influential: for example, the Siren rocks in Strabo”s time were placed, according to many, at Cape Pelorias (in Sicily) or at the Sirenus (in Campania), and the strait between Scylla and Charybdis was identified with the Strait of Messania. For proponents of such localizations, it remained unclear how far Odysseus traveled west during his journey to the afterlife and, in particular, whether he passed between the Pillars of Hercules (through the Strait of Gibraltar). Cratetus of Mullus gave an affirmative answer to this question, Aristarchus of Samothrace, Callimachus of Cyrene and Polybius gave a negative answer.

The country of the lotophagi was localized by various ancient authors in different parts of the Libyan coast or in Sicily; in Sicily lived Lestrigonians and Cyclops (in any case, the action of Euripides” Satyr drama Cyclops takes place there), and the incident with Helios” bulls could have occurred near the city of Mila. The Greeks believed that, in memory of those events, Cape Pachin has the alternative name of Cape Odysseus. The Aeolian island was thought to be Lipara or Strongola in the Leparian archipelago.

The island of Kirki Aeia was identified by many authors with the country of Aeia, the goal of the Argonauts; the floating rocks of Plankty were correspondingly identified with Simplegades. For some writers this meant moving the goal of the Argonauts from east to west, for others it meant localizing Odysseus” voyage in the Pontus of the Euxine. Aegeus was also seen in the island of Henaria near Cum or in parts of the coast of Latium and Campania, the place of Odysseus” descent into the afterlife was also sought in Southern Italy. Traces of Laertida”s stay were recorded in different parts of the western world – in the southern part of Spain (in the area of the Phoenician colony of Abdera), in Lusitania (the city of Olisipo was considered founded by Odysseus-Ulysses because of its name), in Gaul, in Caledonia, where travelers were shown the altar set up by Odysseus with a Greek inscription, in Germany, where Laertides was considered the founder of the city of Asziburgia on the Rhine (possibly the modern village of Asburg near Mörs). Strabo writes that in Spain travelers were shown “thousands of other traces of Odysseus” wanderings after the Trojan War.

Since the Hellenistic era, the view has been gaining popularity that Homer did not have any particular places in mind and, moreover, was not versed in the geography of the Mediterranean. Eratosthenes once stated, “You can find the place where Odysseus wandered if you can find the tanner who sewed the windbag. Philosophers denounced attempts to give a literal interpretation of the Homeric texts from a moral point of view.

In Ithaca

When Odysseus woke up, he did not recognize his home island. He thought that the Phaeacians had deceived him by disembarking him in some unknown country. However, Athena appeared to the king and told him where he was and what was happening in Ithaca. By that time Penelope had been harassed for three years by suitors who gathered from all surrounding islands (antique authors name their number – 112). Each of them, believing that Odysseus was already dead, hoped to marry Penelope and become the king together with her. Under plausible excuses, the Tsarina postponed her decision, but the suitors made themselves at home in her palace. They drank the Tsar´s wine, killed and ate the Tsar´s animals and seduced the servants. Athena advised Odysseus not to reveal his name to anyone for the time being and gave him the appearance of an old man.

At first Laertidus found shelter with Eumaeus, an old pig farmer who had remained loyal to the king”s house. In his hut Odysseus met his son Telemachus, to whom he revealed himself (but asked him not to say anything to his mother). The next day he came in the guise of a beggar to the king”s palace. There Odysseus witnessed the rampages of the suitors, defeated Ira (a local beggar who had tried to drive him away) in a fistfight, and in the evening he met Penelope. He introduced himself to her as a Cretan, and told her that he had met her husband in Epirus and that he would soon return home. Penelope did not believe the proximity of the meeting, but nevertheless ordered the old servant Euryclea to wash the guest”s feet and put him up for the night. While washing his feet, Eureklea recognized Odysseus by the old scar; he ordered her to be silent.

The next day Penelope announced to the suitors that she was ready to marry one of them – but only the one who would bend Odysseus” bow and whose arrow would pass through the twelve rings. Immediately the contest began. None of the suitors could draw the bowstring; then Odysseus, disregarding the grievous insults, took the bow and shot it through all the rings. He shot the next arrow into the throat of Antino, the most impudent of the suitors, and announced his name to the assembled men. The bridegrooms rushed to the walls for weapons, but Telemachus carried away the spears and shields beforehand, as his father had commanded him. The fight began: Odysseus, standing at the main entrance to the banqueting hall, shot at his enemies with his bow, while they came at him with their swords. Telemachus brought weapons from the storeroom for himself, Eumaeus, and another faithful servant, Philoitius. In the end all the suitors and their supporters were slaughtered. Twelve maids, “lewd by behavior” and “impolite against the queen,” washed the hall of blood, and then they were hanged in the courtyard.

Now Odysseus finally revealed himself to Penelope. She put him to the test; only after hearing a detailed account of how Odysseus had once made a matrimonial bed in an olive tree trunk did Penelope recognize him as her husband. Then the king found his father, Laertes, in the country manor as well, who recognized him after receiving a “sure sign.”

According to an alternative version of the myth, Penelope did not wait for Odysseus and became intimate either with all the suitors at once or with one of them – Antinoas or Amphinops (as a result Pan was born). Laertidus, after having killed the suitors, also killed the unfaithful wife. According to the third version, he left Penelope alive and left Ithaca himself.

Late Years

In any case, Odysseus could not live a quiet life immediately after the beating of the suitors. According to the classical version of the myth, an armed mob, consisting mainly of relatives of those killed, came to his palace; the king, together with his son and father, rushed into battle and managed to kill several enemies, but the goddess Athena made the fighting stop. Next, according to Homer, “an alliance between king and people was strengthened. Other sources report that the Itacians invited Neoptolemus, king of neighboring Epirus, to settle a dispute with Odysseus. Neoptolemus ruled that Laertides should leave his homeland for ten years and transfer the royal power to Telemachus, while the relatives of the suitors should compensate for the damage caused to the king”s household during this time.

Odysseus crossed to Epirus. To propitiate Poseidon, as Tiresias once advised him, he went on foot through the mountains and walked with an oar on his shoulders until one of the locals shouted to him, “What shining shovel are you holding on your shoulder, stranger?” At this place (in Thesprotia), Odysseus sacrificed three animals to Poseidon and was forgiven by him. Soon he married the local queen Callidice, then led her army against the tribe of the Briggians, but Apollo stopped the war. When his exile expired, Odysseus returned to Ithaca, which was by then ruled by another of his sons, Polyport, reunited with Penelope and assumed power again.

According to one version of the myth, in Epirus, Odysseus made his beloved queen Evippa, who gave birth to his son Euryale. The latter, becoming an adult, went in search of his father. He arrived in Ithaca in Odysseus” absence; Penelope realized who he was and decided to destroy him. When Odysseus returned, she told him that the young stranger had been sent to kill him, and Laertidus killed Euryale.

Odysseus himself died, according to one version of the tradition, on his native island. The oracle said that the king would fall at the hands of his own son, which is why Telemachus, while his father was in Thesprotia, had to go into exile on Cephallenia. The murderer, however, was another son of Odysseus. Telegon, born Kirk, went in search of his father and landed on Ithaca, thinking it was Kerkyra. The king went out to defend his island, and in the fight Telegon inflicted a mortal wound on him with a spear with a stingray spike. Dictis of Crete gives further details: according to him, Odysseus died three days after the battle, and before he died he was glad that Telemachus had not killed him. Telegon, who learned the truth, took his father”s body to his mother. Later, after serving his exile, he married Penelope, and Telemachus married Kirk, and thus the two branches of the Odysseus family were reconciled with each other. According to one version, Kirka resurrected Odysseus, but later Telemachus killed Kirka and was killed himself, and then Laertides died again, this time of grief.

There are alternative versions according to which Odysseus either sailed west from Ithaca to the Pillars of Hercules, died his death in Aetolia or Epirus, or was killed in Etruria, in the city of Cortona he founded. Some of these versions agree better with Tiresias” prediction of a peaceful demise in his old age:


Penelope gave birth to Odysseus shortly after her marriage to her son Telemachus. After her husband”s return from his long wanderings, she gave birth to two more sons, Polyport and Arcesilaus. One version of the myth calls Homer the son of Telemachus and Polycasta (daughter of Nestor), and in historical times the orator Andokidas traced his lineage back to Telemachus and Nausicaia.

Many sons gave birth to Odysseus Kirk and Calypso. Within the antique tradition, there was serious confusion as to who was the mother of a particular hero. Various sources name Telegon (the legendary founder of Preneste and Tusculus, an ancestor of the aristocratic family of Mamilii), Teledam, Agrius (King of the Etruscans), Latina (eponym of Latium in Central Italy), Auson, Rom (Romanus), Casiphon, Nausiphoi, daughters Antia, Ardeia and Cassiphone, the wife of Telemachus, as the children of Kirka. Calypso”s sons were again regarded as Nausiphos, Nausina, Telegon, Latin, and Abzon. Clynius calls Latinus the son of Telegon, Hyginus the son of Telemachus, and John Lyde the son of Zeus and Pandora. Callidica, queen of the Thesprotians, gave birth to Polypoetus by Odysseus, Evippus to Euryale, who may be identified with Leontophonus and Doricles. According to another alternative version, Leontophon”s mother was the daughter of Phoantes.

The author of the scholia to Lycophron”s poem “Alexandra” writes that Calypso resurrected Odysseus and gave him eternal life. This message, which has no parallel in other sources, is interpreted by scholars as one of the proofs of the existence of the cult of Laertidus in Greece. It is known that the Spartans built a shrine to Odysseus as the kidnapper of the palladium and husband of Penelope; in his name oracles were proclaimed in the Eurytian lands of Aetolia, he was honored as a god in some places of Epirus, sacrifices were made in Tarenta and in Ithaca, before the house where he was believed to have once lived. The altar of Odysseus stood on the island of Meninga at Little Sirte (off the coast of Libya). In the temple of Apollo at Sikyon, according to Lucius Ampelius, Odysseus” chlamydia and armor were kept; in the temple of the Mothers in the Sicilian Engia, Odysseus” weapons, which he dedicated to the goddesses, in the city of Circe in Italy, his bowl; in Odysseus” city in southern Spain, the shields of his warriors and the bows of his ships. An altar dedicated to Odysseus was found, according to Tacitus, in the Germanic city of Asciburgia on the Rhine. One of the Phratries of Argos bore the name of Odysseus.

There is a hypothesis that Odysseus was a god among the pre-Greek population of the Southern Balkans. The Greek tribes that appeared in this region in the second millennium BC largely adopted the religion of their predecessors, but Odysseus ceded his functions to other deities (presumably Poseidon), turning into a hero. In historical times his cult was fixed only in the outskirts of the Greek world. Penelope, the mother of Pan, could also be a deity with localization of the cult in Arcadia.

The literature of ancient Greece and Rome was largely based on the development of mythological plots. Accordingly, Odysseus appears in a number of literary works of different genres (both lost and preserved), the earliest of which are presumably the poems “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey” by Homer. Homer in his work drew on a powerful epic tradition about the Trojan War, of which there is no exact information. It was in Homer”s poems that the complex image of Odysseus was created and used by later authors. In plays, poetic and prose works, starting from the classical era, only certain distinctive features of Odysseus (cunning, eloquence, piety for the gods, love of his native land, etc.) received their development. Because of this, some scholars even speak of a “degradation” of the image.

“The Iliad.”

The Iliad is set near Troy in the tenth year of its siege by the Achaeans. It spans 50 days and begins when Palamedes is already dead. According to Homer, Odysseus brought a relatively small flotilla to Troy – twelve ships, which amounted to about one percent of the entire Greek fleet (but these ships stood in the middle of the harbor, and the Achaean leaders, when they had to address the entire army, made a speech from the flagship of Odysseus. The Itacian ships held common altars to the gods, in front of which the popular assemblies were held and the judgment was carried out.

Odysseus stands out among the many leaders of the Achaeans because of his intelligence. His opinion on how to wage war always coincides with that of Nestorius, the aged and wise king of Pylos. Odysseus takes part in a number of important events: he accompanies Chriseide (guided by Athena, he keeps the army from loading the ships and sailing home, and he beats Tersites, who insists on ending the war, with a scepter, after which he inspires the Achaeans with his speech. In the ninth song of the Iliad he is one of the ambassadors who unsuccessfully persuade Achilles to return to the fighting. It is Odysseus who holds the speech offering Achilles, on behalf of all the Achaean leaders, seven Greek cities and Agamemnon”s daughter as his wife. He is described as “equal to Zeus in advice”, “a man filled with various intrigues and wise counsel”, “wise in many ways”, with “speeches like a blizzard of snow”. At the same time, although Homer talks about Agamemnon”s family, he does not mention Iphigenia and the story of how Odysseus deceived her mother. Researchers note that the king of Ithaca does not show cunning and ingenuity at all in the Iliad, which appear only in epithets.

Odysseus is portrayed by Homer as an outstanding warrior. In the fourth song he kills Democoan primidas. When Hector challenged “the bravest of the Danites” to a duel, Odysseus was among the nine heroes who responded to the challenge, but the lot fell to Ajax Telamonides. And in the eighth song, when the Trojans led by Hector turned the Achaeans to flight, Odysseus also fled the battlefield; he did not hear Diomedes calling with him to protect the elder Nestor. In the tenth song, Odysseus sets out with Diomedes on a night reconnaissance mission. The Achaeans kill Resa, King of the Thracians, and steal his horses. Regarding the latter, it was predicted that Troy would remain impregnable if these horses ate Trojan fodder; thus, Odysseus” sortie influenced the outcome of the entire war. In the battle of the ships, Odysseus fights alongside Diomedes again, finds himself surrounded and wounded, but he is saved by Ajax Telamonides and Menelaus. Finally, in the last song of the Iliad, Odysseus demonstrates his strength in fighting (Achilles awards him a draw in a duel with Ajax Telamonides) and running, overtaking Ajax Ailidus thanks to Athena”s help.


The poem The Odyssey tells of the dramatic return of the title character from under Troy to his home, which drags on for ten years. As with the Iliad, the action covers a short period of time, only forty days; but the Odyssey has a much more complex plot composition. At the beginning of the poem, Odysseus is on the Aegis, at Calypso”s side. The latter, by order of the Olympian gods, releases him; he builds a raft and reaches the land of the Theacians. At a feast at King Alcinoe”s, Laertides hears Demodoc”s song about the capture of Troy and he himself tells of his wanderings: of the Cycons, the Lotophagi, Polyphemus Cyclops, the Lestrygons, the sorceress Kirk, his descent into Hades, the Sirens, Skille and Charybdis. Then he sets out on the Theacian ship to Ithaca, and before the finale his storyline merges with that of Telemachus. “The Odyssey” ends with the strengthening of the alliance between the inhabitants of Ithaca and their king.

This poem is characterized by the use of a number of folklore and fairy tale motifs common to many cultures. In particular, these are stories of distant lands in which travelers experience amazing adventures, encounter ogres, giants, all kinds of monsters. Homer puts the account of this into the mouth of his hero, thus refusing to judge its verisimilitude. Another fairy tale motif is the direct involvement of the gods in the hero”s fate. Athena constantly cares for Odysseus, playing, in the words of Alexei Losev, the role of “some fussy caring aunt”; not only does she persuade Zeus to hasten the hero”s return to his homeland, but she also regularly takes care of Laertides” appearance, hides him with gloom if necessary, lights his way, deflects the spears of his enemies from him. Another goddess, Leucophea, gives Odysseus a magic veil on the condition that he later throw the veil into the sea and not look back (a typical fairy tale injunction).

Another common motif is “a husband at his wife”s wedding. In accordance with the universal plot, Odysseus returns to his homeland as a beggar on the eve of the moment when his wife would have to choose a new husband; Penelope understands who he is by the identification mark (it is a story about the secret of the marital bed in an olive tree trunk), and even before that the motif of recognition sounds in the episode with Euryclea and footwashing. In a veiled form, the Odyssey could also use the story of a meeting between a father and son who do not recognize each other and engage in a fight (most often in such stories the son wins, who later realizes that he has become the father”s murderer). Telemachus goes in search of his father at the very beginning of the poem and encounters him upon his return to Ithaca – but he reveals himself immediately, which rules out the possibility of a tragic development of events.

The image of Odysseus in this poem is more complex than in the Iliad. Laertides is “great in spirit” and wise, is a second father to his subjects, tenderly loves his wife and son, has a deep piety for his parents, loves his native island, and displays the wisdom that saves him and his companions in critical situations. At the same time, contrary to the ethics of the “heroic age”, in a number of episodes he impersonates another, shows selfishness, stupidity, senseless cruelty. Odysseus is pious, but several times – voluntarily or involuntarily – he offends the gods, which leads to severe disasters. He longs for home and family, but on his journey he lingers on Aegean for a whole year, forgetting Ithaca, and his companions have to persuade him for a long time to continue his journey. He is extremely cruel to Penelope”s suitors, ruthlessly executes maids and threatens severe punishment to his nurse Euryclea, who recognizes him by his scar; he rushes with a naked sword against his friend and relative Euryloch, who has dared to reproach him for something, but at the same time is ready to risk his life to save his companions, who have fallen victims to Kirka or Scilla. Odysseus is very sentimental and often cries, but he never forgets his own gain. Even after hearing the song of Demodocus, which moved him, the hero, when treating the singer, keeps the best piece of meat, and Demodocus gives the one that is worse; and waking up on the Itacian coast, Laertides first of all makes sure that all the gifts of the Theacians are in place.

Odysseus behaves very contradictorily in the story of Polyphemus. Contrary to the advice of his companions, he lingers in the cyclops” cave, which leads to the death of six Itacians. Once out of there, he taunts Polyphemus and tells him his name, incurring the wrath of Poseidon on the entire ship”s crew. At the same time, it is Odysseus” courage, cunning and extraordinary foresight that help him get out of the cave and save his comrades: he names himself when he meets the kiklops Nobody, thanks to which the other kiklops do not understand what happened; he devises a way to disarm Polyphemus without denying him the opportunity to open the exit from the cave. In other situations as well, Laertides demonstrates high intelligence, so that the epithet “cunning” is given real substance in the poem. Alexei Losev states that it is not just cunning: “It is some kind of ecstasy of cunning, some kind of fantasy of cunning. When necessary, the king of Ithaca is willing to wait, to hide, to act as a beggar (as with the pheacians) and even to endure certain humiliations (as with the suitors), but then shows his courage, determination and strength.

Another important epithet that Homer uses in relation to Odysseus is “long-suffering. This definition appeared in the Iliad, but it is only in the second poem that it is substantiated (and it appears 37 times in the text). Laertides has to endure many dramatic events: the loss of all his companions, a meeting with the dead (including his own mother), shipwrecks, battles with monsters, actual captivity on a distant island, humiliation at the hands of Penelope”s suitors. Accordingly, one of the most important qualities of Odysseus is his mental fortitude: he passed all the trials with dignity.

Cyclic Poems

In addition to the Iliad and the Odyssey, the Trojan War and related events were narrated by a number of other poems, which have been called “cyclic” since ancient times. Written presumably a little later than the Homeric ones, they were based both on Homer and on the epic tradition that preceded him. According to Photius, “this epic cycle, reconstructed from the works of various poets, reaches the moment when Odysseus returns to his homeland and dies at the hand of his son Telegon, who does not recognize his father. Only minor fragments remain of the works of this cycle.

The earliest of these poems in terms of time of action is the Cyprian or Cyprian Tales (the presumed author is Stasinus of Cyprus). It describes the prehistory of the Trojan War and the course of the conflict up to the events immediately preceding the “wrath of Achilles. Among other things, the Cypria recounts how Palamedes forced Odysseus to take part in the war (the motif of feigned madness first appears here, although Cicero attributed this fiction to tragedians), Laertides” trip to Mycenae for Iphigenia, then sacrificed in Avlida, Odysseus and Menelaus” embassy to Troy, and Palamedes” murder during a fishing expedition. The last event takes place at the very end of the poem, that is, on the eve of the first events of The Iliad.

“The Aepiopis,” presumably written by Arctinus of Miletus, continues the narrative of the Trojan War from where Homer left off. It describes the fight over the body of Achilles and the “dispute about weapons” between Odysseus and Ajax. The same argument is discussed in the “Little Iliad” (presumably by Leschus of Lesbos), and in this poem the account seems to have been more detailed, and Odysseus was the central character. It is there that Odysseus”s journeys to Skyros, for Neoptolemus, and to Lemnos, for Philoctetes, are mentioned. The narrative continues after the death of Ajax, right up to the capture of Troy and the sharing of the spoils. “The Minor Iliad became a source of information for later writers about Odysseus” quarrel with Diomedes during the campaign for the palladium.

The poem The Destruction of Ilion, also attributed to Arctinus of Miletus, told of the capture of the city: at its very beginning the Trojans argue about what to do with the wooden horse, and later unfolds a detailed and colorful description of the plunder of Troy. In “The Returns” (by Agius of Tresenes) dealt with the death of most of the Achaean leaders on their way home, and Odysseus appears only at the beginning, when he sailed with the others to Tenedos. Finally, “Telegonia,” written by Eugammon of Cyrene, told of Odysseus” life after the beating of the bridegrooms. In this poem, Laertides wanders around Epirus, then returns to Ithaca, but receives a prediction that he will accept death from his own son. He begins to avoid meeting Telemachus and hides in his father”s gardens, but there he encounters Telegon, his son by Kirka. Not recognizing each other, father and son clash, and Odysseus dies. Presumably Laertidus” life in his old age is told by the only surviving line of Telegonia:

He greedily ate both meat and sweet honey.

The plot material from the cyclic poems was actively used in later choric lyrics. In particular, Stesychorus has the poems “Helen”, “The Destruction of Ilyon”, “Returns” (in the surviving fragment of the latter Telemachus visits Sparta in search of his father), Sakadas has the poem “The Taking of Ilyon”, Bacchylides has the dithyramb about the embassy to Troy. This material was also developed by ancient dramatists. For this reason, and also because of their lower artistic value than that of Homer, the Cyclic poets quickly ceased to be read and their texts were lost.

Greek Dramaturgy

The myths of the Trojan cycle became one of the most important sources of plots for Greek drama of the Classical period. Of the several hundred tragedies now known by name, sixty are devoted to these myths; two plays (both featuring Odysseus) develop Homeric material – the tragedy Res, long attributed to Euripides, and the satyr drama Cyclops, written precisely by Euripides. The mythological material was presented in dramatic works in a different way from the epic: without extensive explanations, digressions and metaphors, and without long series of events. The action of epic poems was fragmented for plays into small episodes with a small number of characters (often three or four), and the image of each character became more integral. The playwright generally followed the plot of the myth, but at the same time had to, according to Aristotle, “be an inventor” – give original interpretations. In a number of cases the same plot received different interpretations in the plays of different authors. Almost all the heroes of Greek myths became heroes of tragedies; Odysseus appeared in many plays describing different events of his life.

The marriage of Odysseus to Penelope was told in a comedy by Alexides, his attempt to avoid taking part in the Trojan War in Sophocles” tragedy Odysseus the Madman, and the stay of Odysseus on Skyros when he forced Achilles to go on a campaign in Euripides” tragedy Skyros and Antiphanes” comedy of the same title. Libanius mentions the pantomime Achilles on Scyros, in which Odysseus and Diomedes appear.

A number of plays developed the story of Telepha, king of Mysia, who, according to one version of the tradition, was wounded by Achilles and then healed by Achilles himself, and it was Odysseus who guessed what the treatment should be. There is no data about Aeschylus” tragedy (and, in particular, about the role of Odysseus in it). From Sophocles” play, thanks to papyrus finds, fragments have survived, from which the following is clear: Odysseus made an agreement with Telephus that he would take part in the war against Troy if he was cured (Laertides later explained how the oracle about the healing of the title character of the play should be understood (the prediction said that the wound would be cured by the one who had inflicted it – and Odysseus understood that it would be enough to pour rust from Achilles” spear into the wound). In Euripides” Telephus he also interprets the oracle and mediates between Telephus and Achilles. This plot was used in the plays of Agathon, Moschion, Cleophon, and Iophon.

The sacrifice of Iphigenia was told in the tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. Nothing is known about the first of these. The plot of Sophocles” Iphigenia in Aulis may have been recounted by Gaius Julius Guingin: here Agamemnon does not want his daughter to be sacrificed, but Odysseus convinces him of the necessity and goes to Mycenae for the princess himself, where he tells Clytemnestra that Iphigenia will be married to Achilles. The text of Euripides” tragedy has been preserved, but in it Odysseus remains offstage and is only mentioned. There was also a comic version of this myth, written by Rinfon of Tarenta. The embassy to Troy is dealt with in another play by Sophocles. The tragedies by Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides called “Palamed” form the basis of the death of Palamedes; a version of the myth which has supposedly become classical (with the letter planted and the treasure buried under the tent) is set by Euripides. Theodotus and Astydamante also wrote about Palamedes; Sophocles, Lycophron and Philocles wrote about his father”s revenge.

The raid of Odysseus and Diomedes into the camp of the Thracians was described in Euripides” tragedy Res. The text of the play by that name has been preserved and has long been attributed to Euripides; in the end, scholars have concluded that the tragedy was written as early as the fourth century B.C. by some unknown author. “The Argument of Arms was described in Aeschylus” trilogy (its first part was presumably based on material from the Minor Iliad), Sophocles” tragedy Ajax (its text has survived), the plays of Aestidamante, Carquina the Younger, Theodocus, Polemy of Ephesus.

The story of Philoctetes formed the basis of the tragedies by Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides (only the play by Sophocles has survived), in which Odysseus occupies a more important place than the title character. According to Dion Chrysostom, Aeschylus depicts him as “cunning and wily… but far from his present wickedness”, while Sophocles depicts him as “far more honest and sincere than Euripides depicted him in The Trojans”. Euripides has Odysseus in the prologue, where he deals aloud with introspection. The plot of Philoctetes was also developed by the tragedians Philocles, Cleophonus and Theodectes and the comediographers Epicharmus, Antiphanes and Strattidas, but nothing is known about the role of Odysseus in their plays.

About the trip of Odysseus to Skyros for Neoptolemus supposedly told the tragedy of Sophocles “Skyriyanki”. Aristotle mentions the play Neoptolemus, but it is not known who wrote it and what the plot was. The final part of the siege of Troy is described in the tragedy “Odysseus – a false messenger”, in the comedy of Epicharmus (in it Laertides, because of his cowardice, does not dare to enter Troy, but tells Achaeans, as if he was there), in the tragedy of Sophocles “Sinon” about the Trojan horse (perhaps, on this play is based Gigin) and Euripides tragedy on the same theme “Apeys”, in two plays of Formida, whose names are unknown. The sacking of Troy and the fate of the captives are recounted in Sophocles” Antenorides and Ajax of Locrea.

The meeting of Odysseus with Polyphemus was described in the comedies and satire dramas of Epicharmus, Euripides and Aristides under the general title of Cyclops and in the comedy of Cratina”s Odysseus (from the latter play a fragment survives in which Polyphemus scolds Odysseus, who put water in the wine and thus spoiled the drink). Athenaeus writes of mimes by the Italian Enon in which “the Cyclops sang with nightingales, and Odysseus, being shipwrecked, was confused by fear and muttered like a stranger”. Epicharmus, Theopompus and Nicophonus had comedies “Sirens” in which the title characters lure Odysseus to their island not by sweet singing, but by the promise of delicious food. The sources also mention Aeschylus” Satyr drama Kirka, Epicharmus” The Shipwrecked Odysseus, and Sophocles” tragedy Nausicaia, or The Laundresses, in which the playwright played one of the roles (according to Athenaeus, Sophocles demonstrated a virtuoso ball game in this performance). Sophocles also had the tragedy Theaki (about it, except the title, nothing is known), Eubulus and Phyllilius had the comedies Nausicaia.

The journey of Odysseus to Ithaca and the beating of suitors became the theme of Aeschylus” tetralogy. In the tragedy The Summoners of Souls Laertides descends into Hades; in The Collectors of Bones he suffers humiliation from suitors and takes revenge on them; in Penelope he meets his wife; and in the satyr drama Kirka he lives on Aege. Sophocles dedicated the tragedy The Washing of Feet to Odysseus” return home, Philocles the tragedy Penelope, and Ion the tragedy Laertes. A fragment from Epicharmus” comedy (title unknown) in which Odysseus speaks to Eumaeus is preserved. Theopompus and Amphidus each wrote a comedy called Odysseus.

The death of Odysseus is depicted in Sophocles” tragedy Odysseus, struck by a thorn and Lycophron”s tragedy Telegon. Sophocles also had the tragedy Euryale, about Odysseus becoming a son-killer.

Of all these plays, only Sophocles” Ajax and Philoctetes, Iphigenia in Aulis, the Trojan Girls, Euripides” Hecuba and Cyclops, and Res by an unknown author have survived. In Sophocles, Odysseus is endowed with positive traits: sympathizing with his enemy Ajax and seeing in him a kindred soul, he insists on burying his body. Euripides had a negative attitude to Odysseus, which is reflected in his surviving plays. In some texts (“Philoctetus” by Sophocles, “Hecuba” and “Cyclops” by Euripides) the playwright demonstrates the difference between the image of Odysseus and the stereotypes formed about him as a trickster and a deceiver.

Other Works of Greek Literature

The ancient authors often mention Odysseus in connection with the poems of Homer. “The glory of Odysseus is greater than what he has experienced, and the sweet word of Homer is the fault of that,” wrote Pindar, who saw in Laertis only a red-blooded man, and not a true hero, and accordingly believed that Achilles” armor should have gone to Ajax. Plato, in his dialogue “Hippias the Lesser”, tried to refute through Socrates Homer”s words that Laertides was a liar. He also, in his dialogue “Phaedon,” depicted Odysseus as a man exhausted by his long wanderings, but finding the mental strength to continue his journey; Plato saw proof of this in Song 20 of the Odyssey.

In the heyday of Greece, Odysseus became a symbol of an active person who constantly strove for activity and primacy. In this connection, Polybius called Laertides a model statesman and historian: he “visited many people of the city and saw the customs” and thus had extensive political and research experience gained in a practical way.

In the following era, mythological overviews became widespread. The most famous of such works, the Mythological Library, is attributed to Apollodorus, who lived in the second century B.C. Odysseus appeared in the lost part of the text, but the epitome of the entire Library has survived. Its third chapter tells about the beginning of the Trojan War, the fourth – about the events depicted in the “Iliad”, the fifth – about the capture of Troy, the seventh and last – about the wanderings of Odysseus and his further fate. Apollodorus (presumably he wanted to connect this hero with the history of Rome, and so attributed Laertidus to the son of Latina, the eponym of the Latins. It is in the Bibliotheca that the account of Odysseus” sojourn in Epirus and versions of Penelope”s infidelity appear for the first time (as far as extant sources are concerned). The author of another review, Gaius Julius Guiginus, portrayed Odysseus as a negative character, developing themes of feigned madness and intrigue against Palamedes.

The geographer Strabo (late first century B.C. – early first century A.D.), when compiling his description of the Mediterranean, constantly referred to the route of Odysseus on his journey from Troy to Ithaca; in all, Laertides is mentioned hundreds of times in his Geography. From the second century A.D. onward a rethinking of the classical tradition begins. For example, Lucian of Samosata writes about a number of episodes of Odysseus” biography in a humorous vein. He speculates whether Laertidus was a Stoic or an Epicurean, flaunts the reader with a new reading of the stories of Calypso, Thebes and Polyphemus; on the whole the myths of the Odyssey belong to the category of “false stories” for Lucian.

Philostratus in his dialogue “On Heroes” (late 2nd – early 3rd centuries) tried to completely refute the Homeric version of the myth. One of the characters in the dialogue, a peasant living near the ruins of Troy, says, referring to the words of the spirit Protesilaus, that Homer distorted the events of the Trojan War and, in particular, exaggerated the merits of Odysseus. In Philostratus” portrayal, the king of Ithaca turns out to be a bad warrior, envious and a liar, while Palamedes, slandered by him, is a wise man, a righteous man and a great inventor. It was the innocent death of Palamedes that caused Achilles” anger at Agamemnon, and later the anger of Poseidon at Odysseus. The story that Odysseus was under the patronage of the goddess Athena and that the young Nausicaia was in love with him is called by Philostratus “a joke of Homer”: Laertides was not young, short, hunched, his eyes were always wandering, so that women could not like him.

Roman Literature

The ancient authors associated the Odysseus with the early history of Rome and, in particular, of Latium, beginning at least in the fifth century B.C. The logographer Gellanicus localized part of Laertides” wanderings in the Tyrrhenian Sea basin, as did Ephorus of Kim and Scillax in the fourth century B.C. The stories of Odysseus, Aeneas, and Romulus merged together: According to Gellanicus, Odysseus and Aeneas sailed together to Italy after the fall of Troy and were forced to stay there because the Trojan women burned all the ships. It was then that Aeneas founded Rome. Information of this kind, having appeared in Greek texts, became the property of Roman culture, and a new version of the founding of Rome, associated with the names of Aeneas and Romulus, but not Odysseus, appeared only at the end of the Republic.

Literature in Rome, which originated in the third century B.C., developed largely on the basis of plots from Greek mythology. The first Roman writer, Livy Andronicus, translated the Odyssey into Latin (at the end of the third century B.C.). In doing so he translated it in Saturnic verse, which quickly became obsolete. Nevertheless, until the time of Augustus, the Latin “Odyssey” was the main school textbook.

Since the end of the third century B.C., Roman playwrights actively revised Greek plays, including those featuring Odysseus (they favored Euripides” tragedies). Livy Andronicus and Gnaeus Nevius are known to have written plays about the Trojan horse. Quintus Ennius created a reworking of Euripides” Iphigenia in Aulis (in which, unlike the original, Odysseus was among the protagonists), a tragedy of Telepha (nothing is known of Odysseus” role in it) and Hecuba. Marcus Pacuvius, who paid more attention to Sophocles, wrote a play, The Arms Dispute, in which the fate of Achilles” armor was decided by the testimony of captive Trojans. In the tragedy The Washing, written after Sophocles, he combined for the first time the plots of Odysseus” return to Ithaca (and, in particular, how he was recognized by his household) and the hero”s death. In Cicero”s opinion, Pacuvius described Laertidus” death better than Sophocles did.

…In “Ablution,” the wisest of Greeks complains thus:

In connection with this episode, Cicero, in his treatises Tusculan Conversations and On Obligations, laid the foundations for a Stoicist interpretation of Odysseus: for him, the king of Ithaca is a man who is able to endure any adversity to achieve what he wants; a man who, with the help of reason, overcomes the suffering of the body and may therefore be considered a “true man.

Lucius Auctius used in his plays the plots of “Odysseus the Madman”, about Odysseus and Diomedes” raid into the Thracian camp. He wrote two tragedies about the capture of Troy – Deiphobus (its Greek prototype is unknown) and Antenorides (by Sophocles). Later Marcus Terentius Varron created the satires Half-Odysseus (in this text the protagonist spends not ten but fifteen years in wanderings) and The Argument of Arms, and Ovid devoted the entire thirteenth book of his Metamorphoses to the “argument.” Augustus wrote the play Ajax; Ovid”s friend Tuticanus wrote the play The Phaeacians. Of all the Roman tragedies, only the tragedies of Lucius Annaeus Seneca have been fully preserved; in particular, his Trojans, where Odysseus acts, deals with the fate of the Trojan prisoners and the death of Astianax.

By 19 B.C. Virgil had written the poem Aeneid, the plot of which was modeled on the Homeric poems: the first part, telling of Aeneas” wanderings around the Mediterranean, became a “Roman Odyssey,” the second, about Aeneas” war with Thurn, became a “Roman Iliad. The protagonist, like Odysseus, appears in the narrative in the middle of his journey, recounts his wanderings at a feast, descends into the realm of the dead for a prophecy, and a woman tries to hold him back. In all of this, Virgil fleshes out old plot motifs with new content. Odysseus-Ulysses himself is mentioned in the second book of the poem and receives negative evaluations, but this is always the opinion of the characters, not the author: Sinon calls him treacherous and envious, Aeneas calls him “ferocious”. In the third book, the fugitive Trojans learn that the king of Ithaca has experienced a series of disasters on his way home, and as a result there is some invisible connection between the former enemies.

After the publication of the Aeneid, a major change took place in Roman literature: the interests and sympathies of readers in connection with the myths of the Trojan War switched from the Greeks to the Trojans, the legendary ancestors of the Romans. Odysseus” wanderings became part of the fictional biography of Aeneas, and the king of Ithaca was now rather antipathetic to the Romans and gradually forgotten. In the first century A.D. he is still mentioned in Ovid”s “Sorrowful elegies” as the author”s comrade in misfortune who managed to return home after all. A little later, Stacius” Achilleida (which took place on Skyros, where Odysseus came for Achilles) and the Latin Iliad (an abridged translation of Homer”s poem) were written, but both of these poems are considered failures. Beginning in the middle of the first century the interest of the Roman public in Greek myths steadily declined.

Some episodes of the Homeric and Cyclic poems were reflected in the fine arts beginning in the seventh century B.C. For example, the vows of Helen”s suitors were depicted on an Apulian vase. Odysseus, who feigns madness, had his paintings dedicated to him by the prominent painters Parrasius and Euphranor. Lucian, in his work On the House, describes a painting on the same subject, and antiquarian scholars believe that this description cannot be pure fantasy:

…Odysseus, who feigned madness when he was forced, against his will, to march with the Atridians: the ambassadors had already arrived to give him an invitation; the whole setting is in keeping with the game that Odysseus plays: the carriage and the ridiculous animal harness, Odysseus” imaginary lack of understanding of what is happening around him. He is, however, caught in the act by his own offspring: Palamedes, son of Nauplius, who has understood what is happening, seizes Telemachus and threatens to kill him with his naked sword and responds to the feigned madness with feigned anger. Odysseus, in fear for his son, suddenly recovers, his father reflects in him, and the game stops.

The sacrifice of Iphigenia was depicted by Timanthus. In his painting (a copy survives in Pompeii), according to Cicero, “Calhantes is sad, Ulysses is even sadder, and Menelaus is in deep sorrow”. Pausanias describes a painting by Polygnotus showing the enemies of Odysseus (Alexander the Great saw a painting in Ephesus depicting the murder of Palamedes, and Timanthus had a painting on the same subject. It is not known, however, whether Odysseus was in all these pictures. One of the favorite subjects for the ancient artists was a conversation between Odysseus and Achilles, when the former persuaded the latter to tame his anger and return to war (Guieron, a painting of the crater in the Louvre, a number of other images).

The statues of all nine Achaeans who accepted Hector”s challenge stood in Olympia; it is known that Nero ordered the statue of Odysseus from this sculptural group to be taken to Rome. A number of images have survived on the theme of the foray into the Thracian camp, the “dispute over weapons” (in particular, a painting of a red-figure vase circa 490 BC. Pausanias mentions a painting by Polignotus in which “Odysseus steals the bow of Philoctetes”; Pliny the Elder mentions a painting by Polignotus” brother, Aristophon, in which Odysseus makes his way into besieged Troy. Artists often depicted the march after the palladium, and sometimes there were two palladiums. In different depictions Odysseus and Diomedes carry the loot to the camp, Diomedes goes for the palladium while Odysseus waits for it, Diomedes hands the palladium to Agamemnon while Odysseus stands beside him, etc.

The theme “Odysseus and Polyphemus” was often developed. Artists depicted Odysseus offering wine to the Cyclops, him and his companions blinding Polyphemus (Aristonophus crater and proto-attic amphora dating from about 680 BC), escaping from a cave (there are many variants here, including a black-figure crater from about 500 BC) and talking to the Cyclops while standing on a ship. There are many surviving images of Odysseus and Kirki, Odysseus in Hades (including a painting by Polignot and a red-figure pelika from about 440 BC, Odysseus tied to a mast and listening to the sirens (the most famous image is a red-figure one, with siren birds on a 5th century BC staten). Two subjects were developed in connection with Laertida”s stay on the Aegis: he is sitting on the seashore, pining for his homeland, and building a raft. There were three plots related to the pheacians: the shipwreck, Odysseus” departure to Nausicaia (Polignot painted on this subject, among others) and Odysseus” meeting with Alcinoe and Aretha. A red-figure Scythian painting depicting the beating of bridegrooms has been preserved. Finally, one of the most favorite subjects was Odysseus” meeting with Penelope.

By the 5th century B.C. an iconographic canon had taken shape: as a rule Odysseus was depicted with a curly beard and a felt cap, but without any of his characteristic attributes. Researchers attribute this to the versatility of Laertes” image, which was not dominated by a single trait.

The most ancient surviving images date back to the early Roman Empire. The earliest surviving images date back to the early Roman Empire. In particular, the Esquiline frescoes on the subject of the Odyssey (late 1st century B.C.). The subject is painted to the smallest detail, but the human figures look small and insignificant against the large-scale landscapes. Another series of images is a group of sculptures in the Tiberius Grotto at Sperlonga, featuring 2nd century BC Greek statues and their copies. The sculptors depicted Odysseus as the protector of Achilles” body, the kidnapper of the palladium, the envoy to Philoctetes, the participant in the blinding of Polyphemus and the escape from his cave.

After the transition from antiquity to the Middle Ages, very few literary works remained that dealt with Greek mythology in general and Odysseus in particular. For a long time European readers were limited in connection with this theme to only a few works in Latin: Virgil”s Aeneid, Ovid”s Metamorphoses, the Latin Iliad and two prose novels – the Diary of the Trojan War, which was attributed to Dictys of Crete, and the Story of the Destruction of Troy by Daretus of Phrygia. The first of these tales, dating from the fourth century, paints Odysseus in black colors, as do many other Achaean leaders. In it Laertidus killed Palamedes by luring him into a well and stoning him, and did so because he “could not tolerate the superiority of others. The second tale is notable for its attempt to describe the appearance and character of each of the heroes of the epic. It describes Odysseus as a man “steadfast, cunning, with a cheerful face, of medium height, eloquent, and wise,” but also looks like a negative character.

Medieval readers knew almost nothing about Odysseus except that this hero was very eloquent. As a result, many of the texts in which he is mentioned contain curious errors. The scarce facts that remained in common usage were subjected to allegorical interpretations based on the Stoics” view of Odysseus as a sufferer who meekly overcame any adversity to get his way. This tradition began in the third century with the Neoplatonists. In their view, Odysseus” voyage toward home is the return of the soul to the oneness it once left; Laertides is the soul who understands what its good is and fears that life”s troubles will distance it from its desired goal.

In a similar way the myth of the Odyssey was interpreted in Christian patristics. According to Clement of Alexandria, Laertes” ship is the universal church, and Ithaca is the eternal blissful life to which every true Christian”s soul aspires. By tying himself to the mast of the ship by faith in God like ropes, the wayfarer overcomes temptation and death just as Odysseus sailed past the sirens unharmed. This theme varied in the writings of Hippolytus of Rome, Ambrose of Mediolano, Maximus of Turin, Paulinus of Nolan, and, during the High Middle Ages, by Honorius of Augustus.

In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, a number of major poetic and prose works appeared in Western Europe that recounted the Trojan War. Their authors used material taken from Dareth of Phrygia and Dictis of Crete, but completely ignored the differences between Antiquity and the Middle Ages: in their portrayal the Achaeans and Trojans looked like knights, contemporaries of the first readers. The most popular were Benoît de Saint-More”s Romance of Troy (circa 1165), Conrad of Würzburg”s The Trojan War (1281-1287), and Guido de Columna”s A Trojan History (1287). In all these texts Odysseus appears as a standard trickster.

Odysseus occupies an important place in Dante Alighieri”s Divine Comedy. It is the only character to whom an entire song is devoted (XXVI Song of Inferno), and the author gives an original interpretation of the image. Ulysses is in one of the “Evil Chinks” of the eighth circle of Hell, where wily counsellors find themselves; this is due to his concoction about the wooden horse, the theft of the palladium and the cunning device by which he lured Achilles from Skyros. At Dante”s request, Virgil asks Ulysses about his last journey and his death. He answers that from the island of Kirki he set out with his few surviving friends, not in the direction of Ithaca, but west, seeking to “explore the world”s far horizon.”

While trying to reach the new lands, Ulysses found himself in the southern hemisphere, completely covered by water. He saw a mountain rising straight out of the ocean, on which is Purgatory; but since access to this mountain is denied to mortals, a whirlwind came and overturned the ship, and all the sailors perished. Thus, in Dante”s portrayal Laertide appears not as a cunning, perpetually striving for home, but as a daring explorer of unknown worlds, who, seized by a thirst for knowledge, forgets about his own well-being; not a criminal bearing a deserved punishment, but a man worthy of admiration and imitation. This image was further developed in the works of Dante”s followers Petrarch and Boccaccio. For the first of them, Odysseus became a symbol of curiosity as the basis of all sciences and arts, for the latter – a symbol of knowledge, which is obtained not easily, but helps in achieving a noble goal. At the same time, Boccaccio states that not every detail of myth can and should be interpreted allegorically.

In medieval painting, Odysseus appears as one of a number of mythological heroes, without a pronounced personality. Before 885 he became a character on the wall paintings in the Abbey of Corvey in Saxony (episode with Scylla), in the 12th century he appeared on three miniatures illustrating the works of Honorius of Augustus (episode with the Sirens), in the late 15th century – on a Flemish tapestry. At the turn of the XV and XVI centuries Odysseus was depicted by Luca Signorelli in his frescoes in the cathedral in Orvieto.


At the beginning of the New Age, Western Europe began to read Homer again. The cultural public was now more familiar with the biography of Odysseus, but Homer did not suit the tastes of the Baroque and Enlightenment periods: he was still preferred to Virgil. Allegorical interpretations of Odysseus continued to appear. Andrea Alciato, for example, in his Book of Emblems (a collection of engravings with Latin verses explaining the moral of the image, which was first published in 1531) wrote of Odysseus” encounter with Kirk as a victory of oratory over crude magic, of Laertides” friendship with Diomedes as the ideal union of wisdom and power. The German writer Hans Sachs used the myths of the Odyssey to teach his readers a series of moral lessons–about always hoping for the best (the encounter with Charybdis), trusting the gods or a god (Odysseus” rescue in the land of the Theacians), distinguishing true goods from imaginary goods (Calypso”s promise of immortality), etc. (1550-1563). In sixteenth-century English literature, Odysseus became the bearer of all the virtues necessary for a monarch, an example of constancy in an ever-changing situation.

In the seventeenth century allegories became less abstract. For example, the Dutch playwright Joost van den Wondel, in his tragedy Palamed, or the Mortified Simplicity (1625), depicted in a veiled form the religious and political struggle of his time: his title character represents the Arminians, and Odysseus and Agamemnon the Homarians, with Palamed becoming an innocent victim of his enemies. In Juan Perez de Montalban”s play Polyphemus (according to Jacob Hugo”s True History of Rome (1665), Odysseus is the Apostle Peter, Telemachus is the Pope, and the suitors are the Reformed, who force the Catholic Church (Penelope) to marry them. Hugo Grotius went the furthest in this direction, arguing that all the biblical patriarchs were united in the image of Odysseus, and that the second poem by Homer actually describes the wanderings of the Jews from the exodus of Lot from Sodom to the death of Moses.

Since 1558, when Joachim du Bellet”s 31st sonnet was written, the history of a new perception of the Odyssey myth begins. It is no longer necessarily material for allegories and juxtapositions: many literati see Laertide”s journey home simply as a chain of surprising events leading the hero through dangers to a happy ending. The founder of the tradition, du Bellet, provides no details about the journey: he only contrasts the vicissitudes of the voyage with the idyllic peace that reigns at home. Later Romantics wrote in this vein (e.g., Ugo Foscolo in his sonnet “Zakynthos” in 1802), twentieth-century poets (David Debidin in his poem “Odysseus the Black Worker” in 1988). Torquato Tasso, in “Liberated Jerusalem” (1575) recalls, following Dante, Odysseus” voyage westward, which in the context of the Crusades looks like preparation for one of the major missions in history, and Laertide himself as the forerunner of Christian navigators. Odysseus became a central figure in Portuguese national mythology because he was considered the founder of Lisbon. He is active in Luis Camões”s Lusias (1572), where the entire history of Portugal becomes a continuation of the exploits of Greek navigators, in the poems of Pereira de Castro and Sousa de Macedo (1636 and 1640, respectively).

Odysseus became an important character in William Shakespeare”s play Troilus and Cressida (circa 1602). There he is portrayed as an extraordinarily skilled orator-sophist for whom truth is relative and moral barriers do not exist. At the beginning of the play he gives a speech in which he explains the temporary failures of the Achaeans by the polynarchy. This character operates in plays by Pedro Calderon and Tom Corneille. A literary bestseller for all of Europe was François Fenelon”s novel The Adventures of Telemachus, published in 1699; Odysseus appears there only at the very end, but is invisibly present throughout the action. His son searches for him, and Nestor, Idomeneo, and Philoctetes mistake his son for him. For Telemachus and, consequently, for the reader, Odysseus turns into a bearer of qualities normative for classicism: self-control, modesty, sensitivity, unselfishness. This is how this image was interpreted by Alexander Pope, who translated the novel into English (1725-1726). In 1766 Vasily Trediakovsky published a verse translation of Fenelon”s book in Russian.

Fine Art

In New Age painting, Odysseus is still often depicted in close connection with mythological subjects, without any drawing of personality. Pinturicchio”s painting of the Palazzo del Magnifico in Siena, dated around 1509, depicts, in particular, the return of Odysseus: he approaches Penelope sitting at her loom, Telemachus and suitors stand behind him, a ship, sirens and Kirk are seen in the window. In 1554-1556 Pellegrino Tibaldi created a cycle of frescoes based on the Odyssey; in 1619 Peter Lastman painted Odysseus and the Nausicaia, in which the central character is the Theacian princess. In Peter Paul Rubens”s “Landscape with Ulysses and Nausicaia” (1630-1635), the king of Ithaca also plays a less important role.

The individualization of the image of Odysseus began with the works of Francesco Primaticcio. In 153335-155560 this artist, together with Niccolò del Abbate, created the “Gallery of Ulysses” at Fontainebleau, which included 58 paintings. Of these, researchers single out one in which the main character is depicted with Penelope; they sit side by side, Odysseus turned to his wife and holds her by the chin with his left hand. He looks tired and his dynamic pose contrasts with Penelope”s stateliness: she has evidently just heard the account of her husband”s wanderings and is under the impression. This painting appears to be one of the first portraits of Odysseus which gives his image a psychological depth. Later a series of images on the theme of the Odyssey was created by Annibale Carracci (in the foreground, Odysseus, judging by his tense posture, tries to free himself from the ropes with which he is tied to the mast.


Beginning in the seventeenth century, Odysseus became a character in opera. Authors were attracted by the contrast between the wonderful adventures and the peace that comes after the hero returns to Ithaca and kills the suitors. Claudio Monteverdi used epic material (rather close to the text) in his opera Ulysses Returns (1640), which was of great importance to the formation of the opera genre. During the eighteenth century several more operas and ballets were written on this theme, including Jean-Férie Rebel”s Ulysses (1703), Reinhard Kaiser”s Ulysses (1722) and George Handel”s Deidamia.

At the turn of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, due to another change of cultural epochs, Homer”s poems became more popular. This is testified by the fact that new translations of the poems appeared in European languages – German (1781, 1793), Russian (1813-1829), Italian (1825). The scientific study of these poems and other works of ancient literature began, the desire for an expanded presentation of all the plot material (as a rule, for pedagogical purposes), for the statement of aesthetic and anthropological problems, which were spoken in the language of philosophy, was manifested.

Cultural Studies and History

Within the historical discourse on the Odyssey, two general narratives published in the first half of the nineteenth century, Charles Lamb”s The Adventures of Ulysses in English (1808) and Gustav Schwab”s Legends of Classical Antiquity in German (1838-1840), were of importance and became widely known. In this era begins the history of the Homeric question-the discussion of problems concerning the authorship of the Iliad and the Odyssey. Within the framework of this great debate there were extravagant ideas that the author of both poems was Odysseus (Jean-Baptiste Lechevalier suggested this in 1829) or that they were written by Nausicaia (Samuel Butler”s version, put forward in 1897). Some scholars have tried to follow the ancient authors in plotting Laertide”s actual route from Troy to Ithaca. During the 19th century, there were hypotheses that Odysseus sailed the Aegean and the Black Sea, or the Aegean and the western part of the Mediterranean, or the eastern part of the Mediterranean, or mainly off the coast of Africa; it was also a common opinion that Homer had no specific places in mind. Modern scholars state that the author of the poem had reliable information about the Aegean Sea basin and that, going beyond this region, Odysseus found himself in “the realm of pure fantasy.” This makes attempts to reconstruct his itinerary futile.

In Ithaca in the 1930s, archaeologists found the remains of two buildings dating back to the twelfth century B.C.; one of them was very imposing in size and may have served as a royal palace. In the historical era, it was considered the home of Odysseus and a fragment of a terracotta mask with the inscription “Gift to Odysseus” was found in front of it, dating back to the II-I centuries BC.

The history of the image of Odysseus since the middle of the 20th century is considered to be established in general terms. Initially it was, apparently, a hero of the mythology of the pre-Greek population of the Southern Balkans (perhaps, a god) around whom the circle of tales of the voyage to a distant wonderland and of the return to his wife on the eve of the moment when she would marry again was formed. These tales were embraced by the Achaeans and Aeolians. In the later, Ionian stage of myth”s development, this story (a rough analogy to the Argonauts” story) was enriched with motifs of love for the distant homeland to which the hero wants to return, longing for his family, and suffering because of the anger of the gods. Finally, even later Odysseus” journey to Ithaca began to be represented as a return from under Troy, and the hero began to be incorporated into the Trojan mythological cycle. Initially Laertidus was not a warrior, but the authors of the epic songs that preceded the Iliad, or Homer himself, invented a number of military feats for him, while his valor is not unconditional (for example, his flight during the battle for ships), the famous Odysseus” bow does not appear in the Iliad, and the much repeated epithet “cunning” has no connection with the action at all. All this suggests that the hero in Homer”s first poem is placed in a context that is new to him.

In the Odyssey, written somewhat later than the Iliad, the title character fits more securely into the Trojan mythological cycle at the expense of the story of the capture of Troy: the story of the wooden horse appears there as a fabrication of Laertides. It is now believed that Odysseus made a decisive contribution to the victory by his cunning, thus earning the epithet “hail-breaker”. His military prowess is combined with older traits – cunning and the ability to withstand the blows of fate. As a new kind of hero, an inquisitive intellectual, Odysseus travels through a world inhabited by archaic creatures – monsters, ogres and wizards. He defeats some (he does not evade his purpose, descends even into Hades, and the Olympian gods realize that if they do not allow Odysseus to return home, he will do so against their will.

Georg Hegel saw the Odysseus as a typical “holistic,” epic individual, an image that reflected all the characteristic features of his contemporary reality. For Arthur Schopenhauer, Laertied was interesting first and foremost because of his capacity for self-expression: listening to Demodocus” song about the capture of Troy, the king of Ithaca perceived it simultaneously as an account of both himself and an outsider who evoked his sympathy. This is partly what Friedrich Nietzsche had in mind when he noted that the Odyssey cries more than any other epic. Nietzsche was interested in Odysseus” ability to transform himself, making him an ideal actor.

In the twentieth century Theodor Adorno saw in the voyage of Odysseus the beginning of European history. Laertide”s journey from under Troy to Ithaca is for Adorno a metaphor signifying the victory of enlightenment over myth, man”s acquiring the identity of the cognitive subject. By defeating the monsters, man begins to dominate nature, but immediately extends his dictate to his own kind (meaning the beating of grooms). For Mircea Eliade, Odysseus is “the prototype not only of the man of the modern era, but also of the man to come,” the persecuted wanderer in search of himself.


Alfred Tennyson develops the image of Odysseus created by Dante in his dilogy The Lotophagi and Ulysses (1832-1833). The protagonist formulates his alternative to the worthless, vegetal existence of the Lotophagi: to consider life as an eternal movement toward the horizon of new possibilities, toward an alluring and unattainable goal. Only death can end this movement. “Ulysses” ends with the famous line, “To fight and to seek, to find and not to give up.” Charles Baudelaire takes Tennyson”s construction to its logical limit in The Journey (The Flowers of Evil, 1861): in his portrayal the journey becomes an end in itself and leads to self-destruction

In twentieth-century literature, new variations on the theme of the Odyssey myth have emerged. One trend the anticologist Eckhard Lobsien called “renovation”: the tradition remained unchanged and was simply added to or formulated in a new way. In Gerhart Hauptmann”s play The Onion of Odysseus (1914), the protagonist, an old man crippled by suffering, returns to Ithaca and realizes that he is a complete stranger in his homeland.

It is not a joyful return, no. A man who no longer believes in the possibility of being among his own, who has already somehow bitterly reconciled to the fact that he is an eternal wanderer, a victim of sorrow and death, the only deliverer, finds himself at the desired hearth. Already the inner preconditions of this man-wreck, as he believes himself to be, and as he for the most part is, make him not rejoice but shudder at the smoke that smells on him from his fatherland? – And external circumstances make it worse. No one at Hauptmann”s recognizes him. Terrible news of the brashness of the suitors, of Penelope”s peculiar, hidden by outward propriety voluptuousness, sensuously mourning under the gaze of these guests fired by lust for her, the threat to his son”s life and the incredibly pitiful situation of his poor father, the former king, all this… plunges the heart of the returned wanderer into a final night of despair.

The play is a play by Hauptmann, and Odysseus is gradually enraged; this feeling transforms the hero, brings him back to life and makes him do the will of the gods and avenge his bridegrooms. Hauptmann”s play ends with revenge; Nikos Kazantzakis goes further and writes his poem The Odyssey, a direct continuation of Homer”s (1938). In it, the protagonist leaves Ithaca, helps Menelaus put down a rebellion in Sparta, supports the overthrow of Idomeneo on Crete, founds a new religion in Egypt, and then sails to the southern seas of ice. On his way Odysseus meets other literary characters, gradually transforming from a real person into an allegory, and the poem becomes an encyclopedia of epic images, themes and stereotypes.

In Jean Giraudoux”s play No Trojan War (1935), Odysseus and Hector make diplomatic efforts to prevent war over Helena. Hermann Stahl”s novel The Return of Odysseus (1940), written in the form of dialogue, modernizes old images, revealing them in terms of the author”s contemporary psychology, and this technique is used in a number of later works – Inge Merkel”s Unusual Marriage (1989), Michael Kohlmeyer”s Telemachus and Calypso (1995 and 1997), Luigi Malerba”s Ithaca Forever (1997). Homeric material was developed by Sandor Marai (Peace in Ithaca, 1952), Kurt Klinger (Odysseus Must Sail Again, 1954), and Ernst Schnabel (The Sixth Song, 1956).

The poet Giovanni Pascoli, in The Last Journey (1904), radically rethinks tradition: in Laertide, at the end of his life, he visits the places of his former adventures again and sees that everything has changed; some places he cannot find, others are completely demythologized (for example, the sirens remain silent). Franz Kafka, in one of his minor works (1917), rethinks the episode with the sirens: according to him, when Odysseus sailed by, the sirens were silent – but Laertides either did not notice it, thinking “of nothing else but chains and wax,” or he pretended to really hear them singing, so that he could blame the gods for it later.

A partial transformation of the myth occurs in the poems of Gottfried Benn (1948), Wallace Stevens (1954), Rosa Auslander (1977), Joseph Brodsky (1972). In some writers this myth is interpreted in a deliberately comic, epigrammatic spirit. Robert Walzer, in his Odyssey (1920), sets forth in this spirit the content of the entire poem of Homer; Jean Giraudoux and Bertolt Brecht, the episode with the sirens (1926 and 1933); Jean Gionot makes Laertide a liar who invented his wanderings and adventures (1924).

Some authors have placed Odysseus in a context foreign to him in order to achieve artistic effect. Ezra Pound, Elias Canetti and Primo Levi did so; the latter made the Dantean hell-bound Laertida a character in his book about Auschwitz, Is This a Man? (1947), which gave new meaning to the theme of hellfire. Innokenty Annensky as the epigraph to his anonymously published poetry collection Quiet Songs (1906), a quatrain signed by the name Nobody. As a result, it turned out that under this name stands the author of the collection and that all the poems collected in the book can be understood as something written by Odysseus in search of a way out of the cave of Polyphemus.

James Joyce used a very different device in his novel Ulysses (1922). At first glance, this book has nothing in common with the story of the Odyssey: it is an account of the events of a single day, June 16, 1904, in the life of the Dubliner Leopold Bloom. In reality, however, both the composition, the plot, and the characters have strict, detailed correspondences with Homer”s poem; in fact, Joyce has created an exact analogue of that poem, which is at once the pinnacle of modernist literature. At the time of the book, the author gave all 18 of its episodes Homeric titles, and after the novel was published, he also published charts revealing the connections between Ulysses and the Odyssey. The title character is Bloom, who is cheated on by his wife (Penelope) and brings to his home a new acquaintance, Stephen Daedalus (Telemachus). The bathtub symbolizes the land of lotophagi, the cemetery symbolizes Hades, the library symbolizes Scylla and Charybdis, the brothel symbolizes Kirky Island, etc.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, a number of fantasy novels were published in which Odysseus acts. These include Henry Lyon Oldie”s Odysseus, Son of Laertes (2001), David Gemmell”s trilogy (Lord of the Silver Bow, Thunder Shield, and The Fall of Kings, 2005-2007), and Dan Simmons” dilogy (Ilyon and Olympus, 2004-2006).


At the beginning of the 19th century, the image of Odysseus in paintings fulfilled mainly an illustrative function. Examples of this are the paintings The Embassy to Achilles by Jean Auguste Ingres (1801) and Odysseus at the Court of Alcinoe by Francesco Aiez (1813-1815). At the same time there was a tendency to emancipate painting on these themes from the text of Homer. The works of Johann Heinrich Füssli “Odysseus between Scylla and Charybdis” (1794-1796) and “Odysseus” Escape from the Cave of Polyphemus” (1803) are of independent value. (1803). An original interpretation of the episode with Calypso was later suggested by Arnold Bucklin (1882), in which the two characters are placed in different parts of the painting, and the figure of Odysseus in dark blue clothing (he stands on a cliff with his back to the viewer, looking out to sea) is contrasted with the light-coloured, almost naked figure of the nymph. The same artist painted Ulysses and Polyphemus (1896), in which the cyclops throws a huge stone at an Itacian ship.

Other paintings based on Homeric material are William Turner”s Ulysses Mocking Polyphemus (1829), John Waterhouse”s Circe Offers the Cup to Ulysses and Ulysses and the Sirens (1891), and Valentin Serov”s Odysseus and Navzikai (1910).

In many cases the myth of Odysseus was interpreted ironically. Honoré Daumier, in one of the drawings in the History of Antiquity series (1842), depicted the king of Ithaca as a typical French bourgeois: he sleeps in bed wearing an anachronistic nightcap, while Penelope, lying next to him, looks at him lovingly. In a painting by Lovis Corinth (with a large bone in his hand instead of a weapon, the audience around him depicted in a deliberately unrealistic manner. Rudolf Hausner”s painting The Power of Odysseus (1948-1956) is a fantastical ensemble of heterogeneous details with direct or indirect reference to Homer”s poem.


It is known that Ludwig van Beethoven was very fond of the Odyssey and wanted to set it to music, but this idea was not realized. The operatic tradition on this theme reached its pinnacle in Friedrich August Bungert”s tetralogy The Odyssey. A Musical Tragedy in Four Parts (1898-1903). Researchers also note the music of Charles Gounod to François Ponsard”s tragedy Ulysses (1852) and Max Bruch”s oratorio Odysseus (18711872). The early twentieth century saw the appearance of operettas (“Ulysses” by André Maupry in 1907, “The Return of Odysseus” by Lothar Schmidt in 1913) and radio plays (“Salvation” by Benjamin Britten in 1943) on this theme.

In the musical culture of the second half of the twentieth century, three great works about the Odyssey stand out. In Ludwig Gruber”s ballet The New Odyssey (1957), the protagonist returns home from the fronts of World War II to the German coast of the Baltic Sea and begins his search for his wife; the plot is clearly allegorical. Luigi Dallapiccola”s opera Ulysses (1968) used Homer”s story material and interpretations of images from Dante”s Divine Comedy. His hero, having become a Nobody in the cave of Polyphemus, begins a search for himself and in the finale finds himself back at sea, where he comes to a premonition of God. Luciano Berio”s “musical action” Utis (1996) uses the myth of the Odyssey only indirectly.

The King of Ithaca became the hero of many other musical works. These are the cycle Metopes by Karol Szymanowski (1915), the overture for orchestra The Return of Odysseus by Nikos Skalkotas (1945), the musical Odysseus, Penelope and Others by Kirill Molchanov (1970), the symphony No 25 by Alan Hovanes (1973), the ballets Odyssey by Einar Englund (1959), Anesis Logothetis (1963) and Evgeny Golubev (1965) and others. Yngwie Malmsteen”s fourth studio album (1988) was called Odyssey. Songs about Odyssey are in the works of Cream (“Tales of Brave Ulisses”, 1967), Basil K. (“Odyssey”, 1999), bands Winter of Beasts (“Odyssey and Navsicaia”, 1998), Franz Ferdinand (single “Ulysses”, 2009).


The first adaptations of Homer appeared at the beginning of the 20th century, during the silent film era. These were the short films Calypso”s Island. Ulysses and the Giant Polyphemus” by Georges Méliès (1905), “The Return of Ulysses” by André Calmette (1909), “The Odyssey” by Francesco Bertolini and Giuseppe Ligoro (1911). From the beginning, the story material of “The Odyssey” was used primarily to show fairy tale adventures and amazing monsters. In 1954 there was a full-length film adaptation of the poem The Odyssey (directed by Mario Camerini and Mario Bava, starring Kirk Douglas), in 1968 a Franco Rossi TV series The Odyssey (starring Bekim Fehmia), in 1997 a TV film by Andrei Konchalovsky with the same title (starring Armand Assante.

Other films not directly related to Homer were released in parallel: Mario Caiano”s Ulysses vs. Hercules (1961, as Ulysses Georges Marchal), Pietro Franchichi”s The Feats of Hercules: Hercules and the Queen of Lydia (1959, as Ulysses Gabriele Antonini). In the television series “Xena the Warrior Queen” (1995-2001) Odysseus was played by John D”Aquino, and in the Wolfgang Petersen blockbuster “Troy” (2004) by Sean Bean. Terry Ingram in 2008 directed a free interpretation of the Homeric episode about the descent into Hades (“Odysseus: Journey to the Underworld,” starring Arnold Voslu). In 2013, Stefano Giusti”s television series Odysseus, starring Alessio Boni, was released, telling the story of Laertida”s return to his homeland.

Jean-Luc Godard”s Contempt (1963) revolves around an adaptation of Fritz Lang”s The Odyssey, who does not want to sacrifice the artistic value of the production for the commercial interests of a cynical Hollywood producer who wants to add “more naked nymphs” to the film. The producer commissions a new script for Paul Javal, interested in the screenwriter”s beautiful wife Camille. Javal, in need of money, accepts the job and thus draws Camille”s contempt. The tense relationship between the characters rhymes with the relationship between Poseidon, Odysseus and Penelope. The latter, as Javel reasoned in the film, despised Odysseus because he asked her to be friendly with her admirers and accept gifts from them. Therefore, Odysseus set out on a wander, making war an excuse to get away from his wife. Lang, on the other hand, believes that Odysseus should not be made a “modern neurotic.

Homer”s poem inspired director Stanley Kubrick to make the film 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), based on the screenplay of which Arthur C. Clarke wrote the novel of the same name. In the film”s central scene, the two astronauts are held captive by a maddening onboard computer – and here experts see direct analogies to Polyphemus” cave.

A free interpretation of Homer”s “Odyssey” is the screenplay of the Coen brothers” film “Oh, where art thou, brother? (2000). The character named Ulysses Everett McGill in this film was played by George Clooney.

The Japanese medieval culture is considered by orientalists to be unique in the penetration of the image of Odysseus (through the translation of the ancient epic or its treatments). Since the sixteenth century there has been a cycle of tales of Yurivaka Daizin, a character whose name was rendered by the Latin “Ulysses. Esther Hibbard has described and analyzed 13 different Yurivaka narratives published in Japan between 1662 and 1798.

According to the basic plot, Yurivaka is the chosen one of the Japanese gods to protect Japan from the Mongol invasion. He led a mighty fleet and, after three years of sea wandering, destroyed the Mongol armada. Later, Yurivaka was stranded on a deserted island, where he was left alone by his assistant Bappu. The latter claimed rights to Yurivaki”s principality and to his wife, but she declared that she would marry him only if he rewrote the sacred sutras a thousand times. This took a long time. Yurivaka was greatly changed by the suffering and appeared unrecognized at his native castle. There he announced himself, managing to draw a giant bow, and punished the unfaithful assistant. The parallels between this story and the Odyssey were first described by Tsubouchi Shou in 1906.

There is evidence of the existence of the Yurivaka story even before 1662. For example, Toyotomi Hideyoshi was compared with this hero in a biography from 1617. The transition of the Greek name into Japanese may have occurred through the mediation of the Portuguese language. James Araki has suggested that the Odyssey entered Japan through either Fernand Mendes Pinto, who visited Kyushu in 1544, or Juan Fernandes, translator of the first Jesuit missionary in Japan, Francis Xaveria (his mission dates back to 1550). Just from 1551 the story of Yurivaka appears in the repertoire of Kovacamai storytellers. The story of Odysseus and Penelope was fully in line with the cultural interests of the Japanese as a warlike coastal people, as well as their notions of male valor and femininity. However, its further development took place strictly in the framework of the local literary tradition.



  1. Одиссей
  2. Odysseus
Ads Blocker Image Powered by Code Help Pro

Ads Blocker Detected!!!

We have detected that you are using extensions to block ads. Please support us by disabling these ads blocker.