In Greek mythology, Odysseus is the great-grandson of Hermes, one of the twelve Olympian Gods. He is the son of Laertes, the king of Ithaca, and Anticlea and the husband of Penelope and father of a child named Telemachus.
Known for his leadership skills, wit, and intelligence, Odysseus is most famous for his ten-year journey had after the Trojan War. It’s during this time he was involved in a series of adventures and faced many obstacles as he struggled to return home to his wife and son.
Odysseus’ journey is told in the story “The Odyssey,” a classic story written by the ancient Greek bard Homer. The rest of Odysseus’ life beyond what’s told in this tale of his struggles to return back home after the Trojan War is based on accounts from various sources. Although many details are fairly consistent.
Childhood and Early Life
Odysseus was born on isle of Ithaca. During his childhood, he displayed impressive athletic abilities. He enjoyed archery and did very well at it. Young Odysseus also liked to hunt with his dog, Argos, often going along with him. He is not a god, but he does have a connection with the gods on his mother’s side of the family.
While on one hunting trip, Odysseus was gored by a wild boar, an incident that left a scar. It soon became evident during his early that Odysseus possessed certain unique abilities and talents, including an ability to solve problems and outwit opponents.
Odysseus was also known for his speaking abilities. It was often said that once he spoke, no one could resist him. It was his intelligence that attracted the attention of Athena, a goddess who would become Odysseus’ protector during the Trojan War and later during his attempts to return home. She would prove to be a trusted source of advice and guidance.
Early Adult Years
Before he married Penelope, Odysseus tried to attract the attention of Helen of Troy, making him one of her many suitors. It was when he was trying to attract the attention of Helen of Troy, who wasn’t interested enough to choose him, that he met her cousin, a woman named Penelope. She would prove to be just as clever and intelligent as he was known to be, a fact that made the two a perfect match for one another.
Odysseus made a deal with Helen’s father (King Tyndareus) that he would find a way to prevent Helen’s suitors from battling each other and would vow to defend the chosen suitor against anyone who would wrong him or attempt to do him harm (Oath of Tyndareus) if he would help him win over Penelope. King Tyndareus agreed. Odysseus won approval from Penelope’s father, Icarius of Lacedaemon, by defeating him a foot race. Helen married a man named Menelaus and Odysseus married Penelope.
Odysseus became ruler of a group of people who lived on islands not far from the northwest coast of Greece. These people were called the Cephallenians. He lived with Penelope in a palace on the island of Ithaca that he built himself. Even so, Odysseus was not considered a rich man. Him and his wife had a child named Telemachus. Soon after his birth, Helen eloped with Paris, which is what ultimately led to the Trojan War.
During the Trojan War
Helen’s husband, Menelaus, invoked the Oath of Tyndareus when his wife was abducted by Paris, who had been one of the suitors who lost out to him. Not wanting to leave his wife and young son, Odysseus pretended to be insane and unfit to help Menelaus.
However, when Palamedes of Euboia came to get Odysseus, he was suspicious and doubted that Odysseus was truly insane. So, he placed Odysseus’ young son in front of a plow as a test to see if the boy’s father had really gone mad. When Odysseus swerved to avoid hitting his son, it became clear he was faking. Odysseus was then drawn into the Trojan War.
Odysseus fought in the Trojan War with Achilles. While Odysseus admired Achilles’ skills as a gallant warrior, the two men did now like each other. They had an ongoing dispute over what mattered the most, brains or brawn (strength).
None-the-less, it was Odysseus who was able to convince Achilles, considered one of the best of the Greek fighters of his time, to leave his wife and children to fight in the war. The dispute between Odysseus and Achilles came to an end when the gallant warrior was fatally injured in his one weak spot, his heel. After Achilles died, Odysseus competed to win his weapons and other arms.
It was predicted that the battle for Troy would not be won until the bow and arrows of Hercules could be obtained. These items were located on an island called Lemnos. Odysseus and a friend named Diomedes who was fighting in the war with him sailed to the island. They convinced the possessor of the bow and arrows, Philoctetes, to come back with them.
The battle continued for many years. At one point, it looked as if the Greeks were going to lose. In fact, they pretended to sail away in defeat and left a wooden horse was left behind. However, it was a trick. The large wooden horse was taken into the city as a victory trophy for having “defeated” the Greeks. Once the gates to the city were opened to allow the grand gift inside, Odysseus and the other warriors came out from the inside of the wooden horse.
The war was over and Odysseus began his journey back home. In some stories, it’s claimed that Odysseus is the one who came up with the idea of using the Trojan Horse as a hiding place. As a result of this trick, the Spartans were defeated and the Greeks were victorious in recapturing the City of Troy.
Journey Back Home
The Gods were reportedly angry over the fact that the Greeks used trickery and deceit to win the war rather than win in a “fair” fight. Because of this, they vowed to make it difficult for Odysseus and his men to return home. It was the goddess Athena who intervened to help Odysseus get back home.
During his journey home, Odysseus faced many obstacles. While on the island of Kikones, his first stop, he was given twelve flasks of wine by Apollo. When he set sail again, Odysseus and his men encountered a fierce storm.
Odysseus and his crew were eventually carried to the shores of an island inhabited by a race of people who ate lotus plants that grew on the island, referred to as the Lotus Eaters. When noticing that his men soon lost all desire to return home after eating the plants, Odysseus realized it had something to do with the plants and forced them back on the ship.
Odysseus and his men then made their way to an island called Cyclopes, inhabited by one-eyed giants. While most of them were peaceful, one of them was a man-eating Cyclops named Polyphemos. He also happened to be the son of the god of the sea, Poseidon.
Odysseus was able to tempt the man-eater with enough wine to get him drunk. He then had his men turn Polyphemos’ staff into a spike. He used it to blind him so he could escape from the island. Polyphemos asked his father to help him get back at Odysseus. According to some accounts, this is really the action that caused Odysseus’ delay in getting home rather than an act of the gods related to how the Trojan War was fought or the trick with the wooden horse.
In later adventures, Odysseus was given a flask that contained all of the winds of the world, except the one he needed to get back home. At one point, Odysseus and his men were almost home until one of his crewmen opened the flask and unleashed the winds. The ship was then blown backwards and Odysseus would have to resume his voyage home.
The determined voyager and his crew members would encounter giants who pelted them with rocks, which resulted in the loss of many of Odysseus’ men. The journey back home also involved a meeting with a sorceress named Circe who turned some of Odysseus’ men into swine. Odysseus was able to use a gift from Hermes that made him immune to sorceress’ spells.
While not initially fond of each other, Odysseus and Circe became lovers and enjoyed a year together. After this period of time, Odysseus decided to continue on his journey home. Surprisingly, Circe not only let him go without putting up a fight or attempting trickery, but she offered him some advice.
She suggested that Odysseus seek guidance from a seer in the underworld who would be able to give him directions to get home. While going to the underworld, Odysseus met his own mother and several fallen heroes, including Achilles.
Odysseus was warned by Circe to stay away from the Sirens. They are seductive creatures with heads that made them appear to be women. He had his men place wax in their ears so they wouldn’t be drawn in by their singing. And Odysseus was tied to the ship so he could enjoy their singing without falling under their control.
The Greek hero would face more rough seas and lose several more men. Odysseus and his men found refuge on an island with herds tended by Helios, the son of the Titan Hyperion, one of the twelve Titan children who played a role in overthrowing Uranus, the god who represented the sky.
Odysseus was warned not to touch his herd of animals. However, his men were hungry and ate some of the animals. An angry Helios caused Odysseus’ ship to capsize. All of Odysseus’ men perished, leaving him as the only survivor.
After drifting at sea for several days, Odysseus washed up on the shores of an island called Ogygia. It was here that he met the nymph Calypso. He became enchanted with her and spent seven years in her capture. The two appeared to live a happy life together during those years.
During their time together, Calypso would have a son by Odysseus named Nausithous. She grew fond of Odysseus and tried to convince him to stay with her forever. She tried to convince him to stay by promising him some appealing perks, including the gifts of eternal youth and immortality.
Despite the tempting offers, Odysseus made the decision to continue his attempt to find his way back home. Athena once again intervenes on behalf of Odysseus and asks Zeus to free him of Calypso’s spell. After the intervention from Zeus, she set Odysseus free and gives him wine and food and materials for a raft. Odysseus then resumed his quest to return to his wife and son in Ithaca.
Poseidon, still angry over the blinding of his son by Odysseus, once again creates a fierce storm. It’s so powerful that it rocks his raft and eventually causes it to break apart. A battered and bruised Odysseus washes up on the shores of the island of Scheria.
Odysseus soon discovers that the island is home to the Phaeacians. He finds himself being cared for by the daughter of the island’s king, Nausikaa. He first appears to King Alcinous, her father and the king of the island, as a beggar in an attempt to win his favor and receive sympathy and a helping hand getting back home.
He soon reveals himself to be Odysseus. The king likes Odysseus and wants to see him get back home to his wife and son. He agrees to help him get home. Odysseus is given a magic ship that can sail itself since he no longer has a crew. He is finally able to make it all the way home without any further obstacles or unexpected stops on islands.
After being away from home for a decade, Odysseus was little more than a distant memory for many people there, especially since he was involved with the Battle of. Yet his wife had remained faithful. Many on Ithaca assumed Odysseus had died either during the war or at sea when attempted to return home. Penelope used her wit to keep the potential suitors away.
The suitors had grown frustrated with Penelope’s efforts to put off making a decision about who she would marry and came up with a plan to kill her son. Before making himself known to his wife, Odysseus disguised himself as a beggar, an idea given to him by Athena.
Athena once again intervenes and advises Odysseus to disguise himself as a beggar in order to help his wife fight off the suitors and protect his son. Once disguised as a beggar, Odysseus visits the palace to see what has been going on since he’s been gone and to determine how to best rid his wife of those unwanted suitors.
However, Odysseus’ former childhood nurse, Eurycleia, recognizes him by the scar on his thigh from where he was attacked by a boar was a child. His dog, Argos, also recognizes him. Unfortunately, Argos soon dies after Odysseus returns home.
Odysseus reveals himself to his son, Telemachus. He promises to keep his father’s secret until the situation with the suitors is resolved. Still thinking him to be nothing more than a beggar, the suitors make fun of Odysseus and have several laughs at his expense.
Penelope comes up with the idea of holding a contest to determine which of the suitors she will marry. She declares that she will marry the first man who is able to string the bow of the bow and arrows that belonged to the king.
One by one, the suitors attempt to string the bow. Each one fails. Finally, the beggar asks to be given a chance to attempt to string the bow. The suitors laugh and tell him to give it a try, thinking he’ll easily fail and they’ll et a good laugh out of watching him.
“The Beggar” quickly strung the bow, much to the surprise of Penelope and the suitors. He then revealed his true identity. The suitors soon discovered that Telemachus had removed all weapons from the wall in advance of the efforts with the bow and arrow. Odysseus then used the remaining arrows to take care of the suitors and resume his rightful position with his wife.
There are two different accounts of the final years of Odysseus’ remaining years of life. According to one account of the rest of the Greek hero’s life, Odysseus lived quietly and happily with his wife for many years after returning home, surviving until a ripe old age and died peacefully.
There is another story of Odysseus’ final years that has a tragic twist. In a battle that took place on the island of Ithaca, an older Odysseus was killed by Telegonos, the son he had with Circe. Ironically, Telegonos was unaware that the man he had killed was really his father.
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