Odyssey Poem by Homer
After an invocation to the Muse of Poetry, the epic begins in the middle of the action ("in the center of things"). Odysseus has been far from Ithaca for about 20 years, the first ten of which he spent fighting in the Trojan War and the last ten attempting to get home.
Meanwhile, Odysseus' queen, Penelope, attempts to ban over 100 suitors who have entered the royal palace, seeking her hand in marriage (and the chance to rule Ithaca), and indulging in excessive food and wine at the expense of the guests. Telemachus, the son of Odysseus and Penelope, is only turning 21 and is at a loss as to what to do with the suitors. Odysseus' return is awaited by both mother and son.
The first four books provide an effect on Telemachus' struggle (Odysseus does not appear in the epic until Book 5). Telemachus' coming of age, his own journey, which historians often refer to as the "Telemacheia," is a secondary story in the Odyssey.
In disguise, the goddess Athena appears to the young prince and urges him to gather an assembly of the island's representatives to oppose the suitors' attack. Soon after, he is to go to King Nestor of Pylos and King Menelaus of Sparta, former comrades of his father's, to receive some news of Odysseus from them.
At the meeting, the prince is approached by the two leading suitors, the violent Antinous and thus the smooth-talking Eurymachus. They suspect Penelope of procrastinating in her quest for a replacement partner. Telemachus talks well but accomplishes little at the meeting because the suitors come from some of the area's most powerful families and are irritated with Penelope's delays.
The suitors plot to assassinate Telemachus as he secretly activates for Pylos and Sparta. Telemachus knows little about his father at Pylos but is inspired to go to Sparta, where King Menelaus reveals that Odysseus is alive but imprisoned by the goddess nymph Calypso.
Homer abandons the Telemachus tale because the suitors are about to ambush his ship on the way back to Ithaca. The gods have agreed to liberate Odysseus from Calypso at Athena's behest. The command is given to Odysseus' captor by Hermes, the messenger god. Odysseus has spent seven years with the goddess, camping with her in the dark and daydreaming about his home and family. Calypso may be a lovely, lustful nymph who wishes to marry Odysseus and give him immortality, but he pines for Penelope and Ithaca. Calypso reluctantly takes Odysseus on his way.
Poseidon, the ocean god, sees the wayfarer and, taking vengeance for blinding Poseidon's son Cyclops, shipwrecks Odysseus on the island of Phaeacia, which is ruled by King Alcinous. The civilized and hospitable Phaeacians welcome the visitor and invite him to tell them about his adventures. The reader travels back in time 10 years thanks to Odysseus' narrative.
This portion, known as "The Wanderings of Odysseus," is the most well-known of the epic. Odysseus and his men sail first to the land of the Cicones at the end of the Trojan War. The Greeks successfully raid the city centre, but stay too long and are routed by a reserve army. Instead of sailing straight home, the flotilla faces a strong storm caused by Athena, which blows them off course to the land of the Lotus-eaters. These aren't hostile creatures, but consuming the lotus plant erases recollection and ambition; Odysseus is scarcely able to separate his men and resume the quest.
Odysseus is driven by curiosity to explore the world of the Cyclops, a tribe of uncivilized, cannibalistic, one-eyed giants. Polyphemus (also known simply as "Cyclops"), one of them, traps Odysseus' scouting party in his cave. To flee, Odysseus blinds the one-eyed beast, incurring the wrath of Poseidon, the giant's father.
Aeolus, the wind god, is a welcoming host at first. He catches all adverse winds and stores them for Odysseus, who is now prepared to sail to Ithaca. Unfortunately, his men believe the bag contains treasure and open it while Odysseus is sleeping. The troubled winds blow the group back to Aeolus, who does not want to deal with them any more, speculating that they must be punished by the gods.
During a coup de main, the next hosts, the cannibalistic Laestrygonians, drown all but Odysseus' boats. The last of the Greeks arrive in Aeaea, birthplace of the beautiful enchantress Circe, who transforms some of them into pigs. Odysseus cleverly beats Circe and becomes her lover, thanks to Hermes' guidance. She breaks his men's spell and helps in the group's subsequent departure a year later, telling Odysseus that he must sail to the Land of the Dead. There, he encounters numerous Greek heroes, receives a visit from his mother, and receives a vital prophecy from the seer Tiresias. Odysseus continues his journey.
Odysseus and his crew enter the island of the Sungod Helios after narrowly fleeing the Sirens' songs and an attack by a six-headed creature called Scylla. Despite dire threats, the lads feast on the Sungod's livestock during Odysseus' brief absence. Zeus is enraged and sinks the ship when the Greeks leave, killing all but Odysseus, who is washed ashore at Calypso's island and remains there for seven years before being released.
Odysseus enjoys the gratitude and gifts of the Phaeacians, who sail him to Ithaca to continue their custom of returning wayfaring strangers to their homelands. Meanwhile, Athena assists Telemachus in escaping the trap of the suitors and arranges for him to please his father at their piggery outside the palace.
Odysseus returns to his home palace dressed as a beggar after reuniting with his son and with the aid of Athena and his loyal swineherd Eumaeus. For the time being, he refrains from retaliating against the suitors who threaten and attack him. Penelope seems to be uncertain that he is her husband, but Eurycleia, a dedicated nurse who cared for Odysseus while he was a toddler, is reassured when she finds an old scar on his leg while bathing him.
Penelope organizes a contest, vowing to marry any man who can string Odysseus' fine bow and fire an arrow through a dozen axes as he is wont to do. All of the suitors fail; only Odysseus is capable of achieving the feat. He and Telemachus, along with two loyal herdsmen, massacre the suitors with deft preparations and additional assistance from Athena. Odysseus and Penelope, as well as Odysseus and his elderly father, Laertes, are reunited. Athena prevents war by making out with the suitors' vengeful relatives and families. Odysseus finally comes home.