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Odysseus

Odysseus

In Greek mythology, Odysseus was a celebrated hero, best known for his role in the Trojan Warf and for his ten-year journey home after the war. Odysseus (also known as Ulysses) appears as the central character in the Odyssey, an epic by the ancient Greek poet Homer, and he also plays a role in the Iliad, Homer's other major epic.


Early Life. Odysseus was generally said to be the son of Anticlea and of King Laertes of Ithaca. However, some stories maintain that his father was Sisyphus, founder of the city of Corinth and a cunning man who outwitted the god Hades*. This version says that Sisyphus seduced Anticlea before her marriage to Laertes and that Odysseus inherited his cleverness from Sisyphus.

Educated by the centaur Chiron, Odysseus began to display great strength and courage at an early age. While out hunting with his uncles and his grandfather, the young hero saved the adults by killing a wild boar. Before the creature died, however, it wounded Odysseus on the leg with its sharp tusk, leaving a permanent scar.

When Odysseus reached manhood, King Laertes stepped aside and let his son rule Ithaca. Around the same time, Odysseus began thinking of marriage. Like other young rulers and heroes in Greece, he desired Helen*, the beautiful daughter of King Tyndareus of Sparta. But Ithaca was a poor kingdom, and Odysseus had little hope of winning her. Nevertheless, he went to Sparta as a suitor.

While in Sparta, Odysseus displayed some of the cunning for which he became famous. Crowds of men had come to Sparta to seek the hand of Helen, and King Tyndareus feared what might happen when he chose one of them to marry his daughter. Odysseus advised the king to make all the suitors swear an oath to protect Helen and the man she married. The suitors agreed and thus accepted Menelaus when he was chosen to be Helen's husband. To show his gratitude, Tyndareus helped Odysseus win the hand of his niece Penelope, with whom the young hero had fallen in love. The couple returned to Ithaca, and Penelope bore Odysseus a son named Telemachus.


epic long poem about legendary or historical heroes, written in a grand style

centaur half-human, half-animal creature with the body of a horse and the head, chest, and arms of a human

oracle priest or priestess or other creature through whom a god is believed to speak; also the location (such as a shrine) where such words are spoken

The Trojan War. When the Trojan War began, Odysseus tried to avoid participating. An oracle had told him that if he went to war, he would be away for 20 years and would return a beggar. So Odysseus pretended to be mad and sowed his fields with salt instead of seeds. When officials came to fetch him, they suspected a trick so they placed the infant Telemachus in the field. Odysseus stopped the plow to avoid killing the child, something a madman would not have done.

According to the Iliad, Odysseus's role in the Trojan War was mainly as an adviser and speaker rather than as a warrior. He helped discover the whereabouts of Achilles* and convince the great hero to join the war. He tricked Clytemnestra, wife of Agamemnon*, into sending her daughter Iphigenia to be sacrificed to the goddess Artemis* so that the Greek ships would have good winds for their voyage to Troy*. When a go-between was needed to settle quarrels between Agamemnon and Achilles, Odysseus stepped in. He also spied on the Trojans and discovered their plans.

Renowned for his eloquent and persuasive speaking, Odysseus was called upon many times to give advice. Although he fought bravely, he preferred strategy to heroics. When the Greeks captured the Trojan prophet Helenus and asked what they must do to capture Troy, it was Odysseus who accomplished the three tasks that were set. He persuaded Neoptolemus, the son of Achilles, to join the Greeks in battle. He used trickery to get Philoctetes, keeper of the bow and arrows of Hercules*, to join the fighting. He also used cunning to sneak into Troy and steal the Palladium, a statue of Athena believed to protect the city and bring it good fortune. Finally, Odysseus came up with the idea of pretending to sail away from Troy and leaving behind an enormous wooden horsein which Greek soldiers were hidden. This trick enabled the Greeks to enter Troy at night and defeat the Trojans.


The Journey Home. After the fall of Troy, Odysseus set sail for Ithaca, but his voyage took ten long years because he incurred the anger of the sea god Poseidon*. His journey and adventures, described fully in the Odyssey, took the hero to many wondrous and dangerous places. Along the way, he lost all his companions and the treasure he had gotten from Troy Arriving home at last after an absence of 20 years, Odysseus had to defeat rivals trying to take possession of his wife and his kingdom. Then he had to prove his identity to his wife, Penelope.

prophet one who claims to have received divine messages or insights

There are several different accounts of Odysseus's final years. Some stories say that he was accidentally killed by Telegonus, his son by the enchantress Circe. Other tales tell that he married Callidice, the queen of Thesprotia, and ruled there for a time while Penelope was still alive. Still other versions of the story report that Odysseus was forced into exile by relatives of the rivals he killed upon his return to Ithaca.

See also Achilles ; Circe ; Greek Mythology ; Helen Of Troy ; Homer ; Iliad, The ; Odyssey, The ; Penelope ; Trojan War .

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Odysseus

Odysseus (ōdĬs´ēəs), Lat. Ulysses (yōōlĬs´ēz), in Greek mythology, son and successor of King Laertes of Ithaca. A leader of Greek forces during the Trojan War, Odysseus was noted (as in the Iliad) for his cunning strategy and his wise counsel. He is the central figure of the Odyssey, which tells of his adventures after the fall of Troy. In post-Homeric legend, however, he was pictured as a wily, lying, and evil man. He avoided service in the Trojan War by feigning madness—until exposed by Palamedes, whom he later treacherously caused to be executed.

See E. Hamilton, Mythology (1942, repr. 1971).

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Odysseus

Odysseus in Greek mythology, the king of Ithaca, renowned for his cunning and resourcefulness; in Latin, he is known as Ulysses.

He is the central figure of the Odyssey, a Greek hexameter epic poem traditionally ascribed to Homer, describing the travels of Odysseus during his ten years of wandering after the sack of Troy. He eventually returned home to Ithaca and killed the suitors who had plagued his wife Penelope during his absence.

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Odysseus

Odysseus (Ulysses) Greek hero of Homer's epic poem, the Odyssey. King of the city-state of Ithaca, husband of the faithful Penelope, he was an astute and brave warrior. It was Odysseus who devised the stratagem of the wooden Trojan Horse in order to enter Troy.

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Odysseus

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