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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

Odysseusabstruse, abuse, adduce, Ballets Russes, Belarus, Bruce, burnous, caboose, charlotte russe, conduce, deduce, deuce, diffuse, douce, educe, excuse, goose, induce, introduce, juice, Larousse, loose, luce, misuse, moose, mousse, noose, obtuse, Palouse, papoose, produce, profuse, puce, recluse, reduce, Rousse, seduce, sluice, Sousse, spruce, traduce, truce, use, vamoose, Zeus •cayuse • calaboose • mongoose •Aarhus • verjuice • couscous •footloose • ventouse • refuse •Odysseus • Idomeneus • hypotenuse •Syracuse

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Odysseus

ODYSSEUS

Of all the characters created by Homer, Odysseus, or Ulysses, as he is called in the Latin tradition, has had the longest life and the most varied fortunes. From the 6th century b.c. the mental and moral flexibility of Odysseus was viewed unfavorably, and the tradition of Odysseus as a symbol of deceit was established. However, Stoic and Cynic emphasis on his manliness and resourcefulness in overcoming evil forces led to a restoration of his Homeric image and a recognition of his high moral qualities. Vergil reflects the first tradition (Aeneid, bk. 2); and Horace, the second (Epist. 1.2).

Early Christian writers were inclined to follow the second tradition, being impressed in particular, by the story of the meeting of Odysseus and the Phaeacian Princess Nausicaa and, above all, by that of his resistance to the temptations of the Sirens. The voyage of Odysseus became a symbol of the Christian's journey through life; the Sirens, the powers of evil to which he is exposed; his ship, the church; and its mast, the cross of Christ. In one of the stories of the medieval Gesta Romanorum [No. 156, De subversione Troiae, ed. H. Oesterley (Berlin 1872)], Paris represents the devil; Helen, the soul or all mankind held captive by the devil; Troy, hell; Ulysses, Christ; Achilles, the Holy Ghost. The temptation of Odysseus by the Sirens has been used as a theme also in Christian art.

Bibliography: w. b. stanford, The Ulysses Theme: A Study in the Adaptability of a Traditional Hero (Oxford 1954); "Studies in the Characterization of Ulysses IV: Ulysses in the Post-Classical Latin Tradition," Hermathena 77 (1951) 5264. h. rahner, Greek Myths and Christian Mystery, tr. b. battershaw (New York 1963) esp. ch. VII, "Odysseus at the Mast," 328386. e. wÜst, "Odysseus," Paulys Realencyklopädie der klassischen Altertumswissenschaft 17.2 (1937) 190596, esp. 196476.

[m. r. p. mcguire]

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Odysseus

Odysseus

Nationality/Culture

Greek

Pronunciation

oh-DIS-ee-uhs

Alternate Names

Ulysses (Roman)

Appears In

Homer's Iliad, Homer's Odyssey

Lineage

Son of Laertes and Anticlea

Character Overview

In Greek mythology , Odysseus was a celebrated hero, best known for his role in the Trojan War and for his ten-year journey home after the war. Odysseus (known as Ulysses to the Romans) appears as the central character in the Odyssey, an epic poem 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 (pronounced an-tuh-KLEE-uh) and of King Laertes (pronounced lay-UR-teez) of Ithaca (pronounced ITH-uh-kuh). However, some stories maintain that his father was Sisyphus (pronounced SIZ-ee-fuhs), founder of the city of Corinth and a cunning man who outwitted the god Hades (pronounced HAY-deez). 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—a half-human, half-horse creature— 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 (pronounced tin-DAIR-ee-uhs) 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 (pronounced men-uh-LAY-uhs) when he was chosen to be Helen's husband. To show his gratitude, Tyndareus helped Odysseus win the hand of his niece Penelope (pronounced puh-NEL-uh-pee), with whom the young hero had fallen in love. The couple returned to Ithaca, and Penelope bore Odysseus a son named Telemachus (pronounced tuh-LEM-uh-kuhs).

The Trojan War When the Trojan War began, Odysseus tried to avoid participating. An oracle, or person through whom the gods communicated with humans, had told him that if he went to war, he would be away for twenty 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 advisor and speaker rather than as a warrior. He helped discover the whereabouts of Achilles (pronounced uh-KILL-eez) and he convinced the great hero to join the war. He tricked Clytemnestra (pronounced klye-tem-NES-truh), wife of Agamemnon (pronounced ag-uh-MEM-non), into sending her daughter Iphigenia (pronounced if-uh-juh-NEYE-uh) to be sacrificed to the goddess Artemis (pronounced AHR-tuh-miss) 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, who could see the future, and asked what they must do to capture Troy, it was Odysseus who accomplished the three tasks that were set. He persuaded Neoptolemus (pronounced nee-op-TOL-uh-muhs), the son of Achilles, to join the Greeks in battle. He used trickery to get Philoctetes (pronounced fil-uhk-TEE-teez), keeper of the bow and arrows of Heracles (pronounced HAIR-uh-kleez), to join the fighting. He also used cunning to sneak into Troy and steal the Palladium (pronounced puh-LAY-dee-um), a statue of Athena (pronounced uh-THEE-nuh) believed to protect the city and bring it good fortune. Finally, Odysseus came up with the idea of pretending to sail away from Troy, leaving behind an enormous wooden horse as a gift to the Trojans— inside of 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 angered the sea god Poseidon (pronounced poh-SYE-dun). 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 taken from Troy. Arriving home at last after an absence of twenty 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.

There are several different accounts of Odysseus's final years. Some stories say that he was accidentally killed by Telegonus (pronounced tuh-LEG-uh-nus), his son by the enchantress Circe (pronounced SUR-see). Other tales say he married Callidice (pronounced kuh-LID-uh-see), the queen of Thesprotia (pronounced thes-PROH-shuh), 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.

Odysseus in Context

One notable aspect of Odysseus in his adventures is that he has romantic relationships with many women throughout his journey. At the same time, the whole purpose of his journey is to return home to his wife, Penelope. While Odysseus enjoys the company of numerous women, Penelope is busy fending off the many suitors who wish to marry her and take over the kingdom of Ithaca. This reflects a double standard common in ancient Greek culture and myth: male characters are often shown being unfaithful to their wives, but the wives are expected to remain true. In many cases, Odysseus appears to fall victim to magical powers of attraction or seduction, which suggests that he is not to blame for his affairs.

Another important aspect of Odysseus is how the character was treated differently by Greek and Roman writers. In the works of the ancient Greek poet Homer, he was a hero who helped defeat the Trojans through his cunning. To the Romans, who claimed that they were descended from the noble Trojans, Odysseus was deceitful and cowardly, choosing to resort to trickery instead of facing a fair fight. This reflects the Greek celebration of ingenuity, while also showing the Roman tendency to solve matters through physical might.

Key Themes and Symbols

Odysseus has stood as an enduring symbol of cleverness and mental power over the physical: although he is shown to be strong, he very often escapes trouble through his shrewdness rather than through brute force. Two important examples of his cleverness include his invention of the Trojan horse, which ended a bloody ten-year war in a single night, and his escape from the blinded Polyphemus, where he and his men hide underneath the giant's sheep as they are put out to pasture.

Another important theme in the tales of Odysseus is endurance: although his journey takes ten years—after spending another ten years fighting against Troy—he does not lose sight of his goal to return home to his wife and kingdom. Penelope also shows endurance, fending off men who seek her hand in marriage for twenty years while her husband is away. Equally important as a theme is the danger of temptation. Odysseus is tempted by the lotus-eaters and by Circe; many of his men fall victim to both, in the latter case being turned into animals. Odysseus resists Circe's charms and saves his crew; he later resists temptation again when she asks him to remain with her, choosing instead to continue the difficult journey home. Odysseus also recognizes the dangerous temptation of the Sirens , and acts to protect his men from their songs—though he himself succumbs to temptation and listens to the Sirens while tied to the mast of his ship.

Odysseus in Art, Literature, and Everyday Life

The tale of Odysseus is best known from the epic poems the Iliad and, more importantly, the Odyssey, both by Homer. Another ancient Greek epic, the Telegony, was said to chronicle the later years of Odysseus's life, but this work appears to have been lost. The Odyssey has been adapted coundess times over the centuries, inspiring novels, poems, symphonies, and songs. A partial retelling of Odysseus's adventures even occurs in Virgil's Aeneid, a Roman work modeled after Homer's epics. Odysseus also appears in Dante's Inferno as one of the damned souls in hell, and has been the subject of many sequels to the original tale, including Alfred, Lord Tennyson's Ulysses (1842), and The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel (1938) by Nikos Kazantzakis. The tale of Odysseus has also loosely inspired many other works, including James Joyce's landmark novel Ulysses (1922), and the 2000 Coen brothers' film O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Read, Write, Think, Discuss

Odysseus in the Serpent Maze by Jane Yolen and Robert J. Harris (2002) is an adventure tale that takes place long before the Iliad or the Odyssey. In this novel, Odysseus is a thirteen-year-old prince who becomes shipwrecked far from home along with his friend, Mentor. The two meet up with Helen of Troy and Odysseus's future wife Penelope. Before they can return home, they must face off against bloodthirsty pirates and a monstrous serpent with one hundred heads. Yolen and Harris base their tale on existing fragments of the early life of Odysseus, as well as an in-depth knowledge of ancient Greek culture.

SEE ALSO Achilles; Circe; Greek Mythology; Helen of Troy; Iliad, The; Odyssey, The; Penelope

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