If the Iliad is about brawn, the Odyssey is about brain, and how it can be used to survive and prevail. The Trojan War has been over for ten years, but Odysseus, King of Ithaca, has still not found his way back home to Greece. His palace has been taken over by intruders from well-born families, who live luxuriously at his expense and try to persuade Penelope his queen to accept that he is dead and marry one of them instead: she finds ways to fob them off. Odysseus’s now grown-up son, Telemachus, is helped to make a journey to the courts of other Greek hero-kings looking unsuccessfully for news of his father, by the goddess Athena, who protects him from plots against his life by his mother’s suitors.
Meanwhile, Odysseus is alive, but in luxurious captivity as the toy-boy of a sea-nymph, Calypso. The Gods decide, though by no means unanimously, that it is time to let him go home. He builds a raft, is shipwrecked and is rescued from the beach by Nausicaa, the daughter of the King of the Phaeacians. At first, no-one realises who he is, but he is kindly entertained in keeping with the ancient Greek code of courtesy to strangers. He tells his story, including encounters with Circe, who turns men into animals; the lotus-eaters, whose diet causes men to forget their homes; Polyphemus, the one-eyed giant cannibal, son of the sea-god Poseidon, whom Odysseus blinds; the sirens, who try to lure sailors to their deaths; and the inhabitants of the underworld, which he visits as a living man. He tells how all his men lost their lives for killing the cattle of Helios, the sun-God.
In the second half of the poem, Odysseus gets home to Ithaca with the help of the Phaeacians. In disguise, he plans and carries out the killing of the suitors with the help of his son, and retakes possession of his kingdom and Penelope. He is told that he must atone for killing the suitors by making a ritual journey: the souls of the suitors are conducted to the underworld by Hermes, the messenger-God, and the poem ends.
Here as a taster are the opening lines in Greek. Here too is a link to a famous English translation by the 16th – 17th century dramatist George Chapman, to which John Keats dedicated one of his sonnets.
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