Odysseus (called Ulysses in Latin) was the son of Laertes and was the ruler of the island kingdom of Ithaca. He was one of the most prominent Greek leaders in the Trojan War, and was the hero of Homer's Odyssey. He was known for his cleverness and cunning, and for his eloquence as a speaker.
Odysseus was one of the original suitors of Helen of Troy. When Menelaus succeeded in winning Helen's hand in marriage, it was Odysseus who advised him to get the other suitors to swear to defend his marriage rights. However, when Menelaus called on the suitors to help him bring Helen back from Troy, Odysseus was reluctant to make good on his oath. He pretended to have gone mad, plowing his fields and sowing salt instead of grain. Palamedes placed Odysseus' infant son in front of the plow, and Odysseus revealed his sanity when he turned aside to avoid injuring the child.
However reluctant he may have been to join the expedition, Odysseus fought heroically in the Trojan War, refusing to leave the field when the Greek troops were being routed by the Trojans, and leading a daring nocturnal raid in company with Diomedes. He was also the originator of the Trojan horse, the strategem by which the Greeks were finally able to take the city of Troy itself. After the death of Achilles, he and Ajax competed for Achilles' magnificent armor; when Odysseus' eloquence caused the Greeks to award the prize to him, Ajax went mad and killed himself.
Odysseus' return from Troy, chronicled in the Odyssey, took ten years and was beset by perils and misfortune. He freed his men from the pleasure-giving drugs of the Lotus-Eaters, rescued them from the cannibalism of the Cyclopes and the enchantments of Circe. He braved the terrors of the underworld with them, and while in the land of the dead Hades allowed Thiresias, Odysseus' mother, Ajax and others to give him adivice on his next journey. They gave him important advice about the cattle of the sun (which Apollo herds), Scylla and Charybdis and the Sirens.
From there on the travels were harder for Odysseus, but they would have been much worse of it wasn't for the help of the dead. With this newly acquired knowledge, he steered them past the perils of the Sirens and of Scylla and Charybdis. He could not save them from their final folly, however, when they violated divine commandments by slaughtering and eating the cattle of the sun-god. As a result of this rash act, Odysseus' ship was destroyed by a thunderbolt, and only Odysseus himself survived.
He came ashore on the island of the nymph Calypso, who made him her lover and refused to let him leave for seven years. When Zeus finally intervened, Odysseus sailed away on a small boat, only to be shipwrecked by another storm. He swam ashore on the island of the Phaeacians, where he was magnificently entertained and then, at long last, escorted home to Ithaca.
There were problems in Ithaca as well, however. During Odysseus' twenty-year absence, his wife, Penelope, had remained faithful to him, but she was under enormous pressure to remarry. A whole host of suitors were occupying her palace, drinking and eating and behaving insolently to Penelope and her son, Telemachus. Odysseus arrived at the palace, disguised as a ragged beggar, and observed their behavior and his wife's fidelity. With the help of Telemachus and Laertes, he slaughtered the suitors and cleansed the palace. He then had to fight one final battle, against the outraged relatives of the men he had slain; Athena intervened to settle this battle, however, and peace was restored.
WHOLE BUNCH OF ODYSSEUS FACTS
Based on the Genealogical Guide to Greek Mythology,
by Carlos Parada
Odysseus was king of Ithaca and leader of the Cephallenians against Troy. He invented the construction of the WOODEN HORSE as a stratagem to take Troy. As other ACHAEAN LEADERS Odysseus was confronted, after the sack of Troy with a hard return and sedition at home. On his return to Ithaca he killed the many SUITORS OF PENELOPE, who had been wasting his property during his twenty years long absence, and for that massacre he was condemned to exile by King Neoptolemus of Epirus.
The Oath of Tyndareus.
When Helen was to be married many suitors came from all Greece wishing to win her hand, and among them Odysseus. King Tyndareus, Helen's father or stepfather, feared that the preference of one might provoke the enmity of the others, and so Odysseus promised that, if Tyndareus would help him to win the hand of Penelope, he would suggest a way by which there would be no dispute among the suitors. When Tyndareus agreed, promising to help him, Odysseus told him to exact an oath from all the SUITORS OF HELEN that they would defend the favoured bridegroom against any wrong that might be done him in respect of his marriage.
So when Menelaus won the hand of Helen, all accepted it in virtue of the oath, and thus Odysseus married Penelope, who was the prize for such a wise advice.
But later, when the seducer Paris took Helen from King Menelaus of Sparta, the kings of Greece, being bound by the Oath of Tyndareus, were forced, summoned by Menelaus and his brother Agamemnon, to join the alliance which sailed from Aulis to Troy in order to demand the restoration of Helen and the property, either peacefully or by force.
The Oath against Odysseus.
Thanks to the idea of the oath Odysseus won Penelope, but when war threatened against Troy, the same oath played against him bounding him to join the coalition that was gathering at Aulis. And as there are those who prefer quiet life at home to any glory that war might give, Odysseus, being one of those, was reluctant to join the army.
Conflict with Palamedes.
It was then that Palamedes, the inventor of the dice, came to Ithaca to persuade Odysseus to join the expedition against Troy. But Odysseus, not wishing to go to the war, feigned madness. Palamedes, then, snatching Odysseus' son Telemachus from Penelope's bosom, drew his sword as if he would kill him, and fearing for the life of the child, Odysseus confessed that his madness was pretended, and he consented to go to war.
Death of Palamedes.
Because Palamedes, through his smart move, forced Odysseus to go to war, he was later stoned to death through the machinations of his victim Odysseus. For when a Trojan was made prisoner, Odysseus compelled him to write a letter of treasonable purport which seemed to be sent by King Priam to Palamedes; and having buried gold in the quarters of Palamedes, he dropped the letter in the camp. Agamemnon read the letter, found the gold, and delivered up Palamedes to be stoned as a traitor.
However, it has also been said that Palamedes was drowned by Odysseus and Diomedes, while he was fishing.
Odysseus was part of the embassy which demanded the restoration of Helen and the property from the Trojans, and he also was among them who came to beg Achilles to return to the fight, promising him the seven tripods, the seven women, the seven cities and all the other gifts, including Achilles' sweetheart Briseis, that Agamemnon offered Achilles, should he left his wrath aside.
Fetches the bow of Heracles, which Philoctetes now owns.
After the death of Achilles and Hector Troy still could not be taken. So new prophecies were uttered concerning the fall of Troy, and the seer Calchas prophesied to the Achaeans that Troy could not be taken unless they had the bow and arrows of Heracles fighting on their side. On hearing that, Odysseus and Diomedes (or some say Neoptolemus) went to Philoctetes in Lemnos, and having by craft got possession of the bow, they persuaded him to sail to Troy.
Helenus is forced to tell the Achaeans how Troy can be taken.
And then Calchas said that only Helenus, the Trojan seer, knew the oracles that protected the city. So Odysseus captured him and, having brought him to the camp, the seer disclosed the oracles, and following them Odysseus brought Neoptolemus to Troy, and stole the Palladium from the city.
Dispute with Ajax.
When Achilles died his arms were offered as a prize to the bravest, and Ajax and Odysseus competed for them. Odysseus was preferred by the judges, and, as a revenge, Ajax planned an attack on his own army. But Athena drove him mad, and he slaughtered the cattle with the herdsmen, taking them for the Achaeans. And when he came to his senses he slew himself.
The WOODEN HORSE.
It was not before Odysseus invented the WOODEN HORSE that Troy could be taken. He is also found among the warriors that hid inside the horse.
After the war Odysseus wandered for ten years. He went first to the land of the Ciconians in Thrace where he pillaged the city of Ismarus, not sparing anyone except a priest of Apollo called Maron, son of Evanthes, who reigned in Marioneia.
After the Ciconians he sailed to the land of the Lotus-eaters. This Lotus was a sweet fruit which caused him who tasted it to forget everything. And as some of the crew ate from this fruit Odysseus had to force them back to the ships, for those who tasted the fruit preferred to stay with the lotus-eaters forgetting everything about their way back home.
And later he sailed to the land of the CYCLOPES and there he and his men were trapped by the cannibal Cyclops Polyphemus, who promised Odysseus to eat him last as a reward for the wine Odysseus had given him. But when the Cyclops, being drunk, was asleep Odysseus blinded his single eye. When Polyphemus saw himself blind, which is easier than it sounds, he cried to the other CYCLOPES for help. But when they came and asked who was hurting him, Polyphemus told them" Nobody", because Odysseus had told him that his name was "Nobody", and hearing that, the other CYCLOPES retired.
The Cyclops' unlucky fate caused the resentment of his father Poseidon, who decided to make Odysseus' journey even harder.
From there Odysseus saile to the Aeolian Islands which were ruled by happy Aeolus, whom Zeus appointed keeper of the winds. This Aeolus is a favourite of the gods, and that is the reason why his daily life consists of merry banquets in the company of his wife and children. He generously entertained Odysseus, and for his voyage gave him a bag in which he had bound fast the winds.
Careless captain and greedy crew.
However when they were near Ithaca and could already see the island, Odysseus fell asleep and his comrades, thinking he carried gold from Troy in the bag that Aeolus had given him, loosed it and unwittingly let the winds go free. In this way the careless captain and his greedy crew were driven back to the Aeolian Islands where Odysseus, in the course of an embarrassing interview with Aeolus, was denied the fair wind he asked for being immediately expelled from the island.
So instead Odysseus came to the land of the Laestrygonians, who were cannibals and there he lost all the ships with their crews except his own. In this strange land nightfall and morning are so close to each other that shepherds bringing in their flocks at night are met by other shepherds driving out their flocks at dawn.
Afterwards he came to the island of Aeaea where the witch met Circe lived. Some time ago she had purified the ARGONAUTS for the murder of Apsyrtus. But now when Odysseus arrived Circe touched his comrades with a wand and turned them into wolves, swine, asses and lions, their minds remaining unchanged. But some say that she gave Odysseus' comrades a potion and when they had drunk it off, she touched them with her wand, and having turned them into swine, she put them in the sties. In any case Odysseus threatened her with his sword and she restored his comrades, and later, when Odysseus left, she helped him to find the way down to Hades where he should get instructions from the seer Tiresias concerning his return to Ithaca and his future fate.
ODYSSEUS IN HADES.
Having descended to Hades Odysseus made a blood offering in order to attract the souls of the dead, not letting anyone approach the blood of the animals he had sacrificed before he had talked with Tiresias. Any soul having access to the blood could hold a rational speech with Odysseus, but those who were denied the blood would leave him alone and disappear.
These are those whom Odysseus met when he descended to Hades:
On seeing Achilles' soul said Odysseus:
"...Achilles, the most fortunate man that ever was or will be...honoured as though you were a god...and now you are a mighty prince among the dead. For you...Death should have lost its sting." [Odysseus to Achilles]
But Achilles replied:
"Do not speak soothingly to me of death, Odysseus. I should choose to serve as the serf of another, rather than to be lord over the dead." [Achilles to Odysseus]
And after that salutation Odysseus told him what had happened in Troy after Achilles' death.
Agamemnon described to Odysseus how he had been murdered by Aegisthus and his own wife during a banquet. His wife's treason inspired him to lecture Odysseus about marriage:
"Never be too gentle with your wife, nor show her all that is in your mind." [Agamemnon to Odysseus]
And the soul of the man who had always taken women through violence dared to add:
"Women, I tell you, are no longer to be trusted." [Agamemnon to Odysseus]
Ajax still embittered by the defeat Odysseus inflicted on him on account of the arms of Achilles, refused to talk, and that is why Odysseus said to him:
"So not even death itself could make you forget your anger with me on account of those accursed arms." [Odysseus to Ajax]
But Ajax left without a word.
Mother of Heracles.
Odysseus was stirred to compassion when he saw his mother's soul, for she was still alive when he left Ithaca. And yet Odysseus did not allow the soul of his own mother to approach the sacrificial blood, before he had talked to Tiresias. But later when she was allowed to approach, she told him news about his father Laertes, who lived the life of a recluse and yearned for his return home. Likewise she told him that the cause of her own death had been her heartache for him.
Odysseus tried to embrace her, but the ghost slipped through his arms and as he cried to his mother in despair she explained:
"We no longer have sinews keeping the bones and flesh together, but once the life-force has departed from our bones, all is consumed by the heat of fire, and the soul slips away like a dream..." [Anticlia 1 to Odysseus]
Son of Nestor and leader of the Pylians against Troy. He was killed in the war by Hector or by Memnon.
Mother of Amphion and Zethus.
Daughter of Minos, who helped Theseus to find his way out of the labyrinth. She was deserted by the man she saved but Dionysus loved her, though some say that in such a way that he had Artemis kill her, which means that Ariadne died of a sickness.
Chloris survived the killing of the NIOBIDS and, having married Neleus, became Queen of Pylos. She is the mother of Nestor.
Elpenor was one of Odysseus' companions. He fell from the roof of Circe's house and broke his neck. As he had been left behind unburied, he now asked Odysseus to bury him on his return to the island of Aeaea.
Odysseus saw in Hades just the wraith of Heracles, for the real Heracles is always banqueting with the OLYMPIANS, after having been made immortal and married Hebe in heaven.
Mother of the ALOADS, who had the ambition of piling Mount Ossa on Olympus, and Mount Pelion on Ossa, and in that way reach up to heaven.
Jocasta, also called Epicasta, is mother and wife of Oedipus. She hanged herself obsessed by the idea of having married her own son.
Mother of Helen, Clytaemnestra and the DIOSCURI.
Odysseus saw this former king of Crete sitting with a gold sceptre in his hand, delivering judgement to the dead.
Odysseus saw Orion driving together over the field of asphodel wild beasts which he had slain, holding in his hands a club of bronze, that could not be broken.
Wife of Theseus who fell in love with her stepson.
Wife of Cephalus. She was killed accidentally by her husband. Cephalus was son of Deion, son of Aeolus, son of Hellen, son of Deucalion, the man who survived the Flood. Cephalus, after whom was named the island of Cephallenia, which is a part of Odysseus' kingdom, is related to Odysseus, for he is father of Arcisius, father of Laertes, who is Odysseus' father. Procris 2 is Odysseus' grand grandmother.
Odysseus saw him being punished by rolling a stone with his hands and head in an effort to heave it over the top of a hill, but as he pushes it to the top it rebounds backward.
Odysseus also saw impious Tantalus, who is punished by not being able to eat or drink as the water in the lake dries out and the fruits in the trees are lifted by the wind each time he tries to reach either.
The seer warned Odysseus of Poseidon's wrath and other difficulties he would meet
during his journey. He also told him about the greedy suitors, who were eating up his
stores in Ithaca and offering wedding gifts to his wife. And he also told him what would happen after the death of the suitors and how death would come to him.
Odysseus saw this son of Gaia being punished in the Underworld for having attacked Leto, mother of Apollo and Artemis. There a pair of vultures eat his liver and he is powerless to drive them off.
Mother of Neleus and King Pelias.
After having touched again at Circe's island of Aeaea Odysseus sailed past the Sirens as Circe had predicted. As he wished to hear their lovely song, he stopped the ears of his comrades with wax, and ordered that he should himself be bound to the mast. And being persuaded by the Sirens to linger, he begged to be released, but they bound him tighter, until they had sailed past.
Some say that this was the end of the Sirens, for it had been predicted that they would die when a ship passed them unharmed.
Scylla and Charybdis.
In sailing past the cliff of Scylla, she snatched some of his comrades, and gobbled them up. When the ship broke up, Odysseus clung to the mast and drifted to Charybdis. But when Charybdis sucked down the mast, he was saved by clinging to a fig-tree that grew over the whirlpool. There he waited until he saw the mast drifting again, and he cast himself on it, and was carried away.
So he came to the island where Calypso 3 lived. This goddess kept Odysseus imprisoned in her cave for seven years and offered him immortality but he refused wishing above all to come back home to Ithaca and Penelope.
Meets Nausicaa in Phaeacian beach.
But when Hermes, sent by Zeus, ordered Calypso to let Odysseus go he made a raft and sailed away until he was washed up naked on the shore of the Phaeacians, where Nausicaa, the daughter of King Alcinous, was washing the clothes. When Odysseus begged her protection, she brought him to the king, who entertained him, and sent him away with a convoy to Ithaca, after having heard Odysseus' account of
the stories we are now reading.
While Penelope weaves her suitors feast at Odysseus' expense.
But on arriving to Ithaca, twenty years after his departure, Odysseus found his property and land wasted, because, believing that he was dead, many suitors wished to marry Penelope and, living in the palace of Odysseus, consumed his herds at their feasts during his absence. Waiting for Odysseus, Penelope was compelled to promise to her suitors that she would wed when the shroud of Laertes was finished. But she wove it for three years, weaving it by day and undoing it by night.
The suitors shot with the Bow.
The SUITORS OF PENELOPE were almost one hundred, but somehow Odysseus managed to kill them all with his bow.
This bow had Prince Eurytus of Oechalia received from Apollo, and when his son Iphitus met Odysseus, he gave him the bow, which he had received from his father. This bow Odysseus, when going to war, would never take with him, but let it lay at home.
Penelope delivered to her suitors the bow of Odysseus, and she said that she would marry him who bent the bow. And when none of them could bend it, Odysseus took it and shot down the suitors, being helped by his son Telemachus, Emaeus and Philoetius.
Emaeus was Odysseus' servant and swineherd. On his arrival to Ithaca Odysseus came to him in the guise of a beggar and learned from him the state of affairs in his home. Philoetius, who also helped to kill the suitors, was a master-herdman in Ithaca.
Found to have gone too far.
Because of this massacre Odysseus was accused by the kinfolk of the slain suitors, and then he submitted the case to the judgment of King Neoptolemus of Epirus, who condemned him to exile. Some suppose Neoptolemus judged in this way because he wanted to get possession of the island of Cephallenia.
After killing the SUITORS OF PENELOPE Odysseus went to Thesprotia in Epirus and there offered a sacrifice following the instructions he received in the Underworld from Tiresias. It is also told that Callidice , Queen of the Thesprotians, urged him to stay as king. Odysseus married Callidice and had by her a son Polypoetes, to whom he gave the kingdom when he returned to Ithaca.
Others say that Odysseus went to Aetolia and there he married the daughter of Thoas (King of Pleuron and Calydon who had been the leader of the Aetolians against Troy), and had by her a son Leontophonus.
Death at last.
When Telegonus learned from his mother Circe that he was a son of Odysseus, he sailed in search of him. And having come to Ithaca, he drove away some of the cattle, and when Odysseus defended them, Telegonus wounded him with the spear he had in his hands, which was barbed with the spine of a stingray, and Odysseus died of the wound. And when Telegonus recognised him, he bitterly lamented.
But some say Odysseus died in old age.
In the Aeneid and the Odyssey, Aeneas and Odysseus both undergo a parallel journey with the ultimate purpose of returning (in Aeneas’ case establishing) home. However, throughout their journeys the actions of the two heroes are vastly different. Aeneas embodies the Roman value of duty. He is given a task by the Gods, told directly by Mercury: to leave Carthage and found an empire in Rome. Immediately after receiving this message, Aeneas is prepared to obey, “As the sharp admonition and command from heaven had shaken him awake, he now burned only to be gone, to leave that land of the sweet life behind.” (N.A. 1093, 364) It is Aeneas’ instinct to obey the command of the Gods. As the end of this sentence shows, Aeneas is willing to obey despite the fact that he knows he will be leaving “the sweet life behind”: leaving his lover, Dido and the good and peaceful life he could have had. “Duty-bound, Aeneas, though he struggled with desire…took the course heaven gave him and went back to the fleet.” (N.A. 1097, 520-526) Aeneas sacrifices his personal happiness – his private life – for the good of his people and his public duty. Odysseus, on the other hand, is not driven by any sense of duty. He leaves Troy to return home to Ithaca, yet does not reach his destination for 10 years. Even when he does arrive, he does so without any of his original crew. Odysseus is driven purely by self-interest, and often abandons those he is indebted to and responsible for. He strays multiple times from his path: on the island of the Cyclops, with Circe and with Calypso, all the while putting his followers in danger and betraying his waiting wife. Odysseus only returns to Ithaca and his wife at the order of the Gods, when he has had his fill of bliss with Calypso. All of Odysseus’ actions are fuelled by self-interest; he puts his private life above his public duty, a trait particularly abhorred by the Romans. Thus Virgil uses the comparison of Aeneas’ sense of duty to Odysseus’ self-interest to propel the Roman culture above and beyond that of the Greeks.
Homer’s works are part of the Trojan cycle, and represent two major themes: the Iliad is war, and the Odyssey is a journey. Virgil takes these two concepts and combines them in the Aeneid, which is a journey followed by a war. Yet Virgil’s Aeneas and Homer’s Odysseus approach war in vastly different ways. Aeneas fights for the future, to create an empire for his son and to continue the legacy of Troy. As he explains to Dido, “Priam’s great hall should stand again.” (N.A 1095, 449-450) Aeneas fights for a purpose greater than himself. As he is told by his father in the Underworld, “What glories follow Dardan generations in after years, and from Italian blood what famous children in your line will come, souls of the future, living in our name.” (N.A 1120, 619-622) Aeneas knows that his battles are meant to benefit others, and he accepts this and fights harder for it. Unlike Aeneas, Odysseus fights for himself, to satisfy his own self-interest. Throughout his journey Odysseus purposefully involves himself in conflict in order to achieve glory for himself. On the island of the Cyclops, Odysseus could have avoided conflict with Polyphemos, and the eventual vengeance of Poseidon, had he not been so focussed on personal glory. Even once he has reclaimed his house from the suitors, Odysseus sees fit to kill them all despite their surrender and offer of compensation, “Not for the whole treasure of your fathers…would I hold my hand. There will be killing till the score is paid.” (N.A 496, 61-64) Odysseus’ motivation towards the suitors was his own revenge, not just the saving of his wife. Benefit for others through Odysseus’ actions is merely a by-product of his own personal benefit; it is never first in his mind to fight for the cause of others, as he is always focussed on his own self-interest. Aeneas fights his battles for others, for the future, and ultimately to create. Odysseus fights for himself, and the outcome is always destruction. Virgil uses this as a metaphor for the comparison between cultures. Rome is focussed on a greater purpose, and creates: the building of a vast empire and creation of an enormous united culture; whereas Greece is selfish, and destroys: the sacking of Troy followed by the internal destruction of the Peloponnesian war.
There is a reason that figures become great in the history of a culture. These infamous heroes often embody the ideal of that culture, the values it most wishes to uphold and the image it wants to present. To compare the heroes of a culture is to compare the cultures themselves, and in Virgil’s Aeneid he is able to do just that. He compares his hero Aeneas, father of Rome, to the Greek Odysseus, and every time – especially from the Roman perspective – Aeneas is the victor. Aeneas is the ideal Roman hero, and in many ways has also highly influenced our contemporary notions of a hero. The comparative triumph of Aeneas over Odysseus is Virgil’s declaration of the triumph of Roman culture.