King Odysseus of the island of Ithaka (Ithaca) is perhaps one of the best known figures from Greek history. He was a devoted husband, a caring father, fearless warrior, clever diplomat and spirited adventurer … his exploits are literally to stuff of legend.
When Helen of Argos was spirited away to become Helen of Troy, Odysseus was asked to add his considerable wealth and resources to the rescue effort. At first Odysseus was reluctant to leave his wife and newborn son but when he finally agreed to go, he put his heart and soul into the endeavor. He outfitted twelve ships with 2,400 men and set off for Troy for what should have been a brief and decisive conflict … the conflict became a war and dragged on for ten long, bloody years.
During the Trojan War, Odysseus fought when necessary and negotiated when possible. He was a rather small man but strong enough to out-wrestle the biggest man in the Greek army. Odysseus performed outrageous acts of bravery and despicable acts of cruelty … he was a man unlike any other. After the Greeks won the war, Odysseus sailed for home with his surviving comrades and his share of the plunder. Ten years later, he arrived home alone and with no Trojan plunder.
The Odyssey is an epic poem written by Homer circa 750 BCE … it dynamically relates the story of the journey of Odysseus from Troy to his island home of Ithaka after the Trojan War.
The Iliad and the Odyssey by Homer are the epic poems that form the basis of the Epic Cycle, which in their totality describe the sack of Troy and the return of the Greek heroes to their various homes.
The Odyssey is divided into twenty-four books and is presented in the form of a poem. the Iliad and the Odyssey are presumed to have been recited or sung for hundreds of years before being written down but that is not a proven fact. the Iliad and the Odyssey could have been composed by Homer and then passed from generation to generation of singers who memorized the poem.
When the Trojan War was over, Odysseus left Troy with his surviving companions and his share of the plunder. When he stopped at the island of the Cyclops for supplies, he encountered a son of Poseidon [lord of the Sea] named Polyphemos (Polyphemus). Odysseus acted like a civilized man and asked for the courtesy afforded travelers … instead of welcoming the strangers, Polyphemos snatched up several crewmen and ate them. In order to escape, Odysseus blinded Polyphemos but he was not content to just sail away, he taunted the Cyclops and in doing so, incited the wrath of Polyphemos's father, Poseidon.
Zeus forbade Poseidon from killing Odysseus, so the lord of the Sea had to be content with relentless torment and deprivation as the tools of Odysseus's punishment. Some of the hardships Odysseus encountered were deadly but others were subtle yet equally torturous. Whether he was being pelted with boulders by giants, attacked by immortal beasts or in the arms of a queenly Nymph, Odysseus was always prevented from reaching his home and family. The ordeal lasted for ten long years.
While Odysseus was being subjected to one ordeal after another, his family was being punished in a much subtler way. Odysseus's wife Penelope was besieged by young men anxious to marry her and claim Odysseus's kingdom. His son Telemachos (Telemachus) was twenty years old and didn't know if his father was dead or inexplicitly delayed. Telemachos and Penelope coped with the situation as best they could.
With the goddess Athene (Athena) as his constant companion and inspiration, Telemachos sailed to the Peloponnesian Peninsula in search of news of his father. He went to the palace of King Nestor of Pylos and King Menelaos (Menelaus) of Sparta but could learn nothing definite.
Penelope was renowned for her weaving skills and used that talent to forestall the throng of suitors who had invaded her home. She pretended to weave a funeral shroud for Odysseus's aged father, Laertes. She would work on the shroud each day in full view of the suitors and then secretly undo a portion of it each evening, thus making the task perpetual. The ruse worked for a few years but Penelope was betrayed by one of her servants who told the suitors of the deception.
The situation on Ithaka reached a crucial point. The suitors were planning to murder Telemachos and force Penelope to choose a new husband. At that pivotal moment, Odysseus arrived on the island. Athene disguised him as an old man so that he could secretly observe the situation and decide on a course of action. After Odysseus saw the deplorable state of affairs, he shrugged off the disguise and began a murderous rampage amongst the suitors and disloyal servants.
With the suitors dead and his family reunited, Odysseus received the blessings of the Immortals … his odyssey was over.