In Greek mythology, Odysseus was a legendary Greek king of Ithaca. He was the hero of
Homer’s epic poem, the Odyssey. He also plays an important role in Homer’s Iliad and many
other works in the Epic cycle. He was famous for chicanery and resourcefulness. The ten years
he spent returning to home after the ten-year Trojan War and his incredible Trojan horse trick is
the journey people remember him for. For his intellectual trickeries, Odysseus is also famous as
Odysseus the Cunning. He is renowned for his intellect as well as physical power.
The name Odysseus has several adoptions: Olysseus, Oulixeus, Oulixes, etc. He was known as
Ulysseus in Latin or Ulixes by Romans. The name is believed to have many different origins.
The verb odussomai means: hate. So, one can derive the name as “the one who is wrathful or
hated”. Odysseus’s and Poseidon’s mutual wrath strengthens the opinion. With reference to
Odyssey 19, Eurvclea asked Autolycus to name him. Euryclea asked to name the boy Polyaretos
because he has been prayed for. But Polyaretos in Greek takes up a negative meaning: accursed.
Autolyscus understanding the conflict of language named this grandson Odysseus.
The Greeks tricked the enemy into by getting into a colossal wooden horse within the walls of
Troy, during the tenth year of the Trojan War. The Trojans were not at all aware that the Greek
Soldiers were hidden inside the horse. The whole plan was of Odysseus. The very night the
soldiers came out and got into the city through the gates. Troy was destroyed to the end. After
the incredulous win, began the journey of Odysseus and other Greek soldiers towards their
Kingdom across the sea. The tale of the remarkable journey of the great King Odysseus begins
Odysseus was a man with an enquiring mind and as well as a man with an outstanding prowess
and audacity. He was also a top-notch athlete. Odysseus has been portrayed as a “culture hero” in
Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. But Romans, who consider themselves to be the descendants of
Prince Aeneas of Troy, disregard him as a villainous trickster, the reason for the destruction of
the city of Troy. While the Greek admired his qualities of trickery and deceit, Romans who have
a rigid sense of honor detested him for the same.
He was the son of Laertes. He was considered as the cleverest hero and was protected by Athena,
the goddess of wisdom. Odysseus knew that he would not be able to return for a long time if he
will join the Greek army against Troy. He was reluctant to leave his new born son and beautiful
wife in Ithaca. To avoid it he devised a solution. He pretended to be crazy when Palamedes came
to Ithaca to recruit him as a soldier for the war. He wore torn clothes and started sowing the land
with salt, ploughing the fields with a goat and an ox. Palamedes did a trick by putting his baby
Telemachus in front of the plough. Odysseus stopped and his sanity got revealed and he was
enrolled into the army. Due to this, Odysseus started hating Palamedes. According to one tale, he
took his revenge by forging a letter from the Trojan King to Palamedes and burying gold under
his tent. Palamedes was accused of treachery when the letter and the gold was discovered and
was sentenced to death.
As per some late sources (mostly genealogical), Odysseus had many other children besides
Telemachus. Poliporthes with wife Penelope was born after his return from Troy. With wife
Circe he had three children: Telegonus, Ardeas & Latinus. With wife Calypso he had one child
named Nausinous and with wife Kallidike , one child name Polypoetes.
RETURN TO ITHACA FROM TROY:
Island of the Cicones
After the victory in troy, Odysseus along with his men headed towards home. Their first stop was
the Island of the Cicones, where they had to infiltrate into the island for supplies. The Cicones
attacked on the horseback. They attacked from the top of the hill. In the attack Odysseus lost
many of his soldiers. But he won it, killed many, enslaved women and took up all the stocks he
needed to continue his journey.
Island of Lotus eaters
Once they left the land of the Cicones, they sailed to the Island of Lotus eaters. Some of his
soldiers ate the lotus. The lotus is known to be a drug-like plant. One who eats it gets addicted
and never wants to leave or go home. Odysseus had to drag his man back to the ship to continue
Island of the Cyclopes
In search of food and gifts Odysseus and his crew got on to the Island of the Cyclopes. They
found a deserted cave and waited for the owner to come home. Polyphemus, a one-eyed man was
the owner of the cave. Instead of welcoming his guests and serve them with food as the soldiers
had expected he ate one of Odysseus’s men. The door of the cave was covered with a very huge
rock. Odysseus and his men got trapped inside. When Cyclops enquired his name Odysseus told
him it to be “Nobody”. Odysseus offered wine to him. He got drunk and lost his balance. In the
mean time Odysseus and his men sharpened a wooden pole and burnt the tip. When the tip
became hard and sharp, the drove the pole into his eyeball while he was sleeping. Polyphemus
screamed in agony and called for his brothers and told them that “Nobody has hurt him”. The
brothers assumed that nothing is wrong and returned for their home. Odysseus then tied each of
his men to Polyphemus’s sheep and he himself got hold of the largest ram. They waited till
morning for Polyphemus to let his sheep out to graze. The moment the got out they sneaked past
him and ran to their ship. Odysseus mocked at Polyphemus in turn of which Polyphemus threw
stone on him. The moment Polyphemus realized that Odysseus played trick on him the ship
sailed off the island.
Aeolia/ King of Winds
After leaving the Cyclopes Island Odysseus and his men sailed to Aeolia. King of the winds ruled
there. The king gave Odysseus a gift of stormy winds in a bag. It was to help him sail safely back
to Ithaca. As the ship came near by to Ithaca the soldiers opened the bag out of curiosity. As the
stormy winds escaped, they were thrown by the blowing wind on the island of Aeaea/the Circe’s
Aeaea/the Circe’s island
When they reached the island, Odysseus sent twenty-three men to explore it. They found Circe
over there, engaged in singing and weaving. They felt no fear around her. She offered them food
and drinks, but to their dismay they turned into pigs. Hermes the messenger god gave Odysseus a
protecting plant. The food and drink didn’t affect him and Circe thought she has found her match
now. She persuaded him to stay with her for many seasons and sent him to the Land of Dead.
She sent him there to seek the wisdom of the blind prophet Teiresias, who lived in the
Underworld/ Prophet Teiresias
Teiresias after many requests by Odysseus tell him what his future beholds. He teaches him how
to protect himself and his men from Sirens, Scylla and the maelstrom which he will be facing in
Island of the Sirens
Island of the Sirens was famous for women singing their luring songs trying to attract sailors.
When Odysseus and his men were in process of passing by the island of the Siren, as warned and
advised by the lord of death, he plugged his men’s ear with bee wax and tied himself to the mast
and crossed the area successfully without any danger.
Then Odysseus decided to sail for Scylla where they had to face a six-headed sea serpent. He
dropped the island of Charybdis which had a giant whirlpool. Teiresias, had already warned him
Of the same and thus prevented him of a big danger. He took this decision because she was
aware that if he went to Charybdis, the whole ship would be doomed to destruction and death. If
he headed towards Scylla, six men would die. He chose to move towards Scylla ready to give
sacrifice of six men instead of the all of his crew.
Island of Helios
After that they moved to Island of Helios. They stopped there. Odysseus while praying to Athena
fell asleep. When he was sleeping, his soldiers again went against his orders and ate Helios’
Cattle. The God got angry and threatened not to rise again. Zeus threw a bolt of lightning at the
ship as a punishment and the ship turned into small pieces. All died and only Odysseus survived
Ogygia (Calypso’s Island):
After wandering aimlessly in the sea, Odysseus landed on Ogygia (Calypso’s Island). It was an
island of women. It had a nymph named Calypso. Odysseus fell in love with her and spent seven
years with her. Hermes convinces Calypso to let Odysseus construct a new ship so that he could
Island of the Phaecians
After that he sailed to the Island of the Phaecians. They accepted him and welcomed him to their
land. Odysseus told them about his entire journey of ten- years while having feast. Then they
provided him with a ride to home on one of their magical ships. Finally Odysseus arrived at
home after twenty years.
Return to home, Ithaca
During the twenty years of his absence his wife Penelope had remained faithful to him. But she
was under enormous pressure to marry again. Everyone had assumed that he is dead and started
efforts and fights for winning the hand of Penelope. A whole set of suitors invaded her palace.
They were always drinking and eating and behaving in an impudent manner to Penelope and her
son, Telemachus. Disguised as a beggar in rags, Odysseus arrived there and observed his wife’s
fidelity. The suitors of Penelope were about a hundred. With the help of his son, he murdered the
suitors and wiped them away from the palace. He killed many of them with the bow Iphitus had
given him once. Odysseus never used to take this bow with him while going for any war and
used to keep it at home. When Odysseus came in disguise into the palace, Penelope gave the
suitors the bow. She announced that she would marry the man who will prove to be the best at
stringing the bow and shooting the arrow. None of them could even bend the bow. Odysseus then
took it and shot the murdered the suitors with the help of his son.
He again fought a battle against the shocked and angry relatives of the men he had slaughtered.
Athena stepped in to settle the battle and restored the peace at the end. Odysseus then took his
throne again and once again started ruling Ithaca.
He was clever and intelligent and powerful in his own way. More importantly, he was
resourceful, and it is his wisdom that is likeable to the Greeks. He got the well deserving respect
form both leaders and followers for his contribution. He motivated his soldiers by the grit of his
eloquence as well as physical coercion. He trusted no one but himself even for the smallest of the
He used to lie and hide information from his soldiers and used to let them enter needless danger
for his personal benefit.
DEATH AT LAST:
The exact cause of Odysseus death is not clear as different researchers have different stories in
their pocket. One of the famous stories is that: When Circe told Telegonus that he is the son of
the King of Ithaca Odysseus; he went out sailing in search of his father. When he came to Ithaca,
he tried to take away some of the cattle there. Odysseus tried to protect them and in turn
Telegonus hit him with the spear he had in his hands. The spear was barbed with the spine of a
stingray and wounded Odysseus badly. When Telegonus got to know that he was his father he
lamented what he had done to him and his mother. Odysseus died of the wound. But many other
sources say that Odysseus died due to Old Age as the lord of death, Tiresias predicted.
CHARACTERISTICS OF ODYSSEUS:
Talking about the traits of Odysseus, Jonathan Shay, a member of the US military believes that
he was having many faults. According to him “Odysseus is too much of a yes-man, a courtier, to
serve his boss really well. The Athenian tragic theater – Sophocles especially – detested
Odysseus for this. The only thing we ever hear Odysseus say to Agamemnon is, “Yes, sir!”
(Shay 4). In his opinion he was not a good leader though influential and was selfish to the
Though not a good leader Odysseus he was a good strategist. He was not having trust in
his men and used to plan things very meticulously to avoid any disorder and failure. Richmond
Lattimore, translator and analyst of the Iliad says of Odysseus:
“Odysseus is crafty, resourceful, daring, and merciless. These characteristics have usually been
taken as essentials of his personality, from which stem the stop-at-nothing politician of
Sophocles, or Dante’s treacherous captain…But guile and unscrupulousness are only secondary
characteristics of the Homeric Odysseus (Lattimore 50)”.
Lattimore also addressed Odysseus as a sophron cannot be translated into English. To be
a sophron means that a person who is probably not having a superior brain, but is using whatever
brain he has to the maximum.
Odysseus always used to set a goal and focused in it with full focus. He always had a single
purpose for each task he performed and he aimed and worked for it with all his potential.
“A single purpose guides Odysseus in the Iliad…A single purpose guides Odysseus though the
Odyssey as well. He must get home and put his house and kingdom in order. To do this, he
must drive his men and himself, outwit and outlast trial by danger and trial by pleasure, leave the
blandishing goddesses, fight down his joy at seeing home and wife for fear joy might give him
away prematurely, fight down, for the same reason, rage at seeing the disorder in his household
Odysseus had great love for the military men and his own people of his rule. He does not
like those who challenged him during his travels. He loved his wife Penelope and son
Telemachus and wanted to be with him from the very start. He was a loyal warrior but at the
same time he wanted to be with his family and take care of his kingdom. He faced many
adversities and came out as a winner from all. He never took undue risks in his life as he was
fully aware of his duty towards his men and family.
He faced many temptations during his 10 year long journey towards home but his focus
was always to reach his family. He had been away for the war with Trojans for ten years and
then it took him another ten years reaching home. Leaving all the temptation of women and
pleasure he was always determined to return to his family and he did. He was aware of
submitting to the temptations and controlled himself from falling to any of them, though during
the journey his men against his orders surrendered themselves and at times lost their lives too. .
Yes, a man like Odysseus can exist in this modern era. In the movies we can see many
characters that have greater than average strength of mind and character. The character James
Bond has protected the world many times but with the help of a whole team of experts ho works
night and day creating gadgets and weapons to win over enemies. Other characters have been
able to accomplish great things with their strength and technology, such as Tom Cruise in the
Mission Impossible movies. Though being resourceful these characters have a continuous input
of resources from a well trained team. Probably the character that is closest to Odysseus is the
character of Indiana Jones, played by Harrison Ford. Indiana says in Raiders of the Lost Ark,
when he tells Sallah that he is going after the ark as it is being put on a truck that he does not
know how he is going to get the ark and says, “I don’t know, I am making it up as I go.” Indiana
faces temptation in The Last Crusade as he is reaching for the Holy Grail. He could lose the
grail and his life, but the temptation is very great and he almost succumbs, but his father helps
him through this temptation. What makes Indiana Jones more like Odysseus than some of the
other characters is that he is so human. He is just a college professor who has adventures to get
artifacts for museums. He does not see himself as a hero. He does not intend to get into harms
way or do anything remotely heroic. He gets into situations and using his wits and intelligence
more than anything else, he gets out of the situations. His only weapons are his whip and
sometimes a gun.
The mighty and heroic deeds of Odysseus and his weaknesses as a human have made him a
favorite with scholars and storytellers down through the years. For Odysseus the most important
wish in life was to live with his family. In Homer, Odyssey (6.180) he said to Nausicaa: "… For
nothing is greater or better than this, when man and wife dwell in a home in one accord, a great
grief to their foes and a joy to their friends; but they know it best themselves."
Odysseus was very resourceful. His intellect, ability to strategize and extreme patience brought
about a real fighter in him. He was a man of strength and character. He played all this
responsibilities without protesting anytime. He was an expert and knew when to battle with a
sword or gun and when to use his mind to survive. According to Lattimore, “Not the noblest or
stateliest of Homer’s heroes, he is the one who survives” (Lattimore 51).
List of References:
1. Edmonds, I.G. The Mysteries of Troy. New York: Thomas Nelson Inc. 1977.
2. James, Tonya. “Odysseus.” Characters of Greek Mythology.
4. Lattimore, Richmond. The Iliad of Homer: Translated with an Introduction by Richmond
5. Lattimore . Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. 1976.
6. Mason, Moya K. “Odysseus: The Fascinating Man and His Many Transformations.”
8. Shay, Jonathan. “Achilles, Odysseus, Agamemnon: Homer On Military Leadership.”
9. Secretary of the Navy’s Guest Lecture. The Pentagon. Washington, D.C. February 23,