STUDY GUIDE FOR UNIT ON MYTHOLOGY AND THE ODYSSEY
This study guide is not supposed to cover everything you need to know for the test. Instead,
this guide is meant to help you know what areas you should study from your notes.
Remember to use internet sources (Spark Notes, etc.) if you do not remember parts of The
The Odyssey was composed in ancient Greece (750-725 B.C.) by Homer, a blind poet (though
scholars now believe more than one writer is probably responsible), whose epic poems were first
told orally. The Odyssey tells the story of Odysseus, a hero of the Trojan War, who is trying to
make his way home from Troy to Ithaca.
There are several important characteristics of an epic poem:
An epic hero, with superhuman strength who is helped and harmed by interfering gods
An epic plot, which is likely to have strange creatures, divine intervention, and big
events, like wars and treacherous weather
An epic setting, which includes exotic lands and centers on the hero’s travels
Epic themes, such as courage, loyalty, curiosity, and life and death
Characters to know from The Odyssey (look these up if you do not know them):
Odysseus Athena Nohbdy
Zeus Telemachus Penelope
Hermes Calypso Laertes
Alcinous Circe Lotus Eaters
Cyclopes Polyphemus Poseidon
Aeolus Laestrygones Tiresias
Sirens (or Harpies) Scylla Charybdis
Eumaeus Argos Antinous
Book 1: A Goddess Intervenes
The poet introduces Odysseus, a successful warrior who, after conquering the city of
Troy, has wandered the seas for many years. Now he wants only to return safely to his
home and family.
Athena, the goddess of war, intervenes on Odysseus’s behalf, and appeals to Zeus for
help in getting Odysseus home.
While Odysseus has been away, his son, Telemachus, has grown to be a man, and his
wife, Penelope, is being pursued by a group of suitors who are living in Odysseus’s home
in Ithaca and are plotting to kill Telemachus.
Book 5: Calypso, the Sweet Nymph
Odysseus has been held captive for many years by the goddess Calypso on her island.
Zeus sends the god Hermes to order her to release Odysseus; she offers advice and helps
Odysseus build a raft on which he can sail to Scheria, his next destination.
Calypso enchanted Odysseus into a relationship; however, Odysseus chooses to leave the
island so he can return “to grown old” with his wife Penelope.
Book 9: New Coasts and Poseidon’s Son
Odysseus has met King Alcinous and begins telling him of his adventures since leaving
Troy. He relates the tale of the Lotus Eaters and his encounter with the brutal Cyclops,
Polyphemus, a son of Poseidon.
When Odysseus and his crew enter the cave of the Cyclops, the crew wants to just take
what supplies they need and leave; however, Odysseus’s curiosity is too much and they
end up trapped in the cave when the Cyclops returns and rolls a large stone blocking the
opening to the cave.
Odysseus tricks the Cyclops both by getting him drunk on wine and convincing the
Cyclops that Odysseus’s name is “Nohbdy.” While the Cyclops sleeps Odysseus’s men
blind the Cyclops with a sharpened spike of wood.
When the Cyclops rolls away the stone to try to get help from his fellow Cyclopes,
Odysseus and his men escape by tying themselves to the underside of sheep walking out
of the cave.
Book 10: Circe, the Grace of the Witch
Odysseus and his men land on the island of Aeolus, the wind king, who gives Odysseus
two parting gifts: a bag with fair winds to guide them back to Ithaca, and a bag with
unfavorable winds. Thinking the bags hold treasure, Odysseus’s men open the bag of
unfavorable winds while Odysseus sleeps, and they are blown away from Ithaca.
They sail by the land of the Laestrygones, fierce cannibals who bombard the fleet of ships
Eventually, Odysseus and his men arrive at the island home of Circe, a goddess and
enchantress. She detains the men for a year, allowing them to go home only if they will
visit the land of the dead and hear a prophecy from the ghost of Tiresias.
Book 11: The Land of the Dead
Odysseus and his crew travel to the underworld where they make a sacrifice into a
“bloody pit.” Countless dead souls come out because they are attracted to the pit, but
Odysseus and his men hold them off.
The blind sear Tiresias arrives and warns Odysseus that trouble awaits him when he
returns to Ithaca. He will arrive home unknown and friendless, but he will again become
master of his house. However, first he must regain the favor of Poseidon, who he angered
because he blinded Polyphemus.
Odysseus also talks with the dead souls of his mother, Agamemnon, Achilles, and former
dead crew members.
Book 12: The Sirens: Scylla and Charybdis
Odysseus and his men return to Circe’s island, where she advises him on how to get past
the bewitching Sirens (the Harpies) and the horrible sea monsters Scylla (the six-headed
monster) and Charybdis (the fierce whirlpool).
Odysseus puts wax in the ears of his crew so that they cannot hear the bewitching songs
of the Sirens, and has his crew tie him to the mast.
He successfully evades the Sirens but does not escape the monsters without losing some
men. Odysseus ends up drifting alone in the sea until he lands on Calypso’s island, thus
ending Odysseus’s telling of his adventures to King Alcinous.
Book 16: Father and Son
Sent safely on his way by King Alcinous, Odysseus reaches Ithaca. The goddess Athena
disguises him as an old man so that he may surprise the evil suitors who are courting his
wife, Penelope. Odysseus greets Eumaeus, his faithful swineherd, and Telemachus, his
own son, returned home after many years abroad.
Book 17: The Beggar and the Manor
Disguised as a beggar, Odysseus returns to his home.
As an example of how his household has deteriorated during his absence, Odysseus finds
Argos, a dog that he had trained as a puppy before leaving for the Trojan War, lying near
death in his home. Though Argos revives when he hears his master’s voice (though
Odysseus is disguised), the dog dies.
Book 21: The Test of the Bow
Not recognizing the beggar as her husband, and weary from grief and waiting, Penelope
proposes an archery contest to the suitors, with marriage to her as the prize.
Odysseus particularly notices Antinous, a rude and demanding suitor, who seems to be
the leader of the suitors.
Still disguised as an old man, Odysseus beats them all in the contest, by first stringing his
old bow and then shooting an arrow through a series of axe-heads.
Book 22: Death in the Great Hall
With Telemachus and Eumaeus at his side, Odysseus sheds his disguise and does battle
with the suitors, showing them no mercy.
The suitors make various attempts to defeat Odysseus and Telemachus. Athena urges
Odysseus on to battle, yet holds back her fullest aid, waiting for Odysseus and
Telemachus to prove themselves. Eventually, the suitors recognize Athena’s presence and
frantically try to escape, but all are killed.
Thus the battle with the suitors comes to an end, and Odysseus prepares himself to meet
Book 23: The Trunk of the Olive Tree
Hardened by years of waiting, Penelope is not convinced that this man is really her
husband. She tests him, playing a trick that only Odysseus would recognize, as he tells
her the secret they share about how he made their bed from an olive tree. Odysseus
passes the test, and husband and wife are reunited.
Odysseus and Penelope tell each other about all that happened to them while Odysseus
was away. Then Odysseus visits his father, Laertes, to give him the good news of his safe
LITERATURE: American Literature. Evanston, IL: McDougal Littell, 2009. (Chapter