The Odyssey is a book besieged with adventurous tales and is considered to be a piece of classical literature. Odysseus is driven at the end of the Trojan War to get home, but it will come at a significant cost. Odysseus meets with many gods and monsters while certain themes are repeated throughout. In the course of the adventure, the reader can detect The Odyssey’s underlying themes of family yearning, the desire to get home, disguising identity, and temptation.
Homer’s Odyssey takes place ten years after the Trojan War has ended. The Odyssey is an extension of Homer’s Iliad and the main character is Odysseus in both books. Odysseus is a Greek hero and returns to his home after the war in the beginning of the book. Odysseus was briefly held-up after the War as a sex slave on an island of a goddess. Because the men of his homeland, Ithaka, believe Odysseus is dead, several male suitors are pressuring Odysseus’s wife, Penelope, to marry. Telemachos, the son of Penelope and Odysseus, is told by a goddess to go look for his Dad. Telemachos embarks on a journey that leads him to visit with a series of Kings in an attempt to find his father. Each King gives Telemachos another tidbit of information that keeps his hope alive.
The goddess, Athena, who sent Telemachos on his journey to find his father, begs for Zeus, the god of gods, to have mercy on Odysseus and free him from the clutches of his sex-demanding capture. Zeus, after all, can force Kalypso to release Odysseus and allow him to return home to his family. Zeus given in to Athena’s request and Odysseus is allowed to leave the island on a poorly built raft. Unfortunately, Poseidon causes a storm and drives Odysseus off course, capsizes his raft, and Odysseus then winds up in the foreign land of Phaiakianis. In that land, Odysseus tells the King and Queen the story of his life between the end of the Iliad and the beginning of the Odyssey. This is roughly a ten-year span at the end of the Trojan War.
After the Trojan War, Odysseus left Troy with his crew and embarked on a journey of plunder and wound up landing on an island of lotus flower consumers. The lotus flower is a drug that made Odysseus’s crew wanted to stay on the island because the lotus flower made them forget why they were going home in the first place – family. Odysseus took the drug-induced men back to the ship by force.
The crew then landed in the land of the Cyclopes. They discovered a cave where the Cyclops lived and went in to explore and a few were eaten. Odysseus used his whit to blind the Cyclops and he escaped with the rest of the crew. Odysseus has a tremendous ego and could not help himself but to taunt the Cyclopes. In doing so, Odysseus let slip his identity and found that the Cyclops was the son of the sea god, Poseidon.
Odysseus and his crew then landed on the island of the god of the wind, Aiolos. Aiolos wanted to help Odysseus and gave him some wind-in-a-bag; however, he failed to include the one wind that the crew needed – the westward wind. Back in the ship, the crew, out of curiosity of treasure, opened the bag and the winds were released and blew them off course. They landed at the island of Circe, who is a sorceress that turned many of the crewmen into swine. Odyssey is favored by some of the gods and they help him get his crew turned back to people, and of course, he had sex with Circe. Odysseus then traveled with his remaining men to the underworld to get some wisdom from Teiresias. Teiresias told Odysseus that he would eventually make it home, but it was going to be trouble. and the welcoming xenia he hoped to find at home may never be realized.
The crew embarked on several more adventures that included an encounter with Sirens, a six-headed monster, another sea-tornado-like monster named Charybdis, and then the wrath of Helios, the sun god. Helios killed the remaining crew members for eating his prized cows; however, he showed Odysseus mercy by sparing his life. He escaped the island of Helios only to be captured by Kalypso, where he is currently telling his story.
The King and Queen of Phaialians feel so horrible for Odysseus’s terrible luck that they give him treasure and a ride back home. Upon arrival, Odysseus goes back to his home incognito, dressed as a bum, so he can spy on his wife and get the truth about what’s been occurring since his departure to the Trojan War. Penelope, unaware of the presence of Odysseus and surrendering to the suitor’s requests, decides to hold a competition in which she will marry the winner. The winner of the competition is the person who can string Odysseus’s hunting bow and shoot an arrow through twelve axes. All the suitors attempt to complete the competition and fail. Odysseus, still dressed like a beggar, strings the bow and shoots the arrow through the axes and wins the competition. Odysseus then drops his disguise and kills all of the failed suitors with the help of Telemachos in a massive bloodbath.
There are several underlying themes within the Odyssey. First, the desire to get home after the Trojan War is the fuel driving the adventure from fanciful island to fanciful island. The show could not go on without that desire to get home. Second, temptation is a theme seen in Odysseus’s “being forced” to have sex with two goddesses while having a wife at home waiting. Also, temptation is seen as Odysseus cannot help but hear the singing of the Sirens. While Odysseus knows he could be killed by the Sirens, he devises a plan to be tied up so he can’t leave when he hears their voices. The last significant theme is that of hidden identity. Odysseus hides his identity as a beggar to spy on his home and the gods are constantly disguising themselves as mortal humans. Odysseus also tells the Cyclops he doesn’t have a name in an effort to hide his identity.
Homer. (2016). The Odyssey. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.