The Odyssey is an epic, an adventure story attributed to the Greek poet Homer. Most historians think The Odyssey was composed in the 7th or 8th century BCE.
The Odyssey tells the adventures of the Greek hero Odysseus, a veteran of the Trojan War. (The Odyssey is a sequel to Homer's other epic, The Iliad, which tells the story of that war.)
Cursed by Poseidon, god of the sea, but favored by Athena, goddess of wisdom, Odysseus sails the eastern Mediterranean for 10 years before reaching his home and family on the island of Ithaca.
Inspired by The Odyssey
The travels of Odysseus have inspired writers for more than 2,000 years.
- The Roman poet Virgil wrote The Aeneid in the late 1st century BCE. The Aeneid is the story of Aeneas, as The Odyssey is the story of Odysseus. Both books tell the legend of the Trojan Horse, and both the Trojan Prince Aeneas and the Greek King Odysseus have adventures throughout the eastern Mediterranean. (Aeneas and his company of Trojans go on to settle in the western Italian region of Latium—where they became the founders of Rome.)
- Ulysses, by James Joyce, was published in 1922. Widely regarded as one of the most important English-language novels of the 20th century, Ulysses is a day in the life of two friends, Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom. As Odysseus met unanticipated adventures as he roamed the Mediterranean for 10 years, so Dedalus and Bloom meet everyday adventures on their errands and strolls through Dublin, Ireland, on June 16, 1904.
- The Penelopiad, published in 2005, is Margaret Atwood’s “parallel novel” to The Odyssey. The Penelopiad tells the story of Odysseus’ wife, Penelope, from her own point of view. She recounts her childhood, her marriage, and how she governed the kingdom alone for 20 years. Penelope, narrating from the underworld of the 21st century, wonders why Odysseus’ stories have survived for so long, when Odysseus himself admits to being an accomplished liar.
Geography of The Odyssey
No map of The Odyssey is definitive. “You will find the scene of Odysseus’ wanderings when you find the cobbler who sewed up [his] bag of winds.” So wrote the ancient Greek geographer Eratosthenes in the 2nd century BCE. Nevertheless, countless geographers, classicists, historians, and literary critics have speculated on the landmarks of Homer’s epic. Some speculations are more exotic than others—from the Azores to the Amazon, the Caribbean to Great Britain.
The travels of Odysseus form just one part of The Odyssey. Another part, called the Telemachy, focuses on Odysseus’ son, Telemachus, who left home in search of his long-lost father. The final section of The Odyssey is called the Nostos (“homecoming” in Greek). The Nostos addresses Odysseus’ adventures once he returns to Ithaca: meeting Telemachus, who was an infant when Odysseus left two decades earlier; slaughtering his wife’s suitors—the men who would take Odysseus’ place as king; and, finally, reuniting with Queen Penelope, who had remained a faithful wife for 20 years.
(29 BCE) epic Latin poem by Virgil recalling the founding of Rome by Aeneas following the Trojan War.
person who studies ancient Greek and Roman civilization.
member of a species of mythical giants with a single eye in the middle of their forheads.
long story of a hero and his or her adventures.
study of places and the relationships between people and their environments.
(~800 BCE) probably fictitious author of the ancient Greek epics The Iliad and The Odyssey.
(~750 BCE) epic by the Greek poet Homer, about events of the Trojan War.
chemical substance that dulls or soothes the senses when it enters the bloodstream.
fictional narrative or story.
mythological spirit or deity associated with an aspect of the natural landscape, such as a river or forest.
(~750) ancient Greek epic poem featuring the adventures of the hero Odysseus (or Ulysses) in his journey throughout the Mediterranean Sea.
work of fiction taking place within or associated with the world of another work of fiction.
mythological creature, half-woman and half-bird, who sings tantalizing songs to lure sailors to shipwrecks and death.
to kill and butcher an animal for food.
to consider or guess.
man who courts or seeks a romantic relationship with a woman.
(~1194-1184 BCE) ancient conflict between the Greeks and the Trojans, written about by ancient poets and historians in works such as the Iliad.
person who has served their country in a military capacity.