Odysseus' Return

This story is taken primarily from Homer's Odyssey.

From Troy, Odysseus sailed north to Thrace with twelve ships.  At the city of Chersonese, according to Ovid (this particular event is not found in the Odyssey), his concubine Hecuba was lost after she killed the king Polymestor.  Odysseus and his ships then sailed to Ismarus in Thrace.  He and his men sacked the town, sparing only their priest of Apollo, MaronMaron gave to Odysseus a large amount of wine to show his gratitude.  Soon after, the Thracians counterattacked and drove the Greeks back to their ships.

From there, they sailed to the southern point of the Peloponnesus, very close to their homes in Ithaca.  At this point, a strong wind began to blow from the north.  For nine days this wind blew them south, until they reached the shores of Libya.  There, they encountered the Lotus-Eaters.  The Lotus-Eaters were a entirely peaceful tribe, who lived off of the lotus.  Odysseus sent three men to investigate the land.  The men ate of the lotus, and no longer desired to return to their homes.  Instead, they wished to stay in Libya and live as the Lotus-Eaters do.  Odysseus had to find them and forcibly drag the men back to the ships and tie them up.

From there, Odysseus sailed to Sicily, where the Cyclopes lived.  He and twelve of his men went to explore the island.  They found a large cave filled with cheese and lambs.  His men wanted to take the food and leave, but the curious Odysseus wished to stay and see the man who lived there.  Relying upon the laws of hospitality, they remained in the cave and waited for its owner to return.

The cave belonged to the Cyclops Polyphemus.  When he returned, he rolled over the entrance a huge boulder, which served as a door.  The Greeks attempted to hide, but Polyphemus saw them.  Odysseus explained who he and his men were, and asked that he follow the laws of hospitality.  Polyphemus said that  Cyclopes did not live by laws, and then ate two of Odysseus's men.  He then went to sleep.  The Greeks could do nothing.  If they killed the monster, then they would be trapped in the cave, since the could not hope to move the boulder.

The next morning, Polyphemus awoke and ate two more Greeks.  He then left the cave, rolling the boulder back into place as he departed.  During the day, Odysseus devised a plan.  When Polyphemus returned that night, he once again ate two more Greeks.  Odysseus then gave him some wine, which he had obtained earlier from Maron.  Unused to wine, Polyphemus was soon drunk.  Odysseus introduced himself as 'Nobody.'  In return for the wine, Polyphemus promised to eat Nobody last.  He then vomited up his previous human meal and passed out.

While the Cyclops was sleeping, Odysseus and his men heated a huge stake in the fire, with which they then blinded PolyphemusPolyphemus screamed out in pain and cried to his friends in pain.  When they approached the cave and asked what was wrong, he said 'Nobody is killing me!'  The other Cyclopes then went away.  Polyphemus removed the boulder from the cave and sat near the entrance, hoping to catch the Greeks as they attempted to flee.

To fool the blind giant, the Greeks did not try to flee, but instead they tied together the sheep in groups of three.  The remaining men then hid underneath.  The next morning, Polyphemus allowed the sheep to leave, feeling only the tops of them to check for the Greeks.  Once out of the cave, the Greeks let go of the sheep and ran to their ship.  Once at sea, Odysseus began to taunt PolyphemusPolyphemus made his way down to the beach, and began hurling huge rocks at the ship.  The men had to row for their lives to escape the island alive.  From Odysseus's taunting, Polyphemus learned his true name.  He prayed to his father Poseidon to cause trouble for the hero on his return voyage.

From Sicily the Greeks sailed to the island of Aeolia where Aeolus, the king of the winds, lives.  Aeolus entertained Odysseus, and then he gave to him an ox-hide bag, which contained all the winds save the west.  For ten days, Odysseus guarded the bag, not even allowing himself to sleep.  With only the west wind to drive their ship, the Greeks were soon in sight of Ithaca.  With his voyage almost over, Odysseus finally allowed himself to sleep.

With their king asleep, the men decided to open the bag, assuming there must be some great treasure inside.  The winds rushed out, and they were driven all the way back to Aeolia.  Odysseus once again asked for Aeolus' help.  Assuming that he must be hated by the gods, Aeolus drove him and his men from the island.

The Greeks then sailed to the island of the Laestrygonians, who were huge giants.  They entered a harbor surrounded by huge cliffs.  The other ships sailed into the calm harbor, but the suspicious Odysseus moored his ship outside the harbor.  He then sent three of his men ashore, to the city of Telepylus.  There, they were at first greeted kindly and led to the palace of the king.  The king grabbed one of the men and devoured.  The other two fled back down to the ships.  They reached Odysseus and told him of their adventure.  He immediately set sail.  The Laestrygonians began hurling huge rocks down upon the other Greek ships, smashing them into pieces.  Then, the helpless men were speared in the water and devoured like fish.

Odysseus and his one surviving ship then sailed to the island of Aeaea.  After a few days, the understandably cautious Greeks explored the island and saw a house in the on a hill.  Unknown to the Greeks, this was the home of the witch Circe, who has knowledge of magical potions.

Despite their protests, Odysseus drew lots to see which of the crew would investigate the home.  Twenty-two of the men, led by Eurylochus, were chosen and climbed up the hill.  Several hours later, only Eurylochus returned to the ships. 

He said that as they neared the house, they encountered wild animals, which did not attack them.  When they arrived at the house, a woman appeared and invited them to come inside.  The rest entered, but Eurylochus became afraid and stayed behind.  After several hours with no sign of his companions, Eurylochus decided to return to the beach.

Odysseus ordered Eurylochus to lead him back to the house, but he refused.  Odysseus then headed alone up towards the house.  On the way, he met Hermes disguised as a boy.  Hermes warned him about Circe, and gave him a plant to eat, which would counteract the witch's spells.

Upon entering the house, Circe gave Odysseus a poisoned drink, which he readily drank.  She then touched him with her wand, but nothing happened.  The plant had protected Odysseus, just as Hermes had said.  Odysseus then drew his sword and threatened her until she swore not to harm him.  The two then became lovers.

Circe undid her spell upon the Greeks, and the Greeks still on the shore came to the house as well.  The Greeks then enjoyed Circe's hospitality.  After a year, Odysseus's crew became restless, and they urged him to leave.  Circe advised Odysseus to seek the seer Tiresias in the underworld, for he would know the way to Ithaca.  Just before disembarking, a drunk crewman named Elpenor was killed when he fell from the roof of the house.

Following Circe's instructions, the men found their way to the underworld.  Near the river Styx, Odysseus sacrificed a ram and ewe.  Desiring the blood, the dead began to approach.  But Odysseus refused to allow any but Tiresias to drink.  Odysseus met the unburied Elpenor and his mother Anticleia, but he refused to let either drink.  Finally Tiresias appeared and drank the blood. 

Odysseus then asked him how he might return home.  Tiresias first warned him not to touch the cattle of Helius on the island of Thrinacia.  If he or his men were to do so, then Odysseus would return home on a foreign ship to a home filled with suitors.  Next, he said that once again king Ithaca, he must wander still.  Carrying an oar upon his shoulders, he must wander to a land where they know nothing of the sea and mistake the oar for a 'winnowing fan.'  Having finished, Tiresias then returned to the underworld.

Then, Odysseus allowed his mother Anticleia to drink.  She told him of the news in Ithaca.  After her, several great warriors came to drink of the blood.  Agamemnon came and spoke about his betrayal and murder at the hands of his own wife.  Achilles came, whom Odysseus told about the triumphs of his son Neoptolemus.  He then saw Ajax, but, still angry, he would not speak a word to Odysseus Odysseus saw several other great men, but eventually the crowd of dead became too dense, and he was forced to flee.

On the way home, Odysseus revisited Aeaea and buried Elpenor.  Circe gave him advice on how safely to pass by the Sirens, the Wandering Rocks, and Scylla and Charybdis. She then repeated the earlier warning of Tiresias.

Odysseus once again set sail.  He soon reached the island of the Sirens.  There, following Circe's advice, the crew stuffed wax in their ears.  Wanting to hear the song for himself, Odysseus had himself tied to the mast.

After passing the Sirens, the crew soon encountered the strait of Scylla and Charybdis Odysseus told his crew to row close to the cliffs, in order to avoid Charybdis; he told them nothing of Scylla Odysseus attempted to fend off the monster, but it still snatched six of his crew while he was not looking.

After passing by the strait, they soon arrived at Thrinacia.  Remembering the advice of both Tiresias and Circe, Odysseus told his crew to row past the island.  They refused, saying that they needed a rest.  He agreed but forbade them from touching any food on the island.

Once on the island, a favorable wind would not blow.  For a month, the men lived off of their stored rations, but these eventually disappeared.  Starving, the men, led by Eurylochus, killed some cattle while Odysseus slept.  These cattle belonged to Helius, and he insisted that the gods seek revenge upon the crew.

A favorable wind finally returned, and the Greeks set sail.  No sooner were they in open sea than Zeus sent a storm, which destroyed the boat and killed every except Odysseus, who clung to a makeshift raft.  The wind drove him south, back towards Charybdis.  As the whirlpool sucked down his raft, he managed to cling to overhanging tree, and was thus saved.  His raft was eventually spit out, and he boarded it once again.

After nine days he washed ashore on the island of Ogygia, which was ruled by Calypso.  She and her maidens nursed Odysseus back to health.  The two became lovers.  She offered him an immortal life, but he refused, preferring to once again return to Ithaca and see his wife and son.  Odysseus lingered on Ogygia, spending his days staring at the sea and his nights in Calypso's bed.

Athena, however, was still looking after the king of Ithaca, just as she had done during the war.  While Poseidon was away, she went to Zeus and asked him to aid Odysseus.  He agreed, and sent Hermes to speak to Calypso, while Athena was sent down to Ithaca to aid Telemachus.

Hermes ordered to Calypso to allow Odysseus to return.  She could not afford to defy the will of Zeus.  She gave Odysseus the materials to build a boat, as well as the provisions to stock it.  He at last set sail, and voyaged for seventeen days.  It was then that Poseidon found his tiny raft, and sent a storm to destroy it.  Odysseus would have drown, but a minor sea goddess Leucothea saved him.  She gave him a veil, which acted as a life-preserver, not allowing him to sink beneath the might waves which Poseidon sent.

Eventually, Odysseus landed in Shcerie, a Phaeacian island.  There, he encountered Nausicaa, a daughter of the king.  She was doing laundry near the shore, at the suggestion of Athena.  She gave him food and clothes, and led him to her father, Alcinous.  The king decided to provide a ship to return the man, who later revealed himself to be the great Odysseus.

Shortly after, Odysseus boarded a swift Phaeacian ship for home.  Tired from his ordeals, he quickly fell asleep.  The Phaeacian crew deposited him upon the ground, as well as the gifts given to him by AlcinousPoseidon, angry that Odysseus has escaped his wrath, turned the Phaeacian ship to stone on the return voyage.

When Odysseus awoke, he at first thought he had been betrayed, but Athena appeared and pointed out that he was indeed back in Ithaca.  She informed him that his home was filled with suitors, who would kill him if he returned.  To protect him, Athena changed Odysseus into an old beggar, so that he might return to the palace unharmed.

Odysseus first traveled to the hut of EumaeusEumaeus fed the old beggar and treated him kindly.  The next morning, Telemachus, having returned from a voyage to find news of his father, entered the hut.  He sent Eumaeus to tell Penelope of her son's arrival.  Once Eumaeus had departed, Odysseus revealed himself to his son.  The two then plotted their revenge upon the suitors.

The next Telemachus returned to the palace.  Soon after, Odysseus and Eumaeus followed him.  On the way they met the chief goatherd, Melantheus, who had not remained faithful to his master.  Odysseus would soon meet more unfaithful servants.  Near the palace, Odysseus encountered his old dog, Argus, who was laying on a pile of dung.  The dog had been waiting for his master for twenty years.  At the sight of his master, Argus finally died.

In the palace, Odysseus begged the suitors for food.  He received it, but was treated roughly.  Another beggar, wanting to impress the suitors, started a fight with Odysseus.  The two boxed, and Odysseus killed him with one blow.  That night, Odysseus was further insulted by the suitor Eurymachus and his mistress, the unfaithful servant Melantho.

After the suitors were asleep, Odysseus and Telemachus gathered up all of the weapons and hid them.  The women were all locked in their quarters.  Odysseus then finally met his wife Penelope.  He did not reveal himself to her, but said that her husband would soon return.  Penelope ordered her maidservant Eurycleia to take care of him.  As she was washing his feet, she recognized her master.  Odysseus warned her to tell no one.

The next day, Penelope held a contest to see whom she would choose as her husband.  She set up twelve axes in a row, and the one who could shoot an arrow from Odysseus' bow through all twelve axes would win her hand in marriage.  Telemachus and all of the suitors tried, but failed to accomplish this feat.  While this was going on, Odysseus slipped out of the room and found two faithful servants, Eumaeus and Philoetius.  He revealed himself to them and told them what to do.

Odysseus returned to the hall and demanded a try.  Penelope insisted the stranger be allowed a turn.  Odysseus picked up the bow, Philoetius locked the entrances to the hall.  Odysseus strung the bow and successfully shot the arrow through the twelve axes.  He then began to shoot the unarmed suitors one by one.  First he shot Antinous, and then EurymachusTelemachus retrieved more weapons and helped his father.  The suitors would have had no chance, but the traitorous servant Melantheus brought some weapons to the suitors.  Nevertheless, the four men (Odysseus, Telemachus, Eumaeus and Philoetius) managed to defeat all one-hundred and sixteen suitors.

Odysseus then went about punishing the servants, who had betrayed him.  Melantheus was mutilated in the hall and left to die.  The twelve other unfaithful servant were forced to clean the hall of the blood, and then they themselves were hung.  Only then did Eurycleia awake Penelope.  She was then reunited at last with her husband.

The next day, the families of the suitors appeared in arms to avenge their deaths.  Only the aged Laertes managed to kill his opponent before the goddess Athena put an end to fight and the bloodshed in Ithaca.

Source(s):

  1. HomerOdyssey.

  2. OvidMetamorphoses.