The Mythological Background of the Iliad
father of the gods, seemed to have realized that the earth was getting terribly
overcrowded. To solve the problem of overpopulation, he devised a great
war which would sweep like a conflagration over Greece. This was the Trojan
A minor goddess, Thetis, was
married to a mortal, Peleus. Out of this marriage, Achilles, the
greatest Greek warrior, was born. Eris, the goddess of mischief,
was not invited to the marriage feast, so into the middle of the banquet hall
she threw a golden apple. The golden apple has this note: To
the fairest of the goddesses. Each of the most beautiful of the
goddesses- namely, Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite- claimed
the golden apple.
A quarrel ensued and Father Zeus was
asked to decide who was the most beautiful of the three. This placed Zeus in a
predicament since Hera was his own wife and Athena and
Aphrodite were his own daughters. So he parted the clouds covering Mount
Olympus, the dwelling place of the gods, and showed the three goddesses a prince
of Troy named Alexandros.
Zeus suggested that the three beauty
contestants take their problem to Alexandros and ask him to decide. The
goddesses descended upon the earth, circled Alexandros by turns, and each
proceeded to bribe him so that he would award her the golden apple. Hera
promised him power; Athena promised him wisdom; Aphrodite
promised that she would give him the most beautiful woman in the world for
his wife. Alexandros awarded the golden apple to Aphrodite.
It happened that Helen the
most beautiful woman in the world was already married to Menelaos, king
of Sparta. With the help of Aphrodite, Alexandros abducted Helen and took
her to Troy where she remained until the end of the ensuing Trojan War. That is
the reason why she is called Helen of Troy. The Greeks banded together to
restore Helen of Menelaos. Agamemnon, King of Mycenaea, was their general.
Many adventurous Greek heroes joined
the Greek expeditionary forces. Among them were Achilles, the greatest
and bravest of the Greek heroes; Odysseus, the clever and witty warrior;
Diomedes, the bold one; Nestor, the prudent old man; Aias,
the giant; and a host of other heroes.
After ten years of preparation, the
Greek army landed in Troy and began to attack its fortifications. The Iliad
begins in the tenth year of the war.
List of Greek Mythological Figures
Olympian Deities (Twelve Olympians)
Goddess of love, lust, beauty, seduction and pleasure.
Although married to Hephaestus she had many lovers, most notably Ares. She
was depicted as a beautiful woman usually accompanied by her son Eros. Her
symbols include the dove, apple, scallop
shell and myrtle wreath.
God of music, healing, plague, prophecies, poetry, and
archery; associated with light, truth and the sun. He is Artemis's
twin brother, and son of Zeus and Leto. He was depicted as a handsome, beardless youth with long
hair and various attributes including a laurel
wreath, bow and quiver, raven, and lyre.
God of war, bloodlust, violence, manly courage, and civil
order. The son of Zeus and Hera, he was depicted as either a mature, bearded warrior
dressed in battle arms, or a nude beardless youth with helm and spear. His
attributes are golden armor and a bronze-tipped spear, and his sacred animals
are the eagle owl, the vulture and the venomous snake.
Virgin goddess of the hunt, wilderness, wild animals,
childbirth and plague. In later times she became associated with the moon.
She is the daughter of Zeus and Leto, and twin sister of Apollo.
In art she was usually depicted as a young woman dressed in a short
knee-length chiton and equipped with a hunting bow and a quiver of arrows.
In addition to the bow, her attributes include hunting spears, animal pelts, deer and
other wild animals.
Virgin goddess of wisdom, warfare, strategy, heroic
endeavor, handicrafts and reason. The daughter of Zeus and Metis, she was born from Zeus's head fully-formed and armored.
She was depicted crowned with a crested helm, armed with shield and spear,
and wearing the snake-trimmed aegis cloak
adorned with the head of the Gorgon. Her symbols include the aegis, the owl and the
Goddess of fertility, agriculture, horticulture, grain and
harvest. Demeter is a daughter of Kronos
and sister of Zeus,
by whom she bore Persephone. She was depicted as a mature woman, often crowned and
holding sheaf’s of wheat and a torch. Her symbols are the Cornucopia (horn of plenty), wheat-ears, the winged serpent and the
God of wine, parties and festivals, madness, drunkenness
and pleasure. He was depicted in art as either an older bearded god or a
pretty effeminate, long-haired youth. His attributes include the thyrsus
(a pinecone-tipped staff), drinking cup, grape vine and a crown of ivy. A
later addition to the Olympians, in some accounts he replaced Hestia.
Eros was the god of love, sexual intercourse, cupids,
desire and pleasure. Eros was the son of the goddess of love-Aphrodite-and the god of war-Ares. He was
often shown with wings and arrows and with his mother. He had four brothers
and one sister. He was married to Psyche
and had two daughters: Hedone and Voluptas. His symbols were Bow, Arrows, Candles, Hearts, Cupids,
Wings and Kisses.
of the Underworld and god of death, the dead, and the hidden wealth of the
Earth. His consort is Persephone
and his attributes are the key of Hades, the Helm of Darkness, and the
three-headed dog, Cerberus.
Despite being the son of Kronos and Rhea and the elder brother of Zeus, he
is only rarely listed among the Olympians.
Crippled god of fire, metalworking, stonemasonry,
sculpture and volcanism. The son of Hera by parthenogenesis, he is the smith of the gods and the husband of the
adulterous Aphrodite. He was usually depicted as a bearded man holding hammer
and tongs—the tools of a smith—and riding a donkey. His symbols are the
hammer, tongs and anvil.
Queen of Heaven and goddess of marriage, women,
childbirth, heirs, kings and empires. She is the daughter of Cronus
and Rhea. She was usually depicted as a beautiful woman wearing a crown and
holding a royal, lotus-tipped staff. Her symbols are the diadem, lotus-staff,
God of travel, messengers, trade, thievery, cunning wiles,
language, writing, diplomacy, athletics, and animal husbandry. He is the
messenger of the gods, a psychopomp who leads the souls of the dead into Hades' realm,
and the son of Zeus
and Maia. He was depicted either as a handsome and athletic
beardless youth, or as an older bearded man. His attributes include the
herald's wand or caduceus, winged sandals, and a traveler's cap.
Virgin goddess of the hearth, home and cooking. She is a
daughter of Rhea
and sister of Zeus. She was depicted as a modestly veiled woman, whose
symbols are the hearth and kettle. In some accounts, she gave up her seat as
one of the Twelve Olympians to tend to the sacred flame on Mount Olympus for Dionysus.
God of the sea, rivers, floods, droughts, earthquakes and
horses; known as the "Earth Shaker" or "Storm Bringer".
He is a son of Kronos and Rhea and brother to Zeus and Hades. In
classical artwork he was depicted as a mature man of sturdy build with a dark
beard, and holding a trident. His attributes are the trident, dolphins and horses.
The king of the gods, the ruler of Mount Olympus and the
god of the sky, weather, thunder, law, order and fate. He is the youngest son
whom he overthrew, and brother-husband to Hera. In
artwork, he was depicted as a regal man, mature with sturdy figure and dark
beard. His symbols are the thunderbolt, royal sceptre, and eagle.
God of the upper air.
Goddess of inevitability, compulsion and necessity.
God of darkness and shadow.
Gaia or Gaea
Goddess of the Earth (Mother Earth); mother of the Titans.
Goddess of daylight and the sun.
The nothingness from which all else sprang.
The Keeper of Time. Not to be confused with the Titan Cronus, the father of Zeus.
Goddesses of the islands.
Goddess of night. She is also the only being from which
Zeus turned when her son Hypnos, who had angered Zeus, hid behind her.
God of the heavens (Father Sky); father of the Titans. He
banished his children, the Cyclopes and the Hecatonchires, to the underworld
because they did not please him.
Gods of mountains.
God of procreation in the Orphic tradition.
God of the sea, father of the fish and other sea
The darkest, deepest part of the underworld.
Spirit of the sea and consort of Pontos.
Elder Gods or the Titans
God of light. With Theia, he is the father of Helios
(the sun), Selene
(the moon) and Eos
God of mortality and father of Prometheus, Epimetheus
God of intellect and the axis of heaven around which the
The least individualized of the Twelve Titans, he is the
father of Astraios, Pallas and Perses.
The leader of the Titans, who overthrew his father Ouranos
only to be overthrown in turn by his son, Zeus.
Goddess of memory and remembrance, and mother of the Nine Muses.
God of the Earth-encircling river Oceanus, the font of all
the Earth's fresh-water.
Goddess of the "bright" intellect and prophecy,
and consort of Koios.
Goddess of female fertility, motherhood, and generation.
She is the sister and consort of Cronus, and mother of Zeus, Hades, Poseidon,
Hera, Demeter and Hestia.
Wife of Oceanus, and the mother of the rivers, springs,
streams, fountains and clouds.
Goddess of sight and the shining light of the clear blue
sky. She is the consort of Hyperion, and mother of Helios, Selene and Eos.
Goddess of divine law and order.
Goddess of nocturnal oracles and falling stars.
God of stars and planets, and the art of astrology.
Son of Iapetus, condemned carrying the heavens upon his
Goddess of the breeze and the fresh, cool air of early
Goddess of the oracle of Dodona.
Goddess of the dawn.
God of afterthought and the father of excuses.
Goddess of the mastery of the seas and consort of Krios.
Goddess of water-meadows and pasturelands, and mother of
the three Kharites by Zeus.
God of the sun and guardian of oaths.
Klymene or Asia
Goddess of renowned, fame and infamy, and wife of Iapetos.
God of air and the hunter's skill of stalking prey. He is
the male counterpart of Leto.
Goddess of motherhood and mother of Artemis and Apollo.
God of violent anger, rash action, and human mortality.
Killed by Zeus.
Goddess of good counsel, advice, planning, cunning,
craftiness and wisdom, and mother of Athena.
An elder Titan god, in some versions of the myth he ruled
the Earth with his consort Eurynome before Cronus overthrew him.
God of war craft. He was killed by Athena during the
God of destruction.
God of forethought and crafty counsel, and creator of
Goddess of the moon.
Goddess of the Underworld river Styx and personification
Additional List of Greek Mythological Figures
Adonis. An extremely handsome
young man loved by Aphrodite. Ares, who was jealous, had him torn to pieces by
a boar. He descended to the underworld, where Persephone fell in love with him.
Aeetes. King of Colchis and
father of Medea, he was guardian of the Golden Fleece. Jason and the Argonauts
succeeded in returning to Greece the Golden Fleece, once the coat of a flying
ram sent by Zeus to save Prince Phrixus of Thessaly.
Aegeus. The king of Athens who in his
youth secretly married Princess Aethra of Troezen. He threw himself into the
sea in sorrow. Since then the sea has been called the Aegean Sea.
Ajax. A Greek hero who fought
in the Trojan War. He and Odysseus rescued the slain body of Achilles. The dead
soldier’s weapons were to be awarded as a prize to one of the two men. When
Ajax learned that he would not be the winner, he committed suicide in
desperation. On the spot where he died, a flower sprang up, the hyacinth.
Alcmena. The queen of Tyrinsand
mother of Heracles.
Amazons. Fierce women warriors
who fought on horseback.
daughter of King Cepheus and Queen Cassiopeia of Ethiopia. Her father tied her
to a rock in sacrifice to a sea monster that was destroying the region.
Antaeus. The gigantic son of
Poseidon and Gaea, Mother Earth, he was unbeatable as long as he stayed in
contact with his mother.
Arachne. A skillful spinner and
disciple of Athena. She was turned into a spider by Athena, who became jealous
of her skill and condemned her to spin for eternity.
Argus. The monster with a
hundred eyes who guarded the cowloon orders from Hera. Argus was killed by
Hermes, who received orders from Zeus. Argus is also the name of Odysseus’
faithful dog who died of joy when his master returned home.
Ariadne. The daughter of King
Minos of Crete, she fell in love with Theseus, the hero who came from Athens to
kill the minotaur. Ariadne helped Theseus to kill the monster and leave the
cave by holding a string at the entrance to the minotaur’s labyrinth.
Atalanta. The daughter of the King
of Arcady, who abandoned her because he wanted a son. She was raised by a bear
and became a great hunter. Atalanta was the only woman who participated in a
hunt organized to kill the terrible boar of Calydonia. She wounded the beast
and her proud father finally recognized her as his daughter. She promised she
would only marry the man who could beat her in a race. Hippomenes succeeded:
during the race he dropped three golden apples given to him by Aphrodite. Atalanta
bent down to pick up the apples and lost the race.
achieved many fears riding Pegasus, the winged horse that only he could tame.
His pride grew to the point that he wanted to ride his magic horse to Olympus.
He was punished for his arrogance and the god made him fall back to earth. He
died lame beggar in a distant land.
Calchas. The high priest of
Apollo and seer who gave the Greeks advice during the Trojan War.
Centaur. A creature half man and
half horse. The centaurs fought Heracles and the Lapiths, who drove them out of
Thessaly. These brutal creatures lived in the mountains and forests and ate raw
Chimera. A monster with the head
of a lion, the body of a goat and the tail of a snake. She was killed by
Chiron. The only kind centaur,
Chiron taught many of the Greek heroes. Achilles
and Jason were among his students. Heracles killed him with an arrow whose tip
was tinged with the poisoned bloodof the Hydra of Lerna.
Cyclopes. A race of giants with
just one eye. They made Zeus’ thunderbolts.
Daphne. The nymph Apollo loved.
She tried to escape Apollo’s attentions and invoked the help of Mother Earth,
who turned her into a laurel tree. From that day on, the laurel tree became
Apollo’s favorite plant.
Deianira. The wife of Heracles,
she was kidnapped by Nessus, the centaur. Heracles shot a poisoned arrow at the
centaur. Before he died, Nessus gave some of his blood to Deianira, telling her
it would ensure her husband’s love forever. Years later, Deianira gave Heracles
a tunic dipped in the blood, hoping that this would discourage her husband from
falling in love with another. Her husband suffered greatly from the poison and
returned to Mount Olympus to be with the gods. His distraught wife committed
Endymion. The son of Zeus and a
nymph. He was so handsome that Selene, the moon goddess, fell in love with him
and rewarded him with magical sleep and eternal youth.
Erinyes. Terrible goddesses of
the underworld born from drops of blood from Uranus. They avenged the most
horrible crimes, especially those against families.
Galatea. A sea nymph and loved by
the Cyclops Polyphemus.
Ganymede. The most handsome
mortal. Zeus had him kidnapped by an eagle and taken to Olympus to become
cupbearer to the gods.
Gorgons. Three terrible sisters
named Stheno, Furvale and Medusa. The last one was deadly: she had snakes for
hair and her glance could turn human into a stone.
Harpies. Ugly birds with women’s
Ladon. A dragon that guarded
Hera’s garden of the Hesperid.
Medea. An enchantress and
daughter of the King of Colchis. She helped Jason obtain the Golden Fleece and
regain the throne of Ioclus that was usurped by Pelias. When Jason fell in love
with Creusa, Medusa killed her and then murdered her own children.
Melampus. A mortal with the gift
of prophecy.He understood the language of animals and cured the daughters of
the King of Argo whom Dionysus had made insane. He married a daughter of the
king as a reward.
Minotaur. A monster with a human’s
body and a bull’s head. He ate human flesh.
Nymphs. Young women who lived in
the woods, mountains, or sea and personified the forces of nature. The Oreads
were mountain nymphs, the Nereids were sea nymphs, the Meliads were goddesses
of the ash trees, and the Amadriads were goddesses of all trees.
Orion. A huge hunter who killed
the wild beasts on the island of Chios. In exchange for his deeds, he asked the
king for the hand in marriage of his daughter. The king, however, had him
blinded. Orion regained his sight by wandering East where the sun’s rays healed
him. He angered Artemis, who made a scorpion sting him. The scorpion and Orion
were turned into constellations. That is why the Orion constellation seems to
escape from the scorpion constellation behind it.
Orpheus. A talented poet and
musician whose music tamed wild beasts. He descended into Hades to save
Eurydice, his dead wife. Touched by the music of his lyre, the gods of the
underworld let Orpheus take back his wife to Earth on one condition: he could
not look at her. Orpheus turned back once before reaching the sunlight,
however, and lost his beloved wife forever.
Pegasus. A winged horse born from
the blood of the Medusa when Perseus cut off her head. Pegasus was tamed by
Pleiads. The seven nymph daughters
of Atlas, they were loved by the hunter Orion. The gods turned Orion and the
nymphs into constellations.
Psyche. The beloved of Eros, who
visited her at night. Although Psyche was not allowed to look her lover in the
face, she disobeyed and lit a candle one night. When a drop of hot oil fell on
Eros’ face, he fled. Aphrodite, jealous of Psyche’s beauty, tormented her. In
the end Zeus allowed her to become a goddess and marry Eros.
Satyrs. They had a man’s chest
and a goat’s legs. They were demigods of the woods and companions of Dionysus.
Sirens. Sea nymphs that sans so
sweetly that sailors were lured towards their island and shipwrecked.
Sphinx. A monster with the head
of a woman, the body of a lion, and the wings of a bird. She killed wayfarers
who could not answer her riddle.
Tiresias. A blind soothsayer of
Thebes. Hera, displeased with her behavior during an argument with Zeus,
blinded her. Zeus consoled Tiresias by giving her the gift of prophecy and the
privilege of living for seven generations.
Short Summary of the Odyssey
Odyssey or Odússeia is a sequel to Homer's Iliad. The Greek epic poem is one of
the two works of the Greek literary genius. The poem is an extant work composed
around the eighth century. A summary of the Odyssey highlights the journey of
the Greek hero Odysseus or Ulysses, after the fall of Troy...
Odyssey is unique among poems of the time. The focus on a unified theme within an
epic cycle via rapid, but direct, evolution of thought and expression makes the
Odyssey a classic. Homer was recognized around the Western world for simple
syntax in hexameter verse. The poem spotlights grammatical form led by verse
structure to attribute rhythm through uniform pauses. Homer's poetic skill
defies age and time by surpassing degree. Odyssey may lack the expression and
distinguishing qualities of Iliad, but the subtle version of the epico-lyrical
attempt remains a ballad. Homer's powerful style of verse defines the popular
epic as a ballad, set against Greek
culture. The Odyssey is indigenous and easily distinguishable from a
Dante or Milton.
Homer's Odyssey is as dramatic as Iliad. The lack of racial antipathy and
political events etches the poem permanently in the mind pf the reader. Homeric
Greek, in the Odyssey, is a rhapsode style that was probably meant to be sung.
The ballad revolves around Odysseus, who takes ten long years after the Trojan
War to reach Ithaca. His absence is misunderstood for his death. Penelope, his
wife and his son Telemachus deal with suitors, who queue up for Penelope's
hand. The unruly Proci make their lives miserable.
Short Summary of the Odyssey:
battles internal and external conflict to take part in the Trojan War. It is at
a time when his son Telemachus, is only a month old. Ten years after the war,
Odysseus retraces his steps back home. By that time, Telemachus is twenty and
living with his mother Penelope in Ithaca. His mother has to deal with 108
suitors, who are boisterous and adamant that she should agree to marriage.
Odysseus’s guardian, decides with the King of Gods according to Greek
mythology, Zeus, to take the form of Mentes, a Taphian chief and
speak to Telemachus. She urges the boy to look for his father. Telemachus and
Athena witness Phemius the bard entertaining the rowdy suitors with
"Return from Troy". Even as Penelope objects, urged by Athena,
Telemachus orders Phemius to read on.
finds Telemachus a ship and crew and helps him to depart for the mainland.
Welcomed by the Nestor family, Telemachus then embarks on a land journey
alongside Sparta, Nestor's son. He chances upon Helen and Menelaus bear witness
of a meeting with sea-god Proteus. They inform Telemachus that his father has
been captured by Calypso, a nymph.
meanwhile, spends seven years in captivity. He is released only to incur the
wrath of Poseidon, the sea god who was not present on Mount Olympus when Athena
and Zeus interacted. Escaping the wreckage, Odysseus swims ashore exhausted and
falls asleep. He then seeks the hospitality of Arete and Alcinous. Odysseus
struggles through a situation where his identity is always in doubt.
raid on his twelve ships by storms, lotus eaters and blinded with a wooden
stake, leaves the hero a broken man. A boon from Aeolus, the wind god helped
Odysseus harness all the winds. However, with destiny playing truant, Odysseus
does not retain the only 'safe' wind that could blow him homeward. His
escapades with the pantheon of Greek gods and goddesses, a treacherous
sailor, Laestrygones the cannibal, Circe, the witch goddess and the spirit of
Tiresias, leave Odysseus spent and longing for home.
lucky meeting with the Phaeacians, buys him a homebound journey. Disguised as a
beggar, Odysseus learns about his family. He meets Penelope with the intention
of testing her love for him. Eurycleia, the housekeeper, discovers Odysseus’
identity and all is well when he strings his own bow as part of the suitor
competition set by Penelope.
A. The Wanderings of Odysseus: The Return to Ithaca
Homer in “The Iliad” related the story of the war that shook all of Greece in
mythical times, he went on to narrate “The
Odyssey”. Many experts consider this work by Homer
to be more mature, containing the adventures of Odysseus, the capture of Troy, from the time he left Troy
to the moment he reached his home in Ithaca.
During our time, the word “odyssey” has
come to mean precisely that: a series of seemingly endless vicissitudes experienced
by everyone in his life, taken from the work of Homer, which describes the
wanderings and the tricks of a great hero, the immortal spirit of the Greek
race, set off with an entire fleet to at last arrive at his longed for island
alone, exhausted and replete with experience. His yearning for Ithaca
kept alive the flames of his desire to return, to the point that the word “Ithaca” has come
to mean a “great passion”, the goal and its pursuit, the dream that each
person sets out to capture.
his wanderings Odysseus sometimes found himself in inhospitable lands with
barbarous peoples and strange creatures and at other times, in places where he
was well received and offered assistance.
knew the difficulties that beset the navy of his day; turbulent currents and
dangerous passages, inhospitable, barbarous and fearsome inhabitants. He
overcame them all with his persistence and his courage, seeking out his fate
and his destiny. He even went down to the underworld which very few mortals had
ever existed. The people and the gods welcomed him, loved him, to the point
that they wanted to keep him there, far from his beloved Ithaca.
strange fate made it so that he returned home alone and on a foreign ship after
starting with an entire fleet and crew. But let’s follow his long journey.
The Cicones and the Lotus-Eaters
the destruction of Troy,
Odysseus set out for home with Agamemnon’s fleet but the ships were scattered
in a storm. Odysseus ran aground on the coast of Thrace, where the Cicones lived. They were allies of Troy, a land that
Odysseus overcame and looted Ismarus,
one of other cities, sparing only Maron, the
priest of Apollo, who made him a gift
of twelve jars of sweet intoxicating
wine. The landing and the attack on the city of the Cicones cost Odysseus
the lives of six men from each of his ships. Now they sailed south again, to
the sea of Cythera, near Cape Males. Their next stop was an island off the
coast of Africa. The people of the country
welcomed Odysseus and his companions when they landed to reconnoiter, offering
them the lotus which they themselves
ate. But when the sailors of the ships of Odysseus ate the fruit they forgot
their homeland and their wish to return home. In the end, Odysseus had to use
force to get them to re-embark.
In the Country of the Cyclopes
little fleet now sailed north and anchored at an island called the country of the Cyclopes, tentatively
identified as Sicily.
When they landed, Odysseus took with him twelve of his companions and bags
of the wine of Maron as a gift to any people they might meet. On their way into
the interior of the island, they came to a cave. Inside were huge quantities of
fresh milk and cheese. Odysseus was so curious about the size
of all the objects lying about that he paid no heed to the warnings of his
companions, who wanted to leave. His desire was to see exactly how large was
the being that lived in the cave. When the owner of the cave, the Cyclops Polyphemus, came home, he saw the
strangers and imprisoned them in the cave by blocking its mouth with a boulder
so large fifty men could not have moved it. He devoured two of Odysseus’
companions on the spot, and continued to eat them in pairs. Odysseus then
offered him some of the wine of Maron. Polyphemus drank quite a lot of it with
pleasure, and in a much merrier mood, he asked Odysseus what his name might be.
“My name is Noman,” came the hero’s
answer. In order to repay Odysseus for the fine wine, Polyphemus promised to
devour him last.
wracked his brains for some way of escaping from the clutches of this cannibal
beast. His first idea was to kill Polyphemus. But then who would move the rock
across the mouth of the cave? And so he decided to blind the giant. Polyphemus,
drunk, had sunk into a deep sleep. Odysseus and his surviving companions found
a pointed stick in the cave. They heated it in the fire to make it as effective
as possible, and then plunged it into the giant’s one and only eye. The cries
of Polyphemus in the night shook the island. The other Cyclopes answered,
calling out to Odysseus who answered “Noman”. They thought he must have gone
mad, and blind Polyphemus searched in vain for those who had injured him.
Odysseus and his companions escaped from the cave by clinging to the thick wool
on the bellies of the sheep of Polyphemus’ flock. When they got back to their
ships, they had raised the sails and were ready to depart when Odysseus called
out to Polyphemus that if he were ever asked again who had blinded him, he was
to say, ‘Odysseus, spoiler of the
cities.” In his rage, Polyphemus hurled huge boulders at the ships, but in
vain. By now Odysseus’ little fleet was out in the open sea. Polyphemus called
on Poseidon, his father, to help him take revenge –
and this was the beginning of the wrath which the powerful god of the sea felt
for Odysseus, and the start of a new round of troubles.
The Island of Circe
on now as the winds might take them, Odysseus and his crew reached the country
of the Laestrygonians, who were
fierce eaters of human flesh. They escaped by the skin of their teeth from the
cannibals, who pursued them with stones and sank all but one of their ships.
This last craft and its crew were all that Odysseus had left when he sailed
north again, to the Island of Circe. The island where the witch Circe lived, called Aea, is now the headland
of Monte Carlo, to the south of Latium. Circe was
the sister of Aetes, the king of
Colchis whom we have already met in the myths about the Argonauts and Pasiphae, wife
of Minos of Crete.
To begin with, Circe welcomed the detachment which Odysseus sent out to
reconnoiter under Eurylochus. But after serving them a banquet she began to touch
them with her magic wand and turned them into swine and other animals. Eurylochus managed to escape and brought
news to Odysseus of what was happening. He decided to go to meet the witch, to
persuade her to give his sailors their human form once more. At first, Circe tried the same trick on Odysseus, but he proved
invulnerable to her charms, thanks to a magic potion which Hermes had given him before he approached the palace. Odysseus threatened
Circe with his sword and extracted from her a
promise, under oath, that she would harm none of the company.
rest of their stay on the island was pleasant. On Circe’s
advice, Odysseus descended into the underworld to ask the soul of Tiresias,
the seer, about his return home. Tiresias
told him he would have to go home alone, on a strange ship, and that he
would be avenged on the suitors who wished to marry his wife. Apart form
Tiresias, Odysseus also met the souls of many of his fellow warriors who had
been killed at Troy,
together with a long list of famous people who dwelt in the underworld. Homer describes the lives in Hades of many of those sentenced to perpetual exemplary punishment
there, including Sisyphus, Tantalus, and
On the Island
The next stop after the
country of Polyphemus was the Island of Aeolus, master
of the winds. Aeolus made Odysseus and his companions welcome,
and gave them hospitality for a month. When the time came for them to leave, he
presented Odysseus with a priceless gift: a
bag made of ox leather in which he had shut up all the strong winds. Only
one wind had been left free: the breeze Zephyr, which would blow gently and
take the ship straight home to Ithaca.
Odysseus passed on to his companions Aeolus’ warning
that the bag was not to be opened because the winds would escape and blow them
into great dangers on the rest of their voyage.
the crew did not obey their master. They thought Aeolus
had given Odysseus a bag of rare wine and so when Odysseus was asleep one night
someone opened the bag. Out rushed the howling winds, the little ship spun
round and round like a nutshell in the fearsome storm. The gale blow them back
to the island of Aeolus, but it was in vain that Odysseus
begged Aeolus to send them another tailwind; he was
convinced now that the gods did not want to help Odysseus, so he left him to
The Island of the Sirens – Scylla and
whom we have met before – in the story of the Argonauts – were the next threat
in store on Odysseus’ voyage. In order to prevent his sailors from being
overcome by the song of these evil spirits, who were half-women and half birds, the wily Odysseus blocked up his
companions’ ears with wax. But he himself was curious to hear what the song of
the sirens sounded like. So he ordered the crew to lash him to the mast of the
ship, where he could listen without endangering anyone. He told the sailors
that if he should attempt to tell them in sign language to set him free, they
were to bind him tighter.
passing the island of the magical sirens, Odysseus next had to deal with the Clashing Rocks and the channel between Scylla
and Charybdis. Scylla was a sea
monster which resembled a woman from the waist up, the remainder being composed
of six fierce and monstrous dogs. She lived in a cave on the Italian side
of the Strait of Messina, and she devoured passing sailors.
opposite, on the other side of the strait which separates Italy from Sicily, was Charybdis. This gigantic monster swallowed vast quantities
of sea water three times a day, sweeping down her throat anything which
happened to be floating past on the sea, including ships. Then she regurgitated
the water she had swallowed. These monsters made the Strait of Messina
an extremely dangerous place, because it was not possible to avoid both of
them. In the end, Odysseus sailed closer to Scylla so as not to be swallowed by
Charybdis, and she devoured some of his sailors.
The Oxen of the Sun – The Island
Island of Thrinacia was Odysseus’ next stop. Here there were herds of white oxen
sacred to the sun. The winds prevented the companions from sailing on and their
supplies had run out. Odysseus had strictly forbidden the sailors to slaughter
and eat the sacred oxen of the Sun, but they disobeyed him and, in hunger,
killed and roasted some.
the sun god, demanded that Zeus punish Odysseus for this insult. As soon as the
companions set out on their voyage once more, their ship ran into a storm, was
struck by one of Zeus’ thunderbolts, and sank. Only
Odysseus, who had refused to eat any of the meat of the sacred oxen, was saved,
clinging to the mast of the ship. The current swept him toward Charybdis, from
whom he was saved at the last moment. Just as she opened her mouth to suck in
the water, Odysseus caught hold of a fig tree whose roots were deep in the
rock. He was battered by the waves for nine days before being washed up on the
shores of Ogygia, the Island of Calypso. It was thus as a castaway that Calypso
found him. She was a nymph, the
daughter of Atlas, and she lived in a deep and beautifully decorated cave
which led out into wonderful gardens and forests. Odysseus spent an enchanted
time with Calypso. She did everything in her power to keep him by her side,
even going so far as to promise him immortality. But his desire to go home
would not fade in his heart; and one day Zeus, on
the request of Athena, sent Hermes to beg Calypso to let Odysseus go home
at last. Calypso even helped Odysseus find the wood
he needed to make a raft, and provided him with supplies and advice for the journey.
On the Island of the Phaeacians
Calypso sadly bade Odysseus farewell, and he set off in an
easterly direction. But the wrath of Poseidon had not yet died away. He blew up
mountainous waves, wrecked Odysseus’ raft, and cast him into the seas once
more. After hours of struggle with death among the wreckage of his raft,
Odysseus, son of Laertes, was washed ashore, exhausted, on the Island of Phaeacians, now called Corfu (but which Homer
terms Scheria). In his exhaustion, he fell asleep, but was awakened
by a girlish voice. It was Nausicaa, daughter of King Alcinous and
Arete, rulers of the island, with
the maidens of the palace. The girls had come to a nearby stream to wash
clothes. When Nausicaa saw the
stranger, she helped him up, gave him clothes to wear and – when he had washed
in the river and stood before her looking as handsome as only Homer could describe – she showed him the way to her
father’s palace. So as not set tongues wagging, she and her girls went home
Alcinous and Arete welcomed Odysseus very warmly, and held a feast in his honor.
He told them of all his adventures and hardships. They expressed their
sympathy, their admiration for his feats, which had made him famous everywhere,
and their desire that he should stay with them and marry Nausicaa. But Odysseus
politely explained that he was longing for his home, Ithaca, and that he looked
forward only to the day when he would see the smoke rising from the chimney of
his house, even from a distance. When they heard that, the king and queen were
so moved that they lent him a ship to take him to Ithaca. On the way Odysseus fell asleep. The
Phaeacians set him ashore on a quiet beach on Ithaca, surrounded by the gifts of Alcinous.
The time sent by the gods had come for Odysseus to set foot on his home island,
after twenty years.
Odysseus in Ithaca
years and the hardships had changed the son of Laertes. But what he had lost in
youthfulness he had gained in experience and maturity. The grace and support of
the goddess Athena had
kept him handsome and strong. But no one recognized him – not even his wife Penelope, who had remained faithful to him.
Over the years of his absence, much had changed. Odysseus’ son Telemachus
had grown to manhood, and had set off to seek out those with whom his
father had fought at Troy,
in the hope that they might know his whereabouts.
went first to the hut of Eumaeus, his swineherd, in whom he had complete trust. Once Eumaeus had
recognized him, Odysseus met Telemachus and learned about what had been
happening at the palace. The suitors who wished to marry Penelope
– and thus ascend the throne – had gathered from all over Ithaca and the other lands over which
Odysseus held sway. They had installed themselves in the palace, eating and
drinking at Odysseus’ expense and squandering his fortune. Penelope
had initially been able to keep them at bay by a trick, telling them that she
would make her choice as soon as she had finished weaving a shroud for her
father-in-law, old Laertes, which she was making on her loom.
Penelope wove all day – but at night, in secret, she undid
what she had woven. In the end, the secret got out, and now eight of the
suitors were becoming insistent and the queen had been forced into a corner.
She was under pressure from all sides to make up her mind as to which suitor
she would marry. When Odysseus found out about this, he decided to teach them a
lesson they would never forget. He disguised
himself as a beggar and entered the palace with Telemachus. No one
recognized him except Argus, his faithful dog, who had been merely a puppy when Odysseus set off
for Troy. As
soon as he saw his master, Argus climbed to his feet, lay down in front of
Odysseus, wagged his tail, and died.
Odysseus takes Revenge on the Suitors
The sudden appearance of this
unknown beggar asking for food caused the suitors to behave roughly toward him.
When she was told that a stranger had turned up, Penelope
was the only person who had wanted to talk to him – in case he had some news of
her husband. Odysseus did not reveal himself to her, but he raised her hopes
that Odysseus would be coming soon. Penelope,
however, was unwilling to believe him, and so she announced that the suitors
would compete against each other in games. She would marry the winner. The archery
contest required considerable skill on the part of the competitors –
not least because first they had to bend the bow of Odysseus himself, which Penelope had kept safe. Then they had to shoot the arrow
through the holes in a number of axes set in a line. One after another the
suitors tried, but they all failed even to bend the bow. In the end, Odysseus
asked if he could try. With amazement, the suitors saw him bend the bow easily
and hit the target effortlessly with his first shot. The hour of reckoning had
come. Odysseus’ devoted servants locked all the palace doors and the king and
his son Telemachus picked up the weapons which they had left earlier in an
upper room. The slaughter of the suitors followed. Word came to Penelope
in her apartment, and she hardly dared believe that her husband had come home.
In the end, he convinced her of his identity by revealing the secrets that only
the two of them knew, and by describing her bridal chamber.
following day, Odysseus looked around his farms. Now it was time for old
Laertes to feel the joy of locking his son in his arms and recognizing him.
However, the families of the suitors now gathered, in an armed mob seeking
vengeance for the massacre of their sons. The goddess Athena
disguised herself as sweet-spoken, wise
old Nestor, and acted as the
intermediary to calm everyone down and ensure that peace and good order reigned
have been besieging Troy for nine years, trying to win back Helen, who
was abducted by the Trojan prince Paris.
A plague spreads through their
camp, and the gods tell Agamemnon, the leader of the Greeks, that in
order to restore health, he must return a prize – a girl that he has captured. Agamemnon
obeys, but to compensate for his loss, he takes a girl who belongs to Achilles,
the greatest warrior among the Greeks. Achilles, insulted, refuses to continue fighting. His defection weakens troop
morale; many of the Greeks want to return home, but, eventually, they are
persuaded to stay.
Paris, then, challenges Helen’s
husband Menelaus to a duel
to settle the war. Menelaus accepts and they fight, but just as Paris is about
to be killed, the goddess Aphrodite snatches him up and takes him to
Helen’s bedchamber. So no one is victorious and the war goes on. The heroes on
both sides aided by their favorite gods, fight nobly and show their valor,
while Achilles sulks in his tent.
Finally, Agamemnon sends envoys to
him, offers to give back his girl, and promises
many valuable gifts if he will rejoin the army. Achilles refuses. With
the help of a divine stratagem, the Trojans begin to gain the advantage. Achilles’
friend Patroclus who had also withdrawn from the fighting, insists on
returning to the battle. Achilles reluctantly consents to his going and lends
him his own armor. Patroclus fights nobly, but he cannot overcome the great
Trojan hero Hector. Hector kills him and strips him of the armor.
Now Achilles is infuriated and
decides to fight Hector. His goddess mother procures him new armor from the god
Hephaestus, in which, and with the aid of another divine stratagem, he
is able to kill Hector. To avenge the loss of Patroclus he drags the body three times around the wall of Troy. When he
returns triumphant, the Greeks hold funeral games in Patroclus’ honor.
Meanwhile Hector’s father, King
Priam of Troy, prepares to approach Achilles and begs for the body of his
son. The gods grant him safe conduct through the Greek lines. Achilles, moved
by the old man’s grief, grants his request. Thus, Hector is buried with honor.
1. Subject Matter
- The anger of Achilles and its consequences
2. Source of the epic
- Derived from the Mycenaean War
3. Outstanding episodes
a. The quarrel between Agamemnon and Achilles
b. the single combat between Menelaus and
c. the farewell of Hector from Andromache as
he leaves to fight Achilles
The single combat between Aias and Hector
e. The games played in the funeral of
f. The ransoming of the body of Hector by his
father, King Priam
g. The lamentations of the Trojan women over
the dead body of Hector
4. Moral significance of the epic
4.1 Achilles’ behavior
- his temper is the
downfall of the man from a great noble stature to a moral degradation
Its causes are:
a. preference to injured pride than to his
duty as a warrior (egotistic, demonic pride)
b. insisting that he is in the right, determined to show the error of
Agamemnon’s decision to get his booty, Briseis
4.2 Moral tragedy deepens
- Achilles persists in
his anger, rejects all avenues of reconciliation, scorns the emissaries of
peace, and perseveres in his wrath. This leads to a grave flaw or fault of
character. The disastrous effect of this grave fault of Achilles is the death
of Patroclus and all the Achaean warriors blame Achilles who finally realizes
his fault and arms himself once again to return to the battlefield. He
unleashes his animal fury on the Trojans, primarily on Hector. He goes into a terrible
carnage, kills Hector brutally and mercilessly and then desecrates the corpse
4.3 The guilt of the
- is their illegitimate
support of Alexandros or Paris because of blind loyalty to the house of Priam.
Paris’ flaw of character has led him to abduct Helen. This is an act of
violation. Hector and his family condone the immortality of Paris and instead
of reprimanding and punishing him for his deed; protect him by fighting for his
cause, thereby plunging the whole city and the people to destruction.
5. Devices used for plot development
a. Repetition of certain lines and phrases
ex. when Paris arms for
battle and when Patroclus arms for battle, both are repeated word in order to
create an atmosphere of emotional tension
b. Repetition of situations
ex. The repeated duel
between Paris and Menelaus (for Helen’s sake)
- duels between Hector and Aias (for Troy and
- duels between Achilles and Hector
(for individual display of prowess, national pride and salvation or
c. The alteration of
the ending of the story
pointing out and emphasizing the effects of terrible anger which brought about
- at the same time, he also showed
that by his own honorable deed, Achilles can
still achieve moral regeneration and can
recover lost honor and retain and
maintain it by a noble act of heroism.
6. Main theme of the epic
- tragedy of moral failure
Achilles – he embodies the Greek ideal of a great
noble hero. He has all the virtues and defects of a great man. He is gentle,
courteous, and physically beautiful; he has superior skill and possesses
prowess, courage, and superior intelligence. But the main flaw of his character
is his irascible temper and anger. Achilles lives only for one thing: personal
glory in war; hence, he is geared only for battle and he believes he will
die young; he is self assertive and vindictive. He is capable of gentle
affection and tenderness, which is shown in his love of Patroclus and his pity
for him when Patroclus cries and feels unhappy over the defeat of the Achaeans
at the hands of the Trojans. He is capable of moral regeneration in his act of
allowing King Priam to ransom and retrieve the corpse of his son Hector for a
proper hero’s burial.
b. Hector –
he does not possess a god-like nature, he is essentially and truly human in
nature for he is brave, courageous, noble, and generous. He uses his wits to
win the war and to cover himself with glory for his own self and for his own
country; his nobility of character is dictated by his self-sacrifice. He is a
true patriot in the sense that he fought for the sake of his country’s glory
His humanity is shown in his deep love for his family. His generosity is shown
in his kind treatment of Helen to whom he never uttered any word of
recrimination nor rebuke in spite of her weakness of character. He is a good
leader in the sense that he continuously builds the morale of his warriors
through examples of good deeds and constructive criticisms. He is scrupulously
religious and has a deep respect for the gods. His valor in the face of death
is unquestionable; he faces his own death with resignation to his fate.
Agamemnon – he is physically brave but he lacks moral
courage and resolution. He is greedy, violent, boastful, and dishonest. he is
also stubborn, egotistic, subject to violent passions, arrogant, tyrannical,
and abusive of his right as a liege lord yet he is also generous.
Menelaus – he is a weakling, he lacks self-assertion,
he is lazy and he has no initiative. He is simply dependent on others for
Odysseus – he is a man of action, resourceful,
extremely intelligent, and everybody’s friend. He is tactful, prudent, has
enormous self control for he never loses his equanimity.
Priam and Hecuba - they are the
parents of Hector and Paris.
Priam is an old man, a loving father, gentle and kind and also courageous. Hecuba
is a woman simple in her piety and is a real mother who prays for the safety
and welfare of her sons.
Paris – he is a lustful man, a weakling and a
coward as shown in battle. He is self-centered and is not willing to sacrifice
Andromache – she is the devoted wife of Hector, whose main concern is the welfare
of her husband. She is courageous for
she accepts her fate without any fear.
Helen – wife of King Menelaus, her beauty is a
curse and a burden. She is just a plaything of fate.