Odysseus

Heroes
Fast Facts:
  • Pronunciation: oh-DIH-see-us
  • Origin: Greek
  • Role: Hero
  • Symbol: Bow
  • Parents: Laertes and Anticlea
  • Wife: Penelope
  • Other Names: Ulysses, Ulixes, Olysseus, Oulixeus, Oulixes

Who Is Odysseus?

In Greek mythology, Odysseus was a well-known hero. The son of Laertes and Anticlea, he went on to lead the Greeks in the Trojan War. His long journey home was full of challenges and excitement as well.

Purpose

Odysseus was a Greek hero. He was king of an island called Ithaca and played a major role in the Trojan War.

Origins

The story of Odysseus is found in Homer’s epic, the Odyssey. He is also mentioned throughout another of Homer’s epics, the Iliad. He was a pillar in Greek mythology and known for his heroic acts.

Legends and Stories

The story of Odyssey has been well preserved. Here are some of the main excerpts.

Odysseus Gets Married

Odysseus was in love with Helen and wanted to make her his wife. But he wasn’t the only one who wanted to marry her. Odysseus spoke to her step-father, Tyndareus, the king of Sparta. He told the king that he would help decide who would marry Helen if he could marry Penelope, the king’s niece. Tyndareus agreed. Odysseus had Helen’s suitors draw straws, but only if they promised to pledge their loyalty to Helen and her future husband, whomever it was going to be. Menelaus won the draw and married Helen while Odysseus took Penelope as his wife.

It wasn’t long after that Helen was abducted by Prince Paris of Troy. All the men who had drawn straws to win Helen were called back to help in the quest to rescue her. Odysseus did not want to partake because of a premonition he had been told, telling him that it would take him on a long journey, keeping him from his family. To avoid helping rescue Helen, he decided to feign madness. He plowed his fields with salt. A man by the name of Palamedes did not believe Odysseus to be crazy and to prove his hypothesis, he placed Odysseus’ son in front of the plow. Odysseus swerved to miss the baby, proving that he was sane. He was forced to join the quest.

The Trojan War

The Greeks headed to Troy. Odysseus played an important role in the war. He served as an advisor and solved several predicaments. He prevented Agamemnon from retreating. He helped Achilles’ manage the death of Patroclus. But when it came to Palamedes, he might have played a role in his death because of the grudge he held against him. Some versions of Odysseus’ myth suggest that he exposed Palamedes as a traitor and the Greeks turned on him. Other versions say that Odysseus tricked Palamedes into going into a well, where he was quickly buried at the bottom.

But the most famous contribution Odysseus made to the Trojan War was the Trojan Horse. The Greeks tricked the Trojans into thinking they were retreating. They presented them with a large wooden horse as a gift. The Trojans accepted and celebrated their victory. Once the Trojans had fallen asleep, most of them drunk from the celebration, the wooden horse opened. It was full of Greek warriors. They attacked the Trojans and won the war.

Odysseus’ Journey

After the war, Odysseus was eager to return home. But his journey would take him ten years and through many obstacles. In one story, storms caused Odysseus’ ships to go off course, landing on the island of the Cyclops. The Cyclops began eating the crew members. But Odysseus was smart and found a way to defeat the Cyclops by blinding him.

The ships eventually reached the island of Aeolus, the god of the winds. Aelos gave Odysseus all of the winds except for the west wind in a bag. This allowed the west wind to blow exclusively, steering the ships to Ithaca. But just as they were approaching the shore, a few crew members opened the bag, mistaking it for a bag of treasure. The winds were released and blew the ships back to their starting point. Aeolus refused to help them again.

These obstacles would continue until finally, Odysseus made it home. It was late and Athena disguised him as a beggar so he could find out what happened while he was gone. Penelope had told all of Ithaca that she would marry anyone able to string her husband’s bow. She knew that Odysseus was the only one able to do this. Suitors tried but they were unsuccessful. Odysseus, still disguised as a beggar, strung the bow. He revealed himself to Penelope, who did not believe it was her husband who had finally returned. She gave him one more test and asked him to move their bed to another room of their home. But this was a trick as well. Odysseus answered correctly, telling her that he couldn’t move the bed because one leg was a living olive tree.

Family

Odysseus’ parents were Laertes and Anticlea. He led the Kephallenians on the island of Ithaca, where he was king. His wife was Penelope and they had one son named Telemachos.

Appearance

In artistic representations, Odysseus is shown wearing armor. As described by Homer, the armor is bronze with leather tabs hanging down. He wears tin on his legs and a crested helmet. He is shown as very handsome and muscular.

Symbology

The most well-known symbol of Odysseus is his bow. He was the only one capable of using it, symbolizing his place as king. His dog, Argos, is also a symbol. The dog’s loyalty is evident. We are made to understand that Argos could not die until Odysseus returned. His family was also loyal to him in his absence, even though many tried to sway them.

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