Facts in The Odyssey

Book I 2
"Ithaca..."   (Book I)

Odysseus' home and final destination in his journey, Ithaca is a small island west of the Peloponnese. Of the seven main Ionian islands, it's the second-smallest, with a population around 3,000. In The Odyssey, Ithaca's exact population is unclear, but would've likely been in the hundreds, with a large number of able-bodied men living at Odysseus's home as guests while they attempt to woo his wife.

"daughter of Zeus..."   (Book I)

Calliope, one of the nine Muses, saidto be a daughter of Zeus and Mnemosyne (Memory) and to preside over epic poetry. The other eight Muses are: Clio (history), Euterpe (flutes and lyric poetry), Thalia (comedy and pastoral poetry), Melpomene (tragedy), Terpsichore (dance), Erato (love poetry), Polyhymnia (sacred poetry), and Urania (astronomy).

"to cross over to Elis..."   (Book IV)

Elis, a region in Southern Greece, was bordered on the north by Achaea, on the east by Arcadia, on the south by Messenia, and on the west by the Ionian Sea. To cross over to Elis, the mainland, from Ithaca, the sea, would've required a ship and a few days' journey.

"the Trojan women..."   (Book IV)

In Euripides' tragedy The Trojan Women, Hecuba, the Queen of Troy, and her attendant maidens famously mourn the deaths of the fallen Trojans. "Lamentation" in ancient Greece was a ritualized process involving shaved heads and funeral garb and would've lasted for an extended period of time.

"to Cyprus, Phoenicia and the Egyptians..."   (Book IV)

Troy, a city on the western shore of Turkey, was situated directly on the Aegean Sea, straight across from the Greek city-states. For Menelaus to have gone first to Cyprus, an island in the Mediterranean Sea, and Phoenicia, a kingdom situated in the Fertile Crescent, he would've had to sail South and East, in the opposite direction of Sparta.

"city of Lacedaemon..."   (Book IV)

Lacedaemon, a city in Laconia, the principal region of the city-state Sparta. In Greek mythology, Lacedaemon also referred to the king of Laconia, son of Zeus and Taygete, one of the seven daughters of the Titan Atlas, collectively known as the Pleiades. It's said that Lacadaemon renamed the city after his wife, Sparta, who also happened to be his niece.

"Cadmus..."   (Book V)

Cadmus is the son of Phoenix, the King of Phoenicia, and brother of Europa. Europa was abducted by Zeus, and Cadmus was sent on a quest to find her. When he was unsuccessful, he consulted an oracle which advised him to give up his quest, follow a cow until she lay down, and where she lay down he was to build a city, which came to be known as Thebes.

"Pytho..."   (Book VIII)

Another name for Delphi, the home of the Oracle of Delphi, whose oracles were supposed to come from Apollo himself. Pytho was also home to the mythical Python, the earth-dragon of Delphi, depicted in art and literature as a serpent and enemy of Apollo.

"Erebus..."   (Book X)

Often depicted as a primordial god, Erebus is not only the personification of darkness, but also represents a region of darkness in the underworld on the path to Hades in Greek mythology. This region is where the dead go immediately after dying and is sometimes used interchangeably with Tartarus.

"Thetis..."   (Book XI)

Thetis, wife of Peleus and mother to Achilles. Thetis was a Nereid, or daughter of the ancient sea god Nereus, and according to some scholars was one of the first deities worshipped in ancient Greece. As mother, she would've retained rights over all of Achilles' possessions after he was killed.

"Antilochus..."   (Book XI)

Antilochus, the son of Nestor, and another friend of Achilles to be cut down during the Trojan War. Antilochus was one of the many suitors of Helen before she married Menelaus, necessitating that he fight in the Trojan war, where he sacrificed himself to save his father.

"Patroclus..."   (Book XI)

Patroclus, son of Menoetius, and best friend to Achilles. In The Iliad, he convinced Achilles to let him lead the Myrmidons in battle, driving the Trojans away from the Greek ships and killing the Trojan warrior Sarpedon before being killed by Hector, a Trojan prince.

"Dionysus..."   (Book XI)

Dionysus, the god of wine, madness, fertility, and ecstasy. His lavish and extravagant parties gave rise to the term Dionysian, a concept of irrationality and chaos that stands in contrast to the Apollonian, a philosophical concept derived from Apollo, the god of rationality and reason. Thus it's possible that what Dionysus said about Procris wasn't true, because he may just have been trying to create chaos.

"Procris..."   (Book XI)

Procris, the daughter of Erechtheus, the king of Athens. Procris suspects that her husband Cephalus has been having an affair, and when a servant tells her that Cephalus has called on Nephele (a cloud nymph), Procris follows them into a thicket, where Cephalus kills her with an arrow, thinking that she's a wild animal.

"Otus and Ephialtes..."   (Book XI)

Sons of Iphimedia, wife of Aloeus, from whom they draw their name, the Aloadae. In one story, they managed to trap Ares in a bronze jar for thirteen months (a lunar year). Had their stepmother not told Hermes of this the god of war might never have been freed.

"Orion..."   (Book XI)

Orion, a giant hunter immortalized in the constellation Orion. In some stories, Orion threatened to kill all the beasts of the earth while on a hunting trip with Artemis, the goddess of the hunt, but Gaia objected and sent a scorpion to kill him. Zeus then honored Orion by placing him in the stars.

"Leda the wife of Tyndarus..."   (Book XI)

Leda, queen of Sparta, mother of both Helen of Troy and Clytemnestra. According to legend, Zeus fell into Leda's arms in the guise of a swan to escape the talons of an eagle, and Zeus later forced himself on her, resulting in either the births of Castor, Pollux, Helen, or Clytemnestra (textual accounts differ).

"was a certain excellent seer..."   (Book XI)

Homer never directly names this seer, but he's commonly believed to be Melampous, a famed soothsayer and healer from Pylos who was held captive for a year in the house of Phylakos. When his prison collapsed, he was asked to cure Phylakos' wife Iphiklos of infertility, upon which he was given the cattle he tried to steal and allowed to take Pero to wed his brother.

"Castor breaker of horses, and Pollux..."   (Book XI)

Castor and Pollux, son of Leda, queen of Sparta, who was raped by Zeus after he took the form of a swan. In many pieces of literature, they're known as the Dioskuri, and are often listed as brothers of both Helen, wife of Menelaus, and Clytemnestra, wife of Agamemnon.

"Epicaste mother of king Oedipus..."   (Book XI)

Epicaste, unbeknownst to her, married her son Oedipus and made him king of Thebes. Oedipus had been abandoned after birth and wasn't raised by Epicaste, who had no way of recognizing her son when he was grown. This story is recounted more fully in Sophocles' iconic play, Oedipus Rex.

"Megara..."   (Book XI)

Megara, wife of Heracles, mother of his sons, whom he slaughtered in a fit of madness induced by Hera. After his madness was cured, he fled to the Oracle of Delphi, leaving Megara behind as he attempted to repent for the murder of his children.

"Antiope, daughter to Asopus..."   (Book XI)

Antiope, the daughter of the river god Asopus, in later sources thought to be the mother of the nocturnal king Nycteus of Thebes. In her youth she was said to be very beautiful, and Zeus, seeing this, transformed himself into a satyr (a man with horse-like features) and forced himself on Antiope.

"sees and gives ear to everything..."   (Book XI)

Remember that the sun, in a previous chapter, spied on Ares and Aphrodite for Hephaestus and informed him of his wife's infidelity. Make sure to differentiate between Apollo, the god of the sun, and the sun itself, Helios, a divine entity with its own powers and agendas.

"Dmetor by name, son of Iasus..."   (Book XVII)

There are no other accounts of these characters in Greek literature, suggesting that Homer made them up entirely, as Odysseus has, or that they were of such insignificance that they were not documented in their time.

"Sardinian fashion..."   (Book XX)

A reference to the island of Sardinia, near to Italy, located in the Mediterranean Sea. Sardinia was originally settled by the Phoenicians, Greeks, and Carthaginians prior to the sixth century B.C. The Romans conquered the island in 238 B.C. This reference to Sardinia is one of the factors that dates the Odyssey later than 1200 B.C.

"Pandareus..."   (Book XX)

Pandareus, a resident of Miletus and son of a nymph, was urged by his friend Tantalus to steal a bronze dog from the temple of Zeus on Crete. As punishment, Zeus either turned Pandareus and his wife to stone or killed them, leaving their daughters orphans.

"shovelled up the blood and dirt..."   (Book XXII)

In the outer court, the floor wouldn't necessarily have been stone or marble, and large portions of Odysseus' outer court was simply made of packed earth, which explains the ever-present "dust" on the floor, which the suitors "bit" when they fell face-first into it as they died.