Analysis Pages

Plot in The Odyssey

Plot Examples in The Odyssey:

Book I

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"How can I forget Odysseus than whom there is no more capable man on earth, nor more liberal in his offerings to the immortal gods that live in heaven?..."   (Book I)

Zeus has been reminded by Athena that Odysseus is stranded on Calypso's island. Zeus states that he has not forgotten Odysseus, but that Poseidon is still enraged for Odysseus's blinding of Polyphemus the Cyclops. In an effort to get Odysseus home, Zeus agrees that all the gods and goddesses should find a plan to convince Poseidon to cease his vendetta.

"Laertes..."   (Book I)

Odysseus' father. With Odysseus away, Laertes should've taken over his house, as the eldest male in the family, but the narrative requires that no strong figure be present in the household, and thus, Homer made Laertes old and feeble so he wouldn't be able to fulfill his duties to Odysseus. Athena mentions this as a way of commenting on the confluence of bad luck that led to this situation with the suitors.

"a beautiful golden ewer..."   (Book I)

Odysseus' house and possessions are reflections of his great social standing, with items like this ewer, or oval pitcher, displaying his considerable wealth and prestige. Even before Odysseus fought in the Trojan War, he was a respectable man with lands and money to his name. His absence, however, has depleted his wealth considerably, as the suitors eat up his flock.

"Poseidon..."   (Book I)

The god of the sea, also known as the "Earth-Shaker" because of his ability to cause earthquakes and tidal waves. He hates Odysseus for blinding one of his sons, the Cyclops named Polyphemus. This story is recounted later in the epic poem and is one of many tales Homer foreshadows in these passages.

"against the time..."   (Book II)

Modern readers will recognize this as a stalling tactic used by someone with a reason to believe that a straightforward rejection would result in some backlash or violence. Penelope's "artful" scheme is in reality a way to hold off making her decision about remarrying in the hopes that Odysseus will come save her from the suitors. It remains to be seen if he'll make it back in time.

"scandalous goings on..."   (Book II)

As Mentor points out, Odysseus' absence has created a bubble in which Ithaca's citizens can behave as though Odysseus is dead without having to create a new power structure the way they would if they were certain of his death. Hence, the "scandalous goings on" Mentor describes.

"the ruin of a stately mansion..."   (Book IV)

Following Agamemnon's murder, his estate would've fallen into the hands of Aegisthus and Clytemnestra, then passed again to Orestes, Agamemnon's son, after he avenged his father. Traditionally, Menelaus would've become King of those lands in his brother's wake, but since he was away, he wasn't able to claim his rights in the matter.

"but they did not know what was going to happen..."   (Book IV)

Homer is pointing out that the Fates have already determined the outcome of the struggle between Penelope's suitors and Odysseus. Nothing they do can change the outcome, and even the gods cannot significantly alter the outcome.

"She drugged the wine with an herb that banishes all care..."   (Book IV)

Helen spikes the wine to make them more susceptible to the story she's about to tell. The only drug known to produce such effects is opium, which is thought to have been widely used in Egypt at that time.

"before we got back here..."   (Book IV)

Though Menelaus was among the first Greeks to sail home after the Trojan War, his journey was a long and precarious one, not unlike Odysseus', and it took him over eight years to return to Sparta. Given that it has been ten years since the end of the Trojan War, this means that he's only been home for two years, which accounts for the delay in the marriage.

"she also made the hair grow thick on the top of his head..."   (Book VI)

We need to keep in mind that Odysseus was in middle age when he left for the Trojan War almost twenty years before, so he is at least in his late forties or early fifties, much older than Nausicaa. For the story, it is important that he be attractive to Nausicaa, so Athena makes sure to affect his appearance.

"I want to take all our dirty clothes to the river and wash them..."   (Book VI)

Nausicaa has paid close attention to Athena's suggestion in the dream vision but has gone one step farther. This will put her in an excellent position when Odysseus, who came ashore with no clothes, is in serious need of something to wear.

"black wine..."   (Book IX)

The deep color of the wine indicated that this is the unadulterated wine he received from Maron at Ismarus.  The strong wine will help to get Polyphemus drunk more quickly than wine mixed with water, which is the norm.

"groaning and tearing their hair..."   (Book X)

Odysseus's men are, understandably, not happy with this turn of events. Groaning, tearing one's hair, and even tearing one's clothes were common customs of mourning and distress during ancient times.

"I met Hermes with his golden wand..."   (Book X)

Homer doesn't make it clear how Odysseus is able to recognize Hermes in this situation, an unusual lapse in narrative technique.  Given the magical nature of Circe and her home, Odysseus' first reaction should be to think that the young man is somehow connected to Circe and is there to trick him.

"He snatched up one of them..."   (Book X)

Based on signs of civilization, Odysseus and his men would not have known that the Laestrygonians are the equivalent of a civilized race of Cyclopses, more dangerous than the Cyclops because they appear to have all the elements one would expect of a civilized race.

"Artacia..."   (Book X)

This is the same fountain mentioned in the adventures of Jason and the Argonauts, which is located near the south coast of the Propontis. Odysseus and his ships have been blown completely down the Adriatic Sea, across the Aegean Sea, and now they are actually farther east from the point where they left Troy.  In other words, they are about as far from Ithaca as they can be and still be part of the known world.

"He has to entertain largely..."   (Book XI)

Because Anticlea is not a prophet, she cannot know the exact situation in Ithaca with respect to Telemachus or Penelope, so Odysseus receives a general description of their condition but not a precise one. Thus he doesn't know much of the suitors or the state of his lands.

"carry it on and on..."   (Book XI)

What follows (instructions to Odysseus about how to satisfy Poseidon) seems like an odd interpolation because it takes us past the end of The Odyssey's narrative. The Iliad, which predicts the death of Achilles and the fall of Troy, is similar in that the narrative ends before these events actually take place.

"and by Telemachus who is the one hope of your house..."   (Book XI)

It's unclear how Elpenor could even know that Telemachus is still alive. Telemachus had just been born when Odysseus and his men left for Troy, and there has been no intervening news from Ithaca. Homer clearly wants to bring Telemachus back into the narrative after several books' absence.

"weeping and in great distress..."   (Book XI)

Odysseus and his crew are distressed because, except in rare cases, going into the underworld is a one-way trip. Aside from the unknown, they are exposing themselves to ghosts who, because they envy the living, are looking for ways to trap the living in Hades.

"you will return late, in bad plight, after losing all your men..."   (Book XII)

This outcome, by the way, has already been foretold by the prophet Teiresias when Odysseus sought him out in Hades. The repetition of this information benefits the oral narrator and the readers by helping to provide structure to the story.

"I will begin by disguising you..."   (Book XIII)

Note that Athena's plan is to have Odysseus hide within a disguise she provides for him; this is somewhat similar to and builds on his idea for the Trojan Horse from the Iliad. Both deceptions conceal what is underneath, and both lead directly to many deaths.

"Athena had made it a foggy day..."   (Book XIII)

This is the second time Athena has interceded on Odysseus's behalf by making him less visible in order to protect him; the first time was during his walk to Alcinous's cloister. Notice how Homer is attributing these circumstances to the gods while simultaneously using them as a device for controlling the elements of the plot.

"Thus did the chiefs and rulers of the Phaeacians pray to king Poseidon..."   (Book XIII)

Homer never discloses the fate of the Phaeacians' city. We can presume, however, that because Homer does not describe its destruction, Poseidon decides to spare the city.

"I will tell you all about it..."   (Book XIV)

What follows is a long digression and lie about the beggar that has been criticized by many scholars as basically wasted space. Although it is an inventive story, it does very little to further the narrative and disrupts the narrative momentum that's been building in the last few books of the poem.

"held them for a whole year..."   (Book XV)

This story will seem familiar to readers: it's been mentioned before by Odysseus in the story he told Alcinous and his men. Here, we see a somewhat more elaborated version, which may suggest that the exact details of the story were so well-known in Greece that Homer needn't relate the whole thing to his audience.

"Elis, where the Epeans rule..."   (Book XV)

At this point, Telemachus is sailing along the coast of what is now northern Greece, just across from the island of Ithaca. It would be easier and quicker to sail directly across to Ithaca, but Athena has already warned him to keep to the coast and take a more round-about route, and Telemachus has wisely chosen to follow her advice.

"Pherae, where Diocles lived..."   (Book XV)

They've reached the northeast part of what is now mainland Greece, but are still very far from the west coast from which Telemachus can reach Ithaca. Note that this is their second visit to Diocles and that they stayed with him once before on their way to Sparta. Also notice that there's no time spent describing this visit.

"an eagle with a great white goose..."   (Book XV)

A powerful omen that Odysseus has indeed returned to Ithaca and will soon have the false suitors at his mercy. In Book II, Telemachus saw a similar omen during the meeting of the councillors when two great eagles sent by Zeus stared down at Telemachus's enemies, as if warning them not to cross him.

"in the Strait between Ithaca and Samos..."   (Book XV)

The Strait between Ithaca and Samos is less than two miles wide, leaving very little room for any ship to maneuver. The suitor's only advantage here is the element of surprise, which Athena effectively destroys by warning Telemachus of their plan.

"and so will Odysseus..."   (Book XVII)

Note that Telemachus paraphrases Menelaus's speech for his mother. Menelaus was careful to say that if Odysseus was alive, he would dispatch the suitors easily, but Telemachus doesn't couch this statement in doubt or hope; he just says it: Odysseus will make short work of the suitors.

"commanding figure..."   (Book XVIII)

Notice how Athena performed similar enhancements on Odysseus’s body. This reflects what types of bodies Homer considers heroic. Odysseus is visually a classical hero, and Penelope’s unwavering devotion to her husband is now reflected in her looks. Homer links one’s strength of character with their outward appearance.

"I will not spare you..."   (Book XIX)

This might seem extraordinarily harsh considering that Odysseus is speaking to the woman who nursed him. However, his revenge depends upon the suitors not recognizing him, and he cannot afford to have his identity exposed. Given Odysseus's calculating and results-oriented nature, this threat likely has substance behind it.

"for he remembered every one of them..."   (Book XXII)

It's highly unlikely that these women, many of which are called maids, would be old enough for him to remember all of them, since he's been gone for twenty years. It's also somewhat unlikely that they would want to embrace him when he's covered in blood, but Homer overlooks this to make Odysseus seem like a beloved king.

"but there was neither shield nor spear..."   (Book XXII)

Remember that Telemachus removed all weapons from the walls earlier in the poem and that the suitors are now left only with what they have on them: their own swords, perhaps a few spears, and no shields whatsoever. If they'd been less arrogant, perhaps they would've been prepared for this attack.

"a boar to Poseidon..."   (Book XXIII)

Even though he is reunited with his wife and in Ithaca, Odysseus still has to repay his debt to Poseidon, as Teiresias had foretold, to finally be able to live out the rest of his life in peace.

"between the two contending parties..."   (Book XXIV)

Remember, however, that a prophecy has foretold that Odysseus will have to leave Ithaca to make offerings to the gods and appease them for all of these deaths. It's unclear whether Athena's actions have made that journey unnecessary. Either way, the poet makes a point of ending on a peace treaty to resolve any lingering tensions in the poem.

"the fair golden wand..."   (Book XXIV)

Most likely, a caduceus, a staff carried by Hermes and other heralds that gave the appearance of two snakes intertwining. Today, the caduceus is commonly associated with the practice of medicine, and its symbol is warn by doctors and professionals as a sign of their devotion to healing people.

"king Apheidas..."   (Book XXIV)

In Greek, apheidas signifies generosity, the hallmark of xenia. By saying that he's the son of Apheidas, Odysseus may be cleverly complimenting Laertes, who was once king himself. He may also be giving Laertes clues to his identity and testing whether or not Laertes can decipher them.

"Dolius..."   (Book XXIV)

A faithful and long-time retainer of Laertes who has known Odysseus since he was very young. Dolius happens also to be the father of Melanthius, one of the suitors' favorite servants, and Odysseus may want to inform him of his son' death personally, if he doesn't know about it already.

"THEN..."   (Book XXIV)

Many Homer scholars have debated the authenticity of the this part of Book XXIV, arguing that there are so many linguistic problems with it that make it seem like the work of a later poet. There's no proof of this, however, and from a narrative standpoint it makes sense to include this book, in which Odysseus reunites with his father.

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