Book I

The gods in council
Athena's visit to Ithaca
The challenge from Telemachus to the suitors

TELL ME, O MUSE, of that ingenious hero who traveled far and wide after he had sacked the famous town of Troy. Many cities did he visit, and many were the nations with whose manners and customs he was acquainted; moreover he suffered much by sea while trying to save his own life and bring his men safely home; but do what he might he could not save his men, for they perished through their own sheer folly in eating the cattle of the Sun-god Apollo; so the god prevented them from ever reaching home. Tell me, too, about all these things, oh daughter of Zeus, from whatsoever source you may know them.

So now all who escaped death in battle or by shipwreck had got safely home except Odysseus, and he, though he was longing to return to his wife and country, was detained by the goddess Calypso, who had got him into a large cave and wanted to marry him. But as years went by, there came a time when the gods settled that he should go back to Ithaca; even then, however, when he was among his own people, his troubles were not yet over; nevertheless all the gods had now begun to pity him except Poseidon, who still persecuted him without ceasing and would not let him get home.

Now Poseidon had gone off to the Ethiopians, who are at the world's end, and lie in two halves, the one looking West and the other East. He had gone there to accept a hecatomb of sheep and oxen, and was enjoying himself at his festival; but the other gods met in the house of Olympian Zeus, and the sire of gods and men spoke first. At that moment he was thinking of Aegisthus, who had been killed by Agamemnon's son Orestes; so he said to the other gods:

“See now, how men lay blame upon us gods for what is after all nothing but their own folly. Look at Aegisthus; he must needs make love to Agamemnon's wife unrighteously and then kill Agamemnon, though he knew it would be the death of him; for I sent Hermes to warn him not to do either of these things, inasmuch as Orestes would be sure to take his revenge when he grew up and wanted to return home. Hermes told him this in all good will but he would not listen, and now he has paid for everything in full.”

Then Athena said, “Father, son of Cronus, King of kings, it served Aegisthus right, and so it would anyone else who does as he did; but Aegisthus is neither here nor there; it is for Odysseus that my heart bleeds, when I think of his sufferings in that lonely sea-girt island, far away, poor man, from all his friends. It is an island covered with forest, in the very middle of the sea, and a goddess lives there, daughter of the magician Atlas, who looks after the bottom of the ocean, and carries the great columns that keep heaven and earth asunder. This daughter of Atlas has got hold of poor unhappy Odysseus, and keeps trying by every kind of blandishment to make him forget his home, so that he is tired of life, and thinks of nothing but how he may once more see the smoke of his own chimneys. You, sir, take no heed of this, and yet when Odysseus was before Troy did he not propitiate you with many a burnt sacrifice? Why then should you keep on being so angry with him?”

And Zeus said, “My child, what are you talking about? 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? Bear in mind, however, that Poseidon is still furious with Odysseus for having blinded an eye of Polyphemus king of the Cyclopes. Polyphemus is son to Poseidon by the nymph Thoosa, daughter to the sea-king Phorcys; therefore though he will not kill Odysseus outright, he torments him by preventing him from getting home. Still, let us lay our heads together and see how we can help him to return; Poseidon will then be pacified, for if we are all of a mind he can hardly stand out against us.”

And Athena said, “Father, son of Cronus, King of kings, if, then, the gods now mean that Odysseus should get home, we should first send Hermes to the Ogygian island to tell Calypso that we have made up our minds and that he is to return. In the meantime I will go to Ithaca, to put heart into Odysseus' son Telemachus; I will embolden him to call the Achaeans in assembly, and speak out to the suitors of his mother Penelope, who persist in eating up any number of his sheep and oxen; I will also conduct him to Sparta and to Pylos, to see if he can hear anything about the return of his dear father—for this will make people speak well of him.”

So saying she bound on her glittering golden sandals, imperishable, with which she can fly like the wind over land or sea; she grasped the redoubtable bronze-shod spear, so stout and sturdy and strong, wherewith she quells the ranks of heroes who have displeased her, and down she darted from the topmost summits of Olympus, whereon forthwith she was in Ithaca, at the gateway of Odysseus' house, disguised as a visitor, Mentes, chief of the Taphians, and she held a bronze spear in her hand. There she found the lordly suitors seated on hides of the oxen which they had killed and eaten, and gambling in front of the house. Men-servants and pages were bustling about to wait upon them, some mixing wine with water in the mixing-bowls, some cleaning down the tables with wet sponges and laying them out again, and some cutting up great quantities of meat.

Telemachus saw her long before anyone else did. He was sitting moodily among the suitors thinking about his brave father, and how he would send them flying out of the house, if he were to come to his own again and be honored as in days gone by. Thus brooding as he sat among them, he caught sight of Athena and went straight to the gate, for he was vexed that a stranger should be kept waiting for admittance. He took her right hand in his own, and bade her give him her spear. “Welcome,” said he, “to our house, and when you have partaken of food you shall tell us what you have come for.”

He led the way as he spoke, and Athena followed him. When they were within he took her spear and set it in the spear-stand against a strong bearing-post along with the many other spears of his unhappy father, and he conducted her to a richly decorated seat under which he threw a cloth of damask. There was a footstool also for her feet, and he set another seat near her for himself, away from the suitors, that she might not be annoyed while eating by their noise and insolence, and that he might ask her more freely about his father.

A maid servant then brought them water in a beautiful golden ewer and poured it into a silver basin for them to wash their hands, and she drew a clean table beside them. An upper servant brought them bread, and offered them many good things of what there was in the house, the carver fetched them plates of all manner of meats and set cups of gold by their side, and a manservant brought them wine and poured it out for them.

Then the suitors came in and took their places on the benches and seats. Forthwith men servants poured water over their hands, maids went round with the bread-baskets, pages filled the mixing-bowls with wine and water, and they laid their hands upon the good things that were before them. As soon as they had had enough to eat and drink they wanted music and dancing, which are the crowning embellishments of a banquet, so a servant brought a lyre to Phemius, whom they compelled perforce to sing to them. As soon as he touched his lyre and began to sing Telemachus spoke low to Athena, with his head close to hers that no man might hear.

“I hope, sir,” said he, “that you will not be offended with what I am going to say. Singing comes cheap to those who do not pay for it, and all this is done at the cost of one whose bones lie rotting in some wilderness or grinding to powder in the surf. If these men were to see my father come back to Ithaca they would pray for longer legs rather than a longer purse, for money would not serve them; but he, alas, has fallen on an ill fate, and even when people do sometimes say that he is coming, we no longer heed them; we shall never see him again. And now, sir, tell me and tell me true, who you are and where you come from. Tell me of your town and parents, what manner of ship you came in, how your crew brought you to Ithaca, and of what nation they declared themselves to be—for you cannot have come by land. Tell me also truly, for I want to know, are you a stranger to this house, or have you been here in my father's time? In the old days we had many visitors for my father went about much himself.”

And Athena answered, “I will tell you truly and particularly all about it. I am Mentes, son of Anchialus, and I am King of the Taphians. I have come here with my ship and crew, on a voyage to men of a foreign tongue being bound for Temesa with a cargo of iron, and I shall bring back copper. As for my ship, it lies over yonder off the open country away from the town, in the haror Rheithron under the wooded mountain Neritum. Our fathers were friends before us, as old Laertes will tell you, if you will go and ask him. They say, however, that he never comes to town now, and lives by himself in the country, faring hardly, with an old woman to look after him and get his dinner for him, when he comes in tired from pottering about his vineyard. They told me your father was at home again, and that was why I came, but it seems the gods are still keeping him back, for he is not dead yet not on the mainland. It is more likely he is on some sea-girt island in mid ocean, or a prisoner among savages who are detaining him against his will. I am no prophet, and know very little about omens, but I speak as it is borne in upon me from heaven, and assure you that he will not be away much longer; for he is a man of such resource that even though he were in chains of iron he would find some means of getting home again. But tell me, and tell me true, can Odysseus really have such a fine looking fellow for a son? You are indeed wonderfully like him about the head and eyes, for we were close friends before he set sail for Troy where the flower of all the Argives went also. Since that time we have never either of us seen the other.”

“My mother,” answered Telemachus, “tells me I am son to Odysseus, but it is a wise child that knows his own father. Would that I were son to one who had grown old upon his own estates, for, since you ask me, there is no more ill-starred man under heaven than he who they tell me is my father.”

And Athena said, “There is no fear of your race dying out yet, while Penelope has such a fine son as you are. But tell me, and tell me true, what is the meaning of all this feasting, and who are these people? What is it all about? Have you some banquet, or is there a wedding in the family—for no one seems to be bringing any provisions of his own? And the guests—how atrociously they are behaving; what riot they make over the whole house; it is enough to disgust any respectable person who comes near them.”

“Sir,” said Telemachus, “as regards your question, so long as my father was here it was well with us and with the house, but the gods in their displeasure have willed it otherwise, and have hidden him away more closely than mortal man was ever yet hidden. I could have borne it better even though he were dead, if he had fallen with his men before Troy, or had died with friends around him when the days of his fighting were done; for then the Achaeans would have built a mound over his ashes, and I should myself have been heir to his renown; but now the storm-winds have spirited him away we know not whither; he is gone without leaving so much as a trace behind him, and I inherit nothing but dismay. Nor does the matter end simply with grief for the loss of my father; heaven has laid sorrows upon me of yet another kind; for the chiefs from all our islands, Dulichium, Same, and the woodland island of Zacynthus, as also all the principal men of Ithaca itself, are eating up my house under the pretext of paying their court to my mother, who will neither explicitly say that she will not marry, nor yet bring matters to an end; so they are making havoc of my estate, and before long will do so also with myself.”

“Is that so?” exclaimed Athena, “then you do indeed want Odysseus home again. Give him his helmet, shield, and a couple of lances, and if he is the man he was when I first knew him in our house, drinking and making merry, he would soon lay his hands about these rascally suitors, were he to stand once more upon his own threshold. He was then coming from Ephyra, where he had been to beg poison for his arrows from Ilus, son of Mermerus. Ilus feared the ever-living gods and would not give him any, but my father let him have some, for he was very fond of him. If Odysseus is the man he then was these suitors will have a short shrift and a sorry wedding.

“But there! It rests with heaven to determine whether he is to return, and take his revenge in his own house or no; I would, however, urge you to set about trying to get rid of these suitors at once. Take my advice, call the Achaean heroes in assembly to-morrow morning—lay your case before them, and call heaven to bear you witness. Bid the suitors take themselves off, each to his own place, and if your mother's mind is set on marrying again, let her go back to her father, who will find her a husband and provide her with all the marriage gifts that so dear a daughter may expect. As for yourself, let me prevail upon you to take the best ship you can get, with a crew of twenty men, and go in quest of your father who has so long been missing. Someone may tell you something, or (and people often hear things in this way) some heaven-sent message may direct you. First go to Pylos and ask Nestor; thence go on to Sparta and visit Menelaus, for he got home last of all the Achaeans; if you hear that your father is alive and on his way home, you can put up with the waste these suitors will make for yet another twelve months. If on the other hand you hear of his death, come home at once, celebrate his funeral rites with all due pomp, build a barrow to his memory, and make your mother marry again. Then, having done all this, think it well over in your mind how, by fair means or foul, you may kill these suitors in your own house. You are too old to plead infancy any longer; have you not heard how people are singing Orestes' praises for having killed his father's murderer Aegisthus? You are a fine, smart looking fellow; show your mettle, then, and make yourself a name in story. Now, however, I must go back to my ship and to my crew, who will be impatient if I keep them waiting longer; think the matter over for yourself, and remember what I have said to you.”

“Sir,” answered Telemachus, “it has been very kind of you to talk to me in this way, as though I were your own son, and I will do all you tell me; I know you want to be getting on with your voyage, but stay a little longer till you have taken a bath and refreshed yourself. I will then give you a present, and you shall go on your way rejoicing; I will give you one of great beauty and value—a keepsake such as only dear friends give to one another.”

Athena answered, “Do not try to keep me, for I would be on my way at once. As for any present you may be disposed to make me, keep it till I come again, and I will take it home with me. You shall give me a very good one, and I will give you one of no less value in return.”

With these words she flew away like a bird into the air, but she had given Telemachus courage, and had made him think more than ever about his father. He felt the change, wondered at it, and knew that the stranger had been a god, so he went straight to where the suitors were sitting.

Phemius was still singing, and his hearers sat rapt in silence as he told the sad tale of the return from Troy, and the ills Athena had laid upon the Achaeans. Penelope, daughter of Icarius, heard his song from her room upstairs, and came down by the great staircase, not alone, but attended by two of her handmaids. When she reached the suitors she stood by one of the bearing posts that supported the roof of the cloisters with a staid maiden on either side of her. She held a veil, moreover, before her face, and was weeping bitterly.

“Phemius,” she cried, “you know many another feat of gods and heroes, such as poets love to celebrate. Sing the suitors some one of these, and let them drink their wine in silence, but cease this sad tale, for it breaks my sorrowful heart, and reminds me of my lost husband whom I mourn ever without ceasing, and whose name was great over all Hellas and middle Argos.”

“Mother,” answered Telemachus, “let the bard sing what he has a mind to; bards do not make the ills they sing of; it is Zeus, not they, who makes them, and who sends weal or woe upon mankind according to his own good pleasure. This fellow means no harm by singing the ill-fated return of the Danaans, for people always applaud the latest songs most warmly. Make up your mind to it and bear it; Odysseus is not the only man who never came back from Troy, but many another went down as well as he. Go, then, within the house and busy yourself with your daily duties, your loom, your distaff, and the ordering of your servants; for speech is man's matter, and mine above all others—for it is I who am master here.”

She went wondering back into the house, and laid her son's saying in her heart. Then, going upstairs with her handmaids into her room, she mourned her dear husband till Athena shed sweet sleep over her eyes. But the suitors were clamorous throughout the covered cloisters, and prayed each one that he might be her bed fellow.

Then Telemachus spoke, “Shameless,” he cried, “and insolent suitors, let us feast at our pleasure now, and let there be no brawling, for it is a rare thing to hear a man with such a divine voice as Phemius has; but in the morning meet me in full assembly that I may give you formal notice to depart, and feast at one another's houses, turn and turn about, at your own cost. If on the other hand you choose to persist in spunging upon one man, heaven help me, but Zeus shall reckon with you in full, and when you fall in my father's house there shall be no man to avenge you.”

The suitors bit their lips as they heard him, and marveled at the boldness of his speech. Then, Antinous, son of Eupeithes, said, “The gods seem to have given you lessons in bluster and tall talking; may Zeus never grant you to be chief in Ithaca as your father was before you.”

Telemachus answered, “Antinous, do not chide with me, but, god willing, I will be chief too if I can. Is this the worst fate you can think of for me? It is no bad thing to be a chief, for it brings both riches and honor. Still, now that Odysseus is dead there are many great men in Ithaca both old and young, and some other may take the lead among them; nevertheless I will be chief in my own house, and will rule those whom Odysseus has won for me.”

Then Eurymachus, son of Polybus, answered, “It rests with heaven to decide who shall be chief among us, but you shall be master in your own house and over your own possessions; no one while there is a man in Ithaca shall do you violence nor rob you. And now, my good fellow, I want to know about this stranger. What country does he come from? Of what family is he, and where is his estate? Has he brought you news about the return of your father, or was he on business of his own? He seemed a well to do man, but he hurried off so suddenly that he was gone in a moment before we could get to know him.”

“My father is dead and gone,” answered Telemachus, “and even if some rumour reaches me I put no more faith in it now. My mother does indeed sometimes send for a soothsayer and question him, but I give his prophecyings no heed. As for the stranger, he was Mentes, son of Anchialus, chief of the Taphians, an old friend of my father's.” But in his heart he knew that it had been the goddess.

The suitors then returned to their singing and dancing until the evening; but when night fell upon their pleasuring they went home to bed each in his own abode. Telemachus' room was high up in a tower that looked on to the outer court; hither, then, he hied, brooding and full of thought. A good old woman, Euryclea, daughter of Ops, the son of Pisenor, went before him with a couple of blazing torches. Laertes had bought her with his own money when she was quite young; he gave the worth of twenty oxen for her, and showed as much respect to her in his household as he did to his own wedded wife, but he did not take her to his bed for he feared his wife's resentment. She it was who now lighted Telemachus to his room, and she loved him better than any of the other women in the house did, for she had nursed him when he was a baby. He opened the door of his bed room and sat down upon the bed; as he took off his shirt he gave it to the good old woman, who folded it tidily up, and hung it for him over a peg by his bed side, after which she went out, pulled the door to by a silver catch, and drew the bolt home by means of the strap. But Telemachus as he lay covered with a woollen fleece kept thinking all night through of his intended voyage and of the counsel that Athena had given him.

Footnotes

  1. 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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  2. One of only a few servants to receive a name in *The Odyssey*, Euryclea is one of the oldest and most trusted servants in Odysseus's household. In the course of the poem, we'll see her working as a maid, a nurse, a confidante, and even a friend, as she helps both Telemachus and Odysseus with their plans.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. This sheds light on some of the complex gender dynamics at work in this poem. While this is a male-dominated society, and women are considered property in many ways, their emotional lives are still as rich and varied as they would be now, and though women have no real political clout, they nevertheless wield some level of power over their husbands.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  4. Telemachus, like his father before him, has grown suspicious of other people's motives, and this has led him to make a series of shrewd decisions, including confronting the suitors and making this display of power. This wisdom born of familiarity with deceit further develops the theme of lies, which will become more important as we get deeper into the poem.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  5. "Sooth" means truth, so a soothsayer is literally a "truth-teller" and acts like a fortune teller. In ancient Greek and Shakespearean tragedies, soothsayers were wise men who foretold the future, but often left somewhat cryptic clues as to what that future would be. Penelope's desire to speak to a soothsayer signifies that she's become desperate for answers, whereas Telemachus had given up hope, until Athena came.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  6. That is, before they could get to know his intentions. The suitors, having lived off of Odysseus' wealth for the past few years, are naturally very possessive and want to protect their claim to Penelope. Any outsiders, even Athena in disguise, would be considered a threat to their livelihood and would need to either be brought into the fold or eliminated.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  7. The second suitor to speak out against Telemachus, his name means "wide-fighting one" and his reputation is one of cunning and deceit. Even though he promises in this passage that no harm will ever befall Telemachus, neither the reader nor Telemachus believes him or his fellow suitors. This exchange, terse with threats of violence and displays of courage, sets the tone for future scenes between Telemachus and the suitors.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  8. In this case, both the people of Ithaca, whom Odysseus rules, and the servants of the house, whom he owns. In ancient Greece, most servants were slaves and indentured workers "won" (or captured) in war. Some of these slaves might also have been given as gifts, from one man of position to another, as a token of his esteem. Upon Odysseus's death, these slaves wouldn't have been set free but would've passed down to the heir, Telemachus.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  9. This functions as both a question and a challenge. Telemachus knows very well that all the suitors would like him out of the picture and that they would, if given the opportunity, kill him themselves. It's possible they're already plotting against him. That Telemachus says this and that he goes on to say he'd like to be chief, like his father, indicates that he's coming into his own power.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  10. Based on this line, we can assume that Antinous is one of the most aggressive suitors present, willing both to confront Telemachus and to speak for the others when Telemachus finally takes charge. Though he's bold enough to speak up, he's not foolish enough to believe that he's in the right. By extension, all of the suitors are perfectly aware of how rude they're being, which only makes it ruder that they're doing it anyway.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  11. In ancient Greek tradition, women were subservient to men and were relegated to the roles of mother and wife. Though female gods like Athena were powerful in their own right, the Greek pantheon was dominated primarily by males, just like Greek literature. Speech or writing were part of the male domain, but there were still a few female poets in ancient Greece, of which Sappho is probably the most famous.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  12. Unlike modern-day poetry, Homer's works serve a dual function as an epic poem and an historical account, with many people and events in *The Odyssey* (particularly where it pertains to the Trojan War) being, by some measure, factual. As a bard, Homer wouldn't have created this history, but he would have embellished its emotional and psychological content, which is what Penelope responds to here.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  13. This refers to the region of Greece from Laconia in the south to Elis in the north that had the most concentrated development and most powerful Greek city-states, including the kingdoms of Agamemnon, Menelaus, Nestor, and several other of the most important Greek kings and war heroes. Odysseus, though not a king, would be well-known among them and listed in this category of great men.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  14. This item, traditionally worn by widows, indicates that Penelope is in mourning for Odysseus, whose return seems less and less likely with each passing day. It appears that this veil is the only thing keeping her suitors from forcing her to make a decision about them, because, in spite of their bad manners, they still respect Greek traditions of mourning.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  15. It's unclear whether Athena transfigures herself into a bird or merely makes use of her enchanted sandals to fly off into the air. If indeed it is the former, this fits into a larger theme of gods disguising themselves as animals. Perhaps the most famous example of this might be Zeus turning himself into a swan while pursuing Leda, one of his consorts.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  16. Given what we know of Athena's intentions here, it's likely that the "gift" she gives Telemachus will be his father, returning at last from his voyage. It seems unlikely, however, that Telemachus will be able to give Athena a gift of equal value, since his father's return may as well be priceless to him. We will have to wait and see what, if anything, comes of this promise.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  17. Although their situations aren't exactly analogous, the comparison to Orestes is apt, because he and Telemachus are both the sons of returning war heroes, and their houses are both in some way ruined by the time their fathers return. Throughout this speech, Athena tries to boost Telemachus' low self-esteem by comparing him to other great men, but it remains to be seen whether this tactic will be effective.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  18. Until now, Athena has been presenting Telemachus with a reasonable course of action, but with this suggestion, her speech takes a dark turn emblematic of the gods themselves: while they're not in general that bloodthirsty, their idea of justice skews toward violence, and as a result the Greek justice system didn't adequately address problems like murder and rape.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  19. It's unclear whether Telemachus means this in a literal or metaphorical sense. It may well be both, in the sense that he's afraid his for emotional stability (having to constantly cater to these unwanted guests) and for his physical safety, as a young man in a house full of older and stronger men with combat experience.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  20. Homer never fully explains Penelope's indecision here. This line makes clear that, if she were simply to say no to all the suitors, then she'd have the authority to throw them out, but for some reason she isn't able to do this. Likely, she's afraid of the retribution this will wreak, and of the dangers of being a "widow" on an island full of drunken, jilted men. These suitors then become a form of protection against an even worse future.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  21. In ancient Greek tradition, heroes were burned on a funeral pyre built of wood, then the ashes were lain in the ground and covered with a mound of dirt. Often in war men will not have this luxury, and when men are lost at sea, their bodies can't be glorified this way. Telemachus wishes there had been a body because that would've made him the rightful heir to Odysseus' home and solved all of his problems with the suitors.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  22. Here we see the theme of man's fate versus the gods' will in action. Telemachus believes that the gods have done this to him, but we know from earlier passages that this isn't true, so the tension between gods and mortals becomes instead just a question of perception. In the end, Telemachus's inability to cast away the suitors isn't because of the gods, but rather due to his own youthful lack of courage and experience.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  23. At this point in the narrative, Odysseus has been gone for twenty years (ten of which were spent fighting Troy). It's clear that, while Telemachus would certainly like his father to return, he's given up all hope and has begun to question if, after all this time, he can even refer to himself as Odysseus' son, since his father didn't raise him. This suggests that even in Homer's day fatherhood was more than a mere question of paternity.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  24. That is, Helen of Troy. Originally hailing from the city-state of Argos, Helen later married King Menelaus, Agamemnon's brother, and was seduced by Paris, the prince of Troy, who took her away from Menelaus in an act sparking the Trojan War. Famed for her beauty, Helen's was "the face that launched a thousand ships."

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  25. This declaration, so obviously a lie, tells the reader that Athena's guesses about Odysseus' whereabouts are in fact true and that he will be taken hostage by a group of savages, but since we haven't seen this yet, we can assume Homer is foreshadowing something he'll relate to us later in the poem.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  26. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  27. A city on the Southern coast of Italy that was well-known for its copper mines. In ancient Greece, long-distance trading was conducted primarily by ships, with traders like the Taphians and the more famous Phoenicians dominating most trade routes. Copper would've been a major commodity at the time this poem was written and was used in everything from armor to coinage to buildings.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  28. A poet, like Homer, who performs with his lyre in front of the suitors. Phemius has been forced to perform against his wishes, despite the fact that, as guests, the suitors have no authority to compel him to do anything. Only Telemachus, as the male head of the household, is allowed to give orders in the house, but because of his age, and because of his father's absence, he doesn't have the authority or the courage to speak out against the suitors.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  29. In ancient Greece, even servants were divided into social classes, with "upper" servants working in the dining hall and the house proper and "lower" servants working in the fields or the stables. The upper servants weren't treated better in any way, and all servants were likely to be slaves or indentured servants working off a debt.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  30. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  31. In the company of his mother's suitors, Telemachus naturally would rather not discuss his father, in case the suitors in their greed learn of Odysseus' location and take measures to make sure he'll never return home. This suggests both that the suitors aren't honorable men (as evidenced by their mooching) and that Telemachus understands the very real danger his father is in at this point in the poem.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  32. A bearing-post "bears" the weight of a building and is essential to its structure. It recalls the image of Atlas, who bears the weight of the heavenly spheres on his shoulder, and foreshadows a more significant bearing-post that Homer will reveal later in the poem.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  33. Ancient Greeks had a strong sense of etiquette and decorum. Their word for this was *xenia*, which dictates that hosts follow very formal procedures in the care of their guests. Any breach of xenia would've constituted an unforgivable breach of their moral code and would've reflected poorly upon Telemachus (and, by extension, Odysseus). In this tradition, any question the guest had would've been asked only after their other needs (for food and drink, etc.) had been met.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  34. In ancient times, Greeks routinely mixed wine with water in order to dilute it and make it last longer. This practice was especially common among the nobles, who signified the status of their guests by how much or how little water was mixed into their wine. Basically: the stronger the wine, the greater their social status, suggesting that these guests, who have a great deal of water in their wine, are, in the end, not very important.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  35. It often happened that the gods would disguise themselves as mortals when they wanted to interact with people on Earth. Here Athena chooses to be chief of the Taphians, a group of well-known traders and pirates, because she knows that Telemachus is familiar enough with the Taphians to respect Mentes and to believe that he has, indeed, heard of or met Odysseus in his travels.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  36. Note the use of alliteration here in the repetition of the "s" at the beginning of each word. Homer didn't use alliteration in this poem, and there aren't that many examples of it in ancient Greek texts. It is instead a byproduct of the translation into English, which attempted to preserve the poetry of the original by using modern tools like alliteration and assonance.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  37. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  38. Zeus uses phrases like "of a mind" and "let us lay our heads together" to allude to Athena's origin story. In doing so, he aligns himself and Athena with wisdom, implying that, while she is the goddess of wisdom, intelligence and cleverness are not exclusively her domain. In this, we see a system of checks and balances by which the various gods keep each other in line.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  39. Greek city-states. At the time, "Greece" wasn't yet a country and was, instead, a group of warring city-states all vying for dominance of the Peloponnesus. These city-states, Sparta and Pylos, lie east of Ithaca, Odysseus' island home on the Ionian sea, and therefore lie closer to Troy and the route on which Odysseus travels in his return home. It would've been difficult for news of Odysseus to travel much farther than Sparta.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  40. In the beginning, Telemachus appears to be a weak young man, disheartened by his father's absence and uncertain of his position. With Athena's intervention, Telemachus will become, in the course of the poem, his father's son and will be able to stand up to his mother's suitors, thus taking control of the household.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  41. A race of giants said to have been born with one eye in the center of their foreheads. Homer never explicitly states that the Cyclopes have one eye, but his contemporary Hesiod does, and modern interpretations of the text have used Hesiod's description, citing a lack of physical details in Homer's account. Odysseus will recount the tale of this blinding later in the poem.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  42. Though not a Titan, Phorcys is said to have descended from Gaia and Pontus, a pre-Olympian sea god. Phorcys rules over the hidden waters of the deep and sired a number of monstrous children, including Echidna (the half-woman, half-snake) and all three Gorgons, including the infamous Medusa, who could turn men to stone by making eye contact.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  43. In general, a blandishment is a piece of flattery used to manipulate someone. In this context, however, "blandishment" is a somewhat sanitized description of the truth, which is that Calypso is using her powers of song to enchant Odysseus and force him to stay with her. It's also suggested that she uses other means (potions, etc.) to keep him at her side.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  44. A Titan, Atlas sided against Zeus in the war against the Olympians. For his part in this unsuccessful coup, Zeus decided that Atlas wouldn't be imprisoned with the other Titans in Tartarus, but would, instead, be condemned to forever hold the heavenly spheres on his back, thus preventing the earth from meeting the heavens and returning to its original state.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  45. As the goddess of wisdom, Athena can be blunt where other gods wouldn't dare to be and here points out the essentially aimless tangent about Aegisthus, which serves no purpose other than to allow Zeus to speak ill of the mortals. Athena (and, by extension, the reader) notes the essential selfishness of this act and does her best to shift the focus to Odysseus.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  46. A Titan, Cronus descended from Gaia, a personification of the earth, and Uranus (also known as "Father Sky"). He would later become leader of the Titans when he overthrew his father, only to himself be overthrown by Zeus and imprisoned in Tartarus (a dark abyss) with the other Titans. Athena alludes to this in order to emphasize Zeus' power and lineage. In that sense, it's an attempt to stroke his ego before she asks him a favor.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  47. Daughter of Zeus, goddess of wisdom, Athena is said to have been born when Zeus, complaining of a migraine, asked one of the gods to split his head open. Athena, fully-grown, and dressed all in armor, emerged from his forehead and immediately became Zeus' favorite. Her fondness for Odysseus stems from his own wisdom and cleverness, for which he was well-renowned.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  48. This phrase appears again and again in Homer's works. It means that one must *necessarily* do something or that it's in one's nature to do something. There's a tension in this about whether or not it's speaking to fate (as in, he must do this to finish the story) or if it's just a part of his character (as in, he *would* do that). In this example, it appears that Orestes "must needs" kill Aegisthus because he wanted to.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  49. Messenger of the Greek gods, Hermes is Odysseus' great-grandfather and will often help Odysseus by informing him of all the dangers that lie ahead. Homer portrays him as a guide or a bringer of good luck in *The Iliad*, where he sides with the Greeks against the Trojans and helps them to win the war.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  50. In Greek mythology and literature, there exists a tension between a man's "fate" and the unpredictable will of the gods. It often happens that men are ruined by the gods for no reason, and this results in feelings of resentment and distrust. A man might say that the gods caused his troubles instead of taking responsibility for his own actions because it was well-known that the gods were capricious.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  51. Son of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, Orestes wasn't home in Mycenae when Agamemnon was killed, returning only seven years later to avenge this death by killing both Aegisthus and his own mother Clytemnestra. In *The Odyssey*, he's used as an example for Odysseus' son, Telemachus, whose own mother is beset by suitors in Odysseus' absence.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  52. King of Mycenae, son of Atreus, killed by Aegisthus upon his return from the ten-year Trojan War. His story parallels Odysseus' in that they're both returning from the war as heroes to find that their house is in shambles. The difference is: Agamemnon's wife cheats on him and plots against him while Odysseus' wife, Penelope, remains faithful.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  53. Born of a rivalry between his father and the house of Atreus, Aegisthus grew up to kill Atreus so his father could reclaim the throne. Later, Agamemnon, Atreus's son, took the throne back, only to leave to fight in the Trojan War. While he was gone, Aegisthus had a torrid affair with Agamemnon's wife, Clytemnestra, and the two murdered him upon his return.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  54. Notice that the other gods are actively cutting Poseidon out of the loop on this. In Greek mythology, this kind of behavior was common on Mount Olympus and led to much inner turmoil, including an attempt by Hera to overthrow Zeus and take the throne for herself. Zeus punished Poseidon for his role in this attempted overthrow by forcing him to build a great wall around the city of Troy.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  55. King of the Greek gods, Zeus rules from Mount Olympus and was known for his trademark thunderbolts and his affinity for women. Zeus was the son of Titans Cronus and Rhea and husband of Hera, with whom he gave birth to many gods, including Ares, the god of war. He sired more than 100 children in his time.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  56. In ancient Greece, a public sacrifice of 100 oxen made to please the gods. The Greek gods were notoriously capricious and could only be appeased by means of incredible sacrifice, usually involving slaughter or wine. Since then, the word "hecatomb" has come to mean a great loss of life, particularly for a cause.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  57. In ancient times, the known world was small, encompassing primarily Europe and the Mediterranean. Scientists also believed that the world was flat, which meant that it had an "end" or edge that ships were rumored to fall over once in awhile. In reality, Ethiopia is only about 2,300 miles from Greece.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  58. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  59. These opening passages function like a summary of what lies ahead in this epic poem. We haven't seen Odysseus with the nymph Calypso, nor have we seen the Greek gods decide to free him, but all of these things will come to pass. In that sense, these lines foreshadow the events to come.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  60. Technically a nymph, Calypso is said to be the daughter of Atlas, the Titan who was condemned to carry the heavenly spheres on his shoulders for eternity. In *The Odyssey*, Calypso uses her voice to enchant Odysseus, trapping him on the island of Ogygia. Other accounts of the same story suggest that Calypso bore Odysseus a son or two.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  61. In *The Iliad*, Odysseus was credited with the idea that ultimately led to the downfall of Troy: the Trojan Horse. Inside the horse were highly trained soldiers who would bust free and sack the city after the Trojans brought the Horse in, thinking it was a gift. This earned Odysseus a reputation as a strategic thinker and made him one of the heroes of the Trojan War.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  62. After defeating Troy, Odysseus and his men were detained by various gods or nymphs. In addition to being punished for eating Apollo's cattle, they spent a year with Circe, a powerful nymph who turned several of Odysseus's men into pigs, and then spent seven years with Calypso, who enchanted them with her singing.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  63. At heart, *The Odyssey* is a coming home story, and the central tension of the story is whether or not Odysseus is going to make it home in time to keep his home from falling apart. In the course of this journey, Odysseus's men are delayed, killed, injured, or enchanted, while Odysseus struggles to return to his wife when faced with temptations like beautiful water nymphs.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  64. 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).

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  65. In ancient Greek mythology, Apollo was sometimes associated with the sun god Helios and was said to have ridden in a golden horse-drawn chariot, the chariot of the sun. Every day, he drove the sun chariot across the sky, at night traveling through Oceanus to reach the chariot's original position in the morning.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  66. Homer repeats the opening line of *The Iliad*, which in the original Greek reads, "Sing to me, O Muse." Poets in ancient Greece often performed or "sang" their poems for an audience and frequently called upon the Muses for inspiration. Here, Homer uses a poetic apostrophe to address Calliope, the Muse of epic poetry. There were nine Muses in all.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  67. Nestor, one of the oldest Greek warriors at Troy and a great friend of Odysseus, made it home safely after the war, as did Menelaus, King of Sparta and his wife, Helen, whose abduction started the war.  Both Nestor and Menelaus would do all they could to help Telemachus in his search for Odysseus.

    — Stephen Holliday
  68. The Greeks (and Trojans) engaged in a form of biological and chemical warfare using poisoned arrows and spears. The arrow used by Paris to kill Achilles was, most likely, poisoned. The Greeks also developed a form of napalm, based on naphtha, which was called "Greek fire" and was used to set enemy ships ablaze.

    — Stephen Holliday
  69. In the original Greek, the word is *man*, not hero (an important distinction to make when you consider that Homer meant for this poem, unlike *The Iliad*, as a tale told primarily at a human level, with the gods playing a lesser role than they had in *The Iliad)*.

    — Stephen Holliday