One of the most famous Greek epic poems, the Odyssey is attributed to the equally legendary Homer. Following the other famous Homeric epic, the Iliad tells the story of the Trojan War, while the Odyssey focuses on the character of Odysseus, king of Ithaca, his long and complicated journey back home after the war. The great Greek leader who wandered for 10 years trying to get home after the Trojan War is explained in this epic poem.
Inside The Books Of The Odyssey
The Odyssey by Homer is divided into 24 books (book 1-4 exposition, 5-8 escape to the Phaeacians, 9-12 Odysseus’ account of his adventures, 13-20 Return to Ithaca and 21-24 Slaying of the Suitors) which is still widely read by modern audiences. Read on to know what each of these books had in them.
Book 1 to 4: It starts with the gods gathering in the great hall of Mount Olympus and the goddess Athena, daughter of Zeus’ desire to help Odysseus, who was held captive by the sea nymph Calypso. Moved by Athena’s passionate words, the king of the gods agreed to help the great hero. The focus is more on Odysseus’ son, Telemachos and his efforts to expel the suitors of his mother.
Book 5 to 8: It is in book 5 the readers are first introduced to Odysseus, the epic hero of the story. He is shown to be a man of contradictions, as he is found alone, on Calypso’s island and seemingly defeated, yet still manages to evince strength through his emotions. As the story progresses we get to see another side of Odysseus where he demonstrates his vulnerability and susceptibility to his emotions. This reveals an additional layer to his character, with a range of emotions, both positive and negative.
Book 9 to 12: The four books provide an insight into the trials of Odysseus, showing how he navigates the dangers of the sea and the underworld, and how he overcomes his weaknesses and temptations. Through his experiences, Odysseus matures into a great king and leader, who is wise and understanding. The books also show how his journey is not simply a physical one, but an emotional and spiritual one as well.
Book 13 to 16: These books focus on two of the most important themes: hospitality and loyalty. Upon Odysseus’ return to Ithaca, Athena turns Odysseus into an old beggar to protect him from enemies. When he is disguised as a beggar, there is a change in Odysseus’ character. He becomes more humble and displays a lack of arrogance. On the other hand Eumaeus who is an epitome of loyalty and fidelity offers food and shares his bed with a vagabond. This highlights the values of humility and kindness.
Book 17 to 20: Loyalty and fidelity are the two main heroic characteristics developed in these books. When Odysseus encounters his old dog, Penelope, his wife narrates how lonely the dog and she has been in her husband’s absence. Penelope’s cleverness and intelligence are highlighted in this section. Her hospitality and respect towards Odysseus who is disguised as a beggar adds more dimensions to Penelope’s character.
Book 21 to 24: Finally, after twenty long years of separation, Penelope and Odysseus are reunited. Though Penelope was overjoyed to see her husband, she was initially suspicious of his true identity. It was only after Odysseus revealed to her the details of their marriage bed, that Penelope was convinced that he was indeed her husband. The reunion of Penelope and Odysseus was a fitting conclusion to the main themes of love and fidelity that were woven into the story. Their reunion was a reminder to all that love can survive the most trying of circumstances.
Exploring The Trail Of The Odyssey In The Modern Day
While journeys today are definitely not as hard, this could be the perfect opportunity for tourists looking to do a spot of classics-inspired island-hopping, as well as a unique way to explore the Greek Isles and the Mediterranean. So pack your bags, hire a boat, and avoid angering any gods, as we set off on the trail of the Odyssey in the modern-day.
1. Troy (Hisarlik, Turkey)
Troy, the 4,000-year-old ancient city is located atop the hill of Hisarlık in Turkey. Thousands of pilgrims and travelers come to Troy to set foot on the ground where they believed heroes once walked. There is something so magical and mythical about this place that it is without a doubt one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world. Odysseus’ journey starts at Troy, after the end of the ten-year Trojan War. The city of Troy was later known as Ilium in Latin. Whether the Trojan War actually took place or the myth of Troy was just that – a myth, are matters of debate. The fact is you can still visit the ruins of this beautiful place today.
Ismarus, or Ismaros, is the first place Odysseus and his men stop after leaving Troy. It was a city-port in Thrace which was inhabited by Cicones, enemies of the Odyssey. Here, they sacked and raided the towns of the Cicones (also known as the Kikonians) against the wishes of Odysseus. The Cicones came back in great numbers the next morning to attack. Odysseus and his remaining men manage to escape by sea. After the great escape he continues his journey back home with the survivors. There is still a lot of debate about the location of Ismarus, but most agree that it’s located near Lake Ismaris which is identified with the modern Lake Mitrikon.
3. Lotus Eaters (Djerba, Tunisia)
Odysseus and his men then arrive at the Land of the Lotus Eaters, where they are given fruit that almost makes them not want to leave the island. As soon as they eat this fruit given by local inhabitants, they lose all thoughts of home and feel trapped where time seemed to be forgotten. It is believed that a storm sent by Zeus sweeps them and brings them to the land of the Lotus-eaters. According to historians from antiquity, such as Polybius and Strabo, it is located on the island of Djerba. Today, Djerba is a center for thalassotherapy which involves the use of the sun and sea water to treat ailments like arthritis, eczema and depression. It is a pretty town with stretches of beach on its western and south-eastern coasts, and flat, open plains in the center.
4. Cyclops (Sicily, Italy)
After leaving the Lotus Eaters, Odysseus and his men find an island inhabited by a Cyclops named Polyphemus. Cyclopes are an uncivilized group of shepherds who represent forces because of their extraordinary power and strength. This island is commonly identified as Sicily, either in the south-east, near Etna and Lentini, or around Marsala in the west. Odysseus and his men take refuge in Polyphemus cave. What started off as being a good host turned into a nightmare after Polyphemus eats two of Odysseus’ men. He then blocks the entrance to the cave with a huge stone and comes in twice a day to chow down on two more of Odysseus’ men.
5. Island of Aeolus (Aeolian Islands)
Once they escape, they head to the island ruled by Aeolus, the king of the winds. The Island was a floating island surrounded by a bronze wall and a smooth polished rock. After knowing about Odysseus adventures the king of winds agreed to help him return to Ithaca. He gave him the power over the winds to sail freely. This island is commonly agreed upon to be one or more of the Aeolian Islands off the north coast of Sicily, especially the island of Lipari. The Island of Aeolus is famous for their natural and cultural treasures. Its volcanic features, dreamy beaches and hiking trails has earned it a place in the UNESCO World Heritage Site list.
6. Laestrygonians (Sardinia)
The men next arrive at Lamos, the land of Laestrygonians which was filled with cannibalistic men who enjoyed extreme violence and hunting. A group of cannibals destroyed all of Odysseus’ ships except his own. Sardinia, the second largest island in the Mediterranean, has 2,000 kilometers of coastline with white sandy beaches. Sardinia’s picturesque beaches are great for surfing, swimming, sunbathing, and snorkeling. This destination is so unique that it deserves a place on your travel bucket list. According to the historians Polybius and Strabo this land was located in south-east Sicily, though modern scholar Victor Bérard places it in northern Sardinia. You can choose which one you want to visit.
7. Aeaea (Paxos)
In the odyssey poem, Odysseus and his men then reach Aeaea (or Aiaia), an island ruled by the witch-goddess Circe, daughter of the sun god Helios, and they then remain on the island with her for a year. Some say it is not a real Island and has no real known geographical location. However scholars disagree to this point and say that Aeaea is a place filled with brush and woods. Some claim that modern-day Aeaea is the tranquil island of Paxos which is pristine and tranquil.
8. The Sirens (Sirenussae)
Odysseus must then pass the seas home of the Sirens where the beaches have black volcanic rock and sand that is filled with spikes, mines, broken wood of shredded ships from past sailors. The Sirens singing are said to have lured sailors onto the rocks with their enchanting singing. The crew survives by plugging up their ears with beeswax. It has been suggested that the islands known as the Sirenussae near the Bay of Naples were the island of the Sirens. This dream place has rugged landscape with seductive appeal. It is quite a real and alleged home of the deadly but also irresistible sirens of Greek mythology.
9. Scylla and Charybdis (Strait of Messina)
Odysseus and his men then must pass between the six-headed monster Scylla and the whirlpool Charybdis that plagued him and his crew on their journey. This area has long been identified with the Strait of Messina located between the eastern tip of Sicily (Punta del Faro) and the western tip of Calabria (Punta Pezzo) in Southern Italy. The strait of Messina is linked to the Italian mainland by ferries and hydrofoils. Book a ticket to take the ferryboat to pass across the strait. Then it was the two sea monsters that created panic, today the Messina Strait’s strong currents are the worry for the dense traffic of ships.
10. Thrinacia (Sicily)
Next, the crew visited the island of Thrinacia, where the sun god Helios kept his sacred cattle. Odysseus and his crew were told to avoid harming the cattle of the sun god. However, the crew steal some of the cows. Helios insists that Zeus punish them by drowning all but Odysseus himself. It is believed that Thrinacia was located on the south-east of Sicily. Sicily, Italy’s largest island offers beaches, charming villages and towns, mountains, active volcanoes, ancient ruins and archeological sites. The diverse island was home for the Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Normans, Spanish, and many more. Sicily comprises 20 different regions, in short, Sicily is a country within a country.
11. Ogygia – the island of Calypso (Gozo, Malta)
After the crew is killed, Odysseus washes ashore on the island of Ogygia, home of the nymph Calypso. Calypso’s island, Ogygia, is inhabited by the beautiful nymph Calypso, who cares for Odysseus and nurses him to bring him back to life. When he is healthy and ready to leave, Calypso refuses to let Odysseus go and keeps him on the island for seven years. Ogygia is said to be Gaudos, modern-day Gozo, which is now a part of Malta. Gozo, a lesser-known destination in Malta, is known for its scenic views. It’s a perfect day trip getaway from Malta. This island in the Mediterranean Sea is not only hillier but also greener than the island of Malta.
12. Scheria (Corfu, Greece)
After leaving Calypso, Odysseus lands ashore on Scherie, the island of the Phaeacians which is the last stop in his 10-year journey before returning home to Ithaca. Here he meets princess Nausicaa, daughter of King Alcinous who offers to help and gives him advice for the future. Scheria is associated with the island of Corcyra (or modern Corfu), off the west coast of Greece and Albania. It is a mythical place in ancient Greek mythology that was the home of the Phaeacians. This is the place where Odysseus landed just before reaching back home. That assumption gave birth to the idea that Scheria was the island Corfu in Greece which is very close to Ithaca that matches the description of Scheria in the Odyssey.
13. Ithaca (Ithaka, Greece)
The beautiful island of Ithaca, the homeland of Odysseus is located in the Ionian Sea. It is off the northeast coast of Kefalonia and to the west of continental Greece. This is where Odysseus’ wife Penelope waits patiently for 20 years for him to return home from the Trojan War. Disguised as a beggar, Odysseus finally reaches home. Ithaca is usually identified with the island of Thiaki (now officially renamed Ithaka). Here, a bronze statue of the man himself greets visitors at the port. Ithaca still remains unspoiled by the modern world, making it a special place for those who live here and for those who are visiting. This place has something special to offer for everyone all year round.
Now that you know, are you inspired to follow the trail of the Odyssey? Come explore the islands of the Mediterranean with a trip to Greece and Italy. Do let us know of your adventure in the comment section below.
The Odyssey is an epic poem that tells about a warrior-like hero’s journey in a formal poetic structure which is spread across 24 books.
Message the Odyssey author is trying to convey to us through this poem is the ability of man to overcome obstacles during challenging times. The journey takes one through three important themes: hospitality, loyalty, and vengeance.
The Iliad and the Odyssey are the two oldest and most important works of Homer.