The Odyssey Notes & Analysis
The free The Odyssey notes include comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. These free notes consist of about 94 pages (28,068 words) and contain the following sections:
The Odyssey Plot Summary
The tale begins on Mt. Olympus where Athena draws Zeus' attention to Odysseus whose journey has been halted on the island of Calypso. Zeus sends Hermes to have Odysseus released and Athena goes to Ithaca. In Ithaca she assumes a disguise and convinces Telemachus to go on a journey seeking news of his father. Telemachus calls an assembly announcing that the suitors who have besieged his house and have eaten his food for years are in the wrong. He goes to see Nestor at Pylos and Nestor does not know anything recent about his father. Nestor advises him to go to Sparta to see Menelaus. When he gets to Sparta, Menelaus tells him that the last thing he heard about Odysseus was that he was trapped on the island of Calypso. They feast together and talk into the night.
Athena reminds Zeus to send Hermes to Calypso and he tells her that Odysseus may leave but under strict conditions: he has to build his own raft. Calypso isn't happy about the command and Odysseus has problems believing her. Once he has built his raft, she gives him food and sends him off. He sails for seventeen days and then his raft is destroyed by Poseidon. He is aided by a nymph and floats for two days to land. He is found by Nausikaa and told to go to the house of her father Alcinous. Alcinous hears part of his tale and secures passage for him back to Ithaca. There are athletic games and feasts at which a minstrel sings. The minstrel's songs make Odysseus cry and this makes Alcinous even more curious about his situation. Alcinous asks Odysseus if any of his relatives died at Troy and Odysseus begins his tale.
He tells them how he left Troy and lost some men in a botched raiding party. Soon after this they came near the land of the Lotus eaters where some of his men were almost lost to the enchanting flower. Then came the island of the cyclops. Odysseus led his men in to investigate and were trapped by Polyphemus, one of the cyclops. They had to blind him and sneak out in order to get away from him. They came to the island of the King of the winds, but when they approached Ithaca with his gift of the storm winds restrained, Odysseus men opened the bag of the winds thinking it was treasure sending them all the way back to the same island. The king refused to help them again. They ended up at Circe's island where the witch turns some of his men into pigs. With the help of Hermes, Odysseus resisted her magic and impressed her. His men were restored and they remained on her island for a year. When they left, Circe told them they had to go to the land of the dead first. At the land of the dead they spoke with Tiresias who told them how to get home. They also spoke with many relatives and dead heroes. After they left the land of the dead, they returned to Circe's island and then made their way home. Even though they made it through Scylla and Charybdis, the men insisted on stopping at the island where the cattle of the sun were kept. Here they eventually disobeyed Odysseus and killed the cattle. This resulted in the destruction of their ship. Odysseus, the sole survivor, floated back through the dangers of the sea and ended up on Calypso's island.
Alcinous is moved by Odysseus story and he gives him more gifts. His men take Odysseus to Ithaca and he sleeps the entire way. Because of Poseidon's wrath, their ship is turned into stone when it nears their home harbor. Athena comes to Odysseus and tells him he is home. She instructs him to spend a night or two at the hut of the swineherd disguised as a beggar. She tells him that while he waits she will get Telemachus to return. Odysseus goes to the house of the swineherd and tells a long lie about his fall from riches to rags. The swineherd takes him in and gives him hospitality but refuses to believe any news about Odysseus. Telemachus leaves the house of Menelaus with gifts and avoids Pylos so that he will get home faster. He makes room for a seer in his ship and departs from his men near the house of the swineherd as Athena instructed. When they first meet, Odysseus is still a beggar, but after the swineherd leaves, Athena has Odysseus reveal himself. They plan out how they are going to get rid of the suitors. Odysseus is changed back into a beggar when the swineherd returns.
The next day Telemachus returns to his house first and the swineherd follows with the beggar. On they way they are mocked by the goatherd. When they get to the house Odysseus is given food as a beggar but must withstand the taunts of the suitors. When he implies that they are generous because they are giving away somebody else's food, Antinous throws a stool at him. Odysseus continues to test the loyalty of people around him. He tells his story to Penelope and when his old nurse gives him a bath she recognizes his scar. Penelope tells him that she will challenge the suitors to string Odysseus' bow and shoot it through twelve axeheads. Whoever does this may marry her. Odysseus is forced to box another beggar and is rewarded with blood pudding and wine when he wins. They sleep one night and the suitors return the next day.
When Penelope rises she retrieves the bow and the axeheads and announces the contest. Telemachus tries to bend the bow and almost can, but his father has him stop. None of the suitors can bend it and Antinous proposes they carry on with the contest tomorrow. Odysseus asks for a try and the suitors would have denied him but Telemachus demanded that he be allowed. Odysseus strings it and shoots through the axeheads easily then he begins to kill suitors. Telemachus joins him with the cowherd and the swineherd. The goatherd helps the suitors get weapons, but the other herders stop him. Athena joins the battle and they slaughter everyone but the minstrel and the herald. Odysseus has the bodies piled up and he hangs the disloyal serving girls. He bathes and approaches Penelope who does not believe it is him until they speak of secret proof. They sleep together and tell each other their stories. In the morning, Odysseus instructs everyone to pretend there is a wedding feast so that no one will come looking for the suitors. He goes and finds his father and lies to him at first but then reveals his identity. Meanwhile, the town assembles, enraged at Odysseus' deeds. When the herald tells them that a god helped him, half of the townspeople calm down. The others go in search of Odysseus. There is a brief battle, but Athena stops it and persuades them to sign a pact which declares Odysseus the king.