(Tell me, Muse, of the cunning man who traveled far and wide after he had sacked the famed city of Troy)
— Homer, The Odyssey Bk.I:1-2.
The Odyssey (Greek: Ὀδύσσεια) is one of the epics of the Trojan Cycle and one of the oldest recorded stories. The original was reputedly composed by the blind poet Homer and transmitted orally until it was (according to tradition) written down and standardised at the behest of the tyrant Peisistratus in about 550 BCE.It's about Odysseus (the Latinized name Ulysses is sometimes used in English), king of Ithaca, a small island off the west coast of Greece. After the successful sacking of Troy, which took ten years (depicted partially in The Iliad), Odysseus earns the ire of Poseidon on his way home, causing the sea god to do everything he can to keep Odysseus and his band of soldiers from returning to Ithaca.The poem opens with the gods debating about Odysseus and his son, Telemachus. Odysseus left his infant son and wife, Penelope, for the Trojan War, but after the Fall of Troy he and his crew ended up stranded, and Odysseus had been away from home now for twenty years. Athena heads down to Ithaca to tell the now-20-year-old Telemachus that it's time to man up and find out about his father. See, about three years before this 108 suitors showed up for Penelope and began trying to seduce her, and Telemachus was too much of a wimp* if you consider being unable to stand up to 108 men wimpish to do anything. Penelope had managed to keep them at bay using a clever trick - she told them she would marry after she finished weaving a burial shroud for her father-in-law, but always undid the day's work at night. This kept them fooled for a while, but the plot is eventually discovered. So Telemachus goes and chats with several characters who survived the Trojan War—Menelaus and Nestor—who tell him about his dad and how badass he is. Unfortunately he neglected to inform Penelope of his departure, and now the suitors are out to murder him too.Meanwhile, Odysseus is stuck on Calypso's island, crying on a rock because he misses his family. Hermes shows up and tells Calypso to let him go, and she does. Poseidon shows up again and shipwrecks Odysseus, but he manages to swim ashore and is aided by the princess of the Phaeacians, Nausicaa* who would one day inspireHayao Miyazaki with her pluckiness. He ends up chilling with the Phaeacians and recounts to them what he's been doing since the Fall of Troy ten years ago.Basically, King Agamemnon and his brother got in a fight over sacrificing, which resulted in the Greeks getting split up. Through a whole bunch of other fights, Odysseus ended up with a much smaller crew. Then they got lost and ended up at the cave of the King of the Winds, and he gives them wind in a pouch so they can get home. But the crew are all idiots, and they open the winds so they all can't get home. Oh, and like most wind tends to do, this creates a storm and they get lost. Again. This is a recurrent theme throughout the poem.First, they end up on an island full of Lotus-Eaters, who entrance the crew and give them a good time, so they forget they want to go home. Odysseus drags them back to the ship, and they carry on, only to end up at the island of the Cyclops. Once again, the crew (along with Odysseus) show their wit by eating the food before the Cyclops, Polyphemus, shows up. He is a bit angry, demonstrated by the fact that he bit off the heads of two of the crew. Odysseus tells Polyphemus that his name is "Nobody," then blinds ol' Poly with a sharpened olive branchwhich is on fire, so that when Polyphemus reacts, he can only say, "Nobody did this!" Of course, Odysseus is an idiot, and gloats, saying, "Cyclops, if anyone ever asks you how you came by your blindness, tell him your eye was put out by Odysseus, sacker of cities, the son of LaŽrtes, who lives in Ithaca" (9.506). Had the Greeks had social security numbers, he would have thrown that in too.Unfortunately, Polyphemus is Poseidon's son.Like many fathers would be, Poseidon is tiffed that his son, who only had one eye to begin with, is now blind, so he seeks revenge on Odysseus. First, Odysseus ends up with the witch Circe, who turns his crew into pigs (they get better), then he goes to Hades and chats with a few people, including Tiresias—who tells him that even after he gets home, he won't be able to stay forever. After avoiding the Sirens and Scylla & Charybdis, the crew then kill all the Cattle of the Sun, who belong to Helios, despite being warned not to. Lightning falls, the crew dies, and Odysseus is shipwrecked on Calypso's island. She makes him her manwhore for seven years and Odysseus cries on some more rocks. This takes us up to the present, or at least, the first chapter.After this long flashback, about a third of the story, Odysseus finally gets home and finds the suitors still abusing hospitality (a capital sin in Ancient Greece) and trying to woo his wife. Odysseus reveals himself to his son, who has recently returned, and they begin to plot. The next day, Odysseus reveals himself to the suitors and kills them along with the twelve housemaids who slept with them before finally revealing himself to his wife. In typical Homeric fashion, this takes seventy-five pages. Odysseus tells Penelope that he'll have to leave eventually again, given what Tiresias prophesized, but in the meantime, he's home.Of course, it's not over. Odysseus goes and talks to his dad, LaŽrtes, while the suitors talk to the dead in Hades, and the suitors' parents plot to kill Odysseus. They all show up to fight him, Athena stands by Odysseus, Zeus throws in a lightning bolt for emphasis, then Athena calls the whole fight off and makes the parents forget their sons died in a bloody, horrific massacre.And yes, many historians believe the Homer part of the poem ended with Odysseus revealing himself to Penelope, and that someone else tacked on the end.Because of its age the poem will be the Ur Example or Trope Maker of quite a few of the following tropes.
The Odyssey provides examples of:
Accidental Pornomancer: On his way home, Odysseus spends years as the bedmate of two beautiful women: the Hot Witch, Circe, and the sea nymph, Calypso. Neither options were by choice, and Odysseus is typically justified in that he never stopped loving or wishing to return to his wife.
Archer Archetype: Odysseus is quite capable of using a sword in close combat, but he seems to be more famous for his amazing bow, which nobody else is even strong (or skilled) enough to string, much less shoot (though, as the epic states, Telemachus might have managed to string the bow on the fourth try had Odysseus not stopped him). He's also a sneaky bastard and clever and stealthy too.
Bluff the Impostor: When a stranger walks up to Penelope and claims to be her lost husband Odysseus, Penelope casually asks for Odysseus's bed to be moved back into the bedroom. Since it really is Odysseus, he knows that particular bed, as he left it, can't be moved, and indeed should still be in the bedroom—he himself had carved one of the bedposts from a tree trunk still rooted in the ground. He calls her out on it, proving his identity.
Brains: Evil; Brawn: Good: While Greeks valued Odysseus's cleverness, the rigid he-men Romans hated his deceitfulness and portrayed him much less sympathetically. It helps that he fought against the Trojans, whom Romans believed were forerunners to their own culture.
Clingy Jealous Girl: Odysseus finds that having a nymph wanting to sex you up 24/7 gets old after seven years. Calypso, however, has no intention of letting go.
Curb-Stomp Battle: Odysseus, Telemachus, and two of his loyal servants (all armed to the teeth) are able to take out the many suitors.
Curb Stomp Cushion: The battle briefly turns in the other direction after the goatherd acquires some proper armaments for the suitors.
Deus ex Machina: When Odysseus is shipwrecked in a storm sent by Poseidon after leaving Calypso's island, he is rescued by the sea-goddess Ino aka Leucothea.
Athena intervening to prevent a feud after Odysseus kills the suitors. This had upset the villagers, who now lost two generations of men (the sailors and the suitors), and want revenge. Athena thinks otherwise.
Odysseus screws a number of women. Penelope waits twenty years for a husband that she believes to be dead and never cracks once. Of course, this was perfectly acceptable for a Greek man at the time. This is often justified by stating neither case was entirely consensual. And indeed one could argue that it was even more amazing that Odysseus would return to his wife (now 20 years older than when he left her), passing up magical sexpots like Circe and Calypso.
For the era, the fact that Odysseus does not have children by any of his female slaves is highly unusual, although here he seems to follow in the footsteps of his father - Homer considers it worth mentioning that LaŽrtes never touched Eurycleia (Odysseus's and Telemachus's nurse) out of fear of offending his wife.
Enthralling Siren: Odysseus has his men stuff their ears with wax to ward off their songs. Not his own, of course. Instead he has himself tied to the mast and the men instructed to ignore his ranting so that he can hear the song but doesn't jump onto or order them into the rocks.
Eye Scream: Eat Odysseus's sailors and reap the consequences.
Genius Bruiser: Odysseus. The Greeks wouldn't take no for an answer from him because of his famed intelligence.
Genre Savvy: When attacking the Cicones Odysseus spares the Priest of Apollo.
Glad I Thought of It: When Nausicaa realizes that walking through town with a strange man might have unfortunate consequences for her reputation, she tells Odysseus to wait up a while out of sight of the city before following her to the city gate. When Odysseus explains this to the king, he claims that it was his idea.
Upon some in-depth consideration, Penelope qualifies for this. She's clearly in command of her conversation with a certain stranger in figuring out his purpose there, she's been manipulating a throng of men straight for three years, and on top of that, she sets up the archery tournament, which basically spearheads Odysseus's reclamation of his home. To top it off, when Odysseus finally reveals his identity, she uses a masterful Bluff the Impostor to make sure he truly is who he claims to be (which, of course, he is). And people wonder why Odysseus would ditch a goddess for this woman.
Happily Married: Odysseus and Penelope. How much time they actually spent together is debatable, but there's no denying they're happy together.
Also, by all appearances, Odysseus's parents (until Anticleia's death) and Alcinous and Arete, king and queen of the Phaeacians.
Happiness in Slavery: As described in the epic, slaves and masters were not as far apart as in other ages, for instance the swineherd Eumaeus was raised by Odysseus's mother Anticleia almost like a son alongside her daughter Ctimene, and became wealthy enough to buy a slave of his own. And Menelaus makes Megapenthes, his son by a slave, his heir.
Historical Fantasy: Set during the Greek Bronze Age and although the actual date of composition was debated, it was at least a few hundred years later.
History's Crime Wave: Odysseus goes to the Underworld and sees mythological villains being punished for their crimes, like the trickster Sisyphus, the husband-murdering daughters of DanaŽ, and the cannibalistic Tantalus.
Just Between You and Me: It's an inversion in that the hero is the one gloating, but Odysseus gives a speech like this to Polyphemus after he and his men have escaped from the Cyclops's cave. Predictably, it backfires.
Kind Restraints: Odysseus had himself tied to a mast to keep from being drawn to the sirens.
King Incognito: Odysseus does this quite a few times, even when visiting his own father after killing the suitors. It's as if he can't stop doing it.
Liminal Being: Tiresias manages to hit this trope three ways, because he was both a man and a woman alive; he is a Blind Seer and so can both see more and less than ordinary people; and as a ghost, he's both alive and dead.
Luke, I Am Your Father: It does not work as The Reveal for the readers since they know from the outset who the beggar staying with the swineherd is; still the scene in which Odysseus reveals who he is to his son is a crucial one and both Odysseus and Telemachus are moved to tears, crying more than eagles or vultures robbed of their young.
Made a Slave: Two of Odysseus's slaves had been free-born, to high status, before they were kidnapped.
The Mentor: The original Mentor, who is actually Athena in disguise. The human Mentor had acted as a, well, mentor to Telemachus in his father's abscence.
Multiple Endings: At the end of Homer's poem, Odysseus and Penelope are reunited, but he still has to go on his pilgrimage to appease Poseidon. So what happens next? Numerous Greek and other writers from antiquity provide a plethora of different answers for you to choose from:
Pretty much as Tiresias foretold, once Odysseus gets the thing with carrying the oar inland over with, he and Penelope live happily together, get another son called Ptoliporthes ("ravager of cities") until Odysseus's peaceful death.
Penelope did not actually remain faithful to Odysseus and is banished from Ithaca, later giving birth to the god Pan, who was fathered either by Hermes or because Penelope had sex with all suitors ("pan" means "all", get it?).
Telemachus ends up marrying Nestor's daughter Polycaste (whom he met in the Odyssey) or Nausicaa (who felt attracted to his father).
Odysseus marries queen Callidice of the Thesprotians while Penelope is still alive, is defeated in battle (with Ares fighting on the other side) and succeeded by his and Callidice's son, Polypoetes.
The suitors' families bring their grievances to the court of Neoptolemus, Achilles's son. He orders Odysseus into exile (because he hopes to gain Odysseus's island Cephallenia (Corfu)). In this version Odysseus ends up marrying the daughter of king Thoas of Aitolia (resultant son: Leontophonus).
In order to avenge his son Palamedes, whose death before Troy was engineered by Odysseus, Nauplius spreads the false news of Odysseus's death. Penelope throws herself off a cliff into the sea but is either transformed into a duck or rescued by ducks.
Finally, a real feast of tropes popular in Italy: in one of the lost epics of the Trojan Cycle, the Telegony, Odysseus fathers a son, Telegonus, with Circe. When Telegonus comes of age he goes out to seek his father, but when he arrives on Ithaca the two get into a fight without recognizing each other and he unintentionally kills Odysseus. When the truth emerges, Circe brings him, Telemachus and Penelope to her island of Aiaia, grants the latter two immortality. In the end, Circe marries Telemachus and Penelope marriesTelegonus, which results in a Tangled Family Tree. The story was also dramatized by Sophocles in the lost tragedy Odysseus Akanthoplex, with the added detail that an oracle foretells that Odysseus will be killed by his own son, so he banishes Telemachus to another island...but of course the oracle wasn't referring to him.
Not Just a Tournament: The end of the story involves an archery tournament planned by Odysseus. While he was away, a large number of people tried to steal his kingdom by marrying his wife (Odysseus is believed to be dead). His wife offers her hand in marriage to the one who can win the tournament, but Odysseus kills everyone who shows up.
Oh, Crap: When Irus sees the muscles of the "old beggar" he challenged to a fist-fight.
Old Dog: Argos, who dies at an age of at least twenty years.
Old Retainer: Eumaeus the swineherd and the family's old nurse Eurycleia.
Our Ghosts Are Different: The shades of Hades, who seems to crave for fresh blood to drink, but are otherwise friendly to our hero.
Pals With Gods: Many examples, and on a few occasions Homer lampshades Odysseus's piety - not stinting with the burnt offerings to the gods even when there isn't much around that can be sacrificed.
Athena, goddess of wisdom and intelligent warfare, has a long-standing friendly interest in the resourceful and crafty Odysseus, which she also extends to his son and wise Penelope. She intervenes on many occasions, usually taking the form of various friends, relatives and acquaintances of the three.
Hermes and Zeus also help on a few occasions, which may or may not have to do with the fact that Odysseus is Hermes's great-grandson and therefore Zeus's great-great-grandson.
Pet the Dog: Man-eating giant Polyphemus gets a sympathetic moment talking to his favourite ram when letting the flock out to pasture.
Odysseus, heart-breakingly, however cannot do this to Argos because he must hide who he is.
Perpetual Storm: Odysseus' ship lands on the island of Thrinacia, where lives the cattle of the sun god, Helios. Zeus then causes a storm lasting for forty days, which prevents them from leaving the island. After depleting their food stocks, the ship's crew hunt down the cattle, angering the god. When the storm finally ends they leave the island only to have their ship crushed by another Zeus' storm, which leaves Odysseus as the sole survivor.
Previously On: The story contains a number of flashbacks to the The Iliad, other episodes of the Trojan War and the Oresteia.
Pride: Odysseus has a really big issue with this. Odysseus does end up taking a very, very long time to get home as a result from it, though his crew arguably suffers more as they end up all dying off, many as a result of his actions.
Random Events Plot: Odysseus's actual voyage, which is the most famous part of the story. By contrast, the parts about Ithaca, Telemachus, the suitors, etc. have a normal plotline to them.
Real Men Eat Meat: Being out of meat and forced to eat fish is always seen as a bad thing. Scholars have speculated that pre-Classical Greeks may have had some sort of taboo against eating fish, or perhaps the fish in those areas was simply bad. On the other hand, good fishing is mentioned once or twice as a sign of a blessed country.
Red Shirt: Every single time Odysseus lands on an island, at least a few members of his crew have to die to show that the journey is dangerous. Some get eaten by the Cyclops, others by the Lestrygonians, and one, seemingly unable to find another way to die, falls off a roof* so that Odysseus can meet him again when he visits Hades on his next stop.
Subverted though, in that Odysseus spares the kindly herald Medon and the poet Phemius* heralds and poets being improper for a pious man to harm. Also, he seemingly took a liking to one of the suitors, Amphinomus, and tried to warn him to leave Ithaca; but, as Homer relates, Athena detained him there and Amphinomus ended up killed by Telemachus.
Sacred Hospitality: It's a plot point often overlooked by modern audiences: the main reason that Penelope's suitors had to die was not that they were trying to seduce Penelope, but that they were a bunch of moochers. Overstaying their welcome, eating Penelope out of house and home, and taking advantage of the female servants, they were abusing their privileges under xenia, and thus incurred the wrath of Zeus.
Notably, Odysseus ends up having to choose between them twice. First, he's with his crew on a ship, and orders them to pass by Scylla. Scylla (giant tentacled beast) kills six men, but it was better than Charybdis (enormous whirlpool), who would have swallowed up the entire ship. Later on, Odysseus has to pass by them in a raft, and chooses Charybdis this time. Being alone, he's able to cling to a tree near the whirlpool, and makes it back onto the raft after it's swallowed and then expelled.
Tempting Fate: Odysseus bragging after blinding Polyphemus. In some tellings, he taunts the cyclops first, which nearly gets their boat hit by a thrown rock. Odysseus's men tell him to shut up before he gets them all killed, but he keeps going, which is the point where he gives his name.
Also many of the other women, for instance when Hermes goes to Calypso in the fifth book, she is weaving; Odysseus encounters Nausicaa when she and her companions have just finished doing the laundry; when Telemachus leaves Sparta, Helen gives him a dress she made herself as a present for his future bride.
There's No Place Like Home: Ithaca to Odysseus. Granted, it is described as rocky and the life he led there was frugal, but that's where he wants to return to and so he rejects offers to stay in more pleasant and richer places.
Underside Ride: Odysseus and his crew are trapped within a cave by Polyphemus, a man-eating shepherd cyclops. Odysseus and his crew escape by clinging to the underside of Polyphemus's sheep.
Undying Loyalty: Odysseus's dog predates the trope namer, waiting faithfully for his master before dying shortly after his return. In some interpretations he dies happy, but according to Homer Odysseus is forced to pretend he doesn't know the dog, making this a Tear Jerker.
Ungrateful Bastard: The servants and maids who transfer their loyalties to the suitors are implied to be this. With Melantho, the maid who became Eurymachus's lover, it's explicit, as Homer points out that Penelope had raised her like a daughter.
Unreliable Expositor: The most famous stories relating to Odysseus's journey are part of one of his accounts. He tells completely different stories on other occasions. However, the salient facts of Odysseus's account to the Phaeacians are confirmed by the opening narration and by the dialogue of the gods themselves in various places.
Unwanted Harem: Dozens of foreign nobles seek Penelope's hand in marriage after her husband is presumed dead. He returns and kills them all. It's fair to say that he not only kills them for being pretenders, but also because, for 20 years they mooched from Ulysses' estate and fortune.
Ulysses has all the ladies from Ithaca behind him, though they want to hang him by the short hairs for managing to kill basically an entire generation of able-bodied men on the Trojan War, on his little trip back and on that last number he pulled by killing his wife's pretenders.
Who's on First?: Possibly the oldest example in the book. Odysseus told Polyphemus his name was "Nobody" (Οὖτις). When the Cyclops started screaming that he had been blinded, his brothers asked who had done this foul deed. The Cyclops replied that "Nobody has blinded me", so his brothers told him to shut up with the screaming over things that hadn't happened. As an added bit of wordplay, "Nobody" can also be stated as μη τις, while μητις (one word) meant "cunning" in Ancient Greek.