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Literature / The Odyssey

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"ἄνδρα μοι ἔννεπε, μοῦσα, πολύτροπον, ὃς μάλα πολλὰ
πλάγχθη, ἐπεὶ Τροίης ἱερὸν πτολίεθρον ἔπερσεν..."
Ándra moi énnepe, moûsa, polýtropon, hòs mála pollà
plánchthe, épeì Troíes hieròn ptolíethron épersen...

(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, Odýsseia) 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 Athenian 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 these 108 suitors showed up for Penelope and began trying to seduce her, Telemachus was too much of a wimp 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 she 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, Nausicaanote . 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 on 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 bites off the heads of two of the crew. Odysseus tells Polyphemus that his name is "Nobody," then blinds ol' Poly with a sharpened olive branch which is on fire, so that when Polyphemus tries to explain to the other Cyclops what happened, he can only say, "Nobody did this!" Odysseus escapes but, being an idiot, he 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 Laërtes, who lives in Ithaca" (9.506). Had the Greeks had social security numbers and public messaging on Internet, he would have thrown those in too.

Unfortunately, Polyphemus is Poseidon's son. Yes, the same Poseidon whom Odysseus has repeatedly managed to piss off since he left Troy.

Like many fathers would be, Poseidon is (even more) pissed that his son, who only had one eye to begin with, is now blind, so he seeks (even more) revenge on Odysseus. First, Odysseus ends up with the witch Circe, who turns his crew into pigs (they get better after he makes a threat and sleeps with her), 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, Laërtes, 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.

Definitely not to be confused with Assassin's Creed: Odyssey although the game is set in Ancient Greece and focuses on a hero going on an epic journey amidst a major conflict in Greek history much like the poem.

The Odyssey provides examples of:

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     Tropes A-M 
  • Accidental Adultery: Averted; presumed-widow Penelope has no shortage of suitors — some quite forceful — while presumed-dead Odysseus is Lost at Sea, but she stays faithful for ten years. More faithful than Odysseus himself, for that matter, although "he never gave consent in his heart."
  • 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 are entirely by choice, Calypso significantly less so than Circe. The narrative justifies any choice Odysseus might've had in the matter by saying that he never stopped loving or wishing to return to his wife.
  • Adaptation Expansion: Adaptations or retellings have a habit of writing the story chronologically rather than using the framing device of Odysseus recounting his story. Conversely, this usually expands Books 9-12 (the part that deals with everything between Odysseus leaving Troy and him meeting Calypso) from a sixth of the story to the majority of it. (This has also led to many events that were basically footnotes in the original being iconic setpieces in mythology.)
  • Adaptational Heroism: There were a lot of folk traditions that Penelope were not faithful to Odysseus, with her giving birth to Pan (with the father being either Apollo, Hermes or the 108 suitors - yes, she had sex with all of them) and was banished by Odysseus to Mantineia when he returned. The Odyssey chose to remove all of these myths to depict her as a tragic figure.
  • Alluring Flowers: The flowers of the lotus bring people who eat them into a state of vegetative happiness.
  • 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.
  • Badass Boast: Odysseus does this to Polyphemus the cyclops. This bites him in the ass when Polyphemus, having learned Odysseus's name through his boasting, invokes a favor from his father Poseidon to make his journey home a living nightmare. Daddy delivers.
  • Badass Normal: Compared to some of the more well-known Greek heroes, Odysseus is a relatively normal guy. He doesn't have supernatural strength like Heracles, isn't invincible like Achilles, doesn't rely on magic items like Perseus, and isn't directly related to any of the Greek gods.note  He's just a smart dude in good shape who just happens to have Athena's favor.
  • Battle-Interrupting Shout: Athena does this when the townsfolk gather to get revenge for the slain suitors against Odysseus. She forces them to stop fighting and make peace.
  • Big Bad: Poseidon. Granted he has a good reason for it, seeing as Odysseus had blinded one of his sons. Still, sending the guy through that much suffering seems like a bit much.
  • Birds of a Feather: Odysseus and Penelope. They even unknowingly echo each other to drive this home.
  • Blind Seer: Tiresias makes a cameo.
  • 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 prepared but outside the bedroom. The stranger, who really is Odysseus, is dismayed by this, since he had built the bed himself on the stump of an olive tree, making it impossible to move the bed without sawing off the stump (something only he and Penelope knew about, supposedly). As he recounts all the work he put into making it, he realizes that she had just been testing him. The funny thing is that he expected her to test him, and told his son that she would, and he still fell for it.
  • Bolt of Divine Retribution:
    • Athena threatens one of these in the last book when Odysseus tries to go to war again.
    • After the killing of the suitors, several of the suitors' family members form a mob to seek revenge on Odysseus, led by Antinous's father. They turn to flight quickly after Laertes has killed Antinous' father, and Odysseus at once pursues them with the intent to kill them. But Zeus hurls a lightning bolt at the feet of Athena (who is present in her guise as Mentor); Athena understands that Zeus is warning them that he does not want more bloodshed, and tells Odysseus to let them escape, which he does.
  • Brother–Sister Incest: Aoleus' sons are married to their sisters.
  • Call to Agriculture: Odysseus's goal after going home.
  • Central Theme: Surviving requires cunning, daring, and ruthlessness. Even when you have nothing left, you still have your wits and you can find a way to escape any trap, even ones set by the Gods.
  • Classical Cyclops: Polyphemus, the son of Poseidon and a sea nymph, a shepherd and a man-eater; his single eye proves his downfall when Odysseus puts it out to save himself and his crew, but he's able to call on his father to curse Odysseus for this.
  • 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, until she's ordered to by Zeus himself.
  • Coming of Age Story: The first few chapters are this for Telemachus.
  • Consummate Liar: Odysseus demonstrates this many, many times throughout the story.
  • 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.
  • Death by Falling Over: Of all the tragic or ignominious deaths suffered by Odysseus's crew, the most embarrassing has to go to Elpenor, who got drunk, climbed up on Circe's roof, and then forgot where he was in the morning and fell to his death. Odysseus doesn't even find out what happened to him until he meets his ghost in the underworld.
  • Determinator: Odysseus is deadfast on returning to his homestead no matter what's thrown at him from anyone. He only thinks of giving up once, jumping off his boat during a storm made by his own men. He, of course, doesn't go through with it because how could he tell the story?
  • Deus ex Machina: This being Greek mythology, the gods often intervene in a literal sense either to help or hinder our hero. As for the situations closest to the meaning of the trope definition:
    • While going to meet Circe Odysseus runs into Hermes who casually explains how to beat her.
    • 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.
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: A lesser example: Menelaus tells Telemachus about the time he was trapped trying to get home from Troy because he had annoyed the gods by neglecting to make sacrifices to them before leaving. To find out how to escape, he had to trap the minor sea god Proteus, which he managed with some advice from a helpful nymph.
  • Discard and Draw: Odysseus loses all the treasure he looted from Troy when his ship sinks. But the Phaeacians give him even more treasure when they send him home on one of their ships.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Poseidon already had it in for Odysseus (the Sea God favored the Trojans and wasn't happy with Odysseus's horse trick) but once Odysseus blinded Poseidon's son, the cyclops Polyphemus, the gloves came off.
    • After slaughtering the suitors, Odysseus and his allies round up any slave girl who slept with any of the suitors while he was away. They then force the slave girls to clear away the bodies of the suitors, before Telemachus hangs them all from one rope.
  • Double Standard:
    • Penelope waits twenty years for a husband that's believed to be dead, and never caves to any of the suitors that approach her. Odysseus, on his journey home, ends up in the beds of multiple women, without tarnishing his reputation as a hero. This would already be justified by the societal norms of the time, even assuming either encounter was consensual.
    • 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 Laërtes never touched Eurycleia (Odysseus's and Telemachus's nurse) out of fear of offending his wife.
    • Calypso herself sees a different kind of double standard at work. When Hermes tells her Zeus has ordered her to release Odysseus, she complains that the gods never allow goddesses to enjoy relationships with mortals, citing the examples of Orion and Iasion, lovers of Eos and Demeter respectively, who were killed by gods, yet gods screw around with mortal women all the time. The Olympians having a Double Standard is unsurprising. Greek gods had a surprisingly undivine habit of being more erratic, tyrannical, dishonorable, or just plain childish than even most mortals. Socrates noticed that and he wasn't the only one.
  • Dramatic Thunder: Zeus sends a bolt from the blue twice: first as an omen to Odysseus that he will be victorious; second, as emphasis when Odysseus strings his bow as an omen to the suitors that they're screwed.
  • The Dreaded:
    • In the Underworld, Odysseus expresses genuine terror at the thought of meeting Persephone. Oddly enough, he doesn't extend as much fearful respect to her husband.
    • No one on Odysseus' crew wants to pass between Scylla and Charybdis, and Charybdis in particular terrifies everyone on the ship. And this fear is very much justified.
  • Due to the Dead: Funeral rites were a big deal to the Greeks, which is why Agamemnon claiming that his wife did not close his eyes when he died is a shock.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Possibly the Ur-Example. After twenty years of suffering, Odysseus makes it home, reclaims his throne, and reunites with his family.
  • Eldritch Abomination: Charybdis; while Scylla has a strange but at least somewhat discernible form, Charybdis's description is always bizarre and terrifying, waffling between a massive bladder or stomach with flippers that's constantly swallowing and vomiting seawater or a giant, moving, sentient and hungry whirlpool.
  • Eye Scream:
    • Eat Odysseus's sailors and reap the consequences, Polyphemus. Odysseus, who narrates it, gives a long, lovely description of how the eye boils under the hot wooden spike before it gets twisted and ripped out.
    • Also Odysseus and Telemachus torture and murder one of the servants at the end, by poking and gouging their eye.
  • Exact Words: In one ending, Odysseus is killed by the sea. He dies on land, killed by a spear whose tip was made from a stingray's tail.
  • Exploring the Evil Lair: The Cyclops's cave.
  • Father's Quest: After being 10 years away from his family, Odysseus wants to return back to his wife and son. And an angry and vengeful Poseidon won't stop him!
  • Feathered Fiends: The Sirens mentioned above.
  • Fiery Redhead:
    • Odysseus and King Menelaus (called the "Red-Haired King").
    • Menelaus only in some translations. In the original Greek text, he is called xanthos "blond".
  • Flashback: As is standard for classical epic, much of the story is told in flashbacks.
  • Food Porn: The descriptions of grilling meat are mouth-watering.
  • Forbidden Fruit:
    • Aeolus's bag of winds.
    • The Cattle of the Sun.
  • Forced Transformation: Circe turns her victims into various beasts, including wolves and lions, while Odysseus' crewmembers were turned into pigs.
  • Freudian Trio: Yes, even long before Freud was born. Among the suitors, the main three fit the mold:
    • Antinous is clearly the id, being the biggest jerk and the least sympathetic.
    • Eurymachus fits the role of ego, being a more moderate character than Antinous but still just as evil at his core.
    • Amphinomous seems to be the superego, as he is the one of the main three who thinks most of what the gods might do to them.
  • Gate Guardian: Scylla and Charybdis guard the passage through the Straits of Messina.
  • Genius Bruiser: Odysseus. The Greeks wouldn't take no for an answer from him because of his famed intelligence. As for his physical abilities, well, among other things, in Phaecia he hurled a heavy discus much farther than the lighter discuses hurled by the younger men there, and he strung his old bow with ease where the suitors failed, and even Telemachus strugglednote .
  • Ghostly Death Reveal:
    • Odysseus is surprised to find his mother Anticlea in the Underworld, and we learn that she died of grief or suicide during the many years of his absence.
    • Also in the underworld, Odysseus, to his distress, also finds the ghost of Agamemnon, whom he last saw when the Greeks departed from Troy, and asks him how he met his death. Agamemnon reveals that his wife had remarried while he was gone, and her new husband killed him upon returning home.
  • 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.
    • In Odysessus's defense, it's implied that he was covering for Nausicaa, as the king was upset that she didn't bring Odysseus with her to the palace, reputation be damned.
  • Guile Hero:
    • Odysseus, as proven again and again throughout the story.
    • 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.
  • Guilt by Association Gag: Played with in the slaughter of the suitors. Several otherwise good people (Amphinomous especially) were slaughtered with the rest, but a closer examination shows they were just as guilty at breaking xenia as the rest of them and were there of their own free will. The two that were spared had valid excuses: the bard Phemius had been forced (more or less at swordpoint) to perform for the suitors and was not there of his own free will, and the herald Medon was Penelope's spy.
  • Hanging Around: The Odyssey has the oldest recorded example of hanging as a form of execution in the part of the poem in which Odysseus returns home and is met with all of the suitors who have tried to woo his wife in his absence. He slaughters all of them and then punishes the 12 maids who slept with them, first by forcing them to clear away the suitors' dead bodies, then by hanging them all from one rope.
  • Happily Married:
    • Odysseus and Penelope. How much time they actually spent together is debatable, but there's no denying they're happy together.
    • 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.
    • Part of the reason was that you could very well become a slave if your city was conquered or if you were kidnapped. Eumaeus claims he was of royal blood, kidnapped by Phoenician traders, and a Phoenician slave-woman of his parents who made a bid for freedom.
  • 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 Danaos;, and the cannibalistic Tantalus.
  • The Homeward Journey: Trope Codifier
  • Horny Sailors: One way of reading the Siren scene is that the whole crew can't resist the sexy sight and song of the Sirens, even though it means shipwreck. A less sexualized reading, of course, is that the song itself is magically enchanted to be irresistible. When they try to lure Odysseus, they offer him knowledge.
  • How We Got Here: Everything before Odysseus's arrival in the land of the Phaeacians is told in flashback.
  • Hypocrite: The suitors are shown as unwilling to extend Sacred Hospitality to a simple beggar, even though they've been abusing it themselves for a decade. The fact that this "simple beggar" turns out to be the man who actually owns the house is just the icing on the cake, and further justifies Odysseus's Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
  • I Am a Humanitarian: Not only Polyphemus but also the Lestrygonian people, who ate the crewmembers of several of the ships in Odysseus's small fleet. His ship is the only one to escape. There's also Scylla.
    • In a roundabout way, so is Circe. Pork was one of the most commonly eaten meats in ancient Greece. So when she turns Odysseus's crew into pigs and starts feeding them acorns, it's clear she was fattening them up to later butcher and eat.
  • Idiot Ball: Odysseus, you have all these clever schemes and are universally acclaimed the smartest man in the Greek expedition. Why, then, do you insist on telling Polyphemus your name when you know full well that his father Poseidon is the one god of all the Olympians (all of whom, by the way, are still kind of smarting from that time you Greeks destroyed all their temples in Troy) most capable of making the voyage home to your island kingdom a living hell?
  • Impossibly Delicious Food: We know, we know, never refuse free food, but it's probably not a good idea to accept handouts from the Lotus-Eaters.
  • In Medias Res: Everything before Odysseus's arrival in the land of the Phaeacians is told in flashback.
  • Isle of Giant Horrors: The Ur-Example, where Odysseus and his crew dock on an island inhabited by a Cyclops named Polyphemus, who imprisons them in his cave and eats them two by two. They defeat the monster by stabbing his eye out with a stick.
  • I Will Wait for You: Penelope and his dog, although unusual for the trope he does come back, making the trope Older Than Feudalism.
  • Jerkass: The suitors in general, though at least a couple warrant special mention:
    • Antinous, who is the one suitor who doesn't give to Odysseus the first time he tries begging from them all. Antinous then strikes Odysseus with a stool.
    • Ctessipus, who throws an ox-hoof at Odysseus during the feast of Apollo on the fateful day.
    • Melanthius, the goatherd, who has thrown in with the suitors and is the one male servant who insults Beggar!Odysseus.
    • Irus, an actual beggar who challenges Odysseus for impinging on his turf. Even Antinous is pleased with the result.
  • 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.
  • Keep the Home Fires Burning: What Penelope does back in Ithaca while waiting for Odysseus to return.
  • 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.
  • Lotus-Eater Machine: The Trope Namer (though not the 'machine' part).
  • 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.
    • When Odysseus is disguised as a beggar, he claims that this happened to him while he was in Egypt.
  • Magic Music: The song of the Sirens.
  • Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: Telemachus says that well, his mother tells him he's Odysseus's son. It's more likely, though, that he doesn't doubt whose son he actually is but whether he's worthy of being the son of such a great man.
  • Meaningful Name: The flashback when Euryclea recognizes Odysseus (known as "Odysseus's Scar" after Erich Auerbach's essay) features an origin for Odysseus's name which means "Child of Pain".
  • The Mentor: The original Mentor, who (in "his" actual appearances in the narrative) is actually Athena in disguise. The human Mentor had acted as a, well, mentor to Telemachus in his father's absence.
  • The Mole: The herald Medon is Penelope's spy among the suitors, and is the major reason Penelope is aware of the suitors' activities. Medon is spared from death when Odysseus carries out his Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
  • Mugging the Monster: Irus challenges Odysseus when the latter impinges on his turf. It doesn't end well for Irus.
  • Muggle in Mage Custody: Odysseus gets stuck for a year with the sorceress Circe who turns his men into pigs. Later on, he is also forced to remain for seven years with the nymph Calypso.
  • 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:
    • 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 is 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). 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.
    • A much later history has an ancient Odysseus revisiting the places where he went, finding that almost everyone has either died or gone away. When he reaches Calypso's island, the only character who is still around, he dies and the nymph buries Odysseus there.
    • 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 and grants the latter two immortality. In the end, Circe marries Telemachus, and Penelope marries Telegonus, 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.
  • My Girl Back Home: Penelope is one of the most famous examples.
  • My Girl Is Not a Slut: Penelope.

     Tropes N-Z 
  • Nasal Trauma: Odysseus deals with treacherous goatherd Melanthios by cutting off his nose, ears, genitals, hands, and feet, in that order. If the bleed-out doesn't kill him, septic infection will.
  • Naked First Impression: Nausicaa is the only one of the group of maidens who's not afraid of a naked Odysseus after he shipwrecked.
  • Narrative Poem: Not quite the Ur-Example...
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Odysseus and his crew end up making some pretty stupid mistakes that really doom the journey home.
    • Odysseus and his remaining crew escape from the Cyclops when Odysseus has a fit of hubris and mocks the injured cyclops along with revealing his true identity. Sure, the mountaintop that is thrown at the ship misses. The raging storms, however, do not.
    • After being given a magical bag of wind from King Aeolus, Odysseus's crew is convinced that it contains gold and open the bag, releasing the winds that send them right back to Aeolus's kingdom; the king refuses to replace them as he assumes the crew is either cursed or downright stupid. To add insult to injury, they were right off the shores of Ithaca.
    • Then, when the crew is marooned on the isle of Helios, the crew gives into their hunger and slaughters several of the cattle despite being explicitly told not to (at the instigation of the same man who insisted they put ashore for the night when Odysseus wanted to forestall temptation by not landing on the island at all). This results in the ship getting destroyed, all of Odysseus's crew dead, and Odysseus being stranded on the island of Calypso for several years.
  • Nice to the Waiter: When Odysseus is in his beggar disguise, this is a very consistent rule: his loyal servants and family treat him kindly, while the suitors and traitors try to kick him out and physically abuse him.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: The Phaeacians help Odysseos reach Ithaca, but, on their way back, Poseidon discovers it and sinks their boat by turning it to stone.
  • No Matter How Much I Beg: Odysseus with the Sirens.
  • Nonchalant Dodge: When Odysseus returns home disguised as a beggar, one of the suitors, Ctesippus, throws an ox hoof at him. Odysseus dodges it with the slightest tilt of his head, then gives Ctesippus a grim smile in return.
  • 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.
  • Now It's My Turn: In the final confrontation between Odysseus and the suitors, a group of the suitors, led by Agelaus, throw volleys of spears at Odysseus and his three allies. The suitors' entire first salvo misses cleanly; Odysseus, spurred by this, basically says, "Our turn, boys!" and the four of them throw spears back, killing one suitor each.
  • Ocean of Adventure: The Odyssey is in many ways the Trope Maker and Trope Codifier. The middle third of the story follows the long travels of Odysseus and his dwindling crew after they're swept far from known waters and into the vastness of the ocean, after which come long years of wandering between distant lands and islands home to cannibal giants, a powerful witch, the god of the winds and stranger entities, until Odysseus is eventually able, after ten years of travels, to limp his way back to the edge of the civilized world.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • When Irus sees the muscles of the "old beggar" he challenged to a fist-fight.
    • The suitors in general, when Odysseus reveals himself after having slain Antinous.
  • 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.
  • Only One Afterlife: Odysseus finds in Hades not only deceased members of his family but also other dead heroes such as Orion and Ajax, showing the belief of those times of mortals ending up there with no distinctions.
  • Oral Tradition: Until it was written down, at least.
  • Our Sirens Are Different: Odysseus runs into an island home to the sirens, who are bird-women who lure sailors with their enchanting voices and music. His men stuff their ears with wax, but, true to form, Odysseus just has them tie him to the mast, because he wants to hear the songs and be able to say that he's the only man to have heard the song and lived. It's also noteworthy that in the original, their song tempts him with knowledge and fame rather than with sex.
  • Our Ancestors Are Superheroes: Odysseus is actually an aversion; he has no special powers beyond being a really devious, clever, strong, and determined man.
  • 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.
  • Papa Wolf: An Ur-Example. Odysseus will do anything to return back to his wife and son. And he's willing to face monsters, witches, and POSEIDON himself if he has to.
  • 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.
    • Amphinomus's charitable treatment of the disguised Odysseus is enough for Odysseus to try to spare his life. Athena, however, isn't having it.
  • Pet Positive Identification: Odysseus's dog Argos is initially the only one to recognize him when he returns from his adventures.
  • Perpetual Storm: Odysseus's 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 hunts down the cattle, angering the god. When the storm finally ends they leave the island only to have their ship crushed by another of Zeus's storms, which leaves Odysseus (the only one who did not partake of the cattle) as the sole survivor.
  • Prefers Raw Meat: During a Nested Story, Herakles stays the night in a Centaur's home. The Centaur is noted to eat his meat raw, despite being civilized enough to understand Sacred Hospitality.
  • 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 of it, though his crew arguably suffers more as they end up all dying off, many as a result of his actions.
  • Princess Classic: Nausicaa, personifying an Unbuilt Trope. As the princess of Phaecia, she is the most beautiful girl in the land, outshining her maids as Artemis must outshine her attendants. Odysseus even comments on her beauty when he meets her (although he could be flattering). She quickly proves herself courteous and compassionate, graciously leading Odysseus to her father's palace while always having a mind for her virtuous reputation. She does not, however, win the prince she loves (Odysseus) and live happily ever after... she merely helps Odysseus to his happy ending.
  • Quest to the West: The end goal of the whole story is to get back home to Greece after leaving Troy.
  • Questionable Consent:
    • Circe transforms men into animals if they displease her. She demands that Odysseus sleep with her in order for her to turn his already transformed crew back into humans and let them be on their way.
    • Calypso finds Odysseus shipwrecked on her island and takes him as a companion (read: Sex Slave). Without a ship, crew, or any means of escaping the island, Odysseus goes along with her requests.
  • 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.
  • Rambling Old Man Monologue: Just as in The Iliad, when Nestor talks, he talks a lot, mostly about what he's done as long as he can relate it to the current situation. Telemachus finds this out after visiting him to find information on what happened to his father Odysseus, which leads to Telemachus deciding to skip out on Nestor receiving him after realizing Nestor can't really help him much in that regard.
  • Rape, Pillage, and Burn: In Samuel Butler's translation, when describing the adventures and hijinks of his crew after they set sail from Troy (and before arriving at the Cave of the Cyclops), Odysseus casually mentions that he and his crew sacked a town, raped the women, and sold survivors into slavery. You know, typical Greek Hero stuff.
  • 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 roofnote .
  • Revealing Injury: Or revealing scar. Odysseus's old nurse figures out who he is when she sees his old hunting scar.
  • Rightful King Returns: Odysseus is a king, after all.
  • Road Trip Plot: The bulk of the story is Odysseus's long, complicated voyage home, and all the strange things that happen to him on the way.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Odysseus slaughters every suitor and twelve maids in his home once he returns. Subverted though, in that Odysseus spares the kindly herald Medon and the poet Phemiusnote . 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.
  • Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies: Helios sics Zeus on your ass, lightning falls, and everyone dies.
  • Royal Inbreeding: The Phaeacian king Alcinous is married to his brother's daughter Arete. This isn't portrayed as anything unusual for the times. In fact, Alcinous is repeatedly mentioned to love his wife and their children dearly, is The Good King to the Phaeacians, and treats Odysseus generously under the laws of xenia.
  • 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.
    • By contrast, Odysseus shows up at the swineherd's home dressed as a poor beggar. Eumaeus gladly welcomes and feeds him.
    • Polyphemus violates hospitality by eating some of Odysseus's men who have taken refuge in his cave. Odysseus warns him that Zeus will punish him for this, but Polyphemus believes that he's not subject to Zeus because he is a son of Poseidon. It's also worth noting that Odysseus and his men had immediately started stuffing themselves with Polyphemus's cheese and goat's milk stores without thinking as to whose hospitality they themselves were violating. Odysseus actually recognizes that indulging themselves and fleeing is a serious violation of xenia, hence why he insists on waiting for the owner of the cave to return so he could offer a gift of wine as compensation. That is what gets him and his men trapped by Polyphemus.
  • Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: When Odysseus finally reveals himself to the suitors, Eurymachus attempts to escape death by offering to compensate for the flocks they'd slaughtered for their feasts, with interest (essentially trying to bribe his way out), but Odysseus isn't having it.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!: Odysseus protests that eating travelers goes against Sacred Hospitality. Polyphemus, as a son of Poseidon, believes himself immune to repercussions.
  • Scylla and Charybdis: Trope Maker.
    • 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.
  • Seamless Spontaneous Lie: Odysseus is good at making up backstory from whole cloth, which he makes use of when he's trying to keep his identity a secret. It helps that when people press him for certain details, said details are about the person he claimed to have met (Odysseus, i.e. himself), and not about the land he supposedly hailed from.
  • Sociopathic Hero: Odysseus, as Harold Bloom mentions, is a man you don't want to cross or be around too long. He's willing to do nearly anything to survive, including sack towns and villages, sell people into slavery, lie, and manipulate, and in the end, after retaking Ithaca, he brutally murders not only the suitors but also the palace servant girls in highly brutal ways. Of course, the Greek idea of The Hero is entirely different from the Christian, chivalric, and modern conception.
  • Sole Survivor: Odysseus is the only member of his crew to make it back to Ithaca.
    • Only two people survive the slaughter of the suitors: a bard (the suitors had forced him to come along to entertain them) and the herald Medon, (who had acted as Penelope's spy throughout the story).
    • Inverted in the last skirmish in the epilogue; only the leader of the mob of suitors' parents (appropriately, Antinous's father) dies before Athena stops the fighting.
  • Solitary Sorceress: Circe is a famous early example. She lives on an island and turns any visitors into pigs for her larder.
  • Spin-Off: Pretty much the Ur-Example.
  • Statuesque Stunner: The princess of the Laestrygonians, the cannibalistic giants; she's strong, good-looking, and implied to be young as her mother and father are way bigger than she is.
  • Stranger in a Familiar Land: When Odysseus finally gets back to Ithaca, he's at first convinced the Phaecians betrayed him and just left him on any old coast, as he's been away so long he can't recognize the place anymore.
  • Stranger Safety: Many characters take care of the main hero Odysseus when they don't know him.
  • Surrounded by Idiots: It cannot be overstated just how dumb Odysseus's crew is. From opening the bag of winds to eating Helios' sacred cattle to staying too late sacking a city, the only useful thing they do on the entire trip is row the boat and tie Odysseus to the mast when going past the Sirens.
  • Take a Third Option: Averted when faced with the prospect of Scylla and Charybdis. Odysseus inquires if there's a way he can neutralize both of them and pass through the strait without losing any more men. Circe makes it clear that the best he can do is steer closer to Scylla and minimize his losses.
  • Taking Advantage of Generosity: Penelope's suitors stayed a long time and thinned out Odysseus's herds by eating them. No wonder he killed them all in the end!
  • Tell Me About My Father: The first few chapters have Telemachus setting out to Sparta to find out what happened to his dad.
  • 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.
  • Textile Work Is Feminine:
    • Penelope's work to hold off the suitors.
    • 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.
  • The Thing That Would Not Leave: The suitors, for three years at least.
  • To Hell and Back: Hades is one of Odysseus's stops.
  • Too Awesome to Use: Odysseus's bow, which is so valuable he didn't bring it to the Trojan War, where it would certainly have been extremely useful.
  • Tragic Intangibility: Odysseus attempts to hug his mother's ghost not once but three times in Book XI, only to pass through her and be left with his sorrow.
  • Trickster Girlfriend: Penelope, of all characters. She is revealed to be pretty sharp herself (Odysseus must have married her for a reason), as she keeps the suitors under her thumb with various tricks...and then she plays a mind game with her husband, the King of Tricksters when he shows up in disguise, ordering a slave to drag Odysseus's bed from their chamber -causing Odysseus to demand who dared to cut the bed from the living olive tree he carved it from. It's something only the two of them knew, thus tricking him into proving his identity while she proved her fidelity to him in a single move.
  • Trojan Horse: Given a mention in the Odyssey, but despite common perceptions never shows up personally in Homer's works. The epics they did appear in have been lost.
  • 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.
  • Undignified Death: Elpenor, the youngest of Odysseus's men, goes to bed on the roof drunk, wakes up with a hangover, and proceeds to forget he's on the roof, so he falls off it and breaks his neck.
  • Undying Loyalty:
    • Odysseus's dog predates the trope namer, waiting faithfully for his master before dying shortly after his return.
    • Any of the loyal people in Odysseus's household. His swineherd, cowherd, and Penelope are all pointed out as being exceptional in their devotion to him after many decades.
  • 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.
    • When upbraiding Antinous for trying to kill her son, Penelope points out that Antinous's father took refuge with Odysseus to escape retaliation for his piracy. Antinous's father later launches a rebellion over his son's death and is the only one to be killed before Athena forcibly settles everything.
  • 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's 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 in The Trojan War, on his little trip back and on that last number he pulled by killing his wife's pretenders.
  • Villainous Glutton: Charybdis, an unspeakably horrifying monster who devours everything that passes her.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Odysseus and Athena. The first thing they do after Athena throws off her disguise is argue.
  • Wait for Your Date: Penelope, the acting regent of Ithaca as the wife of Odysseus, kept a bevy of suitors housed and fed in a reception hall while waiting at least nine years for her husband to return home from the Trojan War. Almost all of these suitors were opportunists, social climbers, wannabes, or straight-up mooches, leeching off the Ithaca treasury. Greek custom of the time forbade Penelope from shooing them away, as that would be an affront to Zeus; however, she also remained circumspectly distant from them, allowing only servants to content them.
  • Watch It Stoned: The Lotus Eaters, who eat nothing but a fruit that causes them a sort of never-ending lethargic contentment.
  • 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.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: While most, such as the gods, definitely disagree with this sentiment Odysseus himself rejects Calypso's offer of immortality while being trapped on an island in order to remain free and to return to his wife and family.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: What we would call an Overused Running Gag.
  • You Can't Go Home Again: Except Odysseus does. No matter how much Poseidon and the seas throw at him, no matter what freaks go at him, he still returns home. But not the rest of his crew, who were fated to die away from home.
  • You Have Waited Long Enough: The suitors want to convince Penelope of this. She's not buying it. Correctly, as Odysseus isn't actually dead.
  • You Remind Me of X: Odysseus says Nausicaa resembles the goddess Artemis.
  • You Wake Up on a Beach: Odysseus wakes up naked on a beach at the end of book 5 (shortly after the protagonist is introduced: the first four books focus on Telemachus). He is found by Nausicaa and her maids.