When we talk about epic poems, no other piece of literature finds as spectacular a position in the Greek Culture as do The Iliad and The Odyssey. Being the author of both these classic works, Homer has influenced the ancient Greek civilization more profoundly than Shakespeare has influenced English literature. “These two epics provide the basis of Greek education and culture throughout the classical age and form the backbone of humane education down to the time of the Roman Empire and the spread of Christianity.” (Encyclopedia Britannica 2005).
The Odyssey consists of twenty-four books, and is a sequel to the Iliad. The story of the Odyssey starts when Troy has been destroyed and the Trojan War has come to an end. It creates a new epic with the adventure story of the Greek hero Odysseus who is struggling to go back to his home after the Trojan War. His journey combines hopes and hopelessness, loyalty and disloyalty, hospitality, vengeance, intelligence, experience, and what it means to be mortals and to be gods. During his entire journey, the gods play an important role. Interestingly, sometimes some of the gods help him, and sometimes some of the gods, like Poseidon, who are not happy with him, create trouble for him. Thus, his journey becomes a matter of argument between the gods.
In the absence of Odysseus, some thousand suitors have forcefully entered his palace in Ithaka, and are courting his wife Penelope. His son Telemakhos finds himself helpless. The goddess Athena comes for help in disguise and urges him to go in search of his father. (Trans. Robert Fitzgerald, Book I-IV).
Meanwhile, she helps Odysseus to release him from the eight-years long prison in the island of a beautiful goddess, Kalypso. The sea god Poseidon, who is angry because Odysseus had once blinded his son Polyphemus, interrupts Odysseus’ voyage by bringing up a storm. Somehow, with the help of Athena he arrives at Phaiakians, and sweet talk their princess, Nausikaa, into helping him. He gets a warm hospitality there, and before leaving tells them the story of his adventures. (Trans. Robert Fitzgerald, Book V-VIII)
In flashback, we come to know that how after the Trojan War, Odysseus and his men suffered during their way back to home, and how his voyage took him to all over the Greek world from one island to another. First, at the hands of Kikones on the island of the Lotos eaters. Then, at the hands of kyklops Polyphemus who ate up many of his men before Odysseus blinded him in order to escape from there. It was here that his personal war with the sea god Poseidon had started. Their next stop was an island of man-eaters monsters. Somehow, Odysseus again managed to escape with his men. On the next island, the goddess Kirke turned his men into pigs, but with the help of the god Hermes, Odysseus became Kirke’s lover, metamorphosed the pigs into men again, and stayed on that island for one year. Next, they landed at the island of Helios, where as per the prophecy of the blind seer Teiresias, all of them except Odysseus were drowned in the sea by a storm. Finally, Odysseus reached Kalypso’s island. (Trans. Robert Fitzgerald, Book IX – XII)
After telling the story of his adventure, Odysseus, finally, leaves Phaiakians and with Athena’s help arrives at Ithaka in the disguise of a beggar. Athena, then, helps Telemakhos to come back and avoiding the suitor’s ambush he reunites with his father. Odysseus, now, makes a plan to teach a lesson to the suitors. As per the plan he reveals his identity only to his son and his loyal swineherd Eumaios. (Trans. Robert Fitzgerald, Book XIII – XVI)
In the same disguise of a beggar Odysseus reaches his palace and analyze the situation, while the suitors and some of his old but disloyal servants treat him badly. He finds that Penelope has been a faithful wife, while Penelope doubts him as she finds some resemblance between the beggar and his supposedly dead husband. She organizes a shooting competition for the suitors with his husband’s great bow. (Trans. Robert Fitzgerald, Book XVII – XX).
Odysseus participates, and wins the contest. Then, in the climax, he kills the leader of the suitors, Antinoos, and finally reveals his identity to all following the massacre of the majority of the suitors. Odysseus reunites with his wife and son, and with them visits his father, Laertes. There, an army of the suitors, lead by Antinoos’ father attacks them. Laertes kills the leader. But, before the battle could proceed, gods interfere and order peace between the two sides. (Trans. Robert Fitzgerald, Book XXI – XIV).