The Ancient World (HUM 124 - UNC Asheville)/Texts/Odyssey/Book 1

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Summary of Book 1[edit | edit source]

The Odyssey opens up with the narrator asking, Calliope, the Muse of the Epic to inspire him. The first scene opens up on Mt. Olympus with the gods on council and provides an example of Greek diplomacy. Athena, the goodness of wisdom, attempts to persuade her father Zeus to let Odysseus to return home to Ithaca. This is where Odysseus's wife Penelope is fighting off suitors who are trying to obtain Odysseus’ riches and kingdom. Athena convinces her father to send Hermes, the messenger god, to rescue Odysseus. Zeus allows this and also tells him brother Poseidon to leave Odysseus alone. Poseidon hates Odysseus for blinding his son and wants only to stop Odysseus from returning home.

Odysseus is the Epic’s protagonist and the hero who has been held hostage on the island of Ogygia for years. He's was held captive by a nymph called Calypso who fell in love with him. Athena descends from the skies to mentor Odysseus's son Telemachus who has been struggling to regain control of his father’s home from Penelope's unruly suitors. Athena goes to Ithaca disguised as Mentes an old friend of the Odysseus. When she meets Telemachus she tells him that Odysseus will be returning home soon and until then Telemachus needs to protect his mother from the suitors and protect their home as well. Telemachus finally tells the suitors to leave, but they are surprised when does. One of the suitors states Telemachus’ confidence seems to have "come from the gods,"[1] adding "only the gods could teach you/to sound so high and mighty!"[1].

Characters of Book 1[edit | edit source]

Odysseus: The main protagonist of The Odyssey. Odysseus fights among the other Greek heroes in Troy and now must find a way to return to his kingdom in Ithaca. Odysseus is the husband of Penelope and father of Telemachus. Though he is known for his strength and for being a fearless warrior, he is also idealized for his cunning mind. He is a favorite of the goddess Athena, but a bitter enemy of Poseidon. Seen throughout the entire Epic Odysseus plays one of the largest roles in the book.

Telemachus:The son of Odysseus. He was an infant when Odysseus left for the war in Troy, Telemachus is around twenty years old at the beginning of the story. He is a formidable obstacle to the suitors desperately trying courting his mother, thought he sometimes lacks the courage to stand up to them. Athena often assists him during his trials as well. depicted as a young weak child at the beginning of the book, he must go through trials like is father to grow and mature.

Penelope:Wife of Odysseus and mother of Telemachus. Penelope spends her days in Odysseus’ palace waiting for the husband to returned from the war in Troy. Portrayed as sometimes dull and aloof Penelope is also a clever and loyal woman. She defends her home for four years using clever mind tricks on the suitors, giving each one hints she will choose them but in the end choosing none of them.

Athena*:The goddess of wisdom and Daughter of Zeus. Athena assists Odysseus and Telemachus with her mystical powers throughout the books, and she represents them to the councils of the gods on Mount Olympus. She often disguises herself as Mentors or old friends of Odysseus’. One of the most influential characters, Athena often aids the mortals in the story with her talent and tricks but never gives them a clear advantage, often seen as her keeping the balance between gods and mortals.

Poseidon*:God of the sea. Poseidon is Odysseus’ antagonist during the epic. He despises Odysseus for blinding his cyclops son( Polyphemus). Poseidon is constantly trying to end Odysseus’ journey home.

Zeus*:Ruler of all gods and men. Zeus chooses the fates and trials men, women, and Gods. He sometimes helps Odysseus on his journey or sends Athena to do the same.

Antinous:The most annoying and arrogant suitors of Penelope’s . He  leads the campaign to have Telemachus killed.

Eurymachus: A manipulative suitor. He often influences the other suitors to carry out acts and ideals.

Calypso*:The beautiful nymph who falls in love with Odysseus on her island called Ogygia. Calypso holds Odysseus as her prisoner for seven years until Hermes (the messenger god) persuades Calypso to free him.

Polyphemus*:A Cyclopes also known as the “uncivilized one-eyed giants[1]”. Odysseus visits his island soon after leaving Troy, Polyphemus then imprisons Odysseus and his crew and tries to eat them. Odysseus blinds him through a clever trick and allows him and the crew to escape. Doing this angers Polyphemus’s father Poseidon.

Circe*:A witch goddess who transforms Odysseus’s crew into pigs when he lands on her island. On of Odysseus’ lovers due to his ability to resist her powers.

Laertes:Odysseus' father.

*These are Greek Gods, Goddess', or mythical creatures

Ancient worldview[edit | edit source]

Mental Strength is Stronger than Physical Strength[edit | edit source]

In The Odyssey mental strength is used several times to get out of trouble or harms way. This is seen when Odysseus outsmarts Polyphemus when he and his crew are captured, instead of using his physical strength Odysseus uses his cunning smarts to defeat Polyphemus. Odysseus does this by getting Polyphemus drunk off wine and telling him his name is "Nobody"[1], he then blinds Polyphemus in his sleep and Polyphemus screams "Nobody is killing me"[1]. The next morning Polyphemus must let his sheep out too graze but once he is blind he must feel the sheep to make sure they are not the prisoners, but odysseus and his crew hind to the underside of the sheep and trick Polyphemus into freeing them.

Respect for Others[edit | edit source]

During The Odyssey many people, gods, and figures are treated with the upmost respect and when they are not they are punished. An example is when Odysseus comes back home disguised as a "beggar"[1] and Penelope tells the maids to care for him out of her graciousness, she says "In the morning light you'll bathe him and anoint him so that he'll take his place beside Telemakhos feasting in hall."[1]. Penelope did not have to treat this "beggar"[1] she did not know with such hospitality but she did without second thought. As for those who aren't gracious and grateful like the suitors met their punishment with their fate, being killed by Odysseus.

Female Gods are Below Male Gods in the hierarchy[edit | edit source]

This is shown when Hermes the messenger God is sent by Zeus to tell Calypso to free Odysseus, Calypso rebuttals with arguing female gods never get to entrance men but male god are free to intermingle with as many humans they want. This is seen in book 5, "You cruel, jealous gos! You bear a grudge whenever any goddess takes a man to sleep with as a lover in her bed."[1] Zeus seems to be considered to be the highest in the hierarchy. When the female gods are spoken of they seem to be useless when the male gods usually have important jobs. Athena may be the daughter of Zeus but she still has to ask permission and ask the male gods to do something. She cannot just do something if she wants to. Athena begs her father to let Odysseus go home (107). She needs to ask permission even though she is an adult and also a god. Athena and every other female god are considered below the male gods because they are not apart of the three main gods; Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades. Poseidon was brought up and is highly respected. Him, Zeus, and the Cloud God are brought up and are spoken of in this book (107-108). This just shows that the male god's have a purpose unlike the female gods.

Host and Party Etiquette[edit | edit source]

In book one, Telemachus has suitors over and Athena comes to visit. While Athena was present there was a grand feast and lots of proper manners. The suitors currently over at Odysseus's and Telemachus's house are considered horrible house guests. They party, make a mess of things, and over stay. Athena is outraged about them and explains to Telemachus that he needs to get ahold of his household. Athena says, "This is monstrous! You need Odysseus to come back home and lay his hands on all those suitors[1]!" (113). Their etiquette is so poor that Telemachus demands them to leave for their behavior. Being a good guest is just as important as being a good host. Telemachus is quite polite to Athena during her stay. At the end when she begins to leave Telemachus tries to offer her a bath and even a gift when she leaves. Telemachus says to Athena, "Dear guest, you were so kind to give me this fatherly advice. I will remember. I know that you are eager to be off, but please enjoy a bath before you go, and take a gift with you.[1]" (115). Another important point about this is that Telemachus does not know that he is speaking to a goddess because she is disguised as an old friend of Odysseus's, so it is normal to be very formal when being a host or a guest.

Being a gracious host is so important that Penelope risk her and her sons safety. She allows the suitors to be a danger to her son and the home, but treats them with respect and hospitality to the very end. Even later in the epic when Odysseus comes home disguised as a beggar Penelope quickly takes him in, bathes him and tell the servants to aid to his needs. nothing could be more hospitable than allowing a homeless beggar to clean, eat, and stay in your house already filled with guests.

  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 Homer, The Odyssey. Translated by Emily Wilson. New York: W. W. Norton, 2018.