Odysseus, The Cunning Hero Of The Trojan War

Odysseus was a hero of the Trojan War and the main character in Homer’s Epos, the “Odyssey”

Who Was Odysseus

Odysseus, according to the Greek sagas, was one of the most cunning but also clever heroes of the Trojan War. He is the main character in Homer’s epic poem, the “Odyssey,” and is also mentioned in his epic poem, “Iliad,” as a companion of Agamemnon, The Mighty King and Central Figure of the Trojan War.

Agostino Masucci, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Odysseus’ Family

Parents: Laertes, king of Ithaca, and his wife, Anticlea.

Wife: Penelope

Children: Telemachus

Odysseus and The Trojan War

Odysseus was a Greek hero who became famous for his participation in the Trojan War. He initially refused to participate and feigned insanity. Only when the hero Palamedes threatened to kill his son Telemachus with a sword did Odysseus reveal his sanity and finally agree to participate.

Odysseus embarked for Troy, knowing that the oracle prophesied that he would see his family again after a long time. Soon, the oracle would prove to be correct – the Greek heroes had achieved victory over Troy, but the gods were unhappy with their arrogant attitude and decided to punish them.

Odysseus, in particular, was sent on a long, perilous journey that lasted ten years, during which he had to endure numerous adventures in stormy seas and hostile lands before finally reaching his home, the island of Ithaca.

It is said that the feats of Odysseus are rather allegorical, symbolizing the extremes of exertion to which man is prepared to go in order to attain his ends.

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Myths about Odysseus

Odysseus And Calypso

While Odysseus and his companions were on their way to their beloved Ithaca, Poseidon, the capricious god of the seas, became angry with the hero. So he sank all of Odysseus’ ships and drowned his companions.

Only Odysseus survived the god’s wrath. A castaway, he was tormented for nine days and nights until the waves carried him to a beautiful island. This was the island of Ogygia, and it is believed to be located in Western Europe.

Odysseus stayed in a spacious cave in which a fire was burning. Around the cave was a rich forest with many springs and thousands of sweet singing birds. There sat a fair-haired nymph, spinning and weaving with her servants. 

Her name was Calypso. When she caught sight of Odysseus, Calypso rose cheerfully and caressed the hero, as was her custom. Then she demanded that the hero tell her his sorrowful tale. 

Calypso was touched by his sufferings and offered to stay with her on the island. At first, Odysseus consented, for he was tired of being tormented. But after a time, he forgot his sufferings and began to sigh for his native Ithaca.

However, Calypso was in love with the hero and did her best to change Odysseus’ mind – she even offered to make him immortal… but it was all in vain. Odysseus wanted to leave.

So Zeus, the king of the gods, sent his messenger Hermes, God of All Trades to ask Calypso to let him go.

Full of concern, Calypso obeyed the order and gave Odysseus enough tools to build a sturdy raft. Odysseus loaded the raft with plenty of water and food and finally took his leave, heading off into a world of new adventures.

Odysseus And Nausicaa

After the island of Calypso, Odysseus reached the island of Scheria, which is most likely the Greek island of Corfu. On this island, the trees bore fruit all year round, and the ships were magical because they could travel without captains.

Odysseus built a layer of leaves, then lay down under an olive tree and fell asleep. It was a bright, warm day.

Suddenly a beautiful girl came to the river. It was the beautiful princess Nausicaa. Nausicaa was about to be married and did not want to appear lazy. So she and her maids washed all her clothes, laid them out to dry, and then began to play in the sun. Suddenly their ball rolled toward the sleeping Odysseus, and the girls ran to get it.

In his deep sleep, Odysseus heard the happy voices and woke up. He quickly cut off a few bunches of twigs to hide his nakedness and stepped out of the bushes. When the girls noticed him, they were frightened and ran away screaming. Only Nausikaa stood there fearlessly.

Odysseus approached Nausikaa and said:

“If you are a goddess, you must be Artemis, the goddess of the hunt. If you are a mortal, you must be a princess. How fortunate and proud your family must be!

I was a castaway for twenty days, struggling with the sea until the waves brought me to your island. I don’t know where I am. If you have a heart, take pity on me and give me clothes to dress and some bread to stop my hunger… and then show me the way to the city.”

“Stranger, you seem to be a civilized man; your story saddened me. You are on the island of Corfu, where the famous Alkinoos is king. I am his daughter, Nausikaa. We are a peaceful and just people, and I will receive you as you deserve..”

So said Nausikaa and commanded her maids to take care of the stranger. And as Ulysses ate some bread and dressed himself, he suddenly appeared taller and more handsome, and Nausikaa admired him.

Then Nausikaa and her maids set out for the city. Odysseus followed from a distance to avoid rumors. Just outside the city, Odysseus stopped to pray at a temple to Athena, the goddess of wisdom. Then Nausikaa led him to her father’s palace.

When Alcinoos and his wife Arete learned who he was, they honored Odysseus with precious gifts and promised to help him return to his home in Ithaca.

The Blinding Of Polyphemus

On the island of Polyphemus, The One-Eyed Giant, the fearsome one-eyed monster, Odysseus and his companions remained trapped like birds in a cage. With all their strength, they tried to open the door of the cave, but it was impossible.

Then Odysseus suddenly noticed a large olive branch, and a brilliant idea flashed in his mind. He took the branch and, with his sword, turned it into a large spike. Then he hid it in the dung.

“If we can blind the beast with this stinger, we may be able to escape,” said Odysseus, explaining his plan to his companions.

The next evening the terrible Cyclops ate two more of Odysseus’ companions without remorse. Then Odysseus gave him a cup of wine, which he drank in one gulp.

“Give me more to drink, and tell me your name. I will return the favor and eat you last.”

Odysseus gave him more wine to drink and told him, “My name is Nobody.”

The Cyclops drank much, stretched his back, and soon fell asleep. Odysseus then put the wood on the fire, and with the help of his companions, he rammed it firmly into the Cyclops’ eye.

With a cry of pain, the Cyclops began to shout at the other Cyclops.

“Why on earth are you shouting in the middle of the night?”

“Brothers, no one tried to kill me!”

“Since no one is trying to kill you, why are you screaming? Are you out of your mind? Then beg your father, Poseidon, to cure you!”

So they told him and left. They were angry and tired.

Polyphemus tried to catch the strangers but in vain. Soon the sheep began to bleat, and Polyphemus realized that it was dawn. He opened the entrance but held out his hands to catch the strangers if they dared to leave.

But the cunning Odysseus tied his companions under the rams’ bellies and sent them out of the cave. Then he hooked himself under the largest ram and left the cave as well. Quickly Odysseus and his companions ran aboard their ship and escaped from the doomed island of the Cyclops.

While they were at sea, Odysseus called out to the blinded Cyclops:

“Polyphemus, thou wild and hostile monster, if anyone asks who blinded thee, tell him it was Odysseus, the son of Laertes of Ithaca!”

Full of despair, Polyphemus seized a huge rock, hurled it to where he heard the voice, and nearly wrecked the ship. Soon Poseidon would take revenge for blinding his son and send several storms out to sea to torment Odysseus and his men on their next odysseys.

Odysseus And The Bag Of Aelos

While sailing across the sea with his companions, Odysseus one day reached the floating island of Aeolia, where Aeolos, the guardian of the winds, was king.

Aeolos was a friend of the gods, and Zeus had put him in charge of controlling the winds. He lived with his wife and twelve children in a bronze castle with steep and slippery stones, and his castle was not accessible to anyone.

After hosting Odysseus as a guest for a month, Aeolus gave him a bag made of oxhide in which he had caught all the strong winds. Odysseus fastened the bag tightly to the ship. Of all the winds in the bag, only the mild Zephyr was allowed to blow, so Odysseus had a peaceful voyage.

For nine days, Odysseus sailed with his companions, day and night, until he finally approached Ithaca. Odysseus could already see the smoke rising from the city…when he suddenly fell asleep.

The companions said to each other:

“How does he manage to be favored by all the gods everywhere he goes?

No doubt he has his hands full of loot. But what about us? We have made the same journey, but our hands are empty!”

“Let us open the pouch of Aeolos,” suggested a companion. “I bet it’s full of gold and silver!”

They all agreed, and they quickly untied the pouch and released the winds. Swept away by the force of the winds, they headed back the way they had come. Odysseus was desperate. Without wasting any time, he went back to Aeolos and asked for help.

“Aeolos, I have been deceived; please show mercy and send me a favorable wind!”

But Aeolus was indignant and called out to Odysseus:

“Go away, you vile man! I cannot save you because the gods are working against you!”

With these words, he drove Odysseus from the island. Odysseus and his companions had no choice but to continue their journey with a much greater effort than before.

Featured Image Credit: Jean-Jacques François Le Barbier dit Le Barbier l’Aîné, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

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Evangelia Hatzitsinidou is the creator and author of www.greek-gods.info which has been merged with Olympioi.com. She has been writing about Greek Mythology for almost twenty years. A native to Greece, she teaches and lives just outside Athens.