Summary of Odyssey Book I

What Happens in the First Book of Homer's Odyssey

Trojan War Heroes
Trojan War Heroes. Clipart.com
  • Title: The Odyssey
  • Author: Homer*
  • Dedication: The Muses
  • Hero (Protagonist): Odysseus
  • Antagonists: Sun God (Helios), Sea God (Poseidon)
  • Setting:
    • A. The Home of the Gods
    • B. Rocky Island of Ithaca
    • C. Bronze Age Greece
  • Plot: Return Voyage or Odyssey

At the start of The Odyssey, the author (generally assumed to be Homer) addresses the Muse, asking her to tell him about Odysseus (Ulysses), the hero who spent more time traveling back to his Greek home than any other Greek hero at the Trojan War.

Homer says that Odysseus and his men suffered as a result of the Sun God Hyperion Helios. Odysseus then encountered the goddess Calypso, who has kept him so long that all the gods except Poseidon (Neptune) feel sorry for him.

While Poseidon is away enjoying a festival, Zeus (Jupiter/Jove) addresses the gods and tells the story of Agamemnon, Aegisthus, and Orestes. Athena brings Zeus back to the topic of Odysseus, reminding him that Zeus has received many burnt offerings at the hand of Odysseus.

Zeus says that his hands are tied because Poseidon is angry that Odysseus blinded his son, Polyphemus, but that if the gods show a united front, they should be able to persuade Poseidon when he returns.

Athena responds that the messenger god, Hermes [see cultural notes], should tell Calypso to let Odysseus go, and she herself will go to Odysseus' son Telemachus to inspire him to call the assembly and speak out against the suitors of his mother Penelope.

She will also urge Telemachus to go to Sparta and Pylos for word of his father. Athena then vanishes and arrives in Ithaca disguised as Mentes, chief of the Taphians.

Telemachus sees Mentes-Athena, goes to him to to offer hospitality. He insists the guest eat before telling why he is there. Telemachus wants to ask whether the stranger has news of his father.

He waits until the food has been served and the entertainment section of the feast begun to ask questions about who the stranger is, whether he knew his father, and whether he has any news.

Athena-Mentes says he's on a voyage of trade, carrying iron and hoping to bring back copper. Mentes's father was friend of Odysseus' father. Athena-Mentes says the gods are delaying Odysseus. Although he isn't a prophet, he says Odysseus will be coming soon. Athena-Mentes then asks if Telemachus is the son of Odysseus.

Telemachus replies that his mother says so.

Then Athena-Mentes asks what the feast is about and Telemachus grumbles about the suitors eating him out of house and home.

Athena-Mentes says Odysseus would take revenge if he were around, but since he's not, Telemachus should follow his advice and call the Achaean heroes to an assembly the next morning to plead his case and tell the suitors to leave. Telemachus should then take a ship with 20 trusted men to hunt for his father, first asking Nestor at Pylos, and then Menelaus at Sparta. If he hears good news of his father, he can put up with the suitors' pillaging a while longer and if bad, then he can have a funeral, make his mother marry, and then murder the suitors, making a name for himself, just as Orestes did when he killed Aegisthus.

Telemachus thanks Athena-Mentes for the paternal advice. He asks Athena-Mentes to stay a while longer so that he may receive a gift. Athena-Mentes says to keep the present for the next time he comes, because he must hurry off.

When Athena-Mentes rushes off, Telemachus feels inspired and knows he has talked with a god. He then approaches the singer, Phemius, who was singing about the return from Troy. Penelope asks Phemius to sing of something else, but Telemachus contradicts her. She retreats. Telemachus addresses the suitors and says, it's time for feasting now and then in the morning it will be time to meet in the assembly for him to formally send them away.

The suitors make fun of him; then one asks about the stranger and whether he had news. Telemachus says he puts no stock in rumors and prophecies.

The feasting continues and then at night, the suitors go home. Telemachus, whose way is led by Euryclea holding a torch, goes upstairs to bed.

Next: Major Characters in Book I of The Odyssey

Read a public domain translation of Homer's Odyssey Book I.

Notes on Book I of the Odyssey

*While Homer is credited with the writing of The Iliad and The Odyssey, this is disputed. Some think the two epics were written by different individuals. It is, however, conventional to credit Homer with authorship. Therefore, if you were asked "Do we know who wrote The Odyssey?, the answer would be "No," while the answer to "Who wrote The Odyssey?" would usually be "Homer" or "Homer inspired by the Muse."