Summary of Odyssey Book I

What Happens in the First Book of Homer's Odyssey

Trojan War Heroes
Trojan War Heroes. Clipart.com

Odyssey Study Guide Index Page

- Book 1 - in English | Summary | Notes | Major Characters |  Paintings Based on The Odyssey

  • 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."

Odyssey Study Guide Index Page

- Book 1 - in English | Summary | Notes | Major Characters | Quiz on

  • The Muse - without the inspiration of the Muse, Homer couldn't write. There were 3 Muses originally, Aoede (song), Melete (pracice), and Mneme (memory), and later 9. They were the daughters of Mnemosyne (Memory). The Muse of song was Calliope.

     

  • Zeus - king of the gods. Zeus attempts neutrality.
    Known as Jupiter or Jove among the Romans and in some translations of the Odyssey.

     

  • Calypso - "The concealer." Daughter of Atlas, a goddess who lives in Ogygia where she detains Odysseus for 7 years.
  • Poseidon - Sea and earthquake god who is angry with Odysseus and doesn't want to let him return to Ithaca.
  • Athena - a war goddess who especially favors Odysseus and other heroes. Athena is on the side of the Greeks.
    Known as Minerva among the Romans and in some translations of the Iliad.
  • Polyphemus - one-eyed cyclops son of Poseidon whom Odysseus blinded.
  • Telemachus - Son of Odysseus who was left as a baby when Odysseus went off 20 years earlier to fight in the Trojan War.
  • Mentes - Son of Anchialus, king of the Taphians, in whose guise Athena visits Telemachus.
  • Aegisthus - Son of Thyestes. Cousin of Agamemnon. Rules Mycenae for seven years and is then killed by Orestes.
  • Agamemnon - Tantalus' grandson, son of Atreus, husband of Clytemnestra, father of Orestes, Chrysothemis, Laodice, and Iphianassa. King of Mycenae and the Argives.
  • Orestes - Son of Agamemnon who returns from Athens to Mycenae and slays Aegisthus after he has ruled for 8 years.
  • Phemius - Son of Terpis, a bard from Ithaca.
  • Menelaus - Son of Atreus, brother of Agamemnon, and husband of Helen. King of Lacedaemon. Wanders 8 years before returning home after the Trojan War.
  • Nestor - Old king of Pylos, son of Neleus and Choris.
  • Laertes - Son of Arceisius; aged father of Odysseus.
  • Penelope - Wife of Odysseus and mother of Telemachus.
  • Antinous - The most insolent of the suitors. He is the son of Eupeithes.

     

Profiles of Some of the Major Olympian Gods Involved in the Trojan War

Odyssey Study Guide Index Page

- Book 1 - in English | Summary | Notes | Major Characters | Quiz on As at the start of other Greco-Roman epic poems, The Odyssey begins with an invocation of the Muse. The Muse is held responsible for inspiring the poet to tell his story. In this case, the beginning of the poem not only invokes the Muse but tells some of the backgrounds.

Zeus introduces the topic of Orestes.

Orestes is the son of Agamemnon, the leader of the Greek forces in the Trojan War. When Agamemnon returned home, he was killed. Sometimes the literature says it is his wife Clytemnestra who wields the knife. Here it is her lover, Agamemnon's cousin Aegisthus.

Poseidon is upset because Odysseus blinded his one-eyed son Polyphemus. This happened in a cave in which the giant cyclops kept Odysseus and his men prisoner. In order to escape, Odysseus stabbed Polyphemus while he was sleeping. Then he and his men flee the cave by attaching themselves to the underbellies of the sheep Polyphemus also keeps in the cave.

the messenger god of The Iliad is Iris, the rainbow goddess. In The Odyssey, it is Hermes. There is a long-standing controversy over whether the Iliad and Odyssey were written by different people. This is the type of inconsistency that makes people wonder.

Hospitality is a central motif in Greek mythology.

Telemachus is upset that the guest (Athena disguised as Mentes) has not been received graciously, his needs tended to, so Telemachus makes sure the guest is comfortable and has eaten before he asks anything about who the guest might be. He also wants to give the guest a present, but the guest says he must go and cannot wait for it.

The suitors are guests, too, but are unwelcome. They have been there for years.

Euryclea is described as having tended to Telemachus from infancy. She was a lovely young woman slave whom Laertes bought and then respected so much he refrained from having sexual relations with her.

Penelope shows up to ask the singer to change his song but is over-ruled by her son, who should be the man of the house. Penelope is surprised by her son's behavior, though. She does as he says.

  1. Book I
  2. Book II
  3. Book III
  4. Book IV
  5. Book V
  6. Book VI
  7. Book VII
  8. Book VIII
  9. Book IX
  10. Book X
  11. Book XI
  12. Book XII
  13. Book XIII
  14. Book XIV
  15. Book XV
  16. Book XVI
  17. Book XVII
  18. Book XVIII
  19. Book XIX
  20. Book XX
  21. Book XXI
  22. Book XXII
  23. Book XXIII
  24. Book XXIV