'The Odyssey' Vocabulary

Understanding the vocabulary of The Odyssey is essential to understanding the epic poem as a whole. This list includes a wide variety of words that connect to poem's narrative in meaningful ways. (All vocabulary words have been selected from the modern translation of The Odyssey by Robert Fagles.)

01
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Ambrosia

Definition: the food of the gods in Greek mythology

Example: “And the goddess drew a table up beside him, / heaped with ambrosia, mixed him deep-red nectar.”

02
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Bedstead

Definition: the framework of a bed

Example: “Come, Eurycleia, / move the sturdy bedstead out of our bridal chamber.”

03
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Beetling

Definition: the quality of jutting out, overhanging, or looming

Example: "But just as he came abreast of Malea’s beetling cape / a hurricane snatched him up . . .”

04
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Cunning

Definition: clever, tricky; able to obtain something through trickery or deceit

Example: “It’s not the suitors here who deserve the blame / it’s your own dear mother, the matchless queen of cunning.”

05
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Gale

Definition: a strong wind

Example: “Poseidon has struck their well-rigged ship on the open sea with gale winds and crushing walls of waves . . ."

06
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Hallowed

Definition: something honored as holy

Example: “The sun sank as they reached the hallowed grove, / sacred to Athena, where Odysseus stopped and sat / and said a prayer . . . ”

07
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Impetuous

Definition: hasty, careless

Example: “Prayers said, the scattering barley strewn, / suddenly Nestor’s son impetuous Thrasymedes / strode up close and struck . . .”

08
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Ingenious

Definition: inventive, skillful

Example: “You terrible man, / foxy, ingenious, never tired of twists and tricks . . .”

09
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Lustrous

Definition: shiny, illuminated

Example: “Calypso, lustrous goddess, knew him at once . . .”

10
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Libation

Definition: an offering to a deity in the form of a drink 

Example: “. . . they set up bowls and brimmed them high with wine / and poured libations out to the everlasting gods . . .”

11
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Overweening

Definition: arrogant, overly proud 

Example: “But there in her upper rooms she lay, Penelope / lost in thought, fasting, shunning food and drink, / brooding now . . . would her fine son escape his death / or go down at her overweening suitors' hands?"

12
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Pyre

Definition: a large pile of material for burning

Example: “. . . once you return to Ithaca you will slaughter / a barren heifer in your halls, the best you have, / and load a pyre with treasures—and to Tiresias, / alone, apart, you will offer a sleek black ram, / the pride of all your herds.”

13
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Russet

Definition: reddish-brown color

Example: “I will shrivel the supple skin on your lithe limbs, strip the russet curls from your head and deck you out in rags.”

14
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Scud

Definition: to move in a fast, straight line

Example: “He has no way to voyage home to his own native land, / no trim ships in reach, no crew to ply the oars / and send him scudding over the sea’s broad back.”

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Render

Definition: to make; or to give or present something

Example: “. . . journey home and render noble offerings up / to the deathless gods who rule the vaulting skies, / to all the gods in order."

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Suppliant

Definition: a person making a humble plea to someone in a position of power

Example: “I have suffered greatly. Pity me, lord, / your suppliant cries for help!”