Ulysses (Odysseus)

Meet the Hero in Homer's Odyssey

Ulysses kills the suitors, Greek mythology, wood engraving, published 1880
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Ulysses is the Latin form of the name Odysseus, the hero of Homer's Greek epic poem The Odyssey. The Odyssey is one of the greatest works of classical literature and is one of two epic poems attributed to Homer.

Its characters, images, and story arc are integrated into many more contemporary works; for example, James Joyce's great modernist work Ulysses uses the structure of The Odyssey to create a unique and complex work of fiction.

About Homer and The Odyssey

The Odyssey was written in about 700 BCE and was intended to be recited or read aloud. To make this task easier, most characters and many objects are provided with epithets: short phrases uses to describe them each time they are mentioned.

Examples include "rosy-fingered dawn," and "gray-eyed Athena." The Odyssey includes 24 books and 12,109 lines written in a poetic meter called dactylic hexameter. The poem was probably written in columns on parchment scrolls. It was first translated into English in 1616.

Scholars are not in agreement as to whether Homer actually wrote or dictated the entire 24 books of The Odyssey. In fact, there is even some disagreement about whether Homer was a real historical man (though it is probable that he did exist).

Some believe that Homer's writings (including a second epic poem called The Iliad) were actually the work of a group of authors. The disagreement is so significant that the debate about Homer's authorship has been given the name "The Homeric Question." Whether or not he was the sole author, however, it seems likely that a Greek poet named Homer played a major role in its creation.

The Story of The Odyssey

The story of The Odyssey begins in the middle. Ulysses has been away for almost 20 years, and his son, Telemachus, is searching for him. In the course of the first four books, we learn that Odysseus is alive.

In the second four books, we meet Ulysses himself. Then, in books 9-14, we hear of his exciting adventures during his "odyssey" or journey. Ulysses spends 10 years trying to get back home to Ithaca after the Greeks win the Trojan War. 

On his way home, Ulysses and his men encounter various monsters, enchanters, and dangers. Ulysses is known for his cunning, which he uses when his men find themselves stuck in the cave of the Cyclops Polyphemus. However, Ulysses' trick, which includes blinding Polyphemus, puts Ulysses on the bad side of the Cyclops' father, Poseidon (or Neptune in the Latin version).

In the second half of the story, the hero has reached his home in Ithaca. Upon arriving, he learns that his wife, Penelope, has turned away more than 100 suitors. He plots and takes revenge on the suitors who have been wooing his wife and eating his family out of hearth and home.


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Gill, N.S. "Ulysses (Odysseus)." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, thoughtco.com/who-is-ulysses-homers-odyssey-119101. Gill, N.S. (2020, August 28). Ulysses (Odysseus). Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/who-is-ulysses-homers-odyssey-119101 Gill, N.S. "Ulysses (Odysseus)." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/who-is-ulysses-homers-odyssey-119101 (accessed March 29, 2023).