The Odyssey by Homer

Odysseus The central character in the Odyssey, he epitomizes the Homeric hero, who is strong, courageous, confident, intelligent, and cunning. Symbolically, Odysseus is continuously pushing closer to an ending, which is to return to Ithica. Central to Odysseus’ character is his ability to disguise himself, which is what allows him to safely return to Ithica.
Penelope Odysseus’ wife who remains in Ithica, waiting for her husband and warding off the many suitors who wish to marry her. Penelope never gives up on Odysseus returning and is able to cunningly delay marriage. Symbolically, Penelope keeps time both frozen and recurring with her weaving — an episodic plot.
Nausicaa Daughter of Kind Alcinous of Phaecia. She encounters Odysseus when he is shipwrecked and naked and helps him to meet with her parents. She is beautiful and is seen as a possible love interest for Odysseus, but he leaves her to journey home.
Circe A beautiful witch-goddess who turns Odysseus’ crew into swine when they land on her island; Odysseus is able to overcome her help with the help of Hermes and ends up living on her island for a year, where he almost gets derailed from his ultimate goal — home. His crew members have to remind him of this goal, which shows the negative power of luxury and comfort.
Telemachus Son of Odysseus and Penelope, at the beginning of the epic he is somewhat unsure of how to protect his mother and his household. With guidance from Athena, he goes on a journey to find his father, and in the process begins to come of age. While his talents will never fully match those of Odysseus, he is still an admirable character and young Greek.
Nestor A former warrior for the Greeks in the Trojan war and the king of Pylos, he is known as an eloquent and clever speaker. He accepts Telemachus into his home with great hospitality, but is unable to give him any information about Odysseus’ whereabouts. Telemachus joins with Nestor’s son Pesistratus in order to avoid Nestor’s overly-generous hospitality.
Menelaus The King of Sparta, brother of Agamemnon, the husband of Helen (whose abduction by Paris sparks the Trojan war), and a former war hero. Telemachus visits him in the Odyssey, where he tells about his journey home from Troy and offers him guidance in finding Odysseus. Menelaus and Helen have a strained marriage, and he consistently speaks about the human cost of the Trojan War.
Calypso Keeps Odysseus on island for 7 years; Almost causes Odysseus to forget his ultimate destination — home; difference between episodisity/teleology.
Laertes Odysseus’s aging father, who resides on a farm in Ithaca. In despair and physical decline, regains his spirit when Odysseus returns and eventually kills Antinous’s father, fighting alongside Odysseus and Telemachus. This emphasizes the importance of family and home.
Eumaeus Eumaeus is a loyal shepherd. He is a kind hearted and good man. He gave Odysseus, who was in disguise as a homely beggar, food, water, and shelter. He also, with Philoetius, helped Odysseus and Telemachus fight the suitors. He helped him regain his throne, and is one of the few allowed to survive because of this.
Athena Guides Telemachus/the action; resolves the conflict; associated with disguise. Daughter of Zeus and goddess of wisdom, purposeful battle, and the womanly arts. Athena assists Odysseus and Telemachus with divine powers throughout the epic, and she speaks up for them in the councils of the gods on Mount Olympus. She often appears in disguise as Mentor, an old friend of Odysseus.
Polyphemus Reveals Odysseus’ weakness; epitomizes the idea of natural civilization; vertical relationships between gods and humans. One of the Cyclopes (uncivilized one-eyed giants) whose island Odysseus comes to soon after leaving Troy. Polyphemus imprisons Odysseus and his crew and tries to eat them, but Odysseus blinds him through a clever ruse and manages to escape. In doing so, however, Odysseus angers Polyphemus’s father, Poseidon.
Aeolus Aelous gives odyseus a bag of the bad winds so that odyseus gets home on only good winds. When they are almost home he falls asleep and his crew mates think that he is hiding something so they open the bag and are driven off course by the bad winds. Odyseus goes back but aeolus wont give him good wind again so he sails off to the laestrygonians. This story shows the perils of curiosity and mistrust.
Eurymachus A manipulative, deceitful suitor. Eurymachus’s charisma and duplicity allow him to exert some influence over the other suitors. Odysseus kills him when he tries to blame Antinous for all the problems.
Helen Wife of Menelaus and queen of Sparta. Her abduction from Sparta by the Trojans sparked the Trojan War. Her beauty is without parallel, but she is criticized for giving in to her Trojan captors and thereby costing many Greek men their lives. She offers Telemachus assistance in his quest to find his father. Contrast for Penelope, because she forgets Menelaus while Penelope does not.
Narratology How stories get told; stories are designed, not just told. Duration relates to summary, scene, and ellipsis and order relates to flashback and flash forward. The correct interpretation of symbolic content is both important for the world and within the Odyssey.
Nostos Homecoming; a nostalgic way of thinking. The ability to return is about keeping ones mind focused and relates to Odysseus’ internal struggle between his desire to explore and his desire to go home. In a broader context, it has to do with the Greeks returning home after the battle of Troy.
Recognition There are multiple versions of Odysseus’ story told throughout the text, heavy use of deception, and problems with authenticity. Disguise strips characters of identity (such as Odysseus) and allows them to understand how others really think of them. Odysseus’ homecoming is his recognition of his person and of the place, and his method allows him to save himself and his family. In Greek myths and in the Odyssey, gods also disguise themselves in order to communicate with mortals.
Coming-of-Age In the Odyssey, this theme is particularly relevant for Telemachus, who is forced to take on Odysseus’ role when his father’s absence. He goes on a journey to find his father, and in the process matures. Throughout the text, Telemachus is split between his desire to know Odysseus has died so he can take over the household and his desire to have Odysseus return.
Civilization Relates to making nature available for human purposes (agriculture, sailing, cooking, institutions, technology) and to the hierarchical structure (Gods – humans – animals). In the Odyssey, what people eat, their interpretations of signs, whether they practice animal sacrifice, and whether they make progress away from the gods and innocence says a lot about a character’s civilization. Moving forward is good, for you forget about important things when time slows.
Xenia (guest-host relations) Basics of hospitality — First, a guest should have their basic needs met before they are asked questions. A guest should be welcomed by a young person, food, hand washing, wine. Then they are asked questions, offered a place to stay, and given a parting gift. You can tell a lot about a charac
Episodic A narrative constructed around a series of distinct but related incidents rather than a carefully woven plot. Focus on the events, not necessarily coherent or toward an ending.
Teleology The fact or character attributed to nature or natural processes of being directed toward an end or shaped by a purpose. The study of ends and final causes.
Remembering / forgetting
Deus ex machina A god who resolves the entanglements of a play by supernatural intervention. The Latin phrase means, literally, “a god from the machine.” The phrase refers to the use of artificial means to resolve the plot of a play. This is the role Athena plays in the Odyssey.

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