by: Edith Hamilton


Odysseus, king of Ithaca, is one of the best-known ancient Greek heroes. Homer’s Iliad and Virgil’s Aeneid both portray Odysseus as, if not the strongest Greek chieftain in the Trojan War, certainly the smartest and likely the most valuable. He is entrusted with any task that requires more than brute force, from drawing the great Achilles into the Greek army to inventing the tactic of the Trojan Horse—the ruse that finally enabled the Greeks to win the war. Odysseus’s sharp wit works wonders that no feat of arms can achieve. It is in reflection of this worth that Odysseus is given the fallen Achilles’ armor, the highest honor for a warrior.

Homer’s other epic, the Odyssey, records Odysseus’s journey back to Ithaca from Troy. It is the first—and until the Aeneid, the only—large-scale classical work focusing on one character. As such, Homer gives Odysseus a depth of character and richness of psychological texture lacking in other classical protagonists. Without supernatural powers or divine heritage, Odysseus must rely on his own shrewd intellect to survive—a human and modern approach to the challenges and temptations he encounters.