protagonist of the Odyssey. Odysseus fought among
the other Greek heroes at Troy and now struggles to return to his
kingdom in Ithaca. Odysseus is the husband of Queen Penelope and
the father of Prince Telemachus. Though a strong and courageous warrior,
he is most renowned for his cunning. He is a favorite of the goddess
Athena, who often sends him divine aid, but a bitter enemy of Poseidon,
who frustrates his journey at every turn.
Odysseus’s son. An infant when Odysseus left for Troy, Telemachus
is about twenty at the beginning of the story. He is a natural obstacle
to the suitors desperately courting his mother, but despite his
courage and good heart, he initially lacks the poise and confidence
to oppose them. His maturation, especially during his trip to Pylos
and Sparta in Books 3 and 4, provides
a subplot to the epic. Athena often assists him.
of Odysseus and mother of Telemachus. Penelope spends her days in
the palace pining for the husband who left for Troy twenty years
earlier and never returned. Homer portrays her as sometimes flighty
and excitable but also clever and steadfastly true to her husband.
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.
of the sea. As the suitors are Odysseus’s mortal antagonists, Poseidon
is his divine antagonist. He despises Odysseus for blinding his
son, the Cyclops Polyphemus, and constantly hampers his journey home.
Ironically, Poseidon is the patron of the seafaring Phaeacians,
who ultimately help to return Odysseus to Ithaca.
of gods and men, who mediates the disputes of the gods on Mount
Olympus. Zeus is occasionally depicted as weighing men’s fates in
his scales. He sometimes helps Odysseus or permits Athena to do
most arrogant of Penelope’s suitors. Antinous leads the campaign
to have Telemachus killed. Unlike the other suitors, he is never
portrayed sympathetically, and he is the first to die when Odysseus
manipulative, deceitful suitor. Eurymachus’s charisma and duplicity
allow him to exert some influence over the other suitors.
the dozens of suitors, the only decent man seeking Penelope’s hand
in marriage. Amphinomus sometimes speaks up for Odysseus and Telemachus,
but he is killed like the rest of the suitors in the final fight.
loyal shepherd who, along with the cowherd Philoetius, helps Odysseus
reclaim his throne after his return to Ithaca. Even though he does
not know that the vagabond who appears at his hut is Odysseus, Eumaeus
gives the man food and shelter.
aged and loyal servant who nursed Odysseus and Telemachus when they
were babies. Eurycleia is well informed about palace intrigues and
serves as confidante to her masters. She keeps Telemachus’s journey
secret from Penelope, and she later keeps Odysseus’s identity a
secret after she recognizes a scar on his leg.
brother of Melantho. Melanthius is a treacherous and opportunistic
goatherd who supports the suitors, especially Eurymachus, and abuses
the beggar who appears in Odysseus’s palace, not realizing that
the man is Odysseus himself.
of Melanthius and maidservant in Odysseus’s palace. Like her brother,
Melantho abuses the beggar in the palace, not knowing that the man
is Odysseus. She is having an affair with Eurymachus.
beautiful nymph who falls in love with Odysseus when he lands on
her island-home of Ogygia. Calypso holds him prisoner there for
seven years until Hermes, the messenger god, persuades her to let
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.
beautiful witch-goddess who transforms Odysseus’s crew into swine
when he lands on her island. With Hermes’ help, Odysseus resists
Circe’s powers and then becomes her lover, living in luxury at her
side for a year.
aging father, who resides on a farm in Ithaca. In despair and physical
decline, Laertes regains his spirit when Odysseus returns and eventually
kills Antinous’s father.
Theban prophet who inhabits the underworld. Tiresias meets Odysseus
when Odysseus journeys to the underworld in Book 11.
He shows Odysseus how to get back to Ithaca and allows Odysseus
to communicate with the other souls in Hades.
of Pylos and a former warrior in the Trojan War. Like Odysseus,
Nestor is known as a clever speaker. Telemachus visits him in Book 3 to
ask about his father, but Nestor knows little of Odysseus’s whereabouts.
of Sparta, brother of Agamemnon, and husband of Helen, he helped
lead the Greeks in the Trojan War. He offers Telemachus assistance
in his quest to find Odysseus when Telemachus visits him in Book 4.
of Menelaus and queen of Sparta. Helen’s 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.
king of Mycenae, brother of Menelaus, and commander of the Achaean
forces at Troy. Odysseus encounters Agamemnon’s spirit in Hades.
Agamemnon was murdered by his wife, Clytemnestra, and her lover, Aegisthus,
upon his return from the war. He was later avenged by his son Orestes.
Their story is constantly repeated in the Odyssey to
offer an inverted image of the fortunes of Odysseus and Telemachus.
beautiful daughter of King Alcinous and
Queen Arete of the Phaeacians. Nausicaa discovers Odysseus on the
beach at Scheria and, out of budding affection for him, ensures
his warm reception at her parents’ palace.
of the Phaeacians, who offers Odysseus hospitality in his island
kingdom of Scheria. Alcinous hears the story of Odysseus’s wanderings
and provides him with safe passage back to Ithaca.
of the Phaeacians, wife of Alcinous, and mother of Nausicaa. Arete
is intelligent and influential. Nausicaa tells Odysseus to make
his appeal for assistance to Arete.