The Odyssey

by: Homer

Odysseus

Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns.

The opening line of The Odyssey introduces Odysseus by his epithet, “the man of twists and turns.” Odysseus is “the man of twists and turns” because his journey, and his story, are anything but straightforward. He’s also “the man of twists and turns” because his mind twists and turns, helping him to think his way out of dangerous situations.

Much have I suffered, labored long and hard by now
in the waves and wars. Add this to the total—bring the trial on!

Odysseus says these lines when Calypso tells him that he is fated to suffer if he leaves her island. Throughout the poem, Odysseus is willing to endure great hardship. These lines suggest that he sees his suffering as a “trial,” something he must endure in order to be worthy of his nostos, or homecoming.

No finer, greater gift than that…
when man and woman possess their home, two minds
two hearts that work as one

Seeing that Nausicaa is of marriage age, Odysseus wishes her a happy marriage. These lines show us how Odysseus views his relationship with Penelope, and what his marriage means to him. On the other hand, he wants Nausicaa to help him, so he may be flattering her to get her to think kindly towards him.

Great Odysseus melted into tears,
running down from his eyes to wet his cheeks…
as a woman weeps, her arms flung round her darling husband,
a man who fell in battle, fighting for town and townsmen.

When the bard Demodocus sings a story about Odysseus’ achievements in the Trojan War, Odysseus weeps. The poet describes his weeping with a simile that makes it clear why Odysseus is so upset. Odysseus is thinking of the horrors of war. He may even be thinking specifically of his own victims. In the Trojan War it was his Trojan opponents, and not Odysseus, who were “fighting for town and townsmen.”

My fame has reached the skies.
Sunny Ithaca is my home. Atop her stands our seamark,
Mount Neriton’s leafy ridges shimmering in the wind.

Aristocratic men in the world of The Odyssey live by the warrior code of kleos, or “fame.” Their highest aim in life is make a reputation for themselves as great warriors. Odysseus is able to state as a simple matter of fact that he has achieved kleos. The lyrical and nostalgic lines which follow suggest, however, that he values his home even more than his fame.

Nobody—that’s my name

Odysseus tells the cyclops Polyphemus that his name is “Nobody.” The clever ruse is part of his escape plan. When Odysseus blinds Polyphemus, the cyclops cries out “Nobody’s killing me,” which persuades the other cyclops that Ployphemus’s unharmed. Odysseus is capable of thinking strategically, several moves ahead of the poem’s other characters.

Crowds of vagabonds
Frame their lies so tightly none can test them. But you,
What grace you give your words, and what good sense within!
You have told your story with all a singer’s skill.

King Alcinous is impressed by Odysseus’ skill as a storyteller. Odysseus often tells false stories in order to get the better of people or to test them. In this case, he is telling the truth, but he still has an ulterior motive. Odysseus’s story persuades Alcinous not only to transport him home, but also to give him enough gifts to make up for the wealth Odysseus has lost at sea. Through storytelling Odysseus transforms his suffering into wealth and fame.

We know all the pains that the Greeks and Trojans once endured
on the spreading plain of Troy.

These lines are from the song the Sirens sing to enchant Odysseus. The fact that they promise to sing about the “pains” of “Troy” reveals something about Odysseus’s character: he is powerfully tempted to dwell on his painful memories of war instead of pressing on into the future.

Amphinomus, you seem like a man of good sense to me.
Just like your father—at least I’ve heard his praises.

Odysseus warns the suitor Amphinomus that he will die if he stays in the palace. In these lines Odysseus nearly blows his disguise, before remembering that he is not supposed to know Amphinomus’ father. The risk he takes makes it clear that Odysseus likes Amphinomus and does not want him to die. Nevertheless, Amphinomus is killed in the battle with the suitors.

Odysseus and his gallant son charged straight at the front lines,
Slashing away with swords, with two-edged spears and now
They would have killed them all.

In the poem’s final lines, Odysseus and Telemachus attack the suitors’ fathers, who are seeking revenge for the deaths of their sons. The poet tells us that “They would have killed them all,” which suggests that Odysseus is failing to exercise restraint.