Full title  The Odyssey

Author Homer; some critics argue for multiple authorship

Type of work Poem

Genre Epic

Language Ancient Greek (Ionic dialect mixed with archaic forms and other dialects)

Time and place written Unknown, but probably mainland Greece, approximately 700 b.c.e.

Date of first publication Unknown

Narrator The poet, who invokes the assistance of the Muse; Odysseus narrates Books 9–12.

Point of view The narrator speaks in the third person and is omniscient. He frequently offers insight into the thoughts and feelings of even minor characters, gods and mortals alike; Odysseus narrates Books 9–12 in the first person. Odysseus freely gives inferences about the thoughts and feelings of other characters.

Tone Celebratory and nostalgic; the poet views the times in which the action is set as glorious and larger than life.

Tense Past; large portions of the poem (especially Books 9–12) are narrated in flashbacks.

Setting (time) Bronze Age (approximately twelfth century b.c.e.); the Odyssey begins where the Iliad ends and covers the ten years after the fall of Troy.

Setting (place) Odysseus’s wanderings cover the Aegean and surrounding seas and eventually end in Ithaca, in northwestern Greece; Telemachus travels from Ithaca to southern Greece.

Protagonist Odysseus

Major conflict Odysseus must return home and vanquish the suitors who threaten his estate; Telemachus must mature and secure his own reputation in Greek society.

Rising action The return of Odysseus to Ithaca; the return of Telemachus to Ithaca; their entrance into the palace; the abuse Odysseus receives; the various omens; the hiding of the arms and locking of the palace doors; Penelope’s challenge to the suitors; the stringing of the bow

Climax The beginning of Book 22, when the beggar in the palace reveals his true identity as Odysseus

Falling action Odysseus and Telemachus fight and kill the suitors; they put to death the suitors’ allies among the palace servants.

Themes The power of cunning over strength; the pitfalls of temptation; the tension between goals and obstacles; the misery of separation; maturation as a journey

Motifs  Disguises; storytelling; seductresses

Symbols  Food; the wedding bed; the great bow; symbols of temptation (Circe, the lotus, the Sirens’ song, the cattle of the Sun)

Foreshadowing  Agamemnon’s fate at the hands of his wife and his vindication by his son foreshadow the domestic troubles and triumphs Odysseus faces when he returns to Ithaca; Odysseus is nearly recognized by his wife and servants several times in Books 18–19, foreshadowing the revelation of his identity in Book 22.