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The Odyssey


Key Facts

Main ideas Key Facts

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 912.

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 912 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 912) 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 1819, foreshadowing the revelation of his identity in Book 22.