The Odyssey, sequel to The Iliad, is one of the oldest and most influential works of western literature, attributed to the Greek poet Homer. It is thought that this semi-historical saga may have included earlier writings and folktales common to the time (the 8th century BC). The epitome of the voyage tale, in a highly accomplished non-linear style full of of exciting episodes and many protagonists.
The Odyssey tells the story of the noble and cunning king Odysseus (known to the Romans as Ulysses) during his long return home after the fall of Troy. It is also a story of his wife Penelope and son Telemachus, and of Zeus and Athena who, as ever, seek to influence the folly of humankind to their own ends. The first part of the saga tells of Telemachus’ search for his father, Penelope’s struggle with the many disreputable suitors who would replace the missing husband and king, Odysseus, meanwhile, has been taken captive by the nymph Calypso and held for seven years. The dramatic adventures which ensue are interspersed with many anecdotes and remembrances, often retold by the hero himself as tales within the tale itself. At last returning home, Odysseus and his son conspire to test the faithful Penelope and revenge themselves upon the abusive suitors. Slaying them and reuniting with his wife, he is favored by gods and regains his household.
A colloquial description of the 24 woodcuts in the series, corresponding to the 24 books in the poem:
- The gods agree that Odysseus must leave Calypso’s Isle of Ogygia and return home.
- Not knowing if his father is alive or dead, Telemachus, Odysseus’ grown son, tries to reason with greedy suitors who have overrun the house and seek to marry his mother, Penelope. Taunted by them, he then secretly sails to Pylos in search of news about his father.
- In Pylos, Telemachus feasts with Nestor and hears tales about the fates of the Greeks returning from the Trojan War, but hears no substantive news of Odysseus. He continues his search to Sparta.
- At Sparta, Menelaus fives Telemachus hope his father may be alive by recounting a meeting with Proteus, the Old Man of the Sea.
- Odysseus builds a raft and sets sail from Ogygia. Poseidon creates massive waves, the raft is smashed and Odysseus struggles to reach Scheria.
- Exhausted and naked, Odysseus hides himself and sleeps. He is awakened by the voices of Princess Nausicaa and her maidens.
- King Alcinous and Queen Arete make the shipwrecked stranger welcome and promise to see him safely on his way.
- During a banquet a mistrel sings of Troy and Odysseus us visibly moved. He is asked to reveal who he is and to tell of his adventures.
- Odysseus tells of his escape from the Cyclops Polyphemus.
- Odysseus describes his visit to the enchantress Circe, who changed his men into pigs.
- Odysseus describes his voyage to Hades.
- Odysseus tells of his departure from Circe past the Sirens Scylla and Charybdis. As a result of his men slaughtering Zeus’ cattle, their ship was destroyed and this was how he became stranded on Calypso’s Isle.
- King Alcinous gives Odysseus safe passage to Ithaca where Athena counsels him and changes him into an old beggar.
- His swineherd Eumaeus warmly welcomes the old stranger without recognizing Odysseus.
- After leaving Sparta Telemachus returns to Ithica. He, too, goes to Eumaeus’ hut.
- Odysseus reveals himself to Telemachus. They discuss how to deal with the suitors.
- Odysseus, in the guise of a beggar, returns to his house. He is abused by the leader of the suitors, Antinous
- Odysseus, provoked and ignoring the role he is playing, thrashes the town beggar, Irus.
- The old nurse Euryclea washes the old beggars feet and recognizes him as Odysseus by the scar on his leg.
- Ctesippus hurls a bone at Odysseus – Disaster impends.
- Penelope brings out Odysseus’ bow as a test for the suitors. They are unable to string it. The “old beggar” strings and shoots the bow easily. The suitors are worried.
- With the first arrow into Antinous, Odysseus and Telemachus begin the slaughter of all the suitors.
- Penelope, convinced at last that the “old beggar” was just a guise, embraces Odysseus and hears from him his story.
- Civil war in Ithica is prevented by Athena.