Odysseus

Forget Michael Palin. Arguably the greatest journey ever told is that of Greek warrior Odysseus, as told in Homer's ancient poem The Odyssey. Take a closer look at his epic voyage...

Odysseus

Set immediately after the Trojan War, it tells of Odysseus' ten year journey back home, an epic voyage that sees him face a series of great difficulties that require him to use his guile and cunning.

Odysseus was the king of a small island in the Ionian Sea called Ithaca, who first appeared as a major character in Homer's previous poem The Iliad, which told the story of the siege of Troy. However, this was nothing compared to the decade-long struggle that lay in wait.

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The Journey Begins**

Shortly after leaving the shores of Troy, Odysseus and his men loot the nearby city of Ismara, an ancient Ciconian town on the Aegean coast, with all of the inhabitants fleeing into the mountains.

Victorious, Odysseus' men fall asleep on the beach, but are attacked the next morning by the returning Ciconians, joined by their fierce neighbours from the mountains. Many of Odysseus' men are killed, while he and his survivors flee to their ships.

Lotus-Eaters

The next port of call was 'the island of the Lotus-Eaters', and Odysseus' scouting party are coerced by the natives into eating the island's lotus flower, causing them to fall asleep and stop caring about ever returning home. Odysseus has to drag them back to the ship and set sail!

Polyphemus

Soon Odysseus leads another scouting party to the land of the Cyclops and they find a hoard of food in a large cave. However, the cave is the home of Polyphemus, a one-eyed giant shepherd who is a tad livid to find all his food eaten. Polyphemus traps them in the cave with a boulder that cannot be moved by mortal men.

Cunningly, Odysseus gets Polyphemus drunk on wine and once the giant falls asleep, Odysseus blinds him with a spear. In the morning, Odysseus ties himself and his men underneath Polyphemus' sheep. The next morning, when the Cyclops rolls back the boulder to let the sheep out to graze, the men sneak out. Once free, they load the sheep on board their ship and set sail.

Aeolus

Odysseus next stops at Aiolia, in what is now Turkey. This land is home to Aeolus, who has been given by the gods the power of controlling the winds. Aeolus gives Odysseus and his crew hospitality for a month before sending them a west wind to carry them home safe.

He also gives Odysseus a bag containing each of the four winds, which his crew members open, mistaking it for treasure, just before their home is reached. They are blown by a violent storm back to Aiolia where Aeolus refuses to help them because he believes Odysseus is cursed by the gods. Now, Odysseus has to start his journey from Aiolia to Ithaca all over again!

The Laestrygonians

This time out Odysseus unwittingly arrives at Telepylos, the home of the Laestrygones, who are hostile cannibals. These people promptly attack the fleet with boulders, sinking all but one of the ships and killing hundreds of Odysseus' men. Oh dear.

Circe

Next they arrive at the Italian island of Aeaea. However on this paradise island dwells the sorceress Circe. Odysseus sent a scouting party who are invited by Circe to a feast. Unbeknownst to them, the food is laced with magic and it turns them into pigs.

One of his men however, suspects treachery, eats nothing and escapes back to Odysseus telling him what has happened. Fortunately, before he visits Circe he is given an antidote to her spell by the god Hermes. When Circe's spell fails he forces the sorceress to transform his men back. He then stays there for one year, during which time Circe falls for Odysseus and she agrees to help him get home safely.

Journey to the Underworld

In order to receive more advice on how to get home safely, Odysseus decides to speak with the legendary blind soothsayer Tiresias. As the great sage is dead, Odysseus and his men journey into Hades to find him. They sacrifice a ram and the blood attracts the souls of the dead, including Tiresias himself.

The dead soothsayer warns Odysseus of two things. First: avoid the sacred cattle of Helios and second: after he returns to Ithaca, Odysseus must make a sacrifice to appease Poseidon, God of the sea, who was the father of Polyphemus and is not best pleased!

Helios' Cattle

Finally, Odysseus and his surviving crew landed on the island of Helios, where he keeps his sacred cattle. Though Odysseus reminds his men of Tiresias' message to leave these sacred cattle untouched, they kill and eat some. Enraged, Helios destroys the ship, and kills all the men except Odysseus. It seems that things have turned rather dire indeed!

Calypso

A devastated Odysseus is washed ashore on Ogygia, where the nymph Calypso lives. For seven years, she makes him her lover and refuses to let him leave, promising him immortality if he stays. (Doesn't sound too bad actually!)

However, god-in-chief Zeus intervenes and sends Hermes to tell Calypso to let Odysseus go. Odysseus leaves on a small raft, laden with food and wine. After an arduous solo voyage, on the twentieth day of sailing he arrives home in Ithaca. His troubles, however, have only just begun!

The Final Challenge

Upon arrival on the shores of Ithaca, Odysseus is disguised as an old man by the goddess Athena, and arrives under the name Eperitus. There he discovers that he has been presumed dead but his wife Penelope has remained faithful to him all this time, despite managing to fight off an army of suitors.

So far she had deflected their advances by weaving a burial shroud for Odysseus' father, claiming she would choose one suitor when she finished. Every night she undid part of the shroud, until one day, a maid of hers betrayed her, and the suitors demanded that she finally choose one of them to be her new husband.

Meanwhile the disguised Odysseus secretly visits Penelope, who doesn't recognize him, and tells her that he had met Odysseus, and he passes on the fabricated message that that whoever could string Odysseus' bow and shoot an arrow through twelve axe-handles would be eligible to marry her.

Of course, only Odysseus can string this special bow and after each suitor had failed in the task, he turns up, strings his old weapon and completes the task! Then, with the help of his son Telemachus and Athena, he defeats all the suitors, and is reunited with his love Penelope.

Now that is some journey!