(Ὀδυσσεύς; the Latin equivalent being Ulixes; erroneously written Ulysses). King of Ithaca, son of Laertes and Anticlea, the daughter of Autolycus. In post-Homeric legends he is called a son of Sisyphus, conceived by Anticlea before her marriage with Laertes. According to Homer, his name (the hater, from ὀδύσσομαι) was given him by his grandfather Autolycus, because he himself had so often cherished feelings of hatred during his life ( Od.xix. 402). His wife Penelop (or Penelopea), daughter of Icarius (see Penelop), is said by later legends to have been obtained for him by her uncle Tyndareos in gratitude for counsel given by him. (See Tyndareos.) When his son Telemachus was still an infant, Agamemnon and Menelas, as Homer tells us, prevailed on him to take part in the expedition against Troy. Their task was hard, as it had been predicted to him that it would be twenty years before he saw his wife and child again. Later writers relate that he was bound, as one of Helen's suitors, to take part in the scheme, but tried to escape his obligation by feigning madness, and among other acts yoked a horse and an ox to his plough and so ploughed a field. When, however, Palamedes, who, with Nestor and Menelas, was desirous of taking him to Troy, proceeded to place Telemachus in the furrow, he betrayed himself, and had to accompany them to the war. Odysseus led the troops of Ithaca and the surrounding islands to Troy in twelve vessels. In contrast to the later legend, which represents him as a cowardly, deceitful, and intriguing personage, he always appears in Homer among the noblest and most respected of the heroes, and, on account of his good qualities, he is the declared favourite of Athen. He combines in his person courage and determined perseverance with prudence, ingenuity, cunning, and eloquence. Accordingly, he is employed by preference as a negotiator and a spy. Thus, after the disembarkation, he goes with Menelas into the enemy's city to demand the surrender of Helen. Again, he is among those who are despatched by the Greeks to reconcile with Agamemnon the enraged Achilles. With Diomedes, who delights in his company, he captures the spy Dolon and surprises Rhesus; with the same hero he is said by later legend to have stolen the Palladium from Troy. When Agamemnon faint-heartedly thinks of flight, he opposes this idea with the utmost decision. Everywhere he avails himself of the right time and the right place, and, where courage and cunning are needed, is ever the foremost. After Achilles' death, in the contest with Aiax, the son of Telamon, he received the hero's arms as a recognition of his services, and by his ingenuity brought about the fall of Troy. Shortly before it, he stole into the city in the garb of a beggar, in order to reconnoitre everything there; he then climbed with the others into the wooden horse, and contrived to control the impatient and the timid alike until the decisive moment. See Trojan War.
His adventures during the return from Troy and on his arrival in his native country form the contents of the Odyssey of Homer. Immediately after the departure Odysseus was driven to the Thracian Ismarus, the city of the Cicones, and, though he plundered it, he lost in a surprise seventy-two of his companions. When he was desirous of rounding the promontory of Malea, the southeast point of the Peloponnesus, he was caught by the storm and carried in nine days to the coast of North Africa, on to the land of the Lotophagi (lotus-eaters), whence he had to drag his companions by force to prevent their forgetting their homes for love of the lotus-food. Thence the voyage passed into the legendary world of the Western Sea, then little known to the Greeks. Odysseus came first to the country of the Cyclopes (q.v.), where, with twelve of his comrades, he was [p. 1123] [figure in text: Odysseus offering wine to the Cyclops. (Vatican Museum, Rome.)]
shut up in a cavern by Polyphemus. The monster had already devoured half of Odysseus's companions before the latter intoxicated him, deprived him of his one eye, and by his cunning escaped with his comrades. From this time the anger of Poseidon, on whom Polyphemus called for revenge, pursued him and kept him far from his country. On the island of Aeolus, the Keeper of the Winds (q.v.), he found hospitable entertainment, and received on his departure a leathern bag, in which were enclosed all the winds except the western. The latter would have carried him in nine days to the coast of Ithaca; but, while Odyssens was resting, his comrades opened the bag, which they imagined to contain treasure, and the winds thus released carried them back to Aeolus. He ordered them off from his island, regarding them as enemies of the gods. On coming to Telepylus, the city of Lamus, King Antiphates and his Laestrygones, cannibals of immense stature, shattered eleven of their vessels, and the twelfth was saved only by Odysseus's wariness. On the island of Aeaea the sorceress Circ turned part of his crew into swine, but with the help of Hermes, who gave him an antidote against her charms, he compelled her to restore them to their human shape, and spent a whole year with her in pleasure and enjoyment. When his companions urged him to return home, Circ bade him first sail towards the farthest west, to the entrance into the lower world on the farther bank of Oceanus, and there question the shade of the seer Tiresias concerning his return. (See Hades.) From the latter he learned that it was the malice of Poseidon that prevented his return, but that nevertheless he would attain his object if his comrades spared the cattle of Helios on the island of Thrinacia; otherwise, it would be only after a long time, deprived of all his comrades and on a foreign ship, that he would reach his home. Odysseus next returned to the isle of Circ and set out on his homeward voyage, supplied by her with valuable directions and a favouring wind. Passing the isles of the Sirens, who tried to lure his vessel upon the rocks by their sweet songs, but whom Odysseus resisted by filling his sailors' ears with wax and lashing himself to the mast, and sailing through Scylla and Charybdis (q.v.), he reached the island of Thrinacia, where he was compelled to land by his comrades. They were there detained for a month by contrary winds; at length his comrades, overcome by hunger, in spite of the oath they had sworn to him, slaughtered, during his absence, the finest of the cattle of Helios. Scarcely were they once more at sea, when a terrible storm broke forth, and Zeus split the ship in twain with a flash of lightning, as a penalty for the offence. All perished except Odysseus, who clung to the mast and keel, and was carried back by the waves to Scylla and Charybdis, and after nine days reached the island of Ogygia, the abode of the nymph Calypso, daughter of Atlas. For seven years he dwelt here with the nymph, who promised him immortality and eternal youth, if he would consent to remain with her and be her husband. But the yearning for his wife and home made him proof against her snares. All the day long he sat on the shore gazing through his tears across the broad sea; anxious to catch a glimpse, were it only of the rising smoke of his home, and thereafter die. So his protectress, Athen, during Poseidon's absence, prevailed on Zeus, in an assembly of the gods, to decree his return, and to send Hermes to order Calypso to release him. Borne on a raft of his own building, he came in eighteen days near to Scheria, the island of the Phaeacians, when Poseidon caught sight of him and shattered his raft in pieces. However, with the aid of the veil of Ino Leucothea (q.v.), he reached land in safety, and met with Nausicaa, the king's daughter, who conducted him into the Phaeacian city before her parents Alcinos (q.v.) and Aret. He received the most hospitable treatment, and was then brought by the Phaeacians loaded with presents on board one of their marvellous vessels to his own country, which he reached after twenty years' absence, while asleep. He arrived just in time to ward off [figure in text: Odysseus and the Sirens. (Vase in British Museum.)] [p. 1124] the disaster that was threatening his house. After his mother Anticlea had died of grief for her son, and old Laertes had retired to his country estate in mourning, more than a hundred noble youths of Ithaca and the surrounding isles had appeared as suitors for the hand of the fair and chaste Penelop, had persecuted Telemachus, who was now growing up to manhood, and were wasting the substance of the absent Odysseus. Penelop had demanded a respite from making her decision until she had finished weaving a shroud intended for her father-in-law, and every night unravelled the work of the day. In the fourth year one of her attendants betrayed the secret; she had to complete the garment, and when urged to make her decision promised to choose the man who should win in a shooting-match with Odysseus's bow, hoping that none of the wooers would be able even so much as to bend it. Just before the day of trial, Odysseus landed on the island disguised by Athen as a beggar. He betook him[figure in text: Odysseus and Penelop. (Pompeian Painting.)] self to the honest swineherd Eumaeus, one of the few retainers who had remained true to him, who received his master, whom he failed to recognize, in an hospitable manner. To the same spot Athen brought Telemachus, who had returned in safety, in spite of the plots of the suitors, from a journey to Nestor at Pylus, and to Menelas and Helen in Sparta. Hereupon Odysseus made himself known, and, together with his son and retainer, concerted his plan of revenge. In the shape of a beggar he betook himself to the house, where he manfully controlled his anger at the arrogance of the suitors which was displayed towards himself, and his emotion on meeting Penelop. Next day the shooting-match took place. This involved shooting through the handles of twelve axes with the bow of Eurytus (q.v.), which the latter's son Iphitus had once presented to the young Odysseus. None of the suitors could bend the bow, and so Odysseus took hold of it, and bent it in an instant, thus achieving the master-shot. Supported by Telemachus, Eumaeus, and the herdsman Philoetius, and with the aiding presence of Athen, he shot first the insolent Antinos, and then the other suitors. He next made himself known to Penelop, who had meanwhile fallen into a deep sleep, and visited his aged father. In the meantime the relatives of the murdered suitors had taken up arms, but Athen, in the form of Mentor (q.v.), brought about a reconciliation. The only hint of Odysseus's end in Homer is in the prophecy of Tiresiasthat in a calm old age a peaceful death will come upon him from the sea.
In later poetry Telegonus, the son of Odysseus by Circ, is sent forth by his mother to seek out his father. He lands at Ithaca, and plunders the island. Odysseus proceeds to meet him, is wounded by him with a poisonous sting-ray, given by Circ to her son as a spear-point, and dies a painful death, which thus comes from the sea. On Telegonus discovering that he had killed his father, he carried the dead body home with him, together with Penelop and Telemachus, and there the latter lived a life of immortality, Telemachus becoming husband of Circ, and Telegonus of Penelop. Besides Telegonus, the legend told of two sons of Odysseus by Circ, named Agrius and Latinus, who were said to have reigned over the Etruscans. Telegonus, in particular, was regarded by the Romans as the founder of Tusculum (Ovid, Fasti, iii. 92) and Praenest ( Homer Od.iii. 29Homer Od., 8). In later times the adventures of Odysseus were transferred, as a whole, to the coast of Italy: the promontory of Circeii was regarded as the abode of Circ, and Formiae as the city of the Laestrygones. Near Surrentum was found the island of the Sirens; near Cape Lacinium that of Calypso, while near to Sicily were the isle of Aeolus, Scylla, and Charybdis, and, on the Sicilian shore, the Cyclopes. Odysseus is generally represented as a bearded man, wearing a semi-oval cap like that of a Greek sailor, as in the first illustration. See Homerus.