The Odyssey summary is meant as a review of Homer’s epic poem. You should not use this summary of Homer’s The Odyssey as a substitute for reading the actual epic (unless of course it’s 6-minutes before class, you haven’t even opened the book, and you don’t want to sound really stupid like that time you thought Brutus was Popeye’s enemy and made a complete fool of yourself during the Julius Caesar class discussion).
The Odyssey begins in Media Res, ten years after the fall of Troy. Odysseus has yet to return and is believed to have died on the voyage home. A mob of suitors have overrun his palace and desire his wife’s hand in marriage.
While Penelope and her son Telemachus fend off suitors and try to preserve Odysseus’ home, Odysseus is being held “prisoner” by the goddess Calypso, who desires Odysseus’ “companionship.” Despite the benefits that come with being held captive by a frisky goddess, Odysseus begs for his freedom and longs to be in Ithaca with his wife and son. With a little persuasion from Zeus and Hermes, Calypso relents and sends Odysseus on his way.
Poseidon, still angry at Odysseus, brings about a storm and Odysseus is washed up on the Island of the Phaecians where he tells his tale to Alcinous, king of the island.
Whether you want information on the Cyclops from The Odyssey who eats humans or want to learn about the Cicones, you can find it here.
The Land of the Cicones –
Odysseus and his crew plunder the island and learn an important lesson: whenever you plunder an island and harass the islanders, you should probably leave before the army has time to gather and kill six men from each of your ships.
The Lotus-Eaters –
Zeus sends a storm and after nine days the ship lands on the Island of the Lotus-eaters. The island’s inhabitants, who obviously haven’t received word of that whole pillaging thing that took place back in the Land of the Cicones, give some crew members Lotus, which causes the men to lose thought of home and to long for nothing other than more Lotus (think 30-year-old guy who lives in his parents’ basement, plays video games all day, and grows hydroponic plants that smell like skunk). Odysseus forces the Lotus-loving crew members back on to the ship, locks them up, and departs.
The Island of the Cyclopes –
Cyclopes are one-eyed giant freaks. Odysseus thinks it would be a good idea to steal food from the Cyclops Polyphemus and hang out in his cave. After Polyphemus returns, rolls a giant stone over the cave entrance, bashes a few skulls, and eats a couple crew members for breakfast, Odysseus realizes he has made a mistake. Odysseus uses cunning to escape: he gets Polyphemus drunk, tells him his name is Nobody, pokes the Cyclop’s eye with a stick, ties himself and his crew to the bottom of sheep, and rides out when Polyphemus opens the door (if this at all reminds you of last weekend, get help.)
Odysseus learns another important lesson: after escaping from a giant, one-eyed freak, don’t taunt him and tell him your name because he could be the son of Poseidon, the god of the sea, who could then make it extremely difficult for you to return home. (Note: the plural of Cyclops is Cyclopes. The Cyclops from The Odyssey is Polyphemus. The Cyclopes from The Odyssey are the race of giants of which Polyphemus is a part.)
The god of the winds gives Odysseus a wind bag that his crew believes is full of gold. With Ithaca in sight, Odysseus falls asleep and his crew cuts open the bag and lets out the wind. The ship is blown far away.
Land of the Laestrygonians –
Odysseus rows to the Land of the Laestrygonians, a race of giants whose queen turns Odysseus’ scouts and several crew members into dinner. As the ships depart, the Laestrygonians throw boulders and destroy all ships except Odysseus’.
On the land of Aeaea (pronounced like it’s spelled), the sorceress Circe turns Odysseus’ crew into animals. With help from Hermes, Odysseus forces Circe to turn them back, becomes her lover, and spends a year on the island. Circe tells Odysseus he must travel to the Land of the Dead and speak with the blind seer Teiresias in order to get home (Note to guys reading this: if a woman turns your friends into pigs, tries to kill you, and advises you to talk to a dead guy, run.)
Land of the Dead –
Odysseus finds Teiresisas who warns Odysseus about the dangers of his return home (information that may have come in handy before having men eaten by Laestrygonians and the cyclops Polyphemus, not to mention that whole getting slaughtered by Cicones and drugged by Lotus-eaters.)
The Sirens –
Teiresias warns Odysseus about the Sirens, creatures who entice sailors to their deaths with beautiful music and strategically placed rocks. Odysseus commands his crew to bind him and fill their ears with wax so he can listen to the sirens’ song.
Scylla and Charybdis –
Scylla, in The Odyssey, is a six-headed monster. Charybdis is a giant whirlpool. To avoid one, you must confront the other. Although the six men the Scylla devours would disagree, the crew wisely avoids Charybdis and sails on.
Cattle of the Sun –
Teiresias warns Odysseus not to eat the Cattle of the Sun. Odysseus warns his crew not to eat the Cattle of the sun. Odysseus’ crew eats the Cattle of the Sun. Zeus destroys Odysseus’ ship, his crew, and sends Odysseus back to Charybdis for eating the Cattle of the Sun. Odysseus survives and floats to the Island of Ogygia, home of Calypso.
Now that you know about Sirens from The Odyssey and Scylla in The Odyssey, you’re ready to find out what happens when Odysseus returns home.
Back in Ithaca
Odysseus returns home disguised as a beggar, with a little help from Athena. He eats dinner with Eumaeus, a trusty swineheard who tells Odysseus, whom he does not recognize, about all the suitors’ shenanigans. Odysseus reveals himself to Telemachus who has just returned from Sparta and they plot to destroy the suitors.
Back in disguise, Odysseus heads to the palace where he is scorned. The lead suitor, Antinous, throws a chair at him. Penelope, disgusted by the suitors’ behavior summons the beggar (Odysseus in disguise). The beggar predicts Odysseus’ return. Penelope’s nurse, Eurycleia recognizes Odysseus. At night Odysseus and Telemachus remove all weapons from the hall in preparation for the next day’s suitor slaughter.
Penelope devises a contest: she will marry whichever suitor can string Odysseus’ bow and shoot an arrow through twelve axe handles (akin to the modern day practice of dating the guy with the most tattoos). They all fail. Odysseus in disguise strings the bow, shoots the arrow, reveals himself, and slaughters the suitors.
A Summary is Not a Substitute
Reminder: This short summary of The Odyssey was meant as a review of Homer’s epic poem. You should not use this summary as a substitute for reading the actual epic (unless of course it’s 6-minutes before class, you haven’t opened the book, and you don’t want to sound really stupid like that time you punched your best friend because he said Frankenstein was the doctor and not the monster).
This post is part of the series: The Odyssey
- Summary of Homer's The Odyssey with Analysis
- Characters in the Odyssey
- Epic Similes in The Odyssey
- Themes in the Odyssey
- Odyssey Study Guide Questions