Cycladic, Minoan, Mycenaean, and Archaic Greek Mythology

The Odyssey

What is the background of the Odyssey?

The Odyssey, the second of the two great epics ascribed to the legendary Homer, tells the story of the Mycenaean-Greek hero Odysseus. Specifically, it describes Odysseus’s ten-year-long adventure-filled voyage from Troy to his home in Ithaca following the Trojan War. Known for his wiliness, Odysseus was a particular favorite of Athene, the goddess of wisdom. Odysseus had once advised the father of Helen (later Helen of Troy) to demand that all the suitors to his daughter abide by the family’s eventual choice of a husband by pledging an oath of allegiance to that man. So it was that the Mycenaean princes unified to make war on Troy after the Trojan prince Paris had abducted Helen from the palace of her husband, Menelaus. Meanwhile, Odysseus had married Helen’s cousin, Penelope, who had produced a son, Telemachos. When the emissaries of Menelaus arrived to draft Odysseus into the alliance against Troy, the wily Odysseus, citing his responsibilities as a king, a husband, and a father, pretended to be insane and thus useless to the cause. But when his pretense was discovered, he bowed to the terms of the alliance and left for Troy and the war. It is of interest to note that the great Achilles, too, attempted to avoid the draft. He did so by hiding in women’s clothing in the harem of his family’s palace, but was discovered when he made one of the young girls there pregnant.

During the war, as described in the Iliad, the Odyssey, and in other works, Odysseus gained fame as a warrior and, primarily, as a strategist. His most famous act was the devising of the wooden horse full of Greek soldiers that the Trojans foolishly allowed into their city.

Like the Iliad, the Odyssey was in all likelihood based on earlier folktales and myths and was “fixed” in writing in its present book-based form in sixth century B.C.E. Athens. It is generally assumed that “Homer” composed the Odyssey some time later than the Iliad.


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